Until recently, the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea was not much more than a barren stretch of land, biblically sacred but inhabited mostly by Bedouin goatherds.
But, that is quickly changing. Down the road from where John the Baptist earned his name, a different sort of baptism is under way, as a strip of fortress-sized spas and resorts sprout up like suburban McMansions.
Playing catch-up to the spas on the Israeli side, four hotels have been erected along the Dead Sea’s eastern muddy shores, offering a multitude of affusion showers and aromatherapy sessions. Two more resorts and even a waterslide park are now in the works.
“It’s unusual,” said Lulu Katrivesis, manager of the Moevenpick Zara Spa. “We’re doing 50% more business than last year.”
The Dead Sea’s main draw, besides being the lowest point on the planet and the ancient site of Sodom and Gomorrah, had been its abnormally high salt content, which allows bathers to bob like corks. But the resorts are now bringing spa-goers to the area, particularly Russians who have money—and calories—to burn.
Europeans, and even some Americans, are also discovering the Dead Sea’s famed minerals. Although Westerners may harbour suspicions—or perhaps guilt—about lounging on the seaside in an Arab country wedged between the West Bank and Iraq, the spa-goers are attracted by Jordan’s reputation as a moderate and safe country, whose people are imbued with a Bedouin sense of hospitality. “Except for a few annoyances of people finding out you’re American and trying to take advantage of you, the Jordanians are very nice,” said Nina Cooper, 64, who was visiting from Texas.
The spas are first rate: ornate sandstone temples framed by lush lagoons and poolside bars, perfect for anyone in need of constant pampering. Each one is tricked out with indoor-outdoor hot tubs, saltwater pools and fitness clubs. Some offer solariums and even cosmetic surgeons.
At Moevenpick’s Zara Spa (Sweimeh, Dead Sea Road; 962-5-356-1111; www.zaraspa.com), tucked within the resort’s maze of Moroccan-style bungalows, a salt massage for about $21 (Rs861) leaves your body feeling like the brim of a Margarita glass, which is not a bad thing.
Similar treatments in less lavish settings are offered at the Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa (Sweimeh, Dead Sea Road; 962-5-356-0400; www.marriott.com) with spa packages starting at about 40 dinars (Rs2,246).
The largest will be Kempinski’s Asian-style Anantara Spa (Sweimeh; 962-5-356-8888), which will have 28 spa suites on two-and-a-half acres when it is completed this fall at the chain’s Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea. Many were already open in April. A half-hour mud wrap for 35 Jordanian dinars (about Rs2,000) feels like being buried on a beach.
Once fully caked, your body is wrapped for what seems an eternity, as Yanni-like music lulls you into a state of heightened relaxation. After showering the gunk off, you’re given an oily rub-down, followed by a sip of spicy ginger tea.
All this pampering, however, might not last. Similar to a receding hairline, the Dead Sea is evaporating from overuse, at a rate of around three feet a year. “I wouldn’t worry,” Katrivesis said. “You’d need 50 years for it to disappear.”