Our first full day in Jordan, we booked a private tour to Madaba, Mt Nebo and The Dead Sea. We booked the tour through Viator, but the tour company was Zaid Tours & Travel.
The tour as mentioned was private which meant we could stay for as long or as little at places as we liked! The highlights of the tour were:
- Private day trip to the Amman citadel, Madaba, Mount Nebo and the Dead Sea
- Look around the ruins of the Amman citadel and incredible Roman theater
- Visit St George’s Church in Madaba with a local guide and admire its mosaic Holy Land map
- Head to Mount Nebo to visit the Franciscan monastery and soak up views of Jordan Valley
- Upgrade to visit a Dead Sea resort with a private beach and superior facilities and enjoy free time to bob around in the mineral-rich water
Our first stop on the tour was Madaba, in particular St. George’s Church.
St George’s Church is a 19th century early Byzantine Greek Orthodox church and the most famous part of the church is the floor which contains an ancient mosaic map of the Middle East. This mosaic depicts the Holy Land, Jerusalem and many towns which archeologists are still trying to locate!
It was incredible to see a mosaic that dates back to around the 6th century AD and is a map of the Middle East!! So much detail has gone in to this and you can only imagine the stories that were told and the amount of time that must have gone in to making this mosaic.
The church walls contain many mosaics, each very unique to one another, however these do not contain historical significance and is donated to the church with the names of the members whom donated these written on a gold plaque at the bottom of each mosaic.
En route to Mount Nebo, we also stopped at a Mosaic shop where we watched women at work making mosaics. The mosaics are actually made upside down so the rough part of the small pieces of stone is facing upwards at the time of the making, once completed, they turn it over and the smooth side is the visible side! A small piece of mosaic work (something around an A5 size) can take 8 weeks to make!!! We then enjoyed free time to wonder around the shop to see what mosaics we may like!
Unfortunately our suitcases wouldn’t allow us to buy anything!!
Our next stop on the tour was Mount Nebo. We were greeted by Mohammed, a private guide at the site who explained the importance of Mount Nebo.
Mount Nebo is about 817 metres above sea level and overlooks Wadi Musa, which translated to English means the Valley of Moses. It is called this because it is believed that Moses ascended Mount Nebo to view the Promised Land which he was never able to enter and where he died on Mount Nebo, buried in an unknown location in Wadi Musa. To this day, no one has been able to find the burial site of Moses.
The site also includes the serpentine cross sculpture, which represents the cross upon which Jesus was crucified and the life saving bronze serpent (you’ll also notice that the serpent is depicted in many medical symbols around the world!)
The view you have from the summit is a panoramic view of the Promised Land. You can see the Dead Sea and the River of Jordan which is the border of Jordan, Israel and Palestine.
The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea – there is something incredible about this place!! It could be that it is the lowest point on earth, yes that’s right – on earth!! Or maybe it’s because no matter how hard you find it floating in a pool or in the ocean, everyone can float, easily, in the Dead Sea.
The tour allowed for around 3 hours, so we opted for the resort upgrade which meant we had access to The Dead Sea Spa Hotel which had access to a private beach and the typical resort facilities such as a restaurant, pools and shower facilities. When we were done floating in the dead sea, we could then use the pool and shower facilities to clean up before heading back to Amman.
It was already a very hot day, between 40 – 45 degrees celsius and when we arrived at the Dead Sea, because it is 429 metres below the sea level, the temperature increased to around 50 degrees and there was hardly a breeze. Suffice to say it was a scorcher!!!
A fun fact for you, the Dead Sea is actually a lake, not a sea!! It was given the name the Dead Sea because for the most part, you can’t actually see where the lake ends! And, the Dead Sea is 9.6 times saltier than the ocean, so you’re best not to get any of the water near your eyes or mouth!
Walking down to the private beach, there were a number of signs erected to indicate where the water levels were in earlier years (spread 5 years apart). We learned that on average, the Dead Sea loses around 1m of water every year and as you can see from the photo below, in 2000 the water level was much higher than it is now!
Jordan has recently started a project to add 1m of water to the Dead Sea every year so it remains at the current level, the theory is that the ratio of water and salt in the Dead Sea is at a maximum with a large amount of dormant layers of salt on the lakebed, so when the fresh water is pumped back into the lake, the ratio will remain consistent as the dormant layers of salt will ultimately be stirred up (think of a glass of water!) so you shouldn’t have any concern about the float-a-bility of your body in the future years!
When you reach the beach, you’ll notice a couple of large barrels filled with black mud, which we were encouraged to cover ourselves with and let it solidify in the sun before taking a dip in the Dead Sea to rinse it off.
The black mud comes from the banks of the Dead Sea and is actually silt washed down from the surrounding mountains. This mud contains high levels of calcium, strontium, magnesium, potassium, boron and iron. It is supposedly very good for your skin and we certainly felt baby smooth!
However, we were advised not to spend more than 20 minutes in the water without a short break and fresh water shower as that much salt can also be bad for your skin!
We then spent some time at the hotel pool in a spot of shade, got out, showered and thought we would relax under an umbrella covered sun bed, but even in the shade, it was literally like we just walked out of a sauna, the perspiration was constant and you couldn’t cool down! We decided to escape the 50 degree heat and went straight for the hotel’s air conditioning where we spent some time chatting to a like-minded traveller, sharing our experiences and what we had planned for the remainder of our time in Jordan.
For some unknown reason, our tour guide didn’t take us through the Citadel (we are waiting on a response from Viator!), although we did explore the Citadel on our own. Take a look at our Jordan: Amman blog to read about it!
“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag
The next blog will cover our Jordanian visit to Wadi Rum and Petra