More Jordan links
To get to the Dead Sea it is easiest to go from Amman. There are buses from Muhajrin station that take you to Sweymeh. Be careful not to miss the last bus back at 4pm or you will have to spend the night there and there is no budget accommodation available. (Note that the Dead Sea Resthouse has been closed for some time!)
However, there is now a bus route from Madaba which passes by Mount Nebo and connects at Shunieh with a bus for Sweymeh. There are several buses a day on this route which takes a bit less than an hour. At Shunieh it is also possible to get the bus to Amman, so you can do Amman - Dead Sea - Madaba (or vice versa) in one day if you like.
The public beach is not really what most tourists are looking for!
There are some good facilities for bathing at "Amman Beach" about 1km from the Dead Sea Spa Hotel which is closed. The entrance fee is 15JD and 10JD for children, it offers facilities for changing, showers for getting rid of the salt, but nowhere safe to keep valuables while you are in the water. You can rent a towel for 2JD. Overnight camping there is no longer allowed. Buses from Amman use their car park as a terminus, but tend to run on demand. There is a lot of demand on Fridays, but most of us would find it a bit too much of a good thing then.
The salt is very unpleasant on your skin, not to mention being bad for any clothes you will put on, so it is pretty well mandatory to be able to wash it off afterwards.
If the 16JD at Amman Beach is too expensive, I suggest you do what many locals do: keep on going down the road which eventually runs along the shore with the mountains rising immediately to your left. Along there you will find plenty of quiet spots to go down to the shore and bathe in the Dead Sea. To rinse off afterwards, keep going down the road until you come to a bridge over a stream which comes down a narrow gorge and enters the Dead Sea. The stream is very warm and fresh and well worth walking upriver a bit - climbing up the waterfalls can be good fun! This place is very popular (see the photo above) - try to avoid Fridays!
You also have the possibility of bathing in the Dead Sea from the beach at Wadi Mujib (see the page on Wadi Mujib)
It is also possible to use the facilities of one of the big resort hotels for the day: the charge runs to about 30/35JD per person. Obviously you are given towels for this, and you have access to the bar, and so on.
Note that swimming in the Dead Sea means that any abrasions or pimples will sting like fury and when you get water in your eyes they also sting a lot. Certainly floating is enjoyable, but getting upright again isn't; you splash around quite a lot, and unless you are being very cautious you get water in your eyes all over again- DO NOT RUB THEM! The sea bottom is covered with slimy mud! Once is OK but next time I shall sit and watch other people going through all this. The Red Sea is better.
There is no budget sleeping accommodation anywhere near the Dead Sea, you would have to go to Madaba or to Amman (see note above about buses).
Bethany beyond the Jordan
It was already known in 1940 that an interesting archaeological site existed in Wadi Kharrar, a small stream flowing into the River Jordan not far from the Allenby Bridge. With the coming of peace between Israel and Jordan in 1994, and the clearing of the landmines in this area, it became possible to undertake some serious research in this area, marked on the Madaba Map as "the place of willows".
The discoveries made surpassed all expectations. The key discoveries to date are the Byzantine monastery and Roman era remains at Tell el-Kharrar; several smaller churches, chapels, monks' hermitages, caves, and cells; a large Byzantine church complex adjacent to the Jordan River; an impressive ceramic pipeline bringing water to Bethany beyond the Jordan from several kilometres to the east; a large plastered pool and adjacent chapel halfway between the Bethany settlement and the Jordan River; a pilgrims' rest station and caravanserai east of Bethany, on the route to Mount Nebo; and other scattered remains whose function is not clear. One of the most important sites recently found in the Middle East had been brought to light.
This site, conforming rigorously to descriptions by early travellers, was identified as the Biblical Bethany, where Martha and Mary lived, and where John the Baptist baptised Jesus. This identification was officially recognised in 2000 when it was visited by Pope John Paul II. The presence of distinctive local early Roman domestic pottery on the site's south plateau, confirming that the site was used at the time of Christ. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, is said to have crossed the Jordan River and visited the cave where John the Baptist lived, and built a church there to commemorate him.
The hill has long been known as Elijah's Hill, or Jebel Mar Elias or Tell Mar Elias in Arabic due to the legend that it is the place where Elijah ascended to heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot and horses of fire, after having parted the waters of the Jordan River and walked across it with his anointed successor the Prophet Elisha.
The site is a large one, covering several square kilometers. the principal part of it is the Tell, (also called "Elijah's Hill"), where you can see several churches, three caves and three baptismal pools, together with the water supply, of channels leading from the two wells.
1. The mosaic floor of the main church.
2. The water cisterns
3. The cave and church of John the Baptist
4. The large baptismal pool
6. The church of John Paul II
7. Water channels
8. Prayer room
Below the church, and running down to the river Jordan is a thicket of tamarisk trees, crossed by paths. Here is the Byzantine church built by the Empress Helena alongside two other churches of different periods. This is the area that the prophet Jeremiah called "the jungle of the Jordan" and the growth is lush here.
There is a Visitors' Centre (phone 05 359 0360) a couple of kilometers from the site itself, from where a system of minibuses can take you to it. You pay your 5JD at the gate across the road (you get a brochure with a decent site plan), then park in front of the Visitors Centre which offers souvenir shops, toilets, Dead Sea products etc. A free shuttle bus then takes people round the site every 15-20 mins, stopping at Parking 3 (for the church of St John, the new Greek Orthodox church and the river), Parking 2 (caves and baptism pools) and Parking 1 (Elijah's Hill and John Paul II church). The entrance fee includes a guide.
There is at the moment no public transport to this important site, but excursions can easily be arranged from Madaba.