Madaba Day Trip to Mount Nebo, Bethany, Dead Sea

When I was in Madaba, I went for a half-day excursion to biblical sites close to town. Those sites are Mount Nebo, Bethany and the Dead Sea. Tourists can also go on a similar excursion from Amman but I preferred to go from Madaba as the distance to the biblical sites were closer and accommodation were actually cheaper than Amman.

Mount Nebo

Mount Nebo holds a great significance for the 3 major religions in the world: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Having led the Israelites from the wilderness after 40 years ago, it was here – at a vantage point – Moses was granted the view of the Promised Land by God but was forbidden to enter. This momentous event took place towards the end of Moses’ life.

As stated in Deuteronomy 34:1-8, the Lord said to Moses, “This is the Land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that I would give to their descendants. I have let you see this with your own eyes but you shall not cross over it”.

madaba day trip mount nebo view of promised land

Moses died at the age of 120 years old and is believed to be buried somewhere in the valleys of Mount Nebo but no one knows the exact burial place. After Moses’ death, his successor, Joshua led the Israelites across the River Jordan into the Holy Land.

On a clear day, one can see Jericho and Jerusalem from the viewpoint.

madaba day trip mount nebo vantage point

A modern sculpture shaped in the form of a serpentine cross was created by an Italian artist. The serpentine cross symbolises the serpent lifted by Moses in the wilderness and the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. Also, the sculpture was inspired by Jesus’ words in John chapter 3: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son Of Man be lifted up”.

madaba day trip serpentine cross

Bethany: The Baptism Site

On the banks of the River Jordan is one of the most important discoveries in Middle Eastern archaeology – the identification of Bethany-beyond-the Jordan. Not to be confused with Bethany in Israel, Bethany-beyond-the Jordan refers to the Bethany situated on the eastern part of the River Jordan in the Gospel of St John 1:28. It is here that John the Baptist had once lived, preached and performed baptisms particularly the baptism of Jesus.

To-date, archaeologists have discovered 21 sites comprising Byzantine churches, baptismal pools, monk and hermit caves, pilgrim lodges and other medieval findings, all of which seemed to align with biblical and pilgrim accounts of this area. Hence, the Kingdom of Jordan and international experts are convinced of the authenticity of this area.

madaba day trip bethany baptismal pool
Baptism over at the Israel side of the Jordan River. The lines on the river mark the international borders between Israel and Jordan.

Official guides must accompany visitors as some of the sites are situated very close to the West Bank in Israel. Therefore, to prevent unwanted incidents, an official guide has to accompany the local shuttle bus tour or in your private vehicle.

The shuttle bus arrives at the Visitors’ Centre every 15-20 minutes, and the languages spoken in the tour are firstly Arabic, followed by English. The bus tour starts off at Tell Mar Elyas (Elijah’s Hill) before dropping off at the Baptismal Pool from where visitors walk to the Church of St John the Baptist and down the trickling Jordan River. Later the bus returns to pick-up the visitors and the tour ends at the Visitors’ Centre.

madaba day trip bethany church of st john the baptist

Dead Sea

The biggest open-air spa and one of the major highlights of Jordan is the Dead Sea. Why is it called the Dead Sea? The Dead Sea is 9 times more salty than the ocean, thus underwater plants and animals cannot survive in its water. The Dead Sea is fed by the Jordan River which originates from the Galilee River in Lebanon. However, there is no outlet for the Dead Sea and adding to its high density of salt, the water eventually evaporates. Its black mud is mineral-rich and is used for therapeutic and cosmetic treatments.

madaba day trip dead sea evaporation
Atmospheric haze over the Dead Sea

The sad thing about the Dead Sea is that the level of water flowing from the Jordan River has reduced significantly over the past decades due to political issues with Israel which has diverted much of the water from Jordan. Plus with the evaporation of water, scientists opined that the Dead Sea will no longer exist in the next couple of decades! There is talk about a project involving Jordan, Palestine and Israel whereby water is to be taken from the Red Sea and to be pumped into the Dead Sea. When that project will take place involving much billions of investments – and in my opinion, the status of Palestine is not recognised in the eyes of Israel – is questionable.

I suppose many of you are wondering if I had gone for a swim and float on the Dead Sea? Sorry to disappoint you, no, I didn’t! 🙂 I was misinformed by my driver who said that the public Amman Beach did not have any shower facilities (you need to wash off the salt after swimming), as such, I went to another public beach just to take these pictures. Moreover, there are attire rules for women and the public beaches are actually quite dirty with garbage strewn all over, thus it’s not advisable to go there.

Local man swimming with black mud on his face
Local man swimming with black mud on his face

There are private 4-star and 5-star hotels along the banks of the Dead Sea where day passes are available which includes the full use of the hotel facilities and the Dead Sea beachfronts. But the day passes cost about JOD40 on weekdays and JOD50 on weekends. It was just too expensive for me (when I converted to Malaysian Ringgit) for a few hours, hence I skipped this option too.

Another reason why I didn’t want to float on the Dead Sea? I wear contact lens. Apparently swimmers would struggle to get up after floating – hands and feet waving in the air, water splashing – salt water would get into my eyes, my contact lens, therefore I passed up the opportunity haha!


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madaba day trip mount nebo bethany dead sea katpegimana

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 *Linking with #CityTripping , #FarawayFiles and #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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  1. So much history! You had a chance to visit some pretty amazing places here, and it’s been great reading about them. The whole region is so interesting, on so many levels. Thanks for sharing your experiences on #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    1. Thanks Rob, glad that you’re enjoying my stories 🙂 My Jordan trip is one of those once-in-a-lifetime trip, am feeling blessed that I got a chance to go there. Hope you get the chance too!

  2. It must have been amazing to see these ancient sites with such historical and religious significance with your own eyes! It really is a pity about the Dead Sea – it’s such a popular tourist attraction (not to mention its cosmetic uses), you’d think they would be more interested in preserving it.

    1. Absolutely agree with you – yeah, you would think that they would be more keen to preserve it – or maybe they are trying their very best to preserve it. But as usual, politics tend to come in between.

  3. I heard that the Dead Sea was shrinking, which is incredibly sad. Bummer you didn’t have a chance to go swimming in it, although if it’s really so dirty then it’s a good thing you didnt! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    1. Yes, that’s true, the Dead Sea is shrinking because the rate of evaporation due to high salt content is greater than the amount of water flowing into the lake from Galilee (Israel is taking more than their share of the water). I think the Dead Sea water is OK except that it’s very salty. The public beach is very dirty unless of course, I pay through my nose to hang out the private beach resort.

  4. I would like to see this sights. I have seen some Biblical places in Turkey but I do not think they compare to the ones found in Israel and Jordan. It is a dream of mine to experience these places.

    1. Jordan is the closest I can get to explore biblical places. The ultimate is Israel but unfortunately, my Malaysian passport prohibits me from entering Israel 🙁 Well, what can I say – global politics!!

  5. One day I will make it to the Dead Sea, cover myself in mud and float, while knitting, or reading the paper 😉 It’s one of those experiences that you just have to live, sometime!!

  6. i find it so amazing that three of the major world religions find their origins in the same places. Thank you for sharing this interesting part of the world with #FarawayFiles – I would love to get to Jordan one day. Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

    1. Jordan is fascinating, just like Israel – all the 3 main religions have origins in the same region. Btw, thank you so much for being able to share your comment here. I understand how frustrating my website can be especially with the comment box something which I’m desperately trying to resolve with WP 🙁

  7. Such fascinating places, Kat. How amazing to see some of the sights written about in the Bible. My first question would have been about whether you floated in the Dead Sea so thanks for answering that one! Thanks for sharing this with us on #FarawayFiles

    1. Haha, yeah that’s the first thing people asked me when I mentioned Dead Sea 🙂 Btw, thanks for your comment, I understand my website can be problematic when it comes to posting comments, something which I’m still trying to resolve 🙁 I have now escalated the issue to WP, hope it gets resolved soon. Apparently they made changes to the WP Reader which might be related to my issue especially with WP followers.

      Here’s wishing you and your family Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

  8. Hi Kat
    Thanks to you I’m getting to experience a virtual tour of this spectacular place … Inspired to visit someday, maybe!
    I had only heard about the Dead Sea, your post was so insightful! I imagine floating around & taking in the minerals:)

    1. Thanks Divya, I’m happy that my posts are inspiring you to visit Jordan, hopefully some day! There will be more posts on Jordan coming up soon especially on Petra which most people are waiting for haha… cheers 🙂

  9. Floating in the dead sea is definitely something I would love to do! (without the mud pack on my face though!) You have shared some very interesting history, Kat! Did you go to Aqaba as well?

    Loving your Jordan posts!

    1. Thanks Divsi, am thrilled that you are enjoying my posts! No, I didn’t go to Aqaba, decided to spend more time in Madaba, after which I moved on to Petra and ended at Wadi Rum before returning to Malaysia 🙂

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