Would you like to visit Israel? Don’t be sceptical about the idea – it’s a very safe and fun place to visit despite what we read about it being a conflict zone. Let me share some travel tips to help you plan a trip to Israel – read here or tune in to the video.
Israel has been rated as amongst the #100GreatJourneys on the planet by me. Click here to read more.
Is Israel safe to visit?
Despite its troubles with Palestine, Israel goes that extra mile to ensure the safety of its residents and visitors. Do provision for extra time at airports – during departure and arrival – not just in Israel but even at the port of embarkation. But once you are in Israel, you will feel very safe and have fun. The news reports make the place sound worse than it actually is.
How do you get a visa for Israel?
It is not very difficult to get a visa for Israel – apply for one at their embassy or consulate in your country. You will be subject to heavy security checks and questioning at the embassy – but few applications are rejected since Israel is proactively promoting itself as a tourist destination.
Some people may not want an Israeli visa and immigration stamps on their passports – they fear it may lead to problems if they have to visit some Middle-Eastern countries who do not enjoy cordial relations with Israel. Although such fears are mostly unfounded, you can request for a paper visa so proof of visit to the country does not reflect on your passport.
How do you get to Israel?
Israel is served well by its national carrier, El Al, and many more from other regions. Most Middle-Eastern carriers do not fly to Israel though for political reasons.
What are the accommodation options in Israel?
Israel has a place to stay to suit all budgets and styles. These include budget to luxury hotels, homestays, hostels and guest houses.
How do you get around Israel?
The best way to see Israel is by road. Hire a car with a guide (who usually doubles up as your driver) or just self drive with some maps – it’s not difficult to navigate at all. You can stop wherever you like, take detours, say hello to strangers, relish the food, take photographs – it’s all simple and safe. And there is barely any traffic on the highways.
What are the attractions to visit in Israel?
Israel spoils you for choice despite its small size. There are many attractions you will want to visit and then re-visit. Some highlights not to be missed:
You land in Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean Sea – you can start or end your journey here.The Old Jaffa district here is an 8,000 year old port city. Walk around the cobble-stoned artist quarter, rummage through its flea markets, book a boat and head out to sea and have coffee at one of the many beautiful cafés overlooking the waters.
Jerusalem is probably the most newsy city in the world, making history by the minute ever since it was founded. When I drove into the city, I was expecting a war-ravaged city, one in half a ruin. Even now when I think about it, I am surprised how beautiful and well maintained the city is.
The city is not called the centre of the world for nothing. It is the birthplace of three major religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. No other place on the planet has been creating history every minute since its inception as Jerusalem has been. The city seems like a walkthrough of recorded history of mankind – archaeological sites, synagogues, monasteries, churches, mosques and museums are to be found in abundance.
It is striking to see some of the holiest shrines of the three religions standing adjacent to one another – people from all over the world make a confluence here out of religious or touristy interest. Christians have the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, supposedly the spot where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. The Western Wall is considered the most sacred in Judaism. And then you have the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque for the Muslims.
I got a panoramic view of the city from Mount Scopus; the more popular Mount of Olives had to be skipped due to a volatile political situation while I was there. Our guide took us for a walk to the Machane Yehuda open bazaar giving us an insight into lives of the locals – going about shopping for food supplies, offering prayers, socialising over a game of backgammon, and feasting at eateries of all kinds. Jerusalem too deserves its own itinerary; there is so much to see and do.
The Dead Sea, the lowest point on the planet, is a must for every visitor to Israel. I had dipped, actually floated, on the Jordanian side of the sea a few years back. You cannot sink in it no matter how hard you try; trying to swim is not a good idea either. It’s black mud is believed to have therapeutic and rejuvenating qualities for the skin – apply it if you want to. I didn’t. And don’t allow even a drop of the water to enter the eyes – it causes a burning sensation. And tasting the water will leave a bitter taste for a while. For me its blue waters, though lifeless, were beautiful enough. The rising and setting sun giving the sea a golden hue, and a near full moon reflecting in its waters, only made it more enchanting.
EILAT ON THE RED SEA
The Dead Sea is literally dead. In contrast, The Red Sea is as alive and rich as any place can be. It’s extensive beaches invited me to laze around, and gaze at adventure seekers getting thrills in and on the deep blue waters of the sea. Visitors and locals could never seem to have enough of adventure sports including wind and wave surfing, sail boating and parasailing. Then there were those taking leisurely rides on paddle and banana boats. I missed out on snorkelling and scuba diving to explore the Coral Reef Reserve, as well as a chance to swim, dive and be photographed with a friendly family of dolphins at the Dolphin Reef. But I did have time for seeing the wonders of the sea world without getting wet at the Coral World Underwater Observatory. Its collection of pools and aquariums are an expo of sharks, corals, sea turtles, and all kinds of rare fish and other life in the oceans. I feasted in Eilat’s restaurants – you get the best of cuisines from across the world, but had no energy and time left for bargain shopping. Eilat is Israel’s only tax free zone.
Can you imagine performing yoga with a group of hundreds under a full moon sky in a desert surrounded by cliffs and windswept structures? That’s what I witnessed at the Timna Park, known for its stunning landscapes and a fascinating history. Drive, cycle or walk around and see a naturally cut mushroom shaped rock, a spiral hill, arches and other strange formations that Nature carved out. The park has the remains of the world’s oldest copper mines – going back 6,000 years. This is where people first learned to use copper or, for that matter, any metal leading to a technological revolution. Egyptians established significant mining interests here. The annual yoga festival was held against the backdrop of Solomon’s Pillars; these sandstone pillars were named after King Solomon due to an earlier mistaken belief that copper mining activities in the area were a part of Solomon’s activities. If the yoga in the desert was not mesmerising enough, dinner and soulful middle-eastern music at the artificial Timna lake was truly the perfect end to the visit.
Every country has stories and legends that all its citizens know of, and they can never tire of recounting these to all those who care to listen. Such is the story of Masada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near the Dead Sea. A palatial Roman style fortress on a hill approached by cable car, it was built by Herod, King of Judea. Masada is famous for a story that sure gave me goosebumps. To put it concisely: In 66 A.D., the Great Revolt of the Jews broke out against the ruling Romans, and a group of rebels lead by Eleazar Ben Yair fled to Masada from Jerusalem when most was lost. The Romans laid siege to the fortress to break down the last remaining resistance in 73 or 74 A.D. Figuring they could not hold out against the overwhelming Roman Legion, Eleazar Ben Yair convinced all 960 men, women and children to take their own lives than be subject to the humiliation and shame of being Roman slaves. Only two women and five children survived whose accounts tell us of this history. Every Israeli has grown up listening to stories of this bravado.
What is the best time to visit Israel?
Summers can be harsh, but you can visit anytime between September to April. Winters can get wet at times but that should not be a deterrent.
How much should you budget for a trip to Israel?
Israel is perceived as a tad expensive destination to visit, but that’s not really the case. The country has been promoting itself as a tourist destination, and you can find attractive packages from agents. A DIY trip can even be cheaper and more adventurous.
In a nutshell, what would I recommend about Israel?
- Definitely go.
- Don’t let security issues hold you back.
- It’s a place for most budgets.
- You can go anytime of the year.
- Explore by road.
- The best part of Israel are its people. You will love them for their warmth and hospitality.