I've been meaning to write this blog for a long while, probably because out of all my travels it would be the most obscure place I have been to.
Never been a big fan of the tourist track, political places seem to be more appealing for me (within limits of course).
First things first, sorting out all of the nooks and crannies of the visit. Believe me, Israel isn't like Europe or South East Asia, so keeping that in mind, organisation is crucial to visiting the country.
So you probably won't do things the way I did it, mostly because I stayed with friends when I was there. However, I will write around it, making sure all the boxes are ticked in order for you to get to the main sites in one piece.
The political situation in Israel makes the country incredibly volatile. You may arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv one day, and see that security are perfectly friendly towards you. At other times, if they get a whiff of suspicion, you may have to hang about for them to 'interrogate' you or simply be rude towards you.
|Border between Israel and Lebanon, Golan Heights|
Due to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian dispute, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen block passports containing stamps or visas from Israel.
You may also have difficulties getting into and/or be refused visas to other Islamic countries, such as Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, etc.
Sometimes, these countries don't notice that you have a stamp from Israel, or if you're lucky, the Israeli authority may not stamp your passport- in that case, you won't have to worry about visiting other countries. Right now however, it wouldn't be a good idea-so choose your travels wisely. They didn't with mine, and so I had no issues crossing into Indonesia (the largest Islamic country in the world).
If you intend to visit any of these nations, ask immigration to stamp a blank page, rather than your passport, when entering. Note that those countries will also search for Jordanian/Egyptian exit stamps from land borders with Israel and will likewise prohibit your entry if they find one. KEEP YOUR PAPERS SAFE!
All EU states can enter Israel visa-free for up to 3 months.
If, however, you are suspected of being of Arab descent, Muslim, or a political activist, it is possible that you will be subject to prolonged questioning, searches and/or denied entry.
Getting to and from Israel
Israel's main international airport is Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion International Airport, which is approximately 40km from Jerusalem and 12 km from central Tel Aviv, and serves both cities.
Cheapest time to fly is between November- March, avoiding peak time summer. I went via Lufthansa which is a pretty reliable airline to travel with. According to Skyscanner.net, in July 2012, flights were £237 return, which is very cheap for peak time travel. It can easily go up to £400 even with low cost airlines. But local airlines (if you don't mind supporting Israel's government) such as EL AL Israel Airlines usually provide cheaper fares then the big flash ones.
January can get very cold in the high areas, but actually summer is far too hot to appreciate nature in the country. Any other season, gives you a selection of nature's best vistas. In January, return flights can start from around £148.
Right, you may think that the Middle East may be exempt from Europe's extortionate prices, but unfortunately Israel still falls into that trap. It being one of the more developed countries in the region and its strong associations with the West, means that prices can reach the same levels as a Western European country.
I stayed with friends at the initial destination in Mikhmoret Beach (outskirts of Tel Aviv), which isn't the most touristy area. It is filled with hippy Jewish students teaching the way of surfing and yachting on its famous beaches and is famous for being a fishing village. But no doubt, it's a fabulous beach, so if you want to put your feet first in water, than staying in a cabin is a great idea.
The Resort Hostel is next to the beach, where you can meet amazing people and chill out in the dorms. Off peak it's about 12/13 euros per night and there are even hammocks to laze around in. Rooms are basic, but the whole area is made up of filling 'basic needs'. Not the place if you're looking for an actual beach resort. The nearest transport is a bus stop 50 metres away, but hitchhiking is widely acceptable in this area, as it is a small village.
I used this place as a hub, and that way it wasn't so strenuous lugging around a suitcase to the different cities.
NOTE: Israel is a pretty small country, you can go across the entirety of it between 5-10 hours, so it's not really worth moving around too much.
|Citadel Youth Hostel|
I absolutely loved the atmosphere of the Citadel Youth Hostel in Jerusalem. A unique experience staying in what seemed to be a cave with all of the cobble stones in the wall. But the fact that the open rooftop was also utilised as a sleeping space for all those adventurous souls wanting to nap under the stars, just seemed positively quirky (only from May-October). You can watch the sun set on the famous Dome from the top, well worth it really! It's again very basic meant for students (or not even that), so don't expect silk bedsheets.
WARNING: If you have a lot of luggage, finding this place is a bit of a nightmare. The cobble stone pavements make it impossible to carry a trolley around. And it's a little bit out of plain sight. Also, the cave like walls make sleeping quite stuffy.
Places to See
|Caesaria Sea Port|
I can honestly say 5 days is not enough to see the splendour of Israel. However, in that amount of time, it was well worth seeing:
- Caesarea Sea port
- Visit the Dead Sea
- Tour of the Old City in Jerusalem
- Wailing Wall
- Sea of Galilee
- Baha'i Gardens in Haifa
- Golan Heights
- West Bank (again if you are interested in the political side, it's not a tourist trail)
- And if you have enough time, definitely see Masada.
I lived on buses in Israel. They have quite an extensive bus route, but it isn't for the faint-hearted! At times, I would keep a phrasebook with me, just in case, and at times I definitely needed it. They are fast and reliable, and a lot cheaper than the West. It's definitely smart to plan well ahead.
The extensive national bus system is run by a public corporation called Egged (pronounced "Eg-ged"), the second-largest bus network in the world. Additionally, a bus company called Dan operates mainly in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, and other major cities such as Be'er Sheva, check their web site for details.
Egged, and Dan have English-speaking representatives with nation wide phone numbers. Some other companies are active as well.
I had to hitchhike several times, which seemed like the norm, but choose your areas wisely. You would be downright stupid to do it in the West Bank.