In Prepare for your Vacation in Israel – Create your own Itinerary, Part I, we have talked about defining the duration of your tour, creating the outline of the itinerary with the main points you want to see and choosing the hotels. In this part II we are talking about other issues like the transport, tourist guide and other preparations for a successful tour.
You now know how long you stay in Israel on vacation and what you want to see. You also have an idea what hotels you are sleeping in and now the next issue is the transport.
Transport for tourists in Israel can be in various ways implemented, all of that depending on your budget. One thing about the transport, it’s expensive. And you have several options, which has its good and bad points.
- Rent and drive a car
- Hire car and driver
- Public transportation
Rent your own car
The easiest, cheapest and most comfortable way to move through Israel is by your own transportation (even when you rented the car or bus). The prices are reasonable and you have many options. Having your own transport beats everything else … except when you go into the wilderness of Israel (and there is). But still this is without any doubt the least complicated mode of travel.
But there are some things you need to take into consideration.
- If you travel with a group of less then 4 people, it might be more expensive then other options.
- You need to get good maps, because you don’t know your way in Israel. The network of highways are great, and the quality of the streets and roads (even in the wilderness) is excellent as well. With the help of a good map it’s possible to find your way from sight to sight.
- With the help of your mobile phone and GSM (which is free downloadable), it’s even easier to find your way.
- But it’s more pressure for the driver compared with the alternative that someone else is doing the driving.
- Pricing varies of course. In Israel you pay about $170 per week for a small car (Kia Picanto) and a 9 seats Citroen Jumpy for $900 a week.
An alternative to renting your own car is hiring a driver as well. Prices for professional drivers are about $200 per day. And if you plan to hire him multiple days, you need to feed and house him or her too.
Note There are Israelis who are willingly to drive you around for about $100 per day, but those are not professional drivers.
Note To hire a guide and driver in one is not a good idea, because many of the tourist guides are doing their work during the driving to and from a sight and that’s important and it might even be dangerous.
Summarizing for a week tour (7 days, 6 nights), you pay about $900 a week for a 9 seat car. For a 9 seat car and driver, you pay about $1,400 for the driver and $900 for the car, which is totally $2,300.
Rent a car (normal car, bus) and driver
The other option is renting a car or bus. And that’s a better idea then using your own transport. Why? No detailed maps then only a tourist map is needed. Nobody gets stressed out when things go wrong and you make a wrong turn. You always get where you want to be.
- I’ve mentioned the reasons why this might be a good idea. Now some things like costs.
- To rent a transport with driver for 3 persons, it will cost you $510 per day! When you go to Eilat, it cost you $740 a day. Oof. I know.
- To rent a transport with driver for 9 people, it will cost you $585 and $940 for Eilat per day.
- To rent a transport with driver for 16 people, it will cost you $670 and $970 for Eilat per day.
- To rent a transport with driver for 51 people, it will cost you $690 and $1,240 for Eilat per day.
Summarizing you pay for a 9 seat car and driver $585 per day, 7 days for $4,095! You don’t need to feed or house the driver.
These are the default prices for tourists in Israel. If you allow me to intermediate, you pay for a vehicle of 19 seats about $500 per day with driver. But it’s a question of negotiating and it cost you $40 per hour to rent me to arrange the transport for you.
Public transport and taxis
In Israel there are trains and buses and the country is overloaded with taxis. And they work fine, are not so expensive and can be used easily to transport you to the places you want to go. The train network is a bit restricted, because it connects indeed the large cities, but not everywhere (like Eilat).
Buses are coming everywhere. It’s a good way or mode for travel, except when you have loads of luggage and you need to be somewhere early. It takes time to use the public transport to go to a certain place in Israel. There are waiting times and it might be busy and the bus is overloaded. Bus transport goes every 10 minutes from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but that’s not the case for example from Jerusalem to Tiberias.
A good alternative for a bus is the Sherut Service. Those are a combination between a taxi and bus in the form of a taxi-bus. The prices are the same as the bus, except that there are limited number of passengers in the taxi bus and it goes faster. The Sherut Service is taking the same routes as the buses. There is for many bus-lines (i.e. line 50 in Tel Aviv) a Sherut taxi bus.
And when you are in the city, you are still not at the sight you want to visit. A good alternative is using the taxi from that spot to the sight.
Using the public transport is cheaper then renting a car with driver, but in the end it might not so much differ, because you depend on the times of the buses and renting taxis to arrive at your final destination and you will be exhausted at the end of the day.
We discussed hotels and transport, now to the guides.
Well, I’m a guide myself, but I have certain standards and minimum requirements each guide suppose to have, but about those standards later.
In Israel there are actually two kinds of guides: The licensed and the not licensed guides. Internationally, you would say that only licensed guides apply for any group, but this is Israel and things are different here.
Because of the very bad education system, the ministry of tourism is not an exceptional, their training programs for guides are also extremely bad. To be a licensed guide you need to have a certain amount of knowledge. That’s it. But a person what that kind of (very basic) knowledge doesn’t make a guide!
Prices for low-budget guides
Prices for hiring a guide is about $100 (and lower) per day for a none-licensed guide, who is mostly a native Israeli or Arab. Nothing wrong with them, but most of them don’t have the mindset to be a guide, even when they know their stories.
A couple decided to hire an Israeli Arab as their driver with his car for $90 per day. When the couple was waiting for him at the airport, the driver finally arrived after one hour. While touring, the driver thought that being a guide was nice and easy and hoped for big tips, so he started to talk from the beginning of the day till the couple could hide in their hotel room. At the end of the tour, the guide asked how they liked the tour, the husband said that he needed extra vacation to get rid of the headache.
Prices for experienced guides
Another group of guides cost you more then $100 per day (about my rate, $150/day). Those are mostly not native Israelis and speak multiple languages next to English (I speak six languages) and live and work in Israel for at least 20 years (as guide). They originally come from the US or Europe (I know some Australians as well) and they are older then the normal 20+ guides from the first group.
Prices for licensed guides
Then the third group of guides are the so called licensed guides with day rates from $250 and more. Those people think they know the their thing and demand a lot of things from their groups they guide through Israel. For the standard tourists in Israel, you better can buy a guide book about Israel then listen to the man or woman, because that’s what they tell about and not a letter more. And they have some attitude problems and tend to be more aggressive when someone from their group is becoming critical about him or his or her beloved Israel. Oh, and they tend to insist receiving tips (which none of them shares with the driver!).
90% of the last group are (Nationalistic) Jewish, 10% Christians. The second group, 50% of them are Jews and the first group 10% are Jewish, 50 Palestinian and 40% Israeli Arab.
Guides and drivers in one
Many guides own a car or invest in one. They offer their services as a guide and driver. That’s dangerous, because the job of a guide doesn’t stop when he or she and the group is in transit, in the contrary, it’s prepping time to prepare the group for the next set of sights and the background and answering questions.
It’s bad because of several reasons. When you speak to people about something, you need eye contact at least to see if what you tell is also received accordingly. That does not happen when you drive and speak.
You need to be available for everyone ans answer their questions and notice potential problems.
The next problem is safety. If you talk and drive, you increase the risk of accidents and that is absolutely forbidden and unforgivable for a guide.
The best guide for the best group
When the group of tourists are Christians, a Christian guide is required. When the group are Pilgrims, a more religious guide is required, a true believer. When the group is a large family, a married man is the guide. When the group is a young family with children, a family man is the guide. When there are teenagers, the same family man is there as guide.
A tour company (15 years ago) assigned a Russian speaking tour guide to a group of people from Holland. The group, 32 people strong and only males, were working for the NASA. After the guide was picking up his group from the airport and brought them to their hotel in Tel Aviv, called his boss in the evening and was wondering why his group was so ‘angry’ with him. His boss, an Israeli 52 years old, had no idea what NATO was and what it stood for. Can you imagine how that tour went with the Russian guide. After three days the guide quit the company … and the tour.
The first thing for a guide is the responsibility for the group. He or she is the ultimate authority when on tour and the guide is the one, who will make everything go smooth and pleasant. Just like a captain of a ship, the guide is the ultimate authority without letting anyone feeling any authority, except the hotels, restaurants, sights, events, travel, etc.
Premonition and act before problems occur
The guide needs to observe if someone starts to fell unwell and before it becomes worse, the guide needs to interfere and provide help. The guide is the one, who drags extra water, shoes, hats, sweaters and the whole thing with him or her.
When the group is walking though a busy town, the guide is the one who can keep an eye on everyone, also the slow walkers and/or the enthusiastic shoppers gawking at shops. A professional guide is someone who already expects who will walk slower, who will be tempted by the shops, the food, the junk food, the fast walkers, those who are easily bored and distracted, etc and he takes care that the group will return safely to the bus … complete.
Telling the story
Of course one of the main duties of the guide is to present the story for the various sights the group is scheduled to see and visit. But a good story teller is not only focusing the story when the group is there, but the guide is telling the background already in the bus and on their way to the sight or event. At the actual spot the guide will point to the interesting parts and tell the story behind the story, what you don’t find in many books, especially not the tourist books. What’s interesting is the human side of the stories about ‘boring’ statues or walls or houses or ruins. For example how the battles occurred hundreds, even thousands of years ago and why.
And the guide must be able to tell the story to a group of teenagers as a group of Pilgrims and make it understandable and interesting. That’s why he gets paid for, not?
At a standard Catholic tour with a very well known tour company four years ago, the guide (native Israeli) got sick during the third day of the 7 day tour. He went to the dentist who pulled out all his teeth (he had a small infection). The next day in the morning he was back, but the problem was when he was telling his story, nobody could understand the poor man.
Costs for guides
You’re not finished with asking how much a guide cost and multiply his day rate with the number of days you want him or her in your tour. You also need to house him and of course he eats with the group. If not, the guide is going to charge you for that and that will always be more expensive then you pay for him together with the group.
So, if you calculate the total costs for your tour, include the guide and the driver as part of your tour. And yes, the driver also needs to be included (unless you pay for professional driver and vehicle).
Tipping the driver and guide
There is no law in Israel, which will forbid you to tip the guide or driver. And there is also no law, which will force you to tip any of them.
Some guides insist on a generous tips and they will show how annoyed they are if you don’t tip them. It’s really a shame when that happens again. The fact – what the guide seems to forget – is that the driver and guide gets paid. That’s more then enough.
That said, many groups like to show their appreciation of good work. In those cases, tradition shows that at the end of the tour, when the bus drives to the airport, that one tourist will take a ‘hat’ and hands it over to each member of the group to place money in it. At the end, they hand the hat over to the guide.
Normally, the guide suppose to share the tip money with the driver, but many times that doesn’t happen. Also the guide thinks that without him, the tour would not survive. Well, without the driver, nobody moves, without guide, the tour continues nicely.
In my opinion, don’t tip the guide. If you really must, tip the driver.
There is a reason why it’s so important for the guide to receive their tip. It’s his wife (or husband). If the guide comes home and he or she can show the extra money, it will be appreciated. But hell happens when he shows up with nothing extra!
Israeli food or food in Israel are two different things. When your tour is organized with hotels with breakfast, then for the breakfast there is not much to be changed. Mostly it’s self-service breakfast, where you pick what you want. For those with a sweet tooth you need to wait until the group can leave the hotel after the breakfast. And it’s a very good idea to eat well.
The guide is there to arrange the whole administrative thing and the group will go to the bus and on its way for a day of touring.
I’m not going to tell you here what food you can eat in Israel and the differences and options. But I’m describing the prices and options you have to plan your tour (or to keep an eye on your guide with an existing tour).
Who decides what and where to eat?
The one and only person responsible for the group is the guide. By definition, in Israel and Israeli tours, the group has no say in where and what the group is going to eat. The guide – many times – assumes that the group wants to eat the ‘Israeli’ food with the humus, salad and barbecued like meat at a restaurant.
Many of such restaurants are being run by Arab or Israeli Arab families with their many sons, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, parents, grand parents and maybe some good family friends. When the guide arrives at such restaurant, the group sits down to eat and at the end of the meal they leave. Here occurs the ‘dance of the turkey’. The guide pays for the meal (his own meal is free) and restaurant pays the guide (in secret of course).
This is so wrong, but it’s the common practice in Israel. The guide gets paid by the company or tour operator, expects to (generous) receive tips from the group and to be paid every time he brings a group to a restaurant, hotel and shops.
I, and the guides I work with, refuse to work like that. If we receive money from restaurants, our work is compromised. What everyone suppose to eat is what I show in pictures here:
Prices of meals in restaurants
A normal meal in a normal restaurant in Israel cost you between $12-$19. A meal for 2 people, mid-range restaurant, three-course, cost you between $40-$65. McMeal at McDonalds cost you between $11-$14. Domestic Beer $7.50, imported beer $6.60, Cappuccino $3.30, a Coke for $2.30 and water (0.33 liter bottle) $1.77.
In principle, the prices for restaurants are 8.73% lower then those of New York, USA. If you look at the prices for McDonalds in Israel, it’s 63% more expensive, a coke is 22% more expensive, but a meal is 20% cheaper and coffee is 24% cheaper.
Prices in Israel might quite differ depending on the location. Prices for restaurant, cafes and bars in Tel Aviv are different then the same in another city, like the cities in Beer Sheva or Tiberias.
Prices in Tiberias
|Meal, Inexpensive Restaurant||14.56 $||9.27–17.21|
|Meal for 2 People, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course||46.34 $||21.18–66.20|
|McMeal at McDonalds (or Equivalent Combo Meal)||11.92 $||5.30–13.24|
|Domestic Beer (0.5 liter draught)||7.15 $||2.12–7.94|
|Imported Beer (0.33 liter bottle)||6.62 $||6.62–7.15|
|Cappuccino (regular)||3.62 $||2.12–4.50|
|Coke/Pepsi (0.33 liter bottle)||1.99 $||1.06–2.38|
|Water (0.33 liter bottle)||1.68 $||0.79–1.85|
Here are the prices for the cost of living for those who are visiting Israel as tourist:
|Meal, Inexpensive Restaurant||14.56 $||11.92–18.53|
|Meal for 2 People, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course||52.96 $||39.72–66.20|
|McMeal at McDonalds (or Equivalent Combo Meal)||11.92 $||11.12–13.24|
|Domestic Beer (0.5 liter draught)||7.41 $||5.30–7.94|
|Imported Beer (0.33 liter bottle)||6.62 $||3.97–7.94|
|Cappuccino (regular)||3.23 $||2.65–3.97|
|Coke/Pepsi (0.33 liter bottle)||2.26 $||1.85–2.65|
|Water (0.33 liter bottle)||1.77 $||1.32–2.38|
|Milk (regular), (1 liter)||1.53 $||1.35–1.72|
|Loaf of Fresh White Bread (500g)||1.72 $||1.32–2.38|
|Rice (white), (1kg)||2.11 $||1.59–2.65|
|Eggs (12)||3.34 $||3.18–3.97|
|Local Cheese (1kg)||11.69 $||9.27–15.89|
|Chicken Breasts (Boneless, Skinless), (1kg)||8.34 $||6.88–9.53|
|Beef Round (1kg) (or Equivalent Back Leg Red Meat)||17.28 $||13.24–21.18|
|Apples (1kg)||2.32 $||1.85–2.65|
|Banana (1kg)||1.84 $||1.32–2.38|
|Oranges (1kg)||1.47 $||1.06–2.12|
|Tomato (1kg)||1.41 $||0.93–2.12|
|Potato (1kg)||1.04 $||0.79–1.32|
|Onion (1kg)||0.85 $||0.53–1.06|
|Lettuce (1 head)||1.36 $||1.06–1.72|
|Water (1.5 liter bottle)||1.15 $||0.66–1.85|
|Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range)||10.59 $||7.94–13.24|
|Domestic Beer (0.5 liter bottle)||2.36 $||1.85–2.91|
|Imported Beer (0.33 liter bottle)||3.13 $||2.38–3.97|
|Pack of Cigarettes (Marlboro)||8.74 $||7.94–9.27|
|One-way Ticket (Local Transport)||1.59 $||1.56–1.83|
|Monthly Pass (Regular Price)||64.34 $||52.96–70.96|
|Taxi Start (Normal Tariff)||3.26 $||3.18–4.77|
|Taxi 1km (Normal Tariff)||1.06 $||0.79–1.85|
|Taxi 1hour Waiting (Normal Tariff)||24.89 $||21.18–31.77|
|Gasoline (1 liter)||1.61 $||1.54–1.72|
|Volkswagen Golf 1.4 90 KW Trendline (Or Equivalent New Car)||34,421.79 $||31,773.96–35,745.70|
|Toyota Corolla 1.6l 97kW Comfort (Or Equivalent New Car)||34,345.78 $||33,097.87–35,375.00|
|Sports And Leisure||Avg.|
|Fitness Club, Monthly Fee for 1 Adult||69.10 $||52.96–79.43|
|Tennis Court Rent (1 Hour on Weekend)||14.61 $||9.27–21.18|
|Cinema, International Release, 1 Seat||10.59 $||9.80–11.92|
|Clothing And Shoes||Avg.|
|1 Pair of Jeans (Levis 501 Or Similar)||85.45 $||66.20–119.15|
|1 Summer Dress in a Chain Store (Zara, H&M, …)||55.48 $||39.72–79.43|
|1 Pair of Nike Running Shoes (Mid-Range)||112.45 $||92.67–132.39|
|1 Pair of Men Leather Business Shoes||113.02 $||92.67–158.87|
|Rent Per Month||Avg.|
|Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre||863.83 $||661.96–1,191.52|
|Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre||676.36 $||503.09–926.74|
|Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre||1,382.00 $||979.70–1,985.87|
|Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre||1,120.99 $||794.35–1,456.31|
I added the prices for rent, transportation, sport, clothing and more to the price list of Israel, because I’m sure that the ladies and gentlemen of the group want to do some shopping.
We talked about how to create a tour yourself. In this article, part I and II, you can see how and what it takes to create a tour yourself for you and your family, friends, company, church, etc. I offered you my help in case that. I think that you’ve now a real good idea how much such tour takes in efforts, resources and money.
I didn’t talk about airfare, neither about entry visa and other papers. I also didn’t talk about insurance you really need to have before you arrive here or step on that airplane. There are some details, which need to be arranged and researched before you actually can put a price tag to your tour.
If you have that price tag, you can compare it with an existing tour in the Internet and make a well informed decision what to do next.
Other business to consider for a tour
Visas, Security & Entry Stamps
Israel no longer stamps tourists’ passports – instead, it issues you with a playing card–sized slip of paper.
Israel no longer stamps tourists’ passports (though it retains the right to do so). Instead, visitors are given a small loose-leaf entry card to serve as proof of lawful entry. It’s easy to lose but try not to as it’s your only proof that you’re in the country
We’ve heard reports of Israeli authorities at Allenby/King Hussein Bridge and Ben-Gurion airport issuing ‘Palestinian Authority Only’ entry permits to travelers with family or personal connections in the West Bank, making it difficult or impossible to get past the IDF roadblocks that regulate traffic from the West Bank into Israel, including Jerusalem.
Conversely, authorities at the airport have been known to require that some travellers sign a form declaring that they will not enter the Palestinian Authority without permission from Israeli authorities.
Students require a student (A/2) visa; kibbutz volunteers must arrange, through their host organization, a volunteer’s (B/4) visa.
ON-ARRIVAL TOURIST VISAS
In general, Western visitors to Israel and the Palestinian Territories are issued free on-arrival tourist (B/2) visas by Israel. For specifics on who qualifies, visit www.mfa.gov.il (click on ‘Consular Services’ and then ‘Visas’).
Your passport must be valid for at least six months from the date of entry. Officials can demand to see proof of sufficient funds and/or an onward or return ticket but rarely do so.
On-arrival visas are usually valid for 90 days. But some travelers, such as those entering by land from Egypt or Jordan, may be given just 30 days or even two weeks – it’s up to the discretion of the border control official. If there is any indication
that you are coming to participate in pro-Palestinian protests, plan to engage in missionary activity or are seeking illegal employment, you may find yourself on the next flight home.
To extend a tourist (B/2) visa, you have a couple of options:
Do a ‘visa run’ to Egypt, Jordan or overseas. This might get you an additional three months – or just one. Ask other travelers for the latest low-down.
Apply to extend your visa (90NIS). Extensions are granted by the Population & Immigration Authority (www.piba.gov.il; generally am-noon Sun-Tue & Thu), part of the Ministry of the Interior, whose offices include bureaus in Jerusalem (1 Shlomzion HaMalka St), Tel Aviv (Kiryat HaMamshala, 125 Menachem Begin Rd) and Eilat (2nd fl, HaKenyon HaAdom, HaTemarim Blvd).
Bring a passport valid for at least six months beyond the requested extension period, a recent photo, a letter explaining why you want/need an extension (plus documentation), and evidence of sufficient funds for the extended stay. Offices in smaller towns are often easier and faster to deal with.
If you would qualify for an oleh (immigrant) visa under Israel’s Law of Return – ie you have at least one Jewish grandparent or have converted to Judaism and have documentation demonstrating this – it’s easy to extend your tourist visa for as long
as you’d like, or even become an Israeli citizen.
You can be fined if you overstay your visa. Travelers who overstay by just a few days report no hassles or fines but it’s best not to risk it.
OVERSEAS ISRAELIS & PALESTINIANS
According to the US State Department, the Israeli government regards the foreign-born children of Israelis as Israeli citizens and therefore requires them to enter and exit Israel using an Israeli passport and to comply with the country’s military draft laws; and it treats Palestinians born in the West Bank or Gaza – and, in some cases, their children and grandchildren – as Palestinian nationals who must exit and enter using a Palestinian passport, regardless of whether they hold a foreign passport. For details, see www.travel.state.gov – type ‘Israel’ under ‘Learn About Your Destination’, then expand the ‘Entry, Exit & Visa Requirements’ tab.
Unless they receive special advance authorisation, persons considered by Israel to be Palestinian nationals are required to enter and exit the country via Allenby-King Hussein Bridge rather than, for instance, Ben-Gurion airport. Conversely, persons considered Israeli citizens can use any Israeli airport or land crossing except Allenby-King Hussein Bridge.
Visitors from most Western countries are eligible to receive single-entry, extendable, two-week visas at the following places:
The Jordan River–Sheikh Hussein crossing (visa costs JD40), 30km south of the Sea of Galilee.
The Yitzhak Rabin–Wadi Araba crossing (visa is free), a few kilometres north of Eilat and Aqaba.
Note: on-arrival visas are not available at the Allenby–King Hussein Bridge crossing.
Contact a Jordanian embassy or consulate (abroad or in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv) for a visa in any of the following cases:
You want to enter Jordan via Allenby–King Hussein Bridge. You need a multiple-entry visa. At-the-border visas are not available to people of your nationality.
Single/double/multiple entry visas, valid for two/three/six months from date of issue, cost a hefty JD40/60/120.
Note: if you crossed into the West Bank and/or Israel through Allenby–King Hussein Bridge and re-enter Jordan the same way, you do not need to apply for a new Jordanian visa, provided you return while your Jordanian visa or its extension is still valid. Remember to keep the stamped exit slip and present it on returning.
Israel and the Palestinian Territories abound with volunteer opportunities. In Israel these are often on archaeological digs, at ILH hostels or environmental organizations, while in the Palestinian Territories they often involve helping the many NGOs working to improve everyday life for Palestinians. These websites list a selection of organizations that arrange volunteer placements: The National Council for Volunteering in Israel (www.ivolunteer.org.il), Israel Hostels www.hostelsisrael.
com/volunteer-in-a-hostel) and Medical Aid for Palestinians (www.map-uk.org).
If you’re between 18 and 35, it’s also possible to volunteer on a traditional kibbutz in Israel. Volunteers interested in a taste of the lifestyle at these communal agricultural centers can expect to spend two to six months helping with manual labor, which could include anything from gardening to washing up or milking cows. Food and accommodation are provided and sometimes a small weekly allowance. For more information, visit http://www.kibbutz.org.il/eng or read about one Brit’s personal experience at www.kibbutzvolunteer.com.
Female travelers will generally feel as safe and comfortable in Israel and the Palestinian Territories as they would in any Western country. Thus, you should take the same sensible precautions as you do back home – for instance, don’t hitchhike
or hike by yourself, and avoid dark and deserted alleyways, lanes and paths. On some beaches foreign women may attract unwanted attention.
When you plan your day, keep in mind local expectations regarding modest attire.
While tight-fitting, revealing outfits are common in urban centers such as Tel Aviv, they are inappropriate in more conservative parts of Israel and the West Bank,
and are likely to be met with overt hostility in Gaza and in ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods such as Me’a She’arim in Jerusalem. When visiting conservative areas and when visiting all religious sites – Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Druze and
Baha’i – you should wear clothing that covers your knees and shoulders. In Muslim and Christian areas, long trousers are OK, but in some Jewish areas – and at all Jewish holy sites – only a long skirt is acceptable.
It’s a good idea to carry a shawl or scarf with you at all times. You will need this to cover your head and shoulders when visiting Muslim holy sites (mosques, tombs and the Temple Mount), and it can come in handy if your definition of modest
attire doesn’t align with that of the caretaker in charge of a religious site.
In buses and sheruts (taxi buses), a woman sitting next to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man may make him uncomfortable. Depending on how you look at it, that’s either his problem or a local sensitivity you should respect.
Here is a list of tour companies in Israel and you can try one of the tours or at least to have an idea what they offer. When you are there on the internet, you need to pay attention to the date they have updated their pages. If the pages are updated longer then 6 months ago, than it’s reasonable to assume that you need to let them confirm that information.
057 200 3030; www.teva.org.il
Runs highly regarded nature hikes (eg to see spring wildflowers) suitable for the whole family; they are mainly for Israelis so tour guides speak Hebrew – but SPNI outings are a good way to meet locals. Only the Hebrew website lists trips.
02-566 0045; www.abrahamtours.com
Runs excellent day tours of Jerusalem, the West Bank (including Bethlehem, Nablus and a ‘dual-narrative tour’ of Hebron), the Dead Sea, Masada, Haifa, the Galilee and the Golan. Also goes to Petra.
Bein Harim Tours
03-542 2000; www.beinharim.co.il
Custom tours around Israel and trips to Petra.
077-450 3900; www.touringisrael.com
Tailor-made, top-end trips around Israel.
03-617 3333; http://www.unitedtours.co.il
Large operator with one- and two-day trips all over the country.
Israel Railways (077-232 4000; www.rail.co.il) runs a comfortable and convenient network of passenger rail services; details on departure times are also available from the Public Transportation Info Center. Trains do not run from mid-afternoon Friday until after sundown on Saturday. Return tickets are 10% cheaper than two one-way tickets; children aged five to 10 get a 20% discount. Unlike buses, Israel’s rail system is wheelchair accessible.
Israel Railway’s oldest line, inaugurated in 1892 and famously scenic, links three Tel Aviv stations with southern Jerusalem (23.50NIS, 1½ hours). The system’s heavily used main line runs along the coast at least twice an hour, affording fine views of the Mediterranean as it links Tel Aviv with the following locations:
- Haifa (32NIS, one hour)
- Akko (41.50NIS, 1½ hours)
- Nahariya (46.50NIS, 1½ hours)
Other useful services from Tel Aviv:
- Ben-Gurion airport (16NIS, 18 minutes, at least hourly 24 hours a day except Shabbat)
- Be’er Sheva (31.50NIS, 1½ hours, hourly)
Construction is underway on a US$2 billion high-speed rail link that will cut the travel time between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to 30 minutes, with a stop on the way at Ben-Gurion airport; the planned completion date is 2017. Another new high-speed line is scheduled to link Haifa with Beit She’an (60km) in 2016.
Having your own wheels lets you travel at your own pace, stay in out-of-the-way B&Bs, get lost along back roads and – if necessary – cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. It doesn’t make much sense to have a car in Jerusalem or Tel
Aviv – parking can be a huge hassle – but it’s a great idea in hilly Haifa and in the Galilee, Golan and Negev, where many towns and villages are served by just a handful of buses a day.
Israel’s biggest concentration of rental agencies is along Tel Aviv’s HaYarkon St (one block in from the beach), but most companies have offices around the country, including the following:
- Avis (www.avis.co.il)
- Budget (www.budget.co.il)
- Cal Auto (www.calauto.co.il)
- Eldan (www.eldan.co.il) The only company with an office in Kiryat Shmona.
- Green Peace (www.greenpeace.co.il) Based in East Jerusalem; pickup possible at Allenby Bridge.
- Hertz (www.hertz.co.il) The only company with a Dead Sea office.
Car hire with insurance and unlimited kilometers costs as little as 140NIS per day, US$200 per week or US$600 per month (the incredibly cheap prices advertised online don’t include insurance).
Israelis, unlike tourists, have to pay VAT/sales tax (18%). Significant discounts are available online, eg through the sort of websites that sell aeroplane tickets.
Remember that gasoline/petrol costs about US$2 per litre/US$7.60 per US gallon.
There’s a surcharge for airport pick-up (Budget charges US$27.50). If you get parking or traffic tickets, the rental company may forward them to you, including a handling fee of 60NIS. Some companies require that renters be at least 25 years old.
Read the fine print on your insurance contract carefully, especially regarding the excess (deductible), which can be US$400 or more – though for an additional fee (eg US$18) you can reduce that to zero.
Some credit cards give cardholders free CDW (collision damage waver) coverage but you may still have to purchase liability (3rd-party) insurance – check with
your card issuer. Even insurance policies sold by rental companies don’t usually cover damage to the car’s undercarriage or tyres.
Note that rental agencies generally forbid you to take their cars into parts of the West Bank defined in the Oslo Accords as Areas A and B – Dallah and Goodluck (www.goodluckcars.com) are notable exceptions. It’s no problem, though, driving on Rte 1 from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea or Rte 90 from the Dead Sea to the Sea of Galilee.
In Tel Aviv and its inner suburbs, Car2Go (www.car2go.co.il) hires out cars by the hour, charging 140NIS for an annual membership plus 20NIS per hour (180NIS per day) and 2NIS per kilometre (1NIS per kilometre after the first 50km).