Traveling to Israel: Tourism in the Holy Land and what to see in Israel

by Ale Werner
Tourism in the Holy Land and what to see in Israel

Traveling to Israel: In this post, you will find information to travel to Israel, on the southeast bank of the Mediterranean Sea. What to see in Israel, what cities to visit, what to do, tourism in the Holy Land, where to sleep, how to get around its beautiful cities and landscapes, and much more.

History of Israel

The delicate political situation of the country is not a secret; nevertheless, we are a travel blog and we will not delve into issues regarding the holy war being waged today in Israel and its neighboring countries. This guide is focused on topics such as religion, transportation and others that will allow you to enjoy your trip more, not about the conflict.

Religion in Israel

The land that is now officially called Israel is key to several religions, including the Christians, the Jewish and the Muslims. How can it be that everyone converges to the same place? Let’s see a little the family tree of the Patriarchs:

Guia de viaje a Israel. Religión en israel

 

The story starts when God appeared before Abraham in his house in Ur and asks him to go to a land that he is gifting to both Abraham and his descendants. In addition, God tells Abraham that he will get Sara, his wife, pregnant; even though she was sterile.

Before getting pregnant, and showing an act of love and despair, Sarah gives Abraham permission to lay in bed with their maid, Hagar. With her Abraham has a son named Ishmael, his firstborn. 13 years later, Sara finally gets pregnant and had Isaac, the son of the promise that God made to Abraham.

God promised both sons a great nation; however here the main division between Jews and Muslims departs. All this happened on the land that today is Israel (formerly Canaan) showing why it is important for both religions.

Jews and Muslims are divided.

Muslims recognize Ishmael as the legitimate son of Abraham because he is the firstborn and son of a second wife. According to some lines of the old testament, Ishmael should have had the full right of inheritance from his father. Also, they say that indeed Abraham took Ishmael to Mount Moriah to be sacrificed by God’s order, to show that he could trust Abraham.

The Jews, on the other hand, recognize Isaac as the firstborn of Abraham, because he was the son of the promise that God made to him that he would have children with Sarah; and they said he was the one who tried to sacrifice his father. In addition, when the circumcision was instituted, Ishmael was already 14 years old and was expelled from the house with his mother for taking an attitude of contempt towards Isaac.

And Christianity?

Many centuries later, the “third people”, the Christians, started their story. With the arrival of Jesus, a division was generated between those who recognized him as a messiah and those who did not. We must remember that Jesus was a Jew, and very devoted because he even attended the synagogue. He proclaimed the word of God and therefore was judged by those who did not believe him a messiah. Other events besides the crucifixion of Jesus; like the council of Jerusalem, the destruction of the second temple and the expulsion of the Jews in 135; led to the separation of these religions completely.

It is not surprising that Jerusalem is key to the world’s believers in these religions. Here is the Holy Sepulcher and the crucifixion place of Jesus for Christians; the wall of laments (wall of the second destroyed temple) for the Jews; and the Dome of the Rock (where Muhammad rise to meet God) for the Muslims … all within a few meters of each other.

There is no doubt that tourism in the Holy Land is the dream of many believers of different religions. No matter what yours is, most of them have some origin in Israel.

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What to see in Israel.

There are many things and places to see in Israel. However, despite the short distances between cities and being a very small country its very difficult to see everything.

We visit only the following cities, of which we speak in each individual post:

Tel Aviv (4 days)
Jerusalem (4 days)
Masada and the Dead Sea (1 day)
Eilat (2 days)
We couldn’t travel to the north on our trip to Israel, but we hope to be able to give you more information about it in the future!

Important information to plan your trip to Israel

Best time to travel to Israel

The weather of Israel is characterized by long months of sun, with a rainy season that goes from November to April. Weather conditions vary considerably between different regions, so the best time to travel to Israel will depend on which area you want to visit.

  • Coast: hot and humid summers and mild, rainy winters.
  • Mountainous area: hot and dry summers and moderately cold winters with rain and occasional snow.
  • South: desert conditions, with very hot days (40º or more in hot months) and cold nights.

Vaccines to enter Israel

There are no legally required vaccines to enter Israel, however, it is always good to travel protected by the following:

  1. Hepatitis A and B.
  2. Typhoid fever.
  3. Tetanus.

Visa for Israel and entry to the country

Most countries do not need to obtain a visa for Israel in advance, except for those listed in the following official list.

When you arrive in the country you might be asked to show your return ticket or one that shows when you are leaving the country. Also, they might ask you lots of questions (which you must answer calmly and without contradicting yourself).

In general, tourists are given 90 days of stay in the country, but the inmigrations officer may decide that at their discretion, and give you less. Nowadays passports are no longer stamped because a stamp from Israel can complicate the entry to other Muslim countries. They will give you a printed ticket that is your “entrance voucher” and must be kept with you at all times during your trip to Israel.

Currency and change in Israel

Official coin.

The official currency of the country are the Shekels (abbreviated NIS for its acronym in English). At the time of writing this (2017), 1 dollar was equivalent to 3.55 NIS. Corroborate this information in this link to know the current exchange rate.

Where to exchange dollars for Shekels.

To change dollars/euros for Shekels, it is best to do it in some established place that looks reliable. Airports have the most expensive exchange rates, so wait until you are on city centers to do so.

ATMs are very reliable, but they do not work very well with some foreign cards. Also, they charge you a commission for using them. When paying with credit cards, some stores also usually charge you for the commission they will have to pay (2-3%)

Prices.

Israel is one of the most expensive countries in the world. In accommodation, you can spend USD $30 per bed in a hostel with shared room and bathroom, USD $60 for a simple double room and USD $100 for a double room with air conditioning in a well-qualified middle class hotel. Luxury hotels can cost from $150 to $300 dollars the night (or more!)

Regarding the food, you can eat on the street for about USD $8 the Falafel or the Humus plate, in a restaurant for USD $20 per person a simple meal. A 1.5-liter water bottle costs USD $3.

Festivities in Israel and important dates

The festivities in Israel are guided almost entirely by the Jewish calendar. And if there is something they do well, it’s having lots of holidays. These are the most important but there are many others. By clicking here you can find all the information.

1. Shabbat (every Saturday of the year):

It is the sacred day of the Jewish week and the day of rest. When we say rest, they take it very seriously because the most religious cannot even touch buttons, use cell phones, cook or call an elevator. Between 7:00 p.m. on Friday and 7:00 p.m. on Saturday (approximately) most of the shops and restaurants close. Also, buses and taxis go to rest too and stop operating. If you want to party, Thursday night is the best alternative. On Sundays, people work on Israel. Think as they labor week goes from Sunday to Thursday.

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2. Pesach:

In general, its date coincides with Easter (Catholic holiday) at the beginning of April. this day Jewish people celebrate the escape of the Jews from Egypt and the end of slavery. In honor of this, they do not eat anything that contains yeast because given the quick escape the Israelites did not get to ferment the bread in the ancient times.

3. Yom Hashoah:

Day of commemoration to the holocaust.

4. Memorial Day:

It is celebrated on May 13 in commemoration of all those who lost their lives in favor of the creation of the State of Israel.

5. Yom Ha’atzmaut:

The birth anniversary of the State of Israel is celebrated every May 14th. There will be several dance and music shows throughout the country and houses will display the national flag on their entrances.

6. Rosh Hashana:

The head of the year. The Jewish people celebrate their new year.

7. Yom Kippur:

The Jewish people apologize to God for all the wrong they have done in the period, fasting for a full day and attending the synagogue. This way they start their new year “from scratch”.

8. Sukkot and Simcha Torah:

The party of the cabins and the 4 scoops. Here the Jewish sleep and eat in some cabins and celebrates the first fruits of the season. In the end, Simjá Tora is celebrated, which is the day that the Torah reading finish and they start over again in Book I, Genesis.

How to get to Israel

Tips for your arrival in Israel

Although you can get to Israel from countries such as Egypt and Jordan, crossing borders can be more difficult if you do not go with a guide or with someone to assist you in the process. We recommend you get to the Holy Land by air, landing at Ben Guiron International Airport. Nowadays, more and more European cities connect directly with Israel, so getting to the country is not as difficult as it was a few years ago.

Keep in mind that in any of the stages of the arrival process you can ask a huge amount of questions for security issues. We even believe that they have a protocol to ask you if you have a bomb in your suitcase directly when you are going to board a plane to enter or leave Israel. React calmly!

Another tip in case you fly with the national Israeli airline, El Al, is to leave your suitcase without a key or padlock. It has happened many times that the luggage is left behind because they have not been able to check its content and when you arrive at your destination they ask you what is the key to your lock. It happened to us and we know from others that the same thing happened to them. Initiate well your trip of tourism in the Holy Land and respect all that you are require in immigration. This way, you will not go through scares or unnecessary bad moments.

Where to enter Israel.

Ben Guiron Airport:

It is the only international airport in Israel, located near Tel Aviv. From here you can take trains to the main cities of Israel, which depart directly from the outskirts of the airport.

Crossing overland from Jordan:

Of the neighboring countries, the only one that does not have major problems with Israel is Jordan. It is possible to cross without problem by Aqaba towards Eilat, near the Tiberias lake (Sea of Galilee) or by the Allenby bridge / King Hussei. Keep in mind that there is a border fee of 8 JD or $13 USD. The opening hours fluctuate between 08:00 to 20:00 except on Shabbat.

Crossing overland from Egypt:

The best option is the border crossing of Taba, which today is the only border with this country open to tourists. You have to pay EGP 2 or USD $0.25 to cross the border. Opening hours goes from 08:00 to 20:00 except on Shabbat and other festivities.

How to move through Israel

Train:

The country has a train line that connects several cities to move through Israel (only between Haifa and Bersheva). For more information, you can visit here the official train website of Israel.

Bus:

Several bus lines travel between cities throughout Israel, on routes that are controlled by the government. The best companies are Dan (operates in Tel Aviv) and Egged (does not operate in Tel Aviv), which reach even the smallest towns. Tickets can be purchased online or at bus stations. Buses do not operate on holidays and Shabbat.

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Sherut:

Sheruts are private buses, in general minivans of approximately 12 passengers that move between cities of Israel. These are the best (and generally only) option to travel on holidays and during Shabbat (every Saturday). To know their location or stops you can ask at the hostels/hotels. In general, they all stop in the same street and leave to their destination only when all the seats are filled.

Rented car:

Renting a car in Israel, at first sight, is very economical… you can do it for 7 to 10 dollars a day. However, the trick is that when you get to the rental company they will force you to pay a third-party insurance, which is mandatory and unavoidable and costs about USD $14 a day or more. So, keep this in mind. In any case, renting a car is the simplest and freest way to move around the country and the one preferred by many tourists.

Find here our tips for renting a car abroad.

Gastronomy in Israel and where to eat in Israel

Typical dishes of Israel.

The cuisine in Israel has been strongly influenced by cultures such as the Ottoman, Turkish and European. The mix is enormous due to the huge number of immigrants living in the country. Among the dishes that you have to try are:

  1. Hummus: Puree mainly made of chickpeas. Its most exquisite variant is the Hummus Masabacha, which has been added with whole chickpeas, paprika, lemon and even tahini.
  2. Falafel: Chickpea croquettes, which can be eaten on the plate with some food garnishes or in its sandwich version with, of course, humus, and other ingredients of your choice.
  3. Tahini: Puree from sesame seeds. Used in general as an accompaniment.
  4. Shawarma: Arabic food consumed in the region. Seasoned meat that is roasted on a vertical axis, usually lamb, and cut into thin strips that are often served on bread with other accompaniments.
  5. Israeli salad: A fresh tomato, cucumber and parsley salad.
  6. Challah bread: This is two braided loaves that are an essential part of the Shabbat meal in any Jewish house. The bread is really delicious.

Restaurant opening hours in Israel.

It will depend on where you are. In Tel Aviv it is as if the city did not sleep; you will always find some place open. In Jerusalem, after 11pm it is only possible to find some bars far from the walled city.

Shopping in Israel

Israel is quite expensive compared to other countries in the area, so the prices of anything will be high. For example, a Billabong brand shirt costs around USD $30, so buying clothes and technology is a very bad option.

You can find elements of different religions: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc., which could be a good gift to take home.

If you like buying novelties, you are also in the indicated country. The innovation rate of Israel is very high, so it is not strange to find entertaining and interesting products that have not yet been globalized.

Security in Israel while traveling. Dangers and how to take care of yourself

Security in Israel is an important issue. When I returned home, personally, everyone asked me if I had felt safe instead of asking me if I like the country. this is because until recent years missiles were launched like beach balls, and even today we see in the news the war between Israelis and Palestinians.

The truth is that once in the country the situation is not something that marks your day. Yes, you can watch military planes pass by and you will walk alongside many soldiers with shotguns, but they are just young people doing military service as is mandatory in the country.

As long as you stay away from the disputed territories, such as the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, you will be fine. Regarding the missiles, Israel has a system that identifies and intercepts them in the air. It has passed many years since one of these missiles has actually made big damage. The alarms to go to the shelters sounds mainly because of the danger that some fragment of the intercepted missiles could fall on someone head, but never the missile itself.

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