Only in Israel for a couple days and looking for some amazing sights to see? Whether you're touring the rose city of Petra, climbing the cliffs of Masada, or getting a sneak peek through the walls of the West Bank - The area has so much to offer...
After only spending an accumulative month in Israel over the past year, I've seen many of the areas iconic destinations. If Tel Aviv is your home base, you'll be hard stretched to find a free day with nothing to do. The city itself can keep you busy for weeks, but if you have a few days to venture beyond the concrete jungle and into the Negev desert surrounding Tel Aviv, you'll find so much more.
While there is a ton to see, tours companies in Tel Aviv are a bit limited, and booking private excursions through your hotel will get pricey. The most tried and true companies I found were Abraham Tours, and PetraFromIsrael - Providing a number of different packages year round for a backpackers budget.
PETRA AND WADI RUM
$$$$ 2 DAY PETRA AND WADI RUM TOUR ★★★★★
By far, the most awe-inspiring tour I've taken from Israel, and one I cannot wait to book again. Jordan is not a country to miss and if you're unsure of which tour to book during your short stay, be sure to see Petra.
As we weaved our way through the narrow, rose-colored passages of Petra, I couldn't contain my excitement. This was a moment I had been waiting for since I was a little kid watching National Geographic on TV. Just before I expected to arrive, our guide pulled our attention to a statue behind us, eroded over time... He talked about its history and symbolism. And then, just as he had planned, he told us "and while you focus so closely on this small rock, you're missing the majesty behind you"...
In unison, we all turn around to see the firey gold of the Treasury shyly peeking through the stone walls surrounding us.
It's a moment I won't soon forget, and it was made all the more magical by the charisma and care of our guide. A Jordanian man named Nizar --- Funny, genuine, and Ph.D. educated, Nizar knew how to please a crowd.
All of the above. A brilliant guide paired with amazing scenery of Petra and Wadi Rum. The food was delicious local cuisine (You must try the Za'atar). The Bedouin camps were high quality, comfortable, and the common space was full of lively conversation and dancing. The tour was structured, on time, and well managed - Visas were expertly handled and the process was smooth sailing.
Our stopover in Eilat was less than ideal. On our way home, we had multiple hours t kill in Eilat, which I found to feel much like a Middle-Eastern Vegas. I was happy to take a dip in the Red Sea, but it felt like much of the stop was to have us spend money in the "Ice Mall". Avoid if you can.
THE WEST BANK
$$$$ BEST OF THE WEST BANK DAY TOUR ★★★★★
I felt a little uneasy about visiting Palestine, after hearing a few unsavory opinions from friends before I went. I ended up making the decision to go last minute and booked a day tour with Abraham Tours online - The next morning I met at the Abraham Hostel bright and early to board a bus to Jerusalem.
As soon as we arrived we quickly made our way across the border to the West Bank. I was caught off guard, not once were our passport checked and we never once had to speak with security. Only minutes into Palestine and it was already breaking stereotypes.
We visited Ramallah with a short walking tour and the wealth disparity between Israel and Palestine became blatantly obvious. This was solidified when venturing through the Judean Desert where we saw local Bedouins that were deprived drinking water by the Israeli military...
The tour briefly discussed the key points of the conflict and how it affects the Palestinian people, but what was clear was that it needed little explanation - the results of occupation could easily be seen in front of us. Tear gas canisters were littered in the streets, remnants of a protest the day prior. This is a country in a constant state of rebellion.
Seeing Jericho and Bethlehem suddenly became far less important to me and I found myself wanting more time to marvel at the artwork scrawled on the West Bank Wall. Love letters to a peaceful future.
The Tour was extremely safe and well planned. The food was amazing --- you must try the Falafel and Knaffe desert. Our guide was intense but professional and taught us a lot about the daily struggles of Palestinian people.
Bethlehem was a write-off. I visited close to the Christmas Holiday and found other, more religious groups, to be quite fanatic. One devout woman pushed a few of us down the stairs into Jesus's birthplace because she was too impatient to wait her turn.
MASADA AND THE DEAD SEA
$$$$ MASADA AND DEAD SEA TOUR ★★★★★
During my first trip to Israel, I took a day tour through the Judean desert to stand beneath the towering city of Masada, a monument to man's perseverance, ingenuity, and acute hatred for paying taxes. Masada became a safe haven for Jewish Zealots and was eventually toppled by the Romans while collecting on a debt.
This history-packed tour is a great choice for explorers eager to learn more about the regions past. Masada is rich with stories to tell and will leave you with a longing to read more about Roman and Jewish conquests and conflicts.
After either hiking to the top or taking the easier path via the gondola, you'll have over an hour to explore the city - its beautifully tiled bathhouse, the crumbling city walls, and the unimaginably huge hand-carved cisterns.
When you've got your fill of rocks, sand, and story-telling, you can hike back down to meet the bus that will take you to the Dead Sea. Here you will experience the other-worldly effects of hyper-salinated water. Floating like you've never floated before, take in all that you can when visiting this sea... Becuase one day it will be gone.
Overconsumption and drought have set the Dead Sea's death day to 2050, and if we don't find a way to save it, it will continue to recede by one meter of water per year. See it before it's gone!
This region is truly unique and will never find another place like it. The tour was comfortable and chill. Our guide was flexible and accommodating.
It's hot! Bring a hat and enough water to last most of the day. Remember, this is the lowest area on earth and everything is extremely dry - be sure to sunscreen up! Whatever you do, do not bring your cameras into the Dead Sea, even go pros. The salinated water will destroy your waterproof case.
$$$$ JERUSALEM PRIVATE TOUR ★★★★★
As a non-religious person visiting Jerusalem for the first time, I was floored. This city caught me completely off guard and really opened my eyes to a completely different perspective I've never considered before. I began asking questions - Is the Bible a book of stories, or a book of history?
While I remain a skeptic, this is a city worth further exploration and is perfect for the curious traveler with a desire to learn. When visiting Jerusalem, it's important to give yourself enough time to truly dive into it. Not only should you see the city of David and the Jewish Quarter, but you must also explore the Muslim and Arminian quarters - Amazing food and textiles await you.
With so much to see you may find yourself a little overwhelmed by the vast amount of information, sights, and attractions to take in - This is why I highly recommend taking a multi-day private tour if you have the budget.
The city is down-right gorgeous and the Jerusalem stone makes the city glow with a golden hue. Aside from its beauty and history, Jerusalem is also an excellent hub to branch off from. Almost all tours pass through the city, making it very convenient for backpackers.
Conflict. Occasional riots and a strong police presence in 2017 has made Jerusalem a little uneasy, but it's nothing compared to bus bombings from the early 200's. Don't worry, but have an exit strategy in case of an uprising.
TEL AVIV GRAFFITI
$$$$ TEL AVIV GRAFFITI TOUR ★★★★★
Take this tour. Do it. Not only is it cheap, it is easy, fun, and extremely interesting. Tel Aviv would not be the city it is without its street art. Tour by foot with knowledgeable guides that will tell you all about the local artists and amazing paintings they scrawl on the walls under the cover of night.
Take two hours to explore my favorite neighborhood in the city, The Florentine and find out what makes Tel Aviv one of the hottest scenes for street art in the world.
Israel was the first country I've ever visited in the Middle East, and although I tried my best to arrive as a blank slate, I couldn't help but have preconceived ideas of what to expect visiting a country only 100 miles from the border of Syria...
As a traveler with a tendency to overthink and over-plan, occasionally I find value in arriving in a country as a completely blank slate. No rooms booked, no tours scheduled, no train tickets purchased... And more often than not, it leads to unexpected and awesome adventures.