Israel Trip Report (Things You Need To Know)



Beautiful beach sunset in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Beautiful beach sunset in Tel Aviv, Israel

Israel was A-mazing!  It’s one of those destinations that can change your life but their deep history overshadows everything else they have to offer.  The cities are beautiful, their roads are very well taken care of, their natural wonders are breathtaking and on and on.  You will feel the modern Mediterranean vibe when visiting here but you also see the very cities you read about in the Bible.

I found the Israeli people to be beautiful and welcoming.  You name it, they have it. Mediterranean coastal beaches along with very lively cities, markets, nightlife, shopping centers, festivals, natural wonders, wineries, architecture, museums, historical sites and more!

Israel
Artisan work passed down from generation to generation.

I couldn’t believe how safe I felt while I was there.  As a travel advisor, I’m very particular about the destinations I sell and I’m not afraid to let people know my concerns for certain places around the world that are just not recommended. Sometimes it’s just for a while and other times…never!

Israel, however, I can wholeheartedly recommend as a must see destination!

Here is what the Israel Ministry of Tourism says:
“Is it safe to travel to Israel?
We wouldn’t urge you to come if it wasn’t. Every year between 3 and 4 million tourists vacation in Israel – and apart from those who fall in love with an Israeli – or with Israel – they all go home again safe and sound. The planes of 90+ airlines wouldn’t fly to Israel if it weren’t safe.”

The Departure and Flight:

I flew on El Al Airlines from Los Angeles. It was a direct, non-stop 14 hour flight to Tel Aviv.  The flight attendants were attentive, professional and pleasant. I can say that flying in coach class was terrible for me.

Some people are fine with 30-31 inch pitch and 17 inch width but I was not, especially after 14 hours. I did get up and walk every couple of hours but still I will be needing premium economy at least for the future on these long flights. It’s worth considering!

Here you can see the seat reclined vs. not reclined.

The meals served on the flight were actually pretty good. I’m not a particularly picky person when it comes to food but I have to say that, in my personal opinion,  the food was surprisingly tasty. They give you a couple of choices too.

Remember this is a 15 hour flight so you will want to take some snacks with you on the plane. Preferably non-perishable, healthy, low sodium options. There are so many people with food allergies that I can’t recommend anything specific but know that you know what you like and what you can have or not.

I did wish I had a water bottle with a filter in it. Otherwise, you will need a couple of water bottles once you’ve passed the security point.  The flight attendants were too busy serving 400-500 other passengers during the allotted time for meal #1, main meal and last meal.  Anyways, it’s best if you are prepared.

You do get free movies, you don’t have to pay luggage check in fees and meals are included with your airfare too! There’s a blanket, pillow and headphone set for your use. If you have your own headphones, then I recommend taking them because the ones provided were not good quality.  They do request you return them at the end of your flight by passing a bag around to collect them all.  Don’t worry, you won’t want to keep them anyways.

Remember that when you arrive at the El Al ticket counter to check in your luggage to not be intimidated by long lines. You will need to be patient but El Al handles the process very well, especially considering all the people they need to question.  All passengers have to “check in” at the ticket counter even if you’re not checking in your luggage.

It’s for security purposes. Be prepared to answer a few questions about your trip.  You will be given a visa that you must keep in your passport at ALL times. Do not lose it! You then make your way to the gate via the actual airport TSA security screening.

DID YOU KNOW?
“El Al Airlines is the only commercial airline to equip its planes with missile defense systems to protect its
planes against surface to air missiles, and is considered one of the world’s most secure airlines, thanks to its stringent security procedures, both on the ground and on board its aircraft.” –Source

 

The Arrival:

The Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv is a beautiful airport. It was clean, modern and fairly easy to get around with signage in English. You need to proceed to the Passport Control area which is before you can get to baggage claim. When you first walk in, the congestion seems to concentrate in the middle.

Be sure you keep to the right as you walk in for the smaller lines. You’ll recognize this as you walk into the big room full of people that have no idea what is going on yet.  Just look up, read the signs and always be aware of your surroundings.

It doesn’t hurt to talk to the people around you to confirm that you are there for the same reason.  You’ll see some teller looking booths across the passport control room.  Once your done with answering more questions about your reason for traveling to Israel, you will continue to the baggage claim area where you will then see your transfer company with a sign that has your name on it and they usually tell you what carousel your luggage is on and will coordinate your meeting point.

Depending on how you are traveling, whether by fully guided group tour, independent or a combination of them; your experience will differ, of course.  That’s why as a travel professional, when you book a trip with me, I take everything I learn about you and know what to ask you.

I can’t wait to tell you about some of the things to see and do there.  It really does fell like you’re stepping back in time, especially in the Old City Jerusalem.  It’s also very interesting to hear many languages being spoken and see many different religious people all in one place.   So much of the landscape reminds me of certain places here in the US but I will always have Israel and it’s people in my heart and soul after visiting.

Masada is an ancient fortress in southern Israel’s Judean Desert.

So in my case, my trip was a combination of guided tours and independent days. I arranged all my components with one of my preferred destination specialists even though we use several different ones.  I had all my transfers, hotels and tours pre-booked and paid for.  For some travelers, a fully guided tour is highly recommended and for other travelers a completely independent tour is recommended.

One thing that I really need to share is the number of steps and uneven streets and pathways that you have to walk on, especially when you’re in the Old City in Jerusalem.  Please be prepared to do a lot of walking and at times, not very easy walking.  I don’t have knee or feet problems but if you do, you will be limited in where you go and how long you will go for.

The Hotels:

I arrived in Tel Aviv and stayed at the Dan Hotel Tel Aviv. It’s next to the beach and in a very walkable area to shopping, restaurants, etc. The staff were very personable and helpful. It’s a modern, clean and classic design but I found it very welcoming. There was a great view from the Executive Suite of the Mediterranean.

They have hosted many famous guests and have the photos to prove it. I had prearranged small tours that pick up at this hotel so I spent most of the days touring other areas of Israel but it was a great starting point because it’s easier to get to the sites located along the coast such as Acre, Haifa, Caesarea and even Tiberias which is inland but up north more. This is a hotel that I can get you exclusive amenities at such as full Israeli breakfast for two daily, Free WiFi and more.

The second hotel I stayed at was the Inbal Jerusalem Hotel located within walking distance of the Old City, restaurants, shopping, parks and more. This hotel is much bigger than the Dan Hotel and seems to host much larger tour groups, families and couples. It is a luxury hotel complete with all the works.

My room was very lovely as you can see in the pictures below. There’s a fitness center, pool that is covered during the winter season, and a full service spa. 2 of the 3 days here were my free days which I chose to explore the Old City on my own.

It can be a bit intimidating not knowing where to go exactly but just ask concierge and they will point the way and offer suggestions. You opt for a cab but it’s really not necessary if you don’t have knee or foot injuries of any kind.  The city is just so beautiful, clean, safe, and the walk was a welcomed change of pace after being on guided tours the 2 days prior.

I never once felt scared or worried about safety. Just stay alert and aware of your surroundings which is hard because everything is so new and unfamiliar but you’ll get the hang of it. For example, the sidewalks are open to not only walkers but bicyclists, motor scooters and skateboarders. Yes, I had a few scary incidents because I was not paying attention but I caught on.

The 3rd hotel I stayed at was the White House Boutique Hotel back in Tel Aviv. It’s not on the beach but you can easily walk there in 8 minutes. It’s on Dizengoff St which is a very lively street with everything you could possibly want in restaurants, cafes, bars, shopping, pharmacy, grocery and more. This was so different than the bigger luxury hotels because there’s no buffet breakfast and all the fancy amenities but it felt comfortable and cozy.  It is a very small quaint hotel but so conveniently located in the city of Tel Aviv. They have complimentary use of bikes for guests and free wifi. My favorite part was the courtyard and they host a happy hour nightly.

The staff couldn’t be more friendly. Even though the hotel is in the city, it was very relaxing once you walked into the courtyard.


And finally, the 4th hotel I stayed at is called the Nea Boutique Resort Hotel and Spa. It’s a 5 min walk to the Mediterranean beach through a quaint and quiet neighborhood. It’s very warm and welcoming. The “front desk” is a bar counter. They greet you with a drink and a smile!

It’s a beachy feel, very relaxing, quiet and they have beautifully manicured grounds. I stayed in a 2 bedroom villa with my own private jacuzzi pool. They call it a beach house. The second room is perfect for kids. Coming here was a perfect way to end my trip to Israel after all the walking, touring, climbing many steps and cobblestone streets.

It was great to see everything I did but it felt great to wind down before my 15 hour flight back home. This is a bed and breakfast but they do have a restaurant that opens for dinner. The food was delicious and they were very generous with the amount of food they serve.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of hotels in Israel. Next, I will cover some of my tours and activities. Here you go!

Tours and Activities:

The first tour I went on was via the coastal road to see the landscape of the lower Galilee to Nazareth, the town where Jesus spent his childhood.  I boarded a motorcoach which only had 19 people in it, so that was odd to me but it was fine. I had front seat view and a bench all to myself.  My favorite highlights were the Sea of Galilee and the drive along the Kineret Lake to Capernaum to view the ruins of the ancient synagogue where Jesus taught. (I’m a fan!)

I can only say that for myself, having read the Bible throughout my life but far from anything close to a scholar, I found these places and others truly awesome. If you’re not particularly faith-driven then it may mean something else to you. Perhaps the history of it all will impress you more.

Capernaum Synagogue where Jesus taught.
Sea of Galilee
Ordering “Peter’s Fish” is a must do when you visit the Sea of Galilee

Another tour took me along the Mediterranean coast up to Caesarea, an ancient roman capital and port. I went on to Haifa for a scenic view of the City, another port and the magnificent Bahai Gardens and Shrine. Then I got to visit the underwater grottoes and admire the spectacular natural formation that included a descent by cable car in Rosh Hanikra. This is near the Lebanon border which was a little nerve racking but again the Israeli Military base is located there so I was not worried.

Caesarea, the ancient Roman capital and port
Ancient roman aqueduct system still stands today
Cable car for grottoes in Rosh Hanikra
Just look at the jeweled blue Mediterranean water!

I spent 2 days exploring the Old City in Jerusalem on my own. There is so much to this area alone that I will need to do a blog about this place by itself.  But for now, I will share a little about my time there.  As I’ve said before, there were many steps, ramps, cobblestone streets and hills. It kind of reminded my of my hometown of Juarez, Mexico because of how old the structures were and how busy all the people were coming and going.   I was very familiar with the tactics of vendors trying to get your attention and sell you their wares.   It was so exciting and overwhelming but I loved it!

The Old City in Jerusalem is 0.9 square kilometers which I need to convert to acres so that I can really understand what that looks like in my mind, which is 222 acres.  It seems as if every square inch including some underground space is being used.  It’s walled with several entrances referred to as gates.  If you like mazes, then you’ll love walking through the gazillion passages throughout the Old City.  Believe it or not, it wasn’t hard to get around directionally speaking. As long of you have some kind of reference, like your phone gps or a real handheld map, you’re fine.

Jerusalem, Israel
This is outside the Jaffa Gate of the Old City in Jerusalem.

A little warning though, if you get any kind of anxiety being trapped by people within these passages with nowhere to go then you may want to either don’t go or be prepared for it because it will happen, most likely.  I recommend not going there at all on a Friday at least. Israel’s weekend starts on Thursday  and ends Saturday evening.  On Friday, everyone is scrambling to get everything they need for their Sabbath Day, since they do not leave their homes for anything.

Old City Jerusalem
This is the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City

You may be old enough to remember back in the day when stores were closed here in the US on Sundays. It’s like that there now. If you don’t remember, then nevermind.  I loved exploring the many shops, restaurants and sites within this area alone. They had everything like jewelry, custom T-shirts with American football team names, ice cream shops, coffee shops, artisan works, sweets, produce, meats…everything! Come prepared to haggle.

As I stated before, I will tell about the complete Old City experience at another time.

No trip to Israel is complete without a visit to the Dead Sea.  They had a bunch of rain which washed out the main road there so we had to go another way. I was so glad not to miss out on this experience! My tour included a visit to Masada site along with the Dead Sea which is typical.  But there was nothing typical about both of these sites!

Masada is an ancient fortress in Israel’s Judean Desert.  The history here is unbelievable even though at first, it just looks like nothing but desert hills in the middle of nowhere.  I can’t go into all the details here but you will want to see this when you’re here.

One of the most amazing things I thought was brilliant was how in the world did King Herod get fresh water here, in the middle of nowhere. The Dead Sea is just that…DEAD.

Consider the times, no digging underground, pipes being laid, modern machinery… here is a picture of how they did it.  We got to see the real live version before this point.

Brilliant way to get fresh water to the top of the ancient Masada fortress

So King Herod built what I like to call an ancient resort getaway here.  I don’t know how much time he spent here but apparently he didn’t mind sharing with some of his friends too.  Here is a picture of the model but you really do get to walk in the very site this was built. It just didn’t look the same of course. It was a hot day but after climbing and walking a lot, the breezes from King Herod’s palatial resort was so welcoming!

A model of what King Herod’s resort getaway looked like

I couldn’t be more impressed by a destination than with Israel. The people, landscapes, history, culture…everything! I hope to return soon and maybe take a few of my friends and family with me.  This very place is the center of faith and future for so many people.

I hope you enjoyed what I had to share with you. There is so much more to this than what I could share here which I’m glad to do on a personal basis but for now, if you need any help with a  future trip here or anywhere, then please feel free to contact me.

Cristina Ortega, Your Travel Advisor

Shalom,

Cristina