Last Christmas holiday I decided to travel to Israel and Palestine with my dad for some real father-son-quality time! As Bethlehem is a special place to be during Christmas, we were very excited to see the region and experience the culture at the melting pot of Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions.
Dead Sea, Ein Gedi & Masada
This combo is a perfect daytrip whether you are staying in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem and a great mix of culture and nature. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth (-400 meters) and as you probably know extremely salty. For adventurers who like to experience a floating dip, I would suggest Ein Bokek. This small town has that bit of comfort with a changing room and showers on the beach and a coast guard (probably the easier job around as it is incredibly hard not to float). But even with the shower, your clothes and skin will feel very awkward and sticky afterwards 🙂 A few kilometers south of Ein Bokek are wonderful ‘salt rock beaches’ to explore with nobody around. The water is around a comfortable 16°C, so no excuses!
Ein Gedi is a small nature reserve north of the Dead Sea, a 30 min drive from Ein Bokek. It has a very touristic ‘boulevard’ to the Wadi David (waterfall) and you’ll probably encounter some rock badgers (somehow related to elephants apparently). If you’d have some time to spare, make sure to take a longer hike along the hillside away from the crowds.
Masada is a archeological site with a curious cultural history. The fortification was built by king Herod on top of a mountain plateau in the midst of the Judaean desert and was used in 73CE by Jews fleeing from the Romans. The siege ended up with a mass suicide of 960 men, women and children.
Jerusalem is worth at least 2 full days of your attention. The Old City is quite compact but embraces so much cultural heritage with an insane density. Religious highlights include the Western Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Via Dolorosa, King David’s Tomb, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. But there is so much more to discover while wandering through the tiny streets where Jezus walked. Smell the authentic atmosphere in the Mea Sharim Street (orthodox Jewish quarters) and the Jehuda Market or relax in a cosy corner with a hookah (waterpipe) and some baklava or halva. If you have the time to spare, go check out Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity and Jericho. They are just one bus ride away from Jerusalem and you will get submerged in a totally different vibe when you’re crossing that big wall into the Palestinian territories.
We took a guided one-day trip with Bein Harim Tours. After beint picked up at our hotel, we met our lovely guide Isaac who taught us some history and showed us around the most magical places of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The trip gets you to the Palestinean area without border-control hassle and has a more than fair price-quality ratio. I would suggest to take their ‘small group’ package as you will manoeuvre more rapidly and get to see more in the same time.
What can I say? Tel Aviv is quite the opposite from Jerusalem as it is a modern and quite recent city near the Mediterranean Sea. Quite famous for its night life, amazing food and hospitality. You won’t find the same architectural richness as in Jerusalem but it is a great place to discover. Stroll through the tiny streets of Jaffa in the twilight and end up in one of the no-nonsense fish restaurants!
The ongoing Arabic-Israeli-Palestine conflict and the recent political decisions of the world’s most famous Pussygrabber to aknowledge Jerusalem unilaterally as the capital of Israel is keeping the political tension in the region on point. I must say however that there was not a single moment where I felt intimidated by army presence or encountered issues at our numerous border crossings. Police and soldiers are carrying guns but never seem to dominate the atmosphere. Check your governmental advise to travel, but don’t let the media reportings scare you away from Jerusalem and the Westbank.
For those of you with a special intrest in these matter, Alternative Tours offers guided tours to the ‘seperation barrier’, refugee camps and others, all with a antropocentric and political focus.
Getting around in Israel is quite comfortable and easy to arrange. I spent a lot of time to find a rental car online before going on the trip and we should have just went with public transport all the way in hindsight. Busses can take you to all the major cities with multiple and fast connections. The train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a little slower, but crosses a beautiful valley.