Ancient and modern, religious and secular, urban and rural -- Israel is a country of outstanding diversity and contrasts. On a tour of this country, you can walk along Roman aqueducts on a Mediterranean beach, meet Druze shepherds in the Galilee hills, and share a Sabbath meal with a family in Jerusalem. In Israel, you will discover a country with something for everyone. Although Israel packs in so much, it's only the size of New Jersey, making it easy to explore this little country from top to bottom on a single tour.
More and more tourists visit Israel every year, and for good reason. Watching the sunrise from King Herod’s palace retreat at Masada and floating in the salty Dead Sea are just a few of the more popular activities here. What is so impressive about Israel, though, is that it offers much more than many people expect. With a complex but welcoming society, endless opportunities for adventure, and ancient ruins at every turn, Israel is a destination for any traveler.
Despite its small size, Israel is full of opportunities for active travelers. There are cliffs perfect for repelling, deserts to be crossed by camel, coral reefs to be dived, and snow-capped mountains to climb. You can even spend a day training with elite members of the country’s fighting forces to learn about combat techniques from the experts.
Israel has been a destination for Muslim, Christian, and Jewish pilgrims for centuries. It makes sense that religiously-focused travel is still extremely popular here. In Jerusalem alone you can pay your respects at the Islamic shrine of the Dome of the Rock, follow Jesus’ route on the Via Dolorosa, and pray at the Wailing Wall.
Social Justice Tours
The modern history of Israel has been a contentious one for sure. To view first hand the nuanced and complicated state of Israel today, take a tour focused on building bridges between communities. There are several NGOs and organizations, such as Green Olive Tours, that offer moving experiences like viewing separation barriers, visiting Palestinian families in the West Bank, and meeting the leaders of women’s cooperatives.
History & Culture Tours
Israel is a rich and ancient cultural tapestry. In addition to many first-rate museums, you can step into the past to experience the sweep of history from the earliest of Iron Age cities to mighty Crusader castles. Archaeological excavation is an ongoing effort. With some tours, you can join in and get your hands dirty as you help archaeologists uncover the past.
Today’s Israel is as diverse as it has ever been. On many tours you will learn about modern life in Israel from Bedouins in the Negev Desert, artists in Tel Aviv, and vintners in the Golan Heights.
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit Israel
When you go to Israel will greatly influence your trip. Summer is extremely hot and dry when the desert winds blow in. Winters can be very rainy with occasional snow in the mountains. April and May offer a nice compromise with comfortable temperatures and only occasional rain to bring out the wildflowers.
Also keep in mind the many holidays celebrated in Israel. Many celebrations, such as Easter and Passover, bring huge numbers of pilgrims, so be prepared for crowds and higher rates at hotels.
What to Look for in a Tour to Israel
Israel offers such a variety of activity. Choose a tour that aligns with what you want your experience to be. Make sure that the tour company has a socially responsible approach to travel in Israel. If you will be going on adventure activities, check that you will have qualified and certified guides. Also, some tours include transportation, meals, and accommodation costs in the price, but others don’t. You’ll want to confirm this in advance.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
Pack conservative clothing if you’ll be visiting any homes or religious sites. Women should wear a long skirt or pants and a shirt with a high neckline and covered shoulders in these situations. Men should wear pants or long shorts and a collared shirt or t-shirt. Light loose-fitting clothing is essential in the boiling summer months. Keep in mind that if you’re going to be in the desert, it could be very hot during the day and near freezing overnight.
It is customary to bring a small gift if you visit someone’s home. A box of candy or flowers is acceptable. If you know there are children in the home, bringing a small toy or school supplies goes a long way to ingratiating yourself.
Keep in mind that many businesses and most transportation shuts down throughout the country on Shabbat (Friday evening to Saturday evening).
English is widely spoken by younger Israelis, especially in cities like Tel Aviv and Haifa, but learning a few basic phrases in Hebrew and Arabic will be appreciated by the locals.
Different communities have different customs and expectations from visitors. Do your best to be culturally sensitive wherever you go. Your tour operator should help you with this.
Health & Safety
Israel has an excellent health care system. However, it isn’t cheap. Hopefully, you won’t need to visit a hospital, but travelers health insurance is a smart thing to have just in case.
The most common health issues for travelers in Israel are dehydration and sunburns. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water, especially on hot dry days, and cover up or use plenty of sun block when outdoors.
There are no necessary vaccines for travel to Israel, but it’s a good idea to make sure you’re current on the basic ones, like MMR and the flu. The CDC suggests that you get vaccinated for Hepatitis A.
Sadly, Israel is no stranger to terrorist attacks and civil unrest. This is why traveling with an organized tour is an advantage. Tour operators will have their finger on the pulse of current events and will be able to adapt your itinerary if need be.
You’ll notice tight security in most public places. Armed soldiers are a constant sight. Be prepared to get a pat down and have your bag searched and when you enter public buildings, popular tourist sites, and even some restaurants.
Don’t let all the security worry you though. Israel has had a stable tourist industry for decades. You’ll see people carrying on normal lives, even if they're also carrying a rifle. Exercise the same common sense safety practices you would at home and you will still have a fantastic time.