Overall score (Dan) = A
Overall score (Jocelyn) = A
Total days = 10 nights, 11 days
Total cost = $1,667
Cost per day = $152 / day
Flight costs = $702 one-way from Istanbul
Cities visited: Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Dead Sea, Eilot, Northern road trip, and adding in Petra, Jordan
If there was a ranking of countries by the most interesting things to see per square kilometer, Israel must sit at the top of the list. It’s the birthplace of monotheistic religions and although it’d be nice to call it a cultural melting pot, there are many forces at work discouraging an assimilation among its inhabitants. This contributes to it being one of the most complex countries we’ve visited yet.
In the grand scheme of things, I was pretty ignorant of what was happening in Israel aside from the quick soundbites I’d regularly hear on the news – things like illegal settlements, suicide bombers and border disputes. However, there’s no way I’d fully understand it if we didn’t visit, but now that I know more, I’m not sure their issues will ever be settled. The Palestinians and the rest of the middle east will never accept the Bible’s granting of the land to the Jewish religion, and the Israelis will continue to turn a blind eye to the prisons they’re building around the Palestinians in the name of protection.
That being said, I’ll attempt to write a non-biased view of what it’s like to travel in Israel and how much it will cost you. Israel has a surprisingly large number of places to visit and things to see, and when adding in our side trip to Petra, 10 days was hardly enough.
How far does your money go in Israel?
Israel uses the Shekel and $1 USD equals roughly 3.5 Israeli Shekel. Some of the smaller towns are a little cheaper, but Jerusalem ranks as one of the most expenses places we’ve visited in terms of lodging expenses and food prices were closer to US standards.
Here are our per day spending highlights:
Lodging = $65.7 / day
Food = $29.6 / day
Transportation = $25 / day
Excursion = $15.6 / day
Total hotel points used = 4,000 points, Le Meridien Dead Sea (1 night)
Some of the best experiences on our trip have come from meeting friends in the countries we visit, and we were lucky enough to meet a few people in Israel – actually both in Jerusalem. The first was Jocelyn’s family friend who teaches in Israel and spent 5 days touring us around Israel along with his wife and explaining its many complexities. Not only that, but they let us live like the locals by taking us along to family lunches and work. This saved us a lot of money as well as they drove us around and often times were quick to cover the food bill for a couple of dirty backpackers! The second person we met was the cousin of one of my friends who’s from Jerusalem and owns a sweets shop in Jerusalem’s old city and welcomed us like we were family. With their help, we were better able to understand what’s going on in Israel.
Whether you’re religious or not, Israel has some of the most interesting archaeological sites of any place we visited – from the Masada Fortress which was the Jew’s last stand against the Romans, to Jerusalem where piles of history are layered on top of each other like a multilayered cake and contain the beginnings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, to the Golan Heights where more recent battles have left their marks on the land – Israel is full of sites defined by the Bible and in other historical records.
Even visiting the religious sites was complex as the large walls of the barrier snake through the land and limit the crossings into places like Bethlehem which is in the Palestinian state. Time and again we encountered the monstrosity of the barrier which the Israeli’s hale as their protection against suicide bombers and the Palestinian’s criticize as the hand around the throat of their entire being. As we discussed this with our friends, we began to understand why the Israeli’s will never take it down, but it still didn’t seem right.
After 5 days in Jerusalem, we still felt like we needed more time to explore even though we checked off sites such as the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the haulocast museum, and the Garden of Gethsemane. However, it was time to continue on and head up to the Golan Heights in northern Israel along with our friends/tour guides. As our car struggled up the steep roads heading up the arid mountain, our friend explained why Israel strategically took this land from Syria and Lebanon during the six day war in 1967. The land overlooks Israeli cities which made the Israelis easy targets to the rockets which were regularly fired at them.
As Jocelyn says, we learned more on this 10 day trip in Israel than we did on months worth of areas we visited previously. When we include the two day trip we took to visit Petra, Jordan, my brain nearly explodes as it tries to process all of the new information its being fed… and might I add, Petra is probably the most interesting archaeological site we’ve visited yet!
The people of Israel and Palestine are tough. They haven’t known peace since they’ve been alive, and warring is almost in their genes as the lands they occupy have been some of the most heavily contested over the millenniums. Unfortunately, this “toughness” can come off as gruffness, cockiness, or even straight rudeness. However, once you get below the surface you learn both sides want the same simple things in life and for their families… it’s just more complicated there!
As I’ve already alluded to, Israel has a lot of ugliness. If you’re pro-Palestinian, you look at the barriers as a crime against humanity which disrupts daily life and prohibits economic develop in Palestine. However, if you’re pro-Israeli, you view the barriers as a life saver because it stopped suicide bombers from blowing up your family and friends in the same places you frequent daily. If you’re Arabic, you view the encroachment of Israeli’s on your land as illegal, but if you’re Israeli you view it as God given. I’m not sure there’s ever an easy way out of it all, but at least our visit helps us understand it all.
In conclusion, Israel wouldn’t have been nearly as meaningful for us if we hadn’t met friends there. They helped us get to know the country as Israeli’s and really understand the complexities. It offers an immense amount of things to see and you could spend two weeks just in Jerusalem exploring the historical and religious sites – but for us, it was time to go home!
Next up: Morocco