Israel travel tips
Israel: the basics
Israel is the only non-Muslim country in the Middle East and borders in the west on the Mediterranean Sea, in the north and northeast on Lebanon and Syria, in the east on Jordan and in the southwest on Egypt and the Palestinian territories.
The state of Israel, with a total area no bigger than Belgium, stretches along the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea with a length of about 470 km (292 miles). Israel is very narrow, the widest part measures about 135 km (83 miles), the most narrow about 15 km (9.3 miles). The geological characteristic of Israel is the rift valley that begins south of Turkey and extends throughout the entire country to east Africa. This rift valley is the location of the Dead Sea and hosts some of the oldest relics of human history. Israel has three entirely different natural and vegetative regions. The north on the border to the Golan Heights and Lebanon is humid and mountainous. The rift valley and mountainous areas dominate the center of the country and the south consists of the farmed Negev desert, which extends to the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea. The highest point in Israel is the mountain Har Meron with a height of 1,208 m (3,963 ft) on the Israeli-Lebanese border. The longest river is the Jordan, measuring 360 km (223 miles) with its source in the Hermon Mountains, flowing along the Israeli Jordan border and eventually into the Dead Sea near the city of Jericho. The Dead Sea lies 420 m (1377 ft) below sea level and is the lowest measurable point on earth.
The official and national languages are Modern Hebrew and Arabic. Various languages of the inhabitants’ countries of origin are also spoken, for example Yiddish, English, Romanian, Hungarian, French, Spanish, Russian and Armenian.
There is no best time to travel in Israel, as the climate varies greatly due to the geographical circumstances. In general it can be said that the climate in Israel is temperate to subtropical with mild and rainy, sometimes cool winters in the north and a warm and in parts hot south particularly in the Negev desert, which takes up about 40 % of the countries area. The most pleasant time to visit is during the transition months in the spring and the autumn.
Israel: getting there & info before you go
Make sure vaccines against hepatitis A, typhoid, diphtheria, polio and tetanus are up to date and wear long clothing and use a mosquito repellent. Medical care in Israel is good. Visitors are advised to take out comprehensive medical and travel insurance that covers repatriation costs. A first aid kit should be packed and fruit and vegetables peeled or boiled before being eaten.
US citizens currently do not require visas to visit Israel for a period of up to three months. Passports must normally be valid for at least six months from the date of entry.
Travelers should keep themselves informed of current security issues and the political situation in the media before travelling to Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories as well as during their entire stay.
The Israeli airline El Al has the most stringent and best security measures in force of any international airline. It is advisable to arrive at the airport 3 to 4 hours prior to your scheduled departure time, as questioning by Israeli security forces may be lengthy and luggage is checked meticulously. Flights to the international Airports Tel Aviv (TLV) and Eilat (ETH) are provided by many international airlines, for example El Al Israel Airlines (LY), Israir (6H) and Arkia Israel Airlines (IZ). Lufthansa (LH), Austrian Airlines (OS) and operate flights to Tel Aviv. Due to the short distances involved, flying within Israeli is not common, but bus routes are well developed and served by the Israeli coach company Egged. Israir operates flights at relatively low prices to Eilat from Tel Aviv.
Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other cities
The official capital of Israel is Jerusalem. However, the non-binding United Nations Security Council Resolution 478 declared this decision as void. Jerusalem is a holy city for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It is also one of the oldest cities in history and has been inhabited for 5000 years without interruption. The contrast between antiquity and modernity is especially striking in Jerusalem, as is the multi cultural and ethnic diversity of the population.
The cities of Bethlehem and Jericho in the West Bank, both situated about 30 minutes by car from the center of Jerusalem, are also well worth a visit. The church where Jesus was born is in Bethlehem as is Rachel’s tomb, which is honored in equal measure by Jews, Muslims and Christians.
Jericho is further northeast and even en-route to the city the landscape is breathtaking, the road falling from 800 metres (2,624 ft) above sea level to 395 m (1,295 ft) below sea level due to the Jordanian rift. The resulting difference in altitude is 1,200 m (3,937 ft). The oasis town of Jericho is the lowest lying and oldest town in human history. Its age is estimated to be at least 10,000 years. Attractions in Jericho include the mountain and monastery of Djebel Qarantal, a few towers and walls that about 9000 years ago were part of the most powerful fortress in the world and are thereby 4000 years older than the pyramids in Egypt. There is also the Greek orthodox monastery of Qarantana and St. George’s monastery in the Wadi el-Kelt.
Tel Aviv provides an ideal break from this journey through archaeological and religious history. This Mediterranean city is only 100 years old and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. The city is perfect for hedonists as the city is a party town in the summer months that is populated by locals as well as Israeli tourists along with thousands of tourists from around the world. The city never sleeps and the beach is one of the best in the Middle East with countless bars, cafes, discos, clubs cinemas and restaurants extending as far as the town of Jaffa 15 km from Tel Aviv.
Israel: beach holidays, deserts and the Dead Sea
Israel is an interesting and fascinating country to visit, with a vast natural, cultural and religious diversity. There are excellent beaches on the Red and Dead Seas as well as on the coast of the Mediterranean. Due to the geographical location, Israel has two possible destinations for the beach holidaymaker. Firstly, the Mediterranean Sea in the southern part of Israel and secondly squeezed between Jordan and Egypt, the beach towns of Eilat on the Red Sea. The Israeli Mediterranean coast is host to kilometres of well-kept sandy beaches with a wide variety of water sports e.g. windsurfing, sailing, fishing, and waterskiing. The city of Eilat has developed into an important beach resort in recent years due to its dream location and excellent infrastructure and the constant wind also provides good conditions for windsurfers. Eilat is located on a blue shimmering coral reef, which provides for some of the best diving in the world. The city is a good starting point for visits to the Negev desert and the Dead Sea.
One of Israel’s highlights is the Negev desert, which takes up a large part of the south of Israel. Since the state was founded large parts of the desert have been irrigated and used for the export of agricultural produce. The desert is popular with walkers and due to the fact that it is one of the resting places for migrating birds en route to and from Africa and Asia, also provides excellent bird watching opportunities for ornithologists in the spring and autumn. The desert is also of interest for archaeologists and those with an interest in history, as the ancient Nabataean towns of Mamshit, Shitva and Advat are to be found here. The oasis towns were used as terminals on the spice route and as protection from highwaymen on the caravan routes.
The Dead Sea in the east of the Negev desert is one of the most interesting destinations on earth. The sea lies at 418 m (1,371 ft) below sea level and is the lowest accessible place on earth. No visitor to the Dead Sea can resist the temptation of floating on the water and feeling its incredible buoyant force. The water in the Dead Sea is seven times more salty than is usual and, with its high concentration of minerals, has incredible healing properties in particular for skin diseases, rheumatism and asthma. This quality is of extreme importance for tourism and export. The oasis of Gedi near the Dead Sea is also worth a visit: it is located in a tropical, lush green area with many springs and waterfalls.