Trip report: Israel/Palestine

Background:

Hello the final time reddit ! I am a 26M American, that has been traveling throughout the past several weeks in Africa and the Middle East. The final leg of my trip brought me to Israel and Palestine.

Budget:

This time I did not rent a car which saved quite a bit on the budget and was ultimately unnecessary. The biggest transport expenses were the flight from Eilat to Ben Gurion, and the occasional taxi . The bus and train costs were almost comically negligible. Additionally, I found that I was able to walk almost everywhere in the towns/cities , which cut down on costs as well. The hostels I stayed in were cheap at around ~$25-26 a night, with an optional breakfast + bar at both. The hotels in Tel Aviv and Eilat on the other hand were **very** expensive. Eilat was $141 for one night at a low tier place. Tel-Aviv was $188 a night. Tel Aviv I booked last minute, so part of that is on me, but both cities were more expensive compared to the rest of the country, so plan accordingly. Food/alcohol was a bit a mixed bag; while not outrageously expensive such as in Dubai, it was enough to raise some eyebrows at the final cost.

Trip Length:

12 days including arrival day.

*Destination :*

1 night in Eilat, 6 nights in Jerusalem, 3 nights in Haifa, 2 nights in Tel Aviv. Day trips were also undertaken to Akko , Nazareth, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Hebron .

Accommodation:

2 hostels and 2 hotels . The Post hostel in Jerusalem was excellent.

Activities:

– Walking and exploring the old city of Jerusalem, the divide at Hebron, the Bethlehem wall, the old city of Acre, The Temple Mount, Western wall, etc., just getting a lot of culture.

– The Christian pilgrimage with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, The Church of the Nativity, Cave of the Patriarchs, Mt. of Olives, Nazareth, etc.

– Exploring the old city markets.

– Swimming in the Mediterranean.

– Partying in Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem

What Went Right:

Perhaps I got lucky on the security/political situation, but outside of the Rabin crossing I had no issues with waiting in lines or with security. Outside of the minor inconvenience of having to carry my passport, everything was a breeze. Hebron was the only area where I was stopped a few times, but it was all rather casual.

I was reliant on buses and trains for the bulk of my transport and was pleasantly surprised to find I could get around just about everywhere I needed to. Outside of the Negev with a little time and planning there was no reason to rent a car. For the trains and trams, I used the excellent Hopon* app in which you can just pay for both directly by generating and scanning a QR code. Using the app, it is also possible to load credit/passes directly onto a Rav-Kav card with an NFC enabled phone.

Most of the main attractions in Jerusalem were free.

What Went Wrong:

Apparently, one cannot go through the airport early and relax post security on Israeli domestic flights. I ended up having to wait before security for a while in Eilat before they would let me through. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was weird because the airside of Eilat was actually decent for a small airport.

*One exception to the Hopon app. There is a feature in which you can pay for the bus directly by scanning a QR code behind the driver. The problem is that while that was fairly common on the coast by Haifa and Tel-Aviv, in Jerusalem and on the Palestinian buses that feature was rarely, or never available. What makes this situation odd is that outside of the Sheruts, everyone accepted the Rav-Kav *card* even in the West Bank. This created an awkward situation where I had to hunt down someone who sold cards in Jerusalem before I could use the bus to Bethlehem. What I would say is get a Rav-Kav the first chance you get if you plan on frequently using the buses, as you can reliably expect everyone to accept that.

My bout of luck of communicating in English the past 8 weeks ended in Haifa and the North. To be clear that’s on me the foreigner, but there was a lot more usage of Hebrew only and I had to pull out Google translate a lot more in Haifa and Nazareth. With a smidge of Arabic, I was able to get around Nazareth a bit better, but you may want to factor that into a trip.

I nearly missed my flight back to the US. The problems that have plagued American and European aviation this summer have also found their way to Ben Gurion. It took me 1.5 hours to check a bag, have sent through security, and then another 2 hours to get through security myself. The lines were almost out of the door of the terminal. By the time I finally got through security, I was sprinting to just make the plane.

Recommendations:

I crossed into Israel via the Rabin crossing in Aqaba/Eilat. Predictably I was pulled aside for extra security screening in which every article of my belonging was searched, although I was spared the intense questioning once I explained my situation to the customs officer. The whole crossing took about an hour, but I did see some poor sod having to undergo the intense questioning and he was still there when I left. The border crossing is open from 8:30 to 3:30pm Sun – Thurs. For these reasons I wouldn’t advise trying to make a tight connection from Eilat to elsewhere if doing the crossing as I contemplated. Also try to have the Gett app or have some Shekels ready before you make the crossing, as the crossing is pretty far from everything.

In Jerusalem and the West Bank **you must carry your passport** ***and*** **applicable visa. Not having both of these will cause problems.**

Regarding Shabbat, plan to be wherever you need to be by 12:00 – 2:00pm on Friday afternoon if reliant on public transit. Pretty much *everything* shuts down after that and doesn’t get going again till one hour after sunset on Saturday. Usually there was at least one or a few markets/restaurants open during this time catering to foreigners but expect your options to be severely limited. Don’t be surprised if a taxi is your only option to get around. This shutdown was less acute in the West Bank and in the north by Haifa and Nazareth, due to the larger Arabic populations. On Saturdays the Arab/Palestinian buses are more likely to be running, so you may be able to plan accordingly.

Buy a Rav-Kav first chance you get .

There are no rideshare services in Israel, only taxis with the associated extra costs. The Gett app is by far the most common taxi hailing service and works virtually everywhere outside the Palestinian areas. Technically Uber does function in Tel Aviv and out to Ben Gurion but will only call a cab. Careem is an option in some of the Palestinian cities, but only for local rides.

Trip report: Israel/Palestine