Israel and Jordan

Region: Israel and Jordan
Length: 2.5 week trip

This extraordinary region hadn't really been on my radar screen to visit until a good friend's marriage and move to Tel Aviv.  I go on here in such detail about its highlights in an attempt to persuade those who have any appreciation for culture, history, and natural beauty to consider a future trip to this part of the world!  It was an incredible experience.



Trip Highlights

More Information
  • Visa/Immunizations
    • US passport holders don't need to arrange an Israel or Jordan visa in advance in order to enter at most border crossings.  Be aware that an Israel passport stamp can impact entrance to certain middle eastern countries (e.g., Lebanon and Syria) when using that same passport. 
  • Transportation
    • The Israel bus system is extensive, reliable, and comfortable-- thank goodness for the air conditioning!  I used the blue Palestine public shuttles to get from Jerusalem to Ramallah.
    • The Israel train system seems only to operate on the western coast, though it is inexpensive and efficient.
    • I rented a car with Avis for US$11/day (via online booking), which-- though the fuel prices are sky-high-- made for terrific flexibility in getting from Jerusalem to Eliat.  What I saw of the main roads in both Israel and Jordan seemed well-paved with names in English/roman letters for key destinations.  
    • In Jordan I took omnipresent taxis from the Eliat border to Petra (JD$55), from Petra to the Dead Sea hotel (JD$60), and from the Dead Sea hotel to the Amman airport (JD$45).
  • Lodging Recommendations
    • Jerusalem: Ecce Homo Convent Guesthouse. Priceless panoramic views of Jerusalem from rooftop terrace, fascinating exploration of 2000-year old remnants and lithostrotos in basement, inexpensive, kind staff, compact but clean ensuite rooms.  Only downside is 11pm curfew.
    • Galilee: Campbell Guesthouse. In Amirim, the "vegetarian village" with killer views of the Sea of Galilee.  Brit Phillip Campbell and his Israeli wife are warm and lovely people who have lived in Amirim for decades.
    • Masada: YHA Masada Guesthouse. At the base of Masada, a great launching point for pre-sunrise climb to Masada... or to the cable car. Features simple but clean rooms, a great outdoor pool, and impressive breakfast buffet.
    • Maktesh Ramon, Negev Desert: Be'erot Camping. Bedouin-run bedouin campsite with electricity and plumbing, with added bonus of being the only legal accommodations within the crater-- so a convenient place for skygazing and for launching exploratory hikes.  Only downside: women traveling alone should be on guard for unwanted attention.
    • Petra, Jordan: Moevenpick Hotel.  Stellar, castle-like resort with super-kind staff, enormous breakfast buffet, and phenomenal rooftop restaurant and bar. Closest hotel to Petra entrance.  Well worth a splurge!
    • Dead Sea, Jordan: Marriott Hotel.  If you accept the concept of an all-inclusive resort, this resort and spa is well worth entering. Three outdoor pools-- including an infinity pool stretching to Dead Sea, and beachfront access to Dead Sea mud and swimming.  Multiple restaurants and bars, some with lovely outdoor terraces.  Huge breakfast buffet.  And a fully equipped spa with sauna, steam room, jacuzzis, 2 indoor pools, and massage therapists.
Israel Sea to Sea (Yam el Yam) Trail
The trail is approximately 55 miles (89 kilometers), stretching from the Mediterranean in the west to the Sea of Galilee in the east.  The total elevation gain/loss is 5,250 feet (1600 meters).  Though the high-90s temperatures in mid-September thwarted my attempt to walk across Israel in 3 days, I managed to hike 22 miles in one day, including climbing 2 of the tallest peaks in Israel, before concluding that it would be better to be sane and quit the death march.

You must have the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) Hiking Map #2 (see above left images-- click to enlarge them), which is only available in Hebrew and is sold at main SPNI offices and some major bookstores in Tel Aviv. The interconnected trails are well marked by the SPNI staff, and for the second half of the hike you will just follow the orange/blue/white striped marks (see above right image), which symbolizes the Israeli National Trail that runs north to south across the country.  Often this trail overlaps which other ones, which is why you'll often see more than one trail mark along a route.  

There are occasional faucets along the trail (these are marked on the SPNI map), and villages and towns close to the trail to restock on water and food.  However, you should plan on carrying at least a couple of liters of water at any given time.  The last section of the trail, leading to the Sea of Galilee, has a steep, narrow, and dangerous descent, and dry and hot canyon passageway (try to reach intersection with Hukuk/Livnim by 10am).

Accommodations-wise, most walkers are part of youth groups that camp along the way (see More Information below for campsites; SPNI's map also identifies them).  It's possible to avoid carrying a tent and stay in shelters, though the B&B/zimmer/hotel accommodations are usually off the trail and are hard to find using the SPNI map, so factor that into your daily mileage. If you're looking for a roof and a bed, try to plan your walk around the following towns/villages:  Nahariya (I stayed at Hotel Frank, which was fine); Abirim or Fasuta; Meron; Safed (also spelled Tsfat, etc., though be forewarned that it is on the third highest peak in Israel and a long way up from the valley by foot!); etc... see the SPNI map for population-denser areas and aim towards those. SPNI provides trail angels and Field Schools that offer accommodation, though few are on the trail route.  The Mt. Meron Field School is-- though I only recommend it if you like desolate, dilapidated former military barracks.

More information:

Suggested Reading