Prepare for your Vacation in Israel – Create your own Itinerary, Part I

As a tour guide, I receive many questions from people, who are busy with the preparations for their vacation in Israel. And they are of course right, because a vacation in Israel from anyone not living in Israel is expensive and easily it will cost more then thousand dollars (per person) at least! And for the locals it’s the same. Israel is expensive (if you don’t know the places).

This document is written in two parts. Click here for Prepare for your Vacation in Israel – Create your own Itinerary, Part II.

Many people are ending up with me, after they gave up trying to make a working and affordable itinerary within their budget. Reason? Israel is so unbelievable confusing, because it’s so complex. And I charge $40 per hour or a fixed amount at $100 and voila, after some time of negotiating and arranging you have your itinerary. Click here to read the details.

I plan to publish series of articles, which helps and assist anyone, who wants spend vacation in Israel. Here I start to talk about prices in Israel.

Prices in Israel

Leonardo Plaza Hotel Eilat
Leonardo Plaza Hotel Eilat

Israel is expensive. That’s a fact. Another thing is the value you get for your dollar. That’s very low in this country. Let’s see what I can see more … oh yeah, the locals agree that Israel is extremely expensive, especially the housing and the food.

Let me give you an example for a price of a hotel (double rooms).

  • You pay easily more then $100 per night (including breakfast) for an average hotel. Such hotel is nothing special and you will likely see shabby beds, closets, small TV, worn carpets, badly repaired bathroom doors, noisy neighbors, small elevators and smooth talking desk people (not always in English). And that’s not all; such hotel will try to charge you for anything they can think about. This is a tourist trap!
  • You pay easily about $60-$80 per night (including breakfast) for a reasonable hotel. Such hotel is alright and you will likely see shabby beds, closets, small TV, worn carpets, badly repaired bathroom doors, noisy neighbors, small elevators and smooth talking desk people (not always in English). This is a great price!
  • You pay easily about $250-$800 per night (including breakfast) for a good hotel. Such hotel great and you will see good beds, TV, great warm carpets, quiet neighbors, great large elevators and great people from the hotel and excellent service (they speak always English at a minimum). You pay for this service!
  • You pay easily about $40-$70 per night (including breakfast) for a reasonable Guest House. Such Guest House is excellent and you will likely see clean rooms, larger then in a normal hotel and excellent service and great (many times home made-) food. The guest house is mostly managed by a family. This is a great price and alternative for a hotel!
  • In Bethlehem, there is a boutique hotel with the name Jacir Palace. This is not only a boutique hotel, but a historical place a as well, and the prices are more then reasonable. For about $200 per night for a suite is not expensive, compared with other boutique hotels (which starts with $1,000 per night).
  • Another example of an excellent hotel is the Efendi Hotel in Acre. The place is unreal, romantic and also a historical hotel for a price from $380 per night.
Efendi Hotel in Acre
Efendi Hotel in Acre

The Jacir Palace and the Efendi Hotel go way beyond the boutique hotels for a fraction for the price. The question is if you know where to find them.

Jacir Palace hotel in Nazareth, Israel
Jacir Palace hotel in Nazareth, Israel

If your budget is smaller, then there are really good alternatives. For example, why should you pay from $100 dollars for a night in a hotel, if you can pay $40 per night for a better room and excellent service?

Tours versus day tours versus guides

Day Tours

If you don’t want to spend the time to create your itinerary, you can always order tours. And of course you can order a multiple days tour or series of day tours.

Prices for multiple days tour are from $1,800 (per person) and up and prices for day tours are from $80 per day. Both tours will include the guide of course, but only the multiple days tour will include food, accommodation and transport.

You can order the tours directly from the internet with the tour operator (in part II (at the bottom) you see a list of tour companies in Israel) or you can run to your local travel agent and let him or her do the ordering for you. But you pay 30-40% overhead for average service for your travel agency and the tour operator, the hotels, the transport and the guide.

Day tours are constantly being offered at the Internet, but the truth is that 85% of the day tours, which run every day or each week, are canceled. The little letters under their announcements state minimum participants is for example 8 persons. Alternatively, you can hire a professional guide for your group, which cost much less (depending on the size of your group). For example I’m a tour guide and I charge $150 per day or $100 per half day, independent of the size of the group and the number of people (until the reasonable maximum is reached of 30 people per group).  The prices of other tour guides are more then $200 per day, excluding everything (you pay for his food and transport and he demands tips).

  • If you are alone, an organized tour is excellent. It’s better to order such tour from your travel agency and not from the Internet. Why? Tour operators don’t like to create their tours for tourists themselves; they prefer to work directly with travel agencies. The chance that they have a spot open is small and such spot for a group is reserved for the travel agency and not the individual.
  • If you are with a small group (4-12 people) (friends, family, club, company, church), an organized tour is expensive, and you are better of with a separate tour guide, transport and itinerary. It will save at least 40%-50% of the price you suppose to pay for an organized tour. You hire first the tour guide, who must/will assist you in making your itinerary.
  • If you are with a large group (from 12 people and up), an organized tour is better, if you can negotiate changes, customizations and pricing. With a group of 20 people, you suppose to have at least 20% reduction of the total price. If you’re talking about 30 people, 30% reduction.
    • But look out here. This is an excellent example of value for your dollar. If you push the tour operator for a big reduction, he or she will try to earn it back with cheap food, hotels and transport!
  • If you are with a large group (from 12 people and up), and you want quality for a normal good price, you can better hire a separate tour guide, transport and itinerary. It’s cheaper, but more complicated. A large group always have people who prefer to sleep in a single room or a triple room, or have diet requirements, or have problems with health, etc. For this, you need to have a longer preparation time to make the itinerary and negotiate with all the members of the group.

If you, dear reader, prefer to go on vacation in Israel with an organized tour with guide, you don’t need to read further, because from now on I write about the different components of a tour and how you can use that to build an itinerary.

How many nights/days will your vacation last in Israel

The golden rule is that how more days you stay in Israel, how more expensive it becomes in its total.

  • If you want a tour, where you can see all the minimum sights of Israel, 5 days is more then enough.
  • If you want a tour, where you can see all the standard sights of Israel, 6-7 days is more then enough.
  • If you want a tour, where you can see all the extra ordinary sights of Israel, 9-12 days is more then enough.

But! You need to take in consideration that there are two days lost in every tour. Those are the arrival and departure days.

As a tour operator, I number the days, starting with the number zero (0) or the arrival day and continue to count the actual touring days, for example 13. In this system, with 13 days of tour, you have 12 nights (important to know for the hotels). With 13 days, you have actually 11 (full) touring days (minus the arrival and departure days).

Russian Orthodox Ascension Church Jerusalem
Russian Orthodox Ascension Church Jerusalem

For the Christians under us who are looking for an Orthodox or Catholic tour, there are honestly a few places interesting for them: Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Sea of Galilee and Nazareth, and that means 5-7 day tours are more then enough. For the Pilgrims, there is so much more, because Christianity is embedded in the Holy Land from the north to the south. For the pilgrims we are talking about tours ranging from 8-12 days or longer.

For those people, who want to see Israel, the variations are possible. Interesting of course are the cities, historical sights and the nature. The cities we are talking about Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Tiberias and Eilat. The historical sights brings you inside and outside the cities and the nature brings you to the north, center and south of Israel in the forests, jungles, deserts, mountains, plains, etc. For those people, depending on what they want, must prepare for a tour with a minimum of 7-12 days, or even more then that if you want to see the so called gems (extraordinary sights hidden normally from tourists).

For those people, who want to get to know Israel and its people, you can’t take a normal organized tour. In Part II of this document there is a list of prices about cost of living in Israel, which might give you an idea how expensive it is to live here and if your budget can manage that.

The best way to do that is going by yourself or maybe with a friend and keep it small. Don’t take hotels or even hostels (you will meet people indeed, but they are not locals), but try to get ‘zimmers’ or apartments within the cities and visit public places where Israelis are mixing and meeting. That means mainly cities and the duration of such endeavor is about 14-30 days, depending on your available time and budget. And no, it doesn’t mean that this must be expensive, because be prepared to do shopping like the Israelis and cook for yourself. Prices for apartments is about $700 per month, maybe cheaper, but definitely more expensive too. The best way is go to the Internet and arrange your apartment there.

Starting date of your tour
And as last, but not least, is the starting date of your tour. Why is that important? In Israel, the Shabat starts at Friday evening and lasts till Saturday evening. That means no buses, no trains, and many (not all) sights are closed! So if you start the tour on a certain date, look for the weekdays. If you plan to visit Tel Aviv, plan it on a Friday and Saturday. If you want to visit museums, they will be closed for Shabat!

Building the outline of your itinerary

Tourist map of northern and middle of Israel
Tourist map of northern and middle of Israel

I hope you have an idea what the duration of your vacation is in days (or nights for the hotels). The next step is creating or defining the places you want to visit in order to make the outline of the itinerary.

An outline depends of course on how many sights you want to visit at a certain location. For example, visiting the city Tiberias is nice, but you will have seen everything interesting in a couple of hours.

This is a perfect example of talking about gems in a tour. Tiberias is a ‘strange’ city with many hidden gems or special places. For example, there is a cemetery, which is truly ancient (thousands of years old) and you can see that when you look at some of the graves. Another gem is the Hot water springs in Tiberias, where you can receive treatment of tired and worn-out feet. And all those ancient Jewish tombs, which are spread out through the city and surroundings. And the little secret springs, which are connected to holy Christians.

Jerusalem is more complex and there are so many things to see, experience, to taste and to eat, you can spend there months and still didn’t see everything.

In order to build the itinerary, you need to choose the main points (mainly cities and areas (Golan, Negev)). Each main point is in principle connected to a hotel and the sights surrounding the main points.

  • For example, if you are a Catholic or Orthodox visitor, you might be interested in Nazareth with its many Christian sights, which you can cover in one day. Surrounding Nazareth is Cana (or Kfar Cana, sight for Jesus’ first miracle), Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee, which you easily can visit on your way to the next main point, let’s say Jerusalem.
  • When you are a Pilgrim, you may spend one day in Nazareth, several days near the Sea of Galilee; those are two main points.
  • When you are a normal tourist, you might do the same as the Catholic or Orthodox visitor, spend some time in Nazareth and go with the bus on your way to Haifa for example, visit Cana and Sea of Galilee for the traditional boat tour and visit the interesting sights and reach Haifa for dinner and a stay at your new hotel.

The best way to create the itinerary is create the outline on paper:

  1. Write down the global places you want to see (the so called main points).
  2. For each point, you write down (or you research) the main sights you really want to visit (or call me or browse this site with more then 600 sights in Israel)
  3. Get an indication how long it will take you to visit those places (for example, Masada tour takes between the 2-3 hours).
  4. Then you start to negotiate with the number of sights and your duration for the tour. That means that you might cut some sights from your list or change the duration of your tour.
  5. Also you might gain some time when you plan the direction of the main places properly. For example, when you want to visit at day 1 Haifa, day 2 go to Eilat, and day 3 to the Golan, there will be a problem with the time and the number of sights you can visit. It takes 8-12 hours to drive from Haifa to Eilat when you’re lucky.
    1. Normally, you travel from the middle (Tel Aviv for example) to the north to Haifa, from there the Golan, Sea of Galilee to Jerusalem, then the Masada and Dead Sea and ending in Eilat.
    2. Alternatively you can go from the airport to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem to the north till Haifa and via the coast to Tel Aviv and continue after that to Eilat.
    3. And of course alternatively you start with the airport to the south (Eilat) and work your way up to Jerusalem, Haifa, and then via the coast to Tel Aviv.

The golden rule for the base itinerary is decide what cities you want to take a hotel or sleep. The distance of those cities may not exceed the 200 km. range. So, please not day 2 to Eilat and day 3 to Haifa, that’s 8 hours in the bus and longer then 200 km.

And final words about the outline of your itinerary, and that are the finances. Many sights you might choose have entry fees, which might not be expensive, but that’s not always the case! Many sights are also free! Use the Internet to research the prices, but they might be outdated. So double check!

If you have a good idea where you are going to travel and which places you need a hotel, then read this next section.

Choosing your hotels in Israel

Hilton Eilat Queen Of Sheba Hotel
Hilton Eilat Queen Of Sheba Hotel

If you choose your hotel in or similar hotel booking websites, you always pay 15% too much. Many people are using those sites to look for their perfect hotel with the best reviews and use the internet to go straight to that hotel and make the booking. Be prepared if you do that, take 15% from the site and insist that you pay that or cheaper then that. If they are not interested, go to another hotel. There are thousands of them. Oh, write a review in the what they did. You can punish such behavior and maybe they improve for other people.

Alternatives for a hotel
Another good alternative for a hotel is a guest house. A guest house is like a hotel, except that it’s (many times) managed and owned by a family. And that also means that the guest house is much smaller then a hotel. It also means that you can’t find a spa or swimming pool or bar or dancing or disco. And if your group is large, they might or will not have the space for all of you. But the difference per price per night is extraordinary large. You can find guest houses for $40 per night! In the big cities, the prices for guest houses are higher of course and you might pay $60-$70!

Today apartments are popular. The prices you pay are in definition (November 2018) half of that of a hotel, but there are some things you need to take into consideration. What the apartment claims 8 persons is many times two rooms (bedroom, salon, kitchen, bathroom combo (shower and toilet) and maybe some closets. And you can’t walk into the salon, because of all those beds they dump there for you. But when you are bright, you take two or three 2-3 persons apartments. Those apartments don’t include breakfast by definition, but you might order it separately (which is expensive).

What must you pay for a room, get reduction!
There are too many hotels in Israel, so you have a very strong negotiating position when you talk the price down.
If you are with a group, you get reduction in the pricing. They will not mention that of course when you want to order your rooms, but you can insist. By definition, even when you are alone, the one who’s doing to sales talk has the standard permission to deduct 5% from the price if you are alone or want to book one room. If you want to book 10 rooms, then it will be 10%. If the person from the hotel is unwillingly to do so, ask for his or her manager or go somewhere else.

If you want to have a good price for good hotels, hire me to do the negotiations and you get 40%-50% (sometimes 60%) deducted from the price. My rate is $40 per hour of work.

Quality in stars
In Israel, there are many hotels, who are not classified (in stars). They call it here the so called tourist hotels. There is a reason why those hotels don’t have stars (anymore). The biggest reason for that is because the owners never invested in their own hotels to keep the rising touristic standards and they see their own hotels as money-cows (milk the tourists, milk, milk them all). Shabby furniture, bad service, bad cleaning and bad, cheap food and not to forget the insects crawling around. But! Seldom you find there bedbugs.

Some hotels are assigning their own star-system to their own hotel and it’s worth it (for them) to pay the fine (because it’s illegal). But they are belong to the tourist hotels.

The difference between the 4 and 5 star hotels is fuzzy. A four star hotel can be more excellent then a 5 star hotel. The prices are also mixed. If you take the site, and you search for 4 and 5 star hotels in Israel, you can see many times that some 4 star hotels are more expensive then many of the 5 star hotels. Sometimes you see that the price of a 4 star hotel is cheaper then a 3 star hotel!!!!

Reviews and quality of hotels
If you want to use the site and others to determine if the reviews of a hotel is good or bad, you might end up more confused then you were before. For most hotels, there are good and bad reviews and they are conflicted to say at least. One is complaining about the lousy service and the other is praising their service to heaven. The other is cursing the small rooms and the other the opposite. You need to be prepared to acknowledge that the reviews of those hotels are often ‘dirty’. Hotels pay people to make positive reviews.

Find the right hotel
The golden rule for finding a good hotel with a smaller budget is getting a huge hotel (more then 250 rooms) or a small hotel (less then 50 rooms). Getting a room with a huge hotel is looking for ‘sales’ (instead of the normal price of $250, today and tomorrow it’s $80 for the same room and food). The smaller hotels is by definition much cheaper and you can contact them directly. The way how the people react and respond to your queries tells if they care or not. If they do care, then at least the service is alright and they will do everything in their power to give you the indication that they have a good hotel for the price you pay.

Another golden rule for hotels are choosing hotels not in the city center. In Tel Aviv, the surroundings of Tel Aviv (like Bat Yam, Holon, Rishon Lezion) you can try to get hotel rooms from $50-$80 (and in the country side it’s even cheaper)! Within the city, such similar room cost you $200 per night!

The last golden rule is of course if you are ordering hotel rooms during the high season or not. If you do, prices in high season are staggering and out of seasons you can make great deals (differences are between $60-$350 for the same room). If you are in high season, try to get hotel rooms outside the city and check the transportation to and from your hotel beforehand.

Hotels are ‘not important’ for my tour …
The last, but not the least are the statements of many people: “… hotel rooms are not important, because we travel the whole day …“. After such tour, I ask those people again and they groan painfully, pulling painful faces and wishing for their beds at home. That is so unbelievable stupid to think so. If you are part of a tour, that’s a huge physical exercise and if you take a hotel with a lousy mattress and noisy children outside your room in the middle of the night, bad food as breakfast, you will definitely not appreciate it when you need to sit in the bus for 3-4 hours to travel from the north to the south of Israel and have a trip of 4 miles to walk to your next hotel in the smoldering heath.

Why hotels are important for a tour
Hotels are important for a tour and for several reasons. First of all, it’s your health and well-being. You don’t want to become sick. Secondly, you pay a small fortune to be on vacation in Israel and your time spending in your hotel is late afternoon or early evening (with sometimes dinner, depending on your tour), the night and early morning for your breakfast. It’s so unbelievable important for your vacation to feel good in the morning, at day, at the evening and at night. It’s part of your Israel experience and to think that’s not important is absolutely wrong.

It also makes you smile and be in a good mood and you might tip the guide some more!

Sea of Galilee
Sea of Galilee

After a busy day of touring from 9 am till 6-7 pm, you want to relax. First to have a pleasant and good dinner and after that to relax in your hotel. Each day might present you with different hotels, and each hotel has it’s own nice things to offer or you can spend time with a small stroll around the hotel. Evenings in Israel are extra ordinary, especially outside the large city centers when you see the sun going down and the spectacle it gives in the sky. You need that time to recharge your ‘batteries’ and to prepare for another exciting and intense day of touring next day.

When I run a tour and have a group, many times I spend the times in the evenings for special events like opera, ballet, live music like blues, jazz, or go to the theater (we will leave the next day a bit later for the tour). There are so many events in Israel, it’s not normal and it’s exciting for the tourists spending their vacation in Israel. Take a look for the music events in Israel here, theater events here, opera here, dance here, music concerts here, and the list goes on and on.

For the next episode of making your tour, click here: Prepare for your Vacation in Israel – Create your own Itinerary, Part II.


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