Because of the media, and any news source that I have come across recently, my expectations for my visit to Israel were quite low. In my mind the Middle East and Israel was going to be dangerous and not worth a visit.
Thankfully I made the trip anyways, to find out for myself. I was still apprehensive as I crossed into Eilat from Egypt, as I was questioned pretty hard for two hours. That said, all the security brought around a sense of safety once into Israel. And sure enough, I never felt anything but safe and welcome during my stay. I am an unbiased travel blogger, and I would not recommend a country to my readers, if I didn’t truly believe it was a wonderful place that needed to be seen.
I definitely recommend Israel to anyone interested in history or religion, or in seeing things you wouldn’t have expected in this region. If you’re like me you’ll more likely enjoy the many other things that Israel has to offer, that don’t have much to to with religion. So here are some of the great places to see in Israel, that aren’t the tourist norm.
1. World class beaches on the Mediterranean coast
Running into these beaches was a huge surprise to me, and now that I’ve experienced them, it’s another huge surprise that these world class, amazingly white sand beaches aren’t much more popular and famous. I’ve been all over in the world, and not many beaches can compare to the ones near Jisr az Zarqa in the north or Israel.
Between Caesarea and Haifa, the beaches compare or compete with Cancun, Mexico and Kho Phi Phi, Thailand, yet I had them all to myself. I have a strong feeling these beaches won’t stay a secret for long.
To elaborate how few tourists there were, there is only ONE hostel or hotel in all of Jisr az Zarqa, a town of over 14,000, even with these world class beaches. I stayed in this guest house, called Juha’s Guesthouse. They took us on a tour of the city, the amazing rocky coastline and then later to a bonfire and dinner on one of the beautiful beaches, which we had to ourselves. It was an amazing place, and in this Arab village of Jisr, you kind of forget you’re in Israel, even down to the cheaper prices.
2. Old Town Nazareth.
Nazareth might have a lot of history when it comes to religion, but when I was there I found that there is a lot more to do than just looking at church after church. That’s good, because I find that I can get churched out in Israel.
Unlike Jerusalem’s “Old City” which had been completely destroyed and rebuilt many times, even as soon as the 60’s, Nazareth had a ton of ancient architecture still prevailing, much built by the Romans themselves.
This makes for some of the best and oldest architecture in Israel. I took a free walking tour with my hostel, Fauzi Azar, which the guide had assured us before hand would NOT have a religious or political theme. True to her word, we did not visit one church, monastery, cathedral or temple. Instead we got a crash course in some deep history, as well as visiting some beautiful areas. Nazareth is another area that is devoid of tourists, but I doubt it will be so for long.
My stay in Fauzi Azar Inn, by the way, was pretty awesome. It was in the Old City where no car can get to, and the building is a 200 year old Arab mansion, that is probably the most beautiful building I’ve stayed in. I would definitely stay here again, both for the nice stay and for the tours.
3. Graffiti on the separation wall in The West Bank.
Don’t worry I’m not going to talk about politics or religion here. I won’t give any of the many opinions I heard during this visit, about one state or two states, Muslims and Jews. You will be sure to get enough of that when you visit for yourself.These things might be interesting as well, but what I was really impressed by was the great graffiti/artwork on the small section of the wall I seen.
I’ve been a fan of graffiti and have photographed it all over the world, and the best is the political graffiti from regions of unrest and conflict. Can you think of an area that has been the center of conflict, war and civil unrest for as long as Palestine and Israel? This makes for some very interesting art work, and the Bethlehem area I visited was no exception.
Ya, ok, I did visit the birthplace of Jesus with the big church built over it, and probably uttered a slightly interested “that’s nice”. But the wall art got a much stronger emotion. It’s a must see.
Ok, everyone has heard about the Dead Sea, and it’s pretty well known. Ya, it’s 400+ meters below sea level, it’s so salty you just float on top of the water and it’s mud has great cosmetic uses and benefits. We’ve all seen the touristy photos of people floating on the backs, completely covered in mud. But this article isn’t about the “well known”.
Much lesser know is the amazing view of the Dead Sea from on top of the Masada mountain top. The in-shape or ambitious can take the long snake path to the top to see the ruins of an ancient stone pueblo there, along with the view of the desert and distant Dead Sea.
For the less ambitious like me, there’s a cable car that will take you to the top. How ever you get there, you are likely to agree that the panorama views of the desert below are equal to none in all of Israel. Yes there is some interesting archaeology sites up there, but the view alone will take your breath away. Even my photo won’t give it justice. It’s just a place you need to see for your self.
5. The Ba’hai Temple in Haifa.
Chances are you have never heard of the Ba’hai religion. I know I certainly never did. It’s not a part of Christianity or Islam or any other religion. It’s an interesting religion completely new to me. I know this wasn’t going to be about religion, but this one being so unique, as well as having nothing to do with the others who are part of the conflicts in Israel, I had to mention it.
The other and more important reason the Ba’hai Temple makes the list, is because of how magnificent it actually is. The temple complex being the holiest place for the whole religion (um, and the only place), it is the Mecca for it’s members, so nearly all donations and funds come here to maintain it all, which I was told is over $2 million a year.
Once you see it’s superb landscaping and world class gardens, you will understand why. Built up a hill, with the temple at the top of the 700 steps, each of the 19 garden areas have fountains and sculptures and serene beauty for places for the pilgrims to rest and pray on their way to the top. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something so tranquil and marvelous. It’s yet another place that my photos won’t give justice to, and that you just need to see yourself.
All of these places and much more, I visited through Abraham Tours and Tourist Israel, based in Jerusalem and the Abraham Hostel. I would definitely recommend each of these tours, and many more they offer. The offer chances to see places I didn’t even know existed or would be able to get to on my own.