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Long Trip Report: Israel, Petra, Mt. Sinai

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Long Trip Report: Israel, Petra, Mt. Sinai

I’ve just returned from a wonderful month in Israel (October 2007), including side trips to Petra in Jordan, and Mt Sinai in Egypt.

I left 5 hours after getting my plane ticket, armed with only the “Frommer’s Israel” guide book, Douglas Duckett’s personal guide, and printouts off the message boards at frommers.com and tripadvisor.com.

I found Robert Ullian’s “Frommer’s Israel” to be indispensable -- it made my on-the-fly planning easy, and proved to be a very accurate guide for the independent traveler. To one and all, thank you for your generous advice, and especially to Douglas Duckett, Suzanne Pomeranz and “pulcino.”

I’m an experienced, solo, female traveler, and did this trip on a budget. I used public transportation, did not rent a car. I had no advance reservations except for my first hotel room in Tel Aviv. My focus was ancient sites and outdoor wonders.

General travel information is well documented elsewhere. This trip report focuses on logistics, because they are the trickiest part of a visit to this region. The following are random tips, discoveries and updates from portions of my trip…

LANGUAGE: I found the Israelis to be exceedingly nice and helpful. Most speak English well, especially on the Mediterranean side and in Jerusalem, less in the Tiberias region, and very little at the southernmost tip in Eilat.

SHABBAT: Don’t underestimate closures -- it’s best to research and plan around Shabbat closures on Friday and Saturday. Also, some areas are closed Sunday -- for example, Nazareth is open Friday and Saturday, but fully shut down on Sunday. Read up on where you’re going before you go there.

Also, Shabbat may be a good initial arrival choice, a couple of quiet days to recover from jet lag. And, Egged buses run between Eilat and Tel Aviv or Jerusalem all day on Saturday, a five-hour trip, and good day to travel.

INTERNET: There isn’t an internet café on every corner. When you do find one, the computers are usually old and super slow, and the rates are high. Same with hotels, when they have a computer. Let loved ones know that you might have infrequent access.

CELL PHONE: People in the Middle East use cell phones like we do in the U.S., so pay phones aren’t plentiful, and some hotels (especially the budget variety) don’t have phone service for guests. For many reasons, you need a cell phone.

CLOTHING: Since it’s a common topic on the message boards. I think the objective is to just be practical, appropriate and low key. In general, you can wear anything you want, and extra casual is perfect.

But, shorts are only worn at the beach and places like Masada, Caesarea or Petra. Long shorts, at least knee length, are okay when you wear them. Men and women wearing shorts to religious sites are turned away. Shoulders must be covered at all religious sites -- a scarf wrap is fine. For pants, loose is best because of heat. For women, mid-calf length pants or skirts are perfect. Women, tank tops are okay, but good to keep a light shirt in your bag to throw over, just in case. (In Egypt, women must be covered.)

The weather is too hot for black. I recommend a muted color scheme and light cotton fabrics that you can wash and hang out overnight -- medium blue jeans, and tan, beige or other muted tones for tops and trousers.

TOURIST INFORMATION OFFICES: They’re not all great or helpful, because tourist services here have not been perfected. But you will find some that are excellent, and it’s worth making a stop.

TRANSPORTATION: USD$100/day for a car rental, insurance and fuel, wasn’t in my budget. But, I found public transportation to be easy and economical. I took trains and buses for long distance travel, the city mini-bus sheruts for trips around town, and then taxis when need be. I never missed having a car.

At bus stations, the signs at the loading docks are usually printed in English on one side -- this will help you get in the right line.

If you’re waiting for a bus or sherut on the street, and don’t know which number is right for you, just flag one down and ask the driver. He’ll tell you which bus to wait for. Ask the driver when you get on if this bus goes to your destination. If he says yes, pay and then sit near the driver -- he will tell you when to get off.

TAXIS: City drivers just take you where you want to go, and that’s it, they’ll offer fixed rate or meter. Fixed rate fares everywhere depend on how busy they are. If there are a lot of tourists and cabs, I think you can negotiate. If there aren’t many tourists, they seem to charge more. If there aren’t many cabs, they have you over a barrel, but negotiate anyway. Just don’t be quick to get in the car, and the rate will come down some.

Drivers in more remote areas commonly use an up-selling technique to try to sell side trips. Be ready for it. After you’ve haggled your heart out on the fare, you both agree, and then the driver spends all the time in the car pitching you side trips for more money. If you say yes to something, it doesn’t end there; they then try to sell you more features for more money.

This happened to me in the Wadi Rum desert, description below under WADI RUM, but it was somewhere we wanted to go, so we haggled hard and it turned out to be a great adventure.

“TAXI GUIDE”: Frommer’s suggests that a “taxi guide” may be an alternative to a tour or private guide. Taxi drivers will pitch themselves as guides all over, but they are mainly guys trying to hustle tourists for higher fares. I did this only once, and do not recommend it. (If you feel you need a guide for some destination, sign up for one of the group day tours or hire a licensed private guide.)

If you are tempted to use a taxi guide, ask the driver several complex questions about the site before you get in the car, to test the driver’s English ability and historical knowledge -- you might get lucky. He must be able to narrate and answer your questions, otherwise you have only bought yourself a really expensive taxi ride.

You will have to haggle hard, and they will try to sell you more side trips. Be firm from the beginning, repeat the final price, and say “no more.”

DAY TOURS: Another form of transportation is to go on day tours. I took one from Jerusalem that went to the Dead Sea and Masada, and was surprisingly pleased. I’m not a tour type, but it was comfortable, air-conditioned, I had fun meeting fellow travelers, and the guide was brilliant. I used Ben Harim Tours, and the cost was USD$78 for a full day trip, including entrance fees, plus 10% for guide/driver tips.

It is possible to take a city bus from Jerusalem for less, but it’s a very long hot drive, and if a bus drops you on the road, it’s a long walk to the site entrances. Then you have to wait for a bus to pick you up. This day tour was an easy way for me to see two must-see desert sites that were a long distance away from Jerusalem (and nap on the bus home).

There are numerous day tour packages all over Israel by several tour companies; brochures are in every hotel. I don’t think it’s necessary to take tours to see everything, for example Nazareth and Caesarea are easily accessible, and the guidebooks adequately describe those sites.

I also really liked Zion Walking Tours by the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, very inexpensive, tiny groups and great guides. They require a minimum of 4 people to give a tour, so reserve in advance.

CURRENCY: U.S. Dollars are preferred everywhere. Take plenty of cash, including lots of $1 and $5 bills for small purchases. Budget hotels often don’t take credit cards, and prefer Dollars. Street vendors in Israel, Jordan and Egypt readily accept and sometimes prefer Dollars.

American Express is not widely accepted; don’t leave home without Visa or MasterCard. Also, I have two ATM cards, each from a different bank. I took them both, in case one shut down for some reason. There are plenty of banks with ATMs all over Israel.

TIPPING: I think it’s important to be sensitive and respect local customs, no more and no less. This is just my opinion, but it reflects my experience in many parts of the world.

In Israel, the custom is that restaurant tips are 10%, left in cash beside the check (rounding up is okay, 57 Shekels = 6 Shekel tip). No tips for taxi drivers unless they carry bags (I accidentally tipped my first driver from the airport, and he gave it back). 5 shekels per night for maids (my maids in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem didn’t even take the tips I left).

In Egypt, I met a fellow traveler, a flamboyant older man, who passed out $5 tips like they were taffy, and it was just weird, kind of like flaunting money. Excessive tipping doesn’t come off as generous in places where money is scarce. They’ll take the money, but people have pride. If you want to help, it’s probably better to tip modestly when appropriate, and buy the books and souvenirs from street vendors.

HOTELS: I used inisrael.com to book my first hotel room in Tel Aviv, and some subsequent rooms -- they list hotels, guesthouses and some hostels. I also used the Frommer’s guide. All good experiences, reputable resources.

Here is a Christian web site with a great list of hospices and guest houses -- christusrex.org/www1/…CICguesthouses.htm -- in the budget category, they tend to be extra clean and have low rates, and anyone from any religion is welcome.

TAXI FROM BEN GURION: On arrival, you only need enough money to get to your hotel; you can go to a bank ATM near your hotel for more money (best exchange rates). The fixed taxi rate from Ben Gurion at this time is 120 Shekels. There is a money changing counter in baggage claim, the rate is 3.22 (robbery). BUT, there are ATM machines right behind it -- you’ll see them when you walk around the back of the counter. I changed USD$40 at the counter (before I saw the machines), and got 140 NIS (Shekels) back.

If you arrive before midnite, use a sherut (shared mini-bus taxi, colored white, red and yellow) because they are cheap, and they drop you right at your hotel. After midnite, there are no sheruts. Exit door #2 in baggage claim, turn left to the taxi stand. Before getting in, casually ask, “what is the flat rate” for transport to your hotel, just to be sure it’s about 120 Shekels. You owe the driver no tip, unless you have a lot of baggage.

TEL AVIV:

A nice place to recover from jet lag. Walking along the soft sand beach in the sunshine really helps.

I got a double room with breakfast for $60, with a sea view, at the Maxim Hotel, across the street from the beach, steps away from the American Embassy. 86 Hayarkon St., www.maxim-htl-ta.co.il -- it’s maybe the only place in Israel where the staff is NOT friendly, but the location is ideal. I think the double was an upgrade, because they weren’t full at the time (I was unfortunately charged $80 for the same room at the end of my trip, because ALL the hotels were full). Maxim has delicious morning coffee, hard to find in Israel, and fast internet for 15 shekels per 24 hours.

There is a convenient restaurant called “24 Hours Coffee and Food,” straight across the street toward the sand -- they are open on Shabbat, and have the most delicious tuna sandwich on the planet, which I ate 4 times. The restaurant was always packed with locals.

There are many other hotels and hostels under $100 around this same block. If you arrive without lodging, just walk around this block, between Hayarkon and Ben Yehuda St.

JAFFA: The very nicest way to get to Jaffa is by walking 20 minutes along the beach with your feet in the water, southward from the Tel Aviv hotel district. About 2/3 of the way there, you will be cut off by a parking lot and an old abandoned building. Just go around it, and resume your southward trek on the promenade walkway next to the water.

CAESAREA: Easy day trip from Tel Aviv. I walked from my beachfront hotel to Allenby St., and caught the #16 sherut to the “Ha Hagana” train station (5 Shekels). I bought a train ticket to the “Benyamina” stop (23 Shekels), less than an hour away. At Benyamina, I took a taxi (40 Shekels) to the “Old City” (get your driver’s phone number for later). The entrance fee is 23 Shekels. I spent over 4 hours walking around the beautiful beachfront ruins, great food at the site. The aqueduct is a 15-minute walk north, just follow the sidewalk, they give you a map when you buy your ticket. To return, I did the reverse. Cheaper to buy a round trip train ticket.

HAIFA:

The train that stops in Haifa ends at destination “Nahariyya” -- that’s the name you’ll see on the departures board. The stop for Haifa is called “Hof Carmel” -- basically nothing actually says “Haifa,” so double check at the window when you buy your ticket about the right platform. Israel trains also don’t run perfectly on time, so be sure to ask the conductor that steps out the door when the train stops -- “To Haifa?”

In Haifa, to get to the buses from the train platform, you have to walk left downstairs, and follow a long winding corridor outside. Make a sharp left U-turn at the exit door, and take the downward sidewalk outside, to the bus station entrance. The information window can tell you which door/platform for your bus, depending on where you’re staying. You pay on the bus, and the driver tells you where to get off.

I stayed at the wonderful Hotel Beth-Shalom -- www.beth-shalom.co.il -- a super squeaky-clean guesthouse in Central Carmel, recommended by Frommer’s. My room was ALL new and very quiet, with TV, $60 for a double. The location was superb, across the street from the Dan, where the promenade with the view was just beyond. 2 blocks from the center of town, and from the BEST falafel I ate in ALL of Israel…

Near the Carmelit, on Ha-nassi Street, you will see a large Berlitz building. On that side street, across from the Berlitz building, maybe 3 doors from the corner is a tiny space called “At David’s” -- seek it out, their falafels are that good!!! There’s also a wonderful bakery near there, but on Ha-nassi.

TRAM: The tram by Stella Maris has not worked in a year. I’d planned on taking it down to the beach after seeing the church, but alas it may be down for good.

TIBERIAS:

In the budget hotel section, Frommer’s admonishes not to confuse the Hotel Aviv with the Hostel Aviv. This is very important. The hostel is a smoky smelly dirty place, and the hotel is 50 feet away, much cleaner for only $10 more per night. Same ownership. I paid $50 for a large lake view room with a kitchenette. The location was perfect, near more expensive Scots Hotel.

Several fellow travelers highly recommended the hospice at Beatitudes, and other guesthouses and kibbutz in the northwestern quarter of the lake, where most of the Jesus sites are located. Good options to research.

JORDAN RIVER: The Jordan River’s color during my visit was a fluorescent bluish green, similar to Lake Louise in Banff. I’ve read reports saying it’s not much of a river, but I found it so serene and peaceful, I spent two refreshing hours there, sitting with my feet in the water. I’d say don’t miss it.

They also have a superb gift shop. Haggling with street vendors elsewhere can be tiring, and it’s nice to just walk around a store with a huge selection and reasonable prices. Everything is priced in Dollars, and they prefer cash Dollars at the register.

NAZARETH: Easy day trip from Tiberias. Take a bus from the station; you pay on the bus. They drop you right by the Basilica. I recommend buying a one-way ticket because you may take a different bus company back. The return bus is tricky. The Government Tourist Information Office says buses leave for Tiberias every 40 minutes, but they don’t. There is no station in Nazareth, and no Egged office (as noted in some of the guides), but there is the “Nazarene Tours” bus office, near the Basilica. The Nazarene Tours office will tell you the approximate time of the next bus. (These are just regular transportation, not tours.) This day, the last departing bus was at 3:30 pm. NOTE: by the bus waiting curb, there is a marvelous Arab bakery where I had the best baklava I’ve ever eaten.

JERUSALEM:

I stayed at St. Mark’s Lutheran Guest House in the Old City -- http://luth-guesthouse-jerusalem.com/ -- and couldn’t have been happier. You can hear bells and singing and chanting at all hours. The Muslim prayer wakeup call is at 4 am. But, it’s very charming. I paid $65 for a tiny single, barely wider than my twin bed, but it was immaculate, cute, and had double French windows that looked out onto a patio garden and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

During my stay, there was a local expert at the guesthouse, Georgia, a lovely lady from Germany, on a 7-month volunteer program. She gave free walking tours and any tourist information that guests might need. She’s at the end of her stay, but I hope that this is a regular feature of St. Mark’s.

Georgia seemed to think walking around the Old City was safe at night; she did it all the time. It felt safe to me. I wouldn’t have walked at night in unpopulated areas (like the Muslim Quarter), but this area was very active, near the Holy Sepulcher, the Jewish Quarter and the Jaffa Gate.

I agree with those who like to go out late at night -- staying outside the Old City would afford more modern opportunities. But, I think the charm of the Old City is more unique than staying outside the walls.

HAGGLING: It’s just the way they do things. It’s like a dance, and if you don’t participate, it’s as if you’re being rude. Shopkeepers want you to bargain! Even if you don’t like to bargain, just get used to saying “that’s too much.” That’s really all you need to say (a few times). And the prices will come down and down.

I think the worst is if you ignore the sellers. This frustrates them, they don’t understand it, and they get louder and more aggressive. I smiled and said, “sorry not shopping today,” and kept walking fast, but I was cordial to everyone. No problem, they were also very nice to me.

Beware this one clever ploy to get you into their shops -- they will ask if you speak English, and can you please translate a word for them. One guy asked me to spell “clearance sale” for him, another asked me to translate a few words on a visa application. Then, to show their gratitude, they want to give you free earrings. I never took the earrings. But, I’m sure that anybody who takes the earrings gets talked into buying a matching necklace. Don’t fall for it. Better to nicely say “sorry, I’m late for a tour” and keep walking.

FOOD: There is a new mall just outside the Jaffa Gate, across the upper walkway and down the stairs. There is a really good coffee place called Aroma, black and red Hebrew logo, excellent salads and sandwiches, fresh homemade breads, yummy sweets. A couple of other great modern restaurants are in the same mall, very nice.

Tried ALL Frommer’s food suggestions around the Old City, all excellent recommendations. “Keshet” in the Jewish Quarter has the best latkes ever!!!

CHURCH OF HOLY SEPULCHER SURPRISE CAVE: If you stand in the courtyard looking at the front door, to your right will be a giant staircase, and to the right of that, near the corner, is a tiny wooden door. When that door is open, enter and climb up to the roof. (If the door is closed, come back later.) You will see the Coptic church, then walk across the roof to the Egyptian church. A nice man named Joseph will bid you enter to “enjoy your echo in the cistern.” This is freaky. You crouch through a little doorway, and carefully climb down, down, down, and you’re in this cave. Like Alice down the rabbit hole, I could not figure out how I got to a cave from the church roof. Do it, you will love it! And have some small Shekels so you can leave a donation.

TUNNEL TOUR: You need reservations, and can make them at the window next to the Western Wall (men’s side) and come back later at your time. Easily one of the most interesting sites on my trip.

MT. OF OLIVES, CHURCHES, GETHSEMANE: Nice half-day walk. It was beautiful, and I had enough time to see whatever most interested me. It’s quite a hike, take water and a hat, but the return is all downhill. Just exit the Lion’s Gate, walk straight out to the corner, walk downhill right a long block, cross the street left, and go uphill. You’ll see the throngs and tour buses.

BETHLEHEM: Easy short trip, only about 15 minutes outside of Jerusalem. Go straight out the Damascus Gate, cross the streets, walk a block to the right, and you’ll see the blue and white striped Palestinian mini-buses near the corner. Take #124, it says Bethlehem on the side; you pay on the bus. It drops you at the border crossing, you show your passport and walk through, and a taxi on the other side will take you to the Church of the Nativity (don’t pay more than 20 Shekels). When you’re done, taxi back to the border, cross back through, wait outside where you entered, and #124 buses pull up to the curb to take you back.

JORDAN:

Taxis will take you between the border at Eilat and Petra for 30 JD total. Don’t pay more than 40 JD. They will try to charge you more for more people, but point out that it doesn’t cost them any more gas, whether 1 or 4 passengers are in the car, and stick to your guns. I was with 3 Israeli friends who haggled with a Jordanian taxi driver for 30 full minutes. (I looked at my watch.)

WADI RUM: This is on the way to Petra. It might be anticlimactic after Petra, but is a great introduction to the area. It’s a bumpy wild ride thru the Jordan desert in an open jeep, looking at interesting rock formations, hieroglyphics and wonders like “the bridge.” Our taxi driver sold us this tour -- we wanted to go to Wadi Rum, but didn’t know how to get there. My friends and I crossed the border at about noon, did a 2-3 hour Wadi Rum desert tour with www.wadirumtrips.net and arrived in Petra by about 7 pm.

The whole afternoon, including the desert jeep tour and taxi transport from the border at Eilat to Wadi Rum to Petra, ran 25 JD each, about $38 each. It was a very full afternoon, worth the price. They fervently try to sell you more stuff along the way, like overnight in the tent and/or Bedouin style dinner -- just be firm and tell them what you want. We just did the Wadi Rum tour and then continued on to Petra. Also check www.desertecotours.com and others for options.

WADI MUSA: The town at the mouth of Petra. I stayed at the Cleopetra Hotel -- www.cleopetra.jeeran.com -- which is really a hostel. Very beat, but a friendly international clientele, fun to exchange stories with in the lobby den. Bank with ATM across the street, 1 block downhill. They only had a triple, but they rented it to me for 12 JD, about $18. My friends rented a triple for 20 JD, but they were 3 people. The owner, Mooslah, is flexible, super friendly, and he knows everybody. He’d likely find you a room even if his hotel were full. He got us a ride back to the border crossing for only 30 JD, no haggling.

We ate at “Al Arabi,” just downhill a couple of blocks, same side of the street, active place; you’ll see the to-go window with the meat spit. Great falafel, barbecued meats, salads, very authentic, locals eat there. Their hummus comes with “fool” -- which is oily tasteless beans mixed in -- I recommend ordering “no fool.” It then comes with lemon and parsley, so delicious.

PETRA: One full day, from 7:30 am to 5 pm was enough for me to thoroughly hit all the highlights and then some, with plenty of leisure. But, detailed enthusiasts may want to spend two days. I recommend going straight through to the end and hiking up to “The Monastery” first. It’s at least an hour of steep uphill hiking, best done in the cooler morning hours. Don’t be tempted to turn back, if you are, take a donkey -- there’s a great rest station up top where you can relax in the shade on mattresses and enjoy cold drinks. Don’t miss it, truly the most spectacular tomb in Petra.

BEDOUINS: They are very nice desert people residing here and in Egypt, super kind and generous. They’re not hustlers. Most of the time they give you a gift if you buy something. Sometimes they just give you stuff.

Many tourists ignore their calls to stop and look at merchandise on tables, but I think it’s better to acknowledge them with a smile and just say “no thanks” if you don’t want to buy. But, the prices are cheap if you’re inclined, like bone necklaces for 2-5 JD, about USD$3-7, and I think it’s good to patronize these

people. My fave souvenir is the colorful Petra rocks that the Bedouins sell for a buck apiece or less.

Fascinating, friendly, they all speak English; enjoy getting to know these authentic tribal people. They’re happy to just chat. Some live in government housing in the village, they’ll point it out to you, and others still live in caves, they’ll tell you all about it -- they want to know you, too. You will be offered tea.

EGYPT -- MT. SINAI:

‘Frommer’s Israel” says “do not plan to cross the border” without first going to the Tourist Information Office in Bridge House on North Beach Promenade in Eilat. In fact, you may want to make plans in advance of arrival in Eilat, as nobody knew where this office was on the day I was there.

This is truly important. NOTE: There is no tourist information office on the Egypt side of the border, and nobody speaks English. If you need help, there are two English-speaking hotels, the Hilton and the Movenpick, right at the border in Taba. But, there are really NO tourism services in the region. If you’re traveling independently, not with a tour, you really MUST know what you’re doing BEFORE you cross over.

There is an ATM in the border crossing arrival hall. Guestimate your needs, and get enough money there. You may not find more working ATMs, if at all.

If you want to climb Mt. Sinai and watch the sunrise from the top, start at 1 - 2 am. The hike can take up to 4 hours, so leave in plenty of time. You must have a flashlight, especially for the end where you’re climbing over uneven rocks. You can get a camel ride 2/3 of the way up for USD$12, very worth it. Bring small bills, the Bedouins can’t make change!

Hikes leave from the Santa Katarina Monastery. (The town is sometimes spelled “Katarin” and the monastery is sometimes noted as “St. Catherine.”)

If you want to stay at the Santa Katarina Monastery Guest House, NOTE their NEW PHONE NUMBER: 069-347-0353. The phone numbers in “Frommer’s Israel” 4th Edition are outdated. And you must have an advance reservation, as they fill up with tour bus patrons. This is a wonderful, peaceful place, a 1500-year-old monastery nestled in a canyon between majestic rocky mountains. I had a giant single with a king size bed, including breakfast and dinner, for USD$32/night -- they prefer cash Dollars, no credit cards.

An alternative to staying at the monastery is to stay in one of the beach towns. I didn’t do this myself, but friends from England told me you use Dahab as your home base, and buses leave Dahab for excursions to Mt. Sinai every night. Their Dahab hotel arranged it for them. (Don’t know about excursions from other beach towns.)

There is also at least one campground near the monastery -- same policy, find out about it and make reservations before you travel out there; it’s a long way out in the desert.

If you are traveling independently and have a reservation at the monastery guesthouse or campground -- to get to the monastery from Taba, the most efficient way is to go by taxi. There are NO public buses from Taba to Santa Katarina at this time. There are plenty of taxis at the border. You will get offers for 200 - 300LE, which is about USD$40-60, the exchange is about 5 to 1 (100LE = $20). Well worth it, as the ride is about 3 hours. But don’t pay more; the cost of living is low here, and this big money for them. Negotiate and pay your rate in either Dollars, OR in Egyptian Pounds (LE). Also, be sure to repeat the price, look the driver in the eye, and tell him “no more” (unless you owe a tip for baggage handling). My driver going there was great, but the return guy asked me for an extra $6 at the end “because of the exchange rate” -- he was a hustler, and not Bedouin.

Here’s the number of a Bedouin driver that seemed very nice -- “Hamed” 010-310-6228, taxi 5365. I took some short rides with him; he has a lime green car. He’ll take you back to Taba from the monastery for 250-300 LE, depending on number of passengers.

The chief Bedouin around the monastery seems to be a big guy named “Salem” -- he’s usually near the entrance to the monastery. If you need anything, look for him, very nice guy, perfect English. Also, the Bedouin shops at the base of the monastery have nice things at reasonable prices.

I met several travelers like myself, who came here independently. But, it’s a wild region, and there are tours available, www.desertecotours.com among others. Depends on your taste for adventure or comfort.

Do spend some time at the monastery. Don’t just go there, climb and leave. It’s too beautiful. See the spectacular little museum, the Burning Bush, the Church of the Transfiguration, and rocky surrounds. Be there at night -- the sky is an unbelievable blanket of diamonds.

Frankfurt, Germany
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1. Re: Long Trip Report: Israel, Petra, Mt. Sinai

Nice report - very accurate and in line with my experiences. Your experience is very helpful to other travellers, yet you also had the best advises in advance and made the best of your trip. Good to hear you had a great time.

Paragon
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2. Re: Long Trip Report: Israel, Petra, Mt. Sinai

I relished every sentence of your wonderful report. Thank you VERY much.

Kathy Walters

Paragon, Indiana, USA

cakywalters@iquest.net

Cincinnati, Ohio
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3. Re: Long Trip Report: Israel, Petra, Mt. Sinai

This was a truly wonderful trip report, one of the best I have ever read. You travelled in a different way from the way I usually do, and that made it interesting to read -- a different view of the country, particularly in terms of logistics. And that will make it extremely useful to other readers, as we have all sorts of people on this forum who want to travel in widely varied ways.

I will only offer one different view -- with taxi drivers within cities, I would not haggle over prices but simply insist that they use the meters. They are required to do so by law, and unless you are planning stops during the trip where they have to wait for you, a fixed price will almost always be higher than the metered rate. That is why they want you to agree to that.

Again, THANK YOU for this wonderful report. I teared up reading it from missing Israel. Bless you for taking the time to share your experiences, and I'm so happy you had such a rich and wonderful trip!

Douglas Duckett

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4. Re: Long Trip Report: Israel, Petra, Mt. Sinai

Great trip, great report -- a woman who scouts out little bakeries is my kind of traveler! I prefer to use shekels than dollars, but your description of dealing with taxi drivers is right on the nose. I also agree with Douglas to insist on the meter in cities, but even that can require firm negotiations.

Did you find it easy to get out to the Golan or around the north on your own from Tiberias?

Israel
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5. Re: Long Trip Report: Israel, Petra, Mt. Sinai

Wow! Great trip report!

I have been in that water cistern near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre -- creepy!

Australia
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6. Re: Long Trip Report: Israel, Petra, Mt. Sinai

Fantastic trip report, lots of useful information!

Marietta, Georgia
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7. Re: Long Trip Report: Israel, Petra, Mt. Sinai

Awesome report! I read it several time already!

Los Angeles...
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8. Re: Long Trip Report: Israel, Petra, Mt. Sinai

Thanks one and all for your very kind comments. Travel is the thing I truly LOVE doing, and I'm happy to share my experiences.

Douglas -- on taxi meters vs. flat rate, yes I think you're right, the meter is probably always going to be best -- at least you don't wonder later if the flat rate you paid was too much. But in outlying areas, where the drivers don't have as much work, the flat rate made me feel more in control -- I worried that a metered ride would invite the driver to take the long way around to increase the fare.

AZZenny -- I didn't go to the Golan, but Ben Harim has a 1-day tour that sounds excellent, and I'd take that one next time.

As for seeing the northwest quarter of the Sea of Galilee, city buses from Tiberias drop you at Tabga, and then you walk to the other sites. The ride is about 10 minutes, and less than 10 Shekels. You can also get a taxi to Tabga for 10-20 Shekels. I'd recommend either, but a taxi will get you there quicker. Sheruts may also go there, but I didn't see any.

The Ginosar boat museum is on the way to Tabga, but the bus doesn't stop there. Short taxi or sherut ride from Tiberias.

Buses go from Tiberias all the way to Safed (45 minutes north). Frommer's has an excellent description.

I went to the Jordan River (southwest quarter) by sherut, 7 Shekels, 10 minute ride. Afterwards, I took a sherut northward, and stopped at the Hot Springs and the ruins across the street. Easy walk back to Tiberias from the Hot Springs, about a kilometer.

Public transportation in the Sea of Galilee isn't efficient, but it's way cheaper than renting a car. The sights don't take a long time to see, so you can cover a lot even with waiting for buses and taxis. TIP: Take the visitor's center phone number with you, in case you need anything -- wonderful Katherine will take care of you. Stop there first, so you meet her in person.

:) gosologal

Carlsbad, California
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9. Re: Long Trip Report: Israel, Petra, Mt. Sinai

I have to add my thanks to your wonderful report. Fascinating and so helpful -- I have copied almost the whole thing.

Your wonderful experiences are making me even more excited for my trip to Israel and Petra later this month.

Los Angeles...
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10. Re: Long Trip Report: Israel, Petra, Mt. Sinai

Hey StrandFan --

You are most welcome.

The great information on these message boards really helped me, and contributing my notes was the least I could do to pay it forward.

I'm excited about your upcoming trip, too. I hope you love it as much as I did!

Cheers,

;) gosologal