A full review of Tourist Israel’s tour “Bethlehem, Dead Sea, Jericho and Qumran.”
I spent two weeks traveling in Israel, and I also did a brief visit to Palestine as well. Palestinian territories consist of two areas: the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It’s nearly impossible to get into the Gaza Strip, so my only option was to go to the West Bank. I heard that independent travel to the West Bank could be difficult, due to the complex security issues, and without a car, it would be even more challenging. So even though I’m not a big fan of organized tours, I decided to give it a shot.
I booked my tour through Tourist Israel, and the tour was called “Bethlehem, Dead Sea, Jericho and Qumran.” This is a full-day tour starting either from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. They also offer other tours, so check out their website. I chose this tour because it includes most of the main attractions and it is also one of the cheapest options.
I recommend you to start your tour in Jerusalem because it’s cheaper and the pick-up time is also one hour later. The tour starts very early in the morning; the pick-up time from Jerusalem is at 7:30 am.
From Jerusalem, we continued to the border of Palestine and stopped for the Israeli West Bank barrier which is a separation wall between the two countries. Israel claims the wall is a security barrier against terrorism and Palestine thinks it’s a racial segregation wall.
Our first stop was Bethlehem, the city where Jesus was born. We had to change a car and a tour guide because our original guide was Israeli and it’s actually illegal for them to be in Palestine. We then continued to the Church of Nativity. There is an actual spot where Jesus was born, but because it was Sunday, they had an Orthodox mass going on at the same time we arrived. Only Orthodox Christians were allowed to go to the place (however, no one would know if you just claim to be an Orthodox Christian).
After the church, we went back to the car and drove to the same shop where we left our original car and Israeli guide. There was time for souvenir shopping, but as a minimalist traveler, I don’t buy anything.
After the shopping break, we were back in the car, and we started to drive towards Jericho. At this point, I was a bit confused because on Tourist Israel’s website it said that in Bethlehem, we would “See the main sites including the Church of Nativity, the Milk Grotto, the Old City with its colorful market, and the Shepherd’s Field.” But we only saw the Church of Nativity. Instead of shopping, I would have liked to see more of Bethlehem.
We made quick photo stops at the desert and the Mount of Temptation before heading to the Old Jericho. There we also had a local guide who toured us around and explained everything about the city. I learned that the top-rated attractions in Jericho are the Mount of Temptation, the Old Jericho and Jericho Tree (from the Bible). It’s also known for its delicious dates and bananas. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to try the dates or bananas, but we saw all the main attractions in Jericho.
The Dead Sea
We then continued to the Dead Sea and a private beach where they have changing rooms, lockers, and showers. I was excited about this part of the tour, and it didn’t let me down. Swimming in the Dead Sea was awesome! Or should I say floating, because the water is so salty that you can’t swim there. It was actually quite difficult to even to stand up from the floating position. The beach is also full of mud you can use on your body. After the mud, your skin feels so nice and soft! Be careful, though, because it can be slippery, and also the salt rocks are very sharp. I didn’t even notice I hurt myself, but after I had got out of the water, I saw a bleeding cut on my toe. Luckily, there was a lifeguard on the beach, so I got it cleaned and covered with a band-aid.
Our last stop was Qumran which is the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. There was also time for lunch, but because this was our last stop, I didn’t feel like I wanted to buy overpriced food from a touristy restaurant. I was very hungry, though, so I recommend you to take a packed lunch with you. Lunch is not included in the tour, and there’s no chance to buy cheap food.
The price for this tour was $79, but it didn’t include an entrance to the Old Jericho (10 NIS / $2,60) or Qumran (30 NIS / $7,80). Israel is an expensive country, and this was actually one of the cheapest West Bank tours available.
In conclusion, the tour covered most of the main sites in the West Bank, and it’s a good choice if you want to make most of your time. Independent travel to all of these places without a car would be very difficult, so I really recommend booking a tour. The tour takes you to all of the holy sites, but what I was missing was learning more about the West Bank and its people.
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