Tour Guide in Israel
Licensed tour guides and official touring cars/vans (ESHKOL VANS)
Among all the available commodities for touring in Israel, there is one unique option that will allow tourists to travel all around the country with a private tour guide and in the comfort of a private car. This is the “Rechev Eshkol” private car, which is especially tailored for tours of couples, families and small groups. Any tourist wishing to tour the country by car and not by bus has the possibility of reserving this service which includes a super comfortable motor car/van designed for touring, a licensed tour guide and personal service. These tours are especially designed for the comfort of the individual tourists, as opposed to large group tours. The tourists travel according to their own time-table and itinerary. On a private tour you will also see 20-30% more than what a bus tour offers; and 50% more than your own personal un-guided tour. Each private car is driven by an experienced licensed tour guide, trained to give maximum service and impart maximum knowledge. The guides have an affinity to tourists and an extensive knowledge of the languages and countries they come from. “Rehev Eshkol” private cars have a logo on the side of each car depicting the two spies carrying grapes. Any car that does not have this logo on their doors is not licensed to offer guiding or tourist services. Unlicensed cars/vans do not give you full insurance coverage (in case of an accident) – only just the basic coverage.
Guides that are not licensed by the Ministry of Tourism are working illegally and may be forbidden to enter certain sights. The guide and the tourist agency that did your reservations will be fined.
- ATMs – They exist all over Israel and can be used with most credit cards. Most machines give you Israeli Shekels, but in the big cities and the airport you can also get US$/Euro. Check with your bank as to what they charge you per withdrawal (approximately 1-2%).
- Banks – Most banks are open every week-day from 0830 – 1230/1300 (Friday – 1200) and twice a week from 1600/1630 – 1830/1900. They will do most monetary transactions for you although slightly slowly. You will need your passport.
- Currency – The Israeli currency is the New Shekel. Each shekel is divided into 100 Agorot. Take note that all the Agorot pieces (5, 10, 50/half Shekel) are coins and also the 1, 5 and 10 Shekel pieces. The rest are notes (20\50\100\200). Check Israel Bank’s official rate of exchange or in the daily newspapers.
- Methods of Payment – All tourist businesses accept foreign currency and most shops too. All major credit cards are accepted at most places of business. Some will accept travelers cheques, although the exchange rate on travelers checks is very much lower. Personal cheques are rarely accepted. In your hotel, put everything on your bill so as not to pay VAT. If the prices are in Shekels (by law they should be), check what rate of exchange the business is giving you.
- Money Change – There are many government licensed change places that operate in Israel, changing cash, bank cheques and travelers cheques. They do not charge a commission and give very good rates of exchange, better than most banks and much better than hotels and shops. They are open during shopping hours. You will need your passport for cheques.
- Some post offices also give foreign exchange services at a good rate. Their opening hours are the same as the banks. You will need your passport.
- The official star system “died” some years back. Each hotel on its own decides how many stars it is. Choose carefully. Ask your guide’s advise before reserving.
- Hotels – There are hotels of all standards with regular rooms, superior rooms and suites. Prices vary according to the tourist season, Jewish and Christian festive days and the summer school break. The star class system has been canceled. The large cities and tourist resorts can offer a variety of different standards, the smaller towns less. All hotels are air-conditioned. Most hotels have pools. Breakfast is included in the price and other meals are available also. You can see most of the hotels thru their website.
- Kibbutz Guest Houses – These are rural hotels of different classes. The best ones are considered 4 – 5 star equivalent and the others are also nice. They are very clean and comfortable, spread thru the kibbutz gardens, scenic, good dining rooms and very quiet. Most have pools and other amenities. They are situated all over the country and also near the tourist attractions. All offer a tour of the kibbutz and an insight to this special style of life. You can visit their websites.
- Apartment Hotels – In the big cities there are apartment hotels for longer stays or for families with small children. These are usually 1-2 bedroom places, sometimes a combined sitting room/bedroom, 1-2 bathrooms and some basic cooking facilities. Most include breakfast in the price.
- Holiday Villages – They are located on the Mediterranean Coast, Sea of Galilee, and the Eilat (Red Sea) beaches and offer various types of hotel or village accommodation of different standards. Many include sea sports and full time recreation programs.
- There are also Christian Hospices, Youth Hostels, camping facilities and many good bed and breakfast accommodations.
- Checking in to hotels on Saturday PM (or holidays) is problematic as most hotels allow religious guests to check out after the end of the Sabbath and your rooms may not be ready until 7/8 PM.
- Local prepaid call cards work everywhere. Other international telephone cards work at most places and have toll-free access numbers. Bring these numbers with you and don’t forget your pin-number.
- Public telephones are everywhere and most of them work.
- Cellular phones are available for rent all through the country.
- It is illegal to drive while holding a cell-phone. Make sure your rental has a hands-free set.
Many tourists do not want to have their passports stamped with an Israeli stamp for fear of problems when later entering Arab/Muslim countries. It is possible to request that the Border Control officers do not stamp your passport. They will issue you with a paper B2 form with your entrance details to keep in your passport and later discard. You need to specifically request that and there is no hassle.
- Informal – Leave your suits at home unless you require them for formal occasions or business meetings.
- Religious sights generally require modest clothing. Long pants/dress/skirt (men and women alike) and elbow length sleeves. You can bring a shawl to cover your shoulders and slip-over long skirt or a tie-around to wear over your shorts (yes – men too).
- In winter plan on layers so that you can peel them off as the day gets warmer. It’s cold in the winter but cold is relative. A warm coat here is equivalent to a spring coat in North America. Check the forecast on the web before you pack.
- For the summer – light clothing, shorts and sandals. Don’t forget your bathing suit. Most hotels have pools and seashore cities have lovely beaches.
- Hats are a good idea all year round.
- In Jerusalem and the northern Galilee mountains a light sweater is suggested, even in the spring and summer time.
- Shoes – light hiking shoes or sport shoes are a good choice. Take into consideration that your feet may swell in the summer heat.
- Most foods are generally safe to eat.
- Street food – it is customary here to have snacks and light lunches in street-side stalls and small cafes. You should check the cleanliness of the concession.
- Israeli breakfasts at hotels are something else and usually are very large and include every kind of food that you can think of. You may not feel like having lunch later.
- Israeli cuisine is international. We are a country of people gathered from the four corners of the earth, therefore you will find dishes of all the different kitchens. Local food is considered “Arab” or “Oriental” (meaning middle-east and not far-east). Sea and fresh water fish are fresh and good.
- Table service is usual. Reservations are a must on Thursday and Friday nights and all day Saturday (and holidays). There is no fixed time for dinner. Most places have children’s menus.
- Local wines are very good and some have received international awards. Look for the wines of the Katzrin Winery (Yarden, Golan, Gamla and Galil labels) although there are many other good wineries and a fair amount of foreign brands.
- Numerous local beer microbreweries have established themselves throughout the country over the past decade, you can find them in pubs and some of the shops, along known foreign brands.
- For those keeping Kosher or Glat-Kosher – almost all hotels and many restaurants can cater for your needs. Keeping a Kosher kitchen is a Jewish religious dietary law, mainly abstaining from mixing meat and milk dishes at the same meal, and avoiding the consumption of pork and various sea foods or shellfish. Some restaurants keep Kosher and others don’t.
- Most “Arab” (Muslim owned) restaurants do not serve pork or alcoholic beverages.
- Ask the concierge for a booklet of recommended tourist restaurants. Your guide or the taxi driver will be able to point you to non-tourists places where the locals eat. They are the best.
- Even on Friday night, Saturdays and Religious holidays there are many restaurants that are open. Any restaurant publishing that it is Kosher is closed on Friday night (from 3:00pm) until Saturday (two hours after sunset) and Jewish holidays.
- If you must have fast food – all the names exist here.
- It’s hot and you will sweat a lot even though you may not feel it. Drink plenty of fluid so that you don’t dehydrate and ruin your holiday. In the hot season you should drink at least 6-8 cups daily. See that your children do also.
- Preferably drink bottled mineral water – they can be bought everywhere. The tap water here is generally OK.
- Most of the brands of soft drinks that you have at home are available here too.
- Alcohol is not recommended in high temperature areas at mid-day.
- Minimum drinking age for alcohol is 18 and you need an ID.
- It is customary to tip all service people. 10 – 15% is a good bet. At restaurants check the bill to see if the service is included. Otherwise, you should give the tip in cash to the service person and not add it to the bill.
- Israel operates on 220 volts and 50 cycles. Hotel bathrooms have 110 volt outlets for shavers. Remember to bring your adapters.
- Average on $20 – $28 per day per adult. Children – less 40%.
- Many places have combined tickets for a few adjacent sights.
- There are two special season tickets for all the National Parks and most of the archaeological sites. One ticket is for six sites and the other is for all the sites. These are time-limited for two weeks from the first date of entry. This is a good way of saving money.
- Remember to take out insurance before you leave home. The medicine here is one of the best in the world. All hotels have attending GP doctors and your guide can always find you a specialist.
- Pharmacies can be found everywhere although there are less OTC medicines available here than in the USA.
- There is a 17% tax on most goods and services. The tax is included (by law) in the price of the goods.
- Most tourist services are exempt, and many of the shops should also give you this exemption.
- Upon making a purchase (generally only of $130/140 or more) you should fill out a VAT refund form and present it to a bank at your port of exit (together with your purchase).
- At the hotel all services that are on your bill are exempted.
- Most hotels have FOX NEWS/CNN/BBC and other foreign language programs.
- Israeli television (Channel 1) gives a 15 minute English news program in the late afternoon, and a 30-minute program in the early evening.
- All big international newspapers are available, sometimes a day later. Look for them at the hotel shop or in a book-shop concession called Steimatsky’s (green sign).
- There is an English daily newspaper published here and also an international supplement to one of the morning papers.
- Internet cafes are widespread.
- Most hotels have business rooms/floors and internet facilities.
- Many hotels have in-room wireless (wi-fi) connection
- Many cafés and restaurants offer wireless (wi-fi) connection, usually for free.
- ADSL connection is widespread.
- Expect a charge for the use of hotel connection, sometimes at cafés too.
- While traveling in the city, insist that the meter be turned on. At night, between 21:30 and 05:30 (and on Saturdays/holidays) there is a more expensive basic night rate.
- Inter-city travel – you can close a deal with the taxi driver as this is considered a “special”.
- There is also a “Sherut” service between cities which is a shared taxi slightly more expensive than a bus.
- Most hotels and the airport post fixed rates to the different destinations. Ask the concierge.
- If you are arriving at the airport with a large party, young children, or a large amount of baggage, it is advisable to pre-arrange a private transfer in an air-conditioned van. This may be slightly more expensive than a taxi but more efficient and comfortable.
- Most hotels situated on the city outskirts have free bus shuttles to and from the city center.
- You may tip the taxi driver.
- You will need your local driver’s license, passport and maybe also an international driving license.
- Driving here is not more dangerous than anywhere else in the world, although the drivers here are more aggressive and not so courteous.
- Driving is on right side of the road.
- The roads are modern and safe The signs are excellent (in Hebrew, English and Arabic) and it is very easy to find your way around. The Israelis are very helpful and most of them speak English.
- Morning and evening traffic (and Saturday afternoons) is congested at the entrances to the big cities and in the center of towns.
Shopping on your tours of Israel is basically no different than any other tourist country. There are numerous trinkets of every type of goods that you can imagine – T-shirts, postcards, jewelry, clothing, art and more. Some shops sell quality goods and others – “made in China” stuff. In the Arab markets and stores it is customary to bargain and it is part of their lifestyle. The shop owner enjoys the banter and can be offended if you do not play the game. You can easily lower the first-asked-price by 25-35%. Don’t hesitate to start walking out of the shop to ensure a better bargain. When buying better quality goods ask the shop-owner if he has a Certificate of Quality (and honesty) from the Ministry of Tourism. Every tour guide in Israel knows them all. Most forms of payment are possible but Dollars or Euros will get you a better deal. The unique things to look for in Israel are:
- Olive wood art – statues, crucifixes, menorahs and more. Be aware that there are 3 levels of quality – class A is well dried wood and hand carved; class B is well dried wood and machine made; class C is newly cut wood and machine made. The price is accordingly.
- Religious artifacts and Judaica – Jewish and Christian goods can be found everywhere – Stars of David, Crucifixes, Menorahs, Mezuzahs, the Jerusalem Cross (often called the Maltese Cross), Talis and Tfilin (Jewish prayer shawls) and last but not least the Hamsa – a good luck charm for all religions derived from the Hand of Fatima.
- Diamonds – Israel is one of the largest markets for diamond trade and manufactures close to 40% of the world’s polished stones. Prices here may be better than in other countries. You can get better deals if you buy directly from the Diamond Bourse but you need an introduction. I have good friends, Sigal and Hanan, who are members of the Exchange and design their own gold and diamond jewelry. Ask me, your private tour guide in Israel, for an introduction.
- Antiques – you can easily buy authentic antiquity pieces (oil lamps, pottery, coins and more) dating back even 3000 years to the times of King David. You will want to see the shop’s government license and get a certificate of authenticity. Ask me, your private tour guide Israel, to take you to the source – a personal friend of mine to whom everybody brings what they find in their gardens when they dig there.
- Dead Sea cosmetics – contain many minerals good for your skin, hair, aches and pains. The well-known names are Ahava, Premier Dead Sea, and Kedem Cosmetics. Best to shop for them with your Israeli tour guide at the factory shops near the Dead Sea.
- Armenian pottery, religious pieces, crockery and tiles – The Armenian art is unique. Check if it is hand-made or mass-produced.
- The Arab markets – great spices, dried fruits and nuts, Turkish delights, baklava and more. Saffron is a good buy here. The recommended markets are in Jerusalem (Old City and Machne Yehuda), Acre/Akko, Nazareth, Ramla, Haifa and Tel Aviv.
- Teva footwear – produced here and their factory shops give you good discounts.
- T-Shirts – printed with almost any logo you can think of including your favourite football team with the name in Hebrew
Jordan – A Side Trip
- It is possible to reserve a private guide with a van or a bus tour to Jordan for 2-3 days to see the main tourist attractions – Petra, Garash/Jarash , Mount Nebo, the mosaic floor at the Madabah Church, Karek fortress, ancient Philadelphia (Amman), Wadi Ram and the Dana nature reserve.
- There is also a one day bus tour to Petra from Eilat. It is also possible to join this tour through a flight connection to and from Tel-Aviv/Jerusalem.
- These tours can be organized thru your Israeli tour-person.
- Crossing the border to Jordan at the Arava crossing north of Eilat, and the Sheik Hussein Bridge near Tiberius is possible without a pre-arranged visa. A visa will be issued to you on the spot. To cross at the Allenby Bridge, near Jericho, you will need a visa acquired in your country before you leave. You passport should be valid for at least six months after your arrival in Jordan.
- To the price quoted for your tour you will generally have to add border taxes and visa cost, and of course some meals, refreshments and tips.
Important – Visas for Jordan from 1st January 2016 – The Jordanian authorities are making changes to their visa policies on the Eilat border from 1st Jan 2016.
Visitors who have an embassy issued entry visa to Jordan stamped in their passport prior to arriving at the border can disregard the following points and book their tour as usual.
Visitors to Petra and Jordan without visas must provide their passport details at least 48 hours before departure so an entry visa can be arranged in time for their tour. For Petra trips the visa is issued at a cost of $60 per person which is payable at the border on the day of the tour.
Visitors remaining 2 nights or more in Jordan are exempt from the visa fee but must still send their passport details at least 48 hours before departure.
The amount to be paid in cash at the border will be $62 for the border taxes and tips + $60 for the visa.
We hope that the Jordanian authorities will reconsider the restrictions on the Eilat-Aqaba border and once again allow the free flow of tourists that have been such a consistent and positive part of the tourism industry of Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba. Until then we shall continue to provide the best service we can with the continued support of our Jordanian partners and friends.
Traveling times by car to the various areas (in hours)
|From/To||The Golan||Haifa||The Galilee||The Dead Sea||Tel Aviv||Jerusalem||Judean Plateau||The Negev||Eilat|