Three major world religions call the lands comprising Israel its Holy Land. Whether you're religious or not, Israel is a spectacular country, diverse in natural attractions and appeal. Don't let media images of the West Bank and Gaza overwhelm your interpretation of what it's like on the ground there. There is another lesser-known Israel, one of historical archaeological treasures, stunning beaches, world-class diving, lush green landscapes and a bustling metropolis.
Spring brings superb weather to Israel, and in the Hebrew language, Tel Aviv literally means "spring place" so what better time to experience it.
El Al (tel. 800-223-6700; www.elal.com), Israel's national airline, recently reduced its economy class ticket prices between the United States and Israel for travel from now until June 15, 2005. The special round-trip fare of $649 is available when flying nonstop from New York (JFK and Newark), departing on Mondays and Tuesdays or returning on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. On all other days, the price is $749. Other low fares include $799 from Chicago, $824 from Miami and $849 from Los Angeles. These prices represent a 30% discount on regular airfares. Taxes are additional
Israel To Go (www.israeltogo.com/specials) has a $599 round-trip special from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv with a one-date only departure of April 25 and returning on May 12, 2005. They also have special discounts for senior citizens in business class on various dates from $2,039 and student fares (ages 18-31) that allow a stay of up to one-year from $734 plus taxes from New York.
El Al flies direct to Tel Aviv from several US cities, but if you are happy to fly via Europe, Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) is offering a round-trip airfare on Austrian Airlines from New York to Tel Aviv via Vienna for $590 plus taxes or via Warsaw on Lot Polish Airlines for $640 plus taxes. These fares are valid until August 1, 2005.
Friendly Planet (tel. 800/555-5765; www.friendlyplanet.com) offers a budget priced Israel package with additional discounts if you book by April 30, 2005. Their "Jerusalem Express" package includes round-trip flights from New York or Boston with United/Lufthansa, five-nights Superior First Class hotel accommodation in Jerusalem at the Dan Panorama Hotel or the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Israeli buffet breakfast daily, arrival and departure transfers and a professional English-speaking tour guide. The price for May, September or October departures is $1,199 per person plus $190 in taxes dual occupancy and $200 more for June, July and August 2005. Add $100 from Washington, D.C., $150 from Chicago, Atlanta, or Miami and $190 from Los Angeles. An optional day tour to historic Petra in Jordan is available for $150 per person plus $35 in taxes and border crossing fees. An unavoidable $40 fuel surcharge currently applies to all ticket purchases.
For land-only tours of the Holy Land, Tel Aviv-based DD Travel (www.ddtravel-acc.com/tours.htm) has a number of different options for discount tours. Their eight-day "Israel Highlights" tour includes arrival and departure transfers, seven-nights hotel accommodation, breakfasts, six full days of touring in an air conditioned vehicle with an English speaking driver-guide and entrance fees to all sites. Places visited en route include Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Masada, Beer Sheba, Bethlehem, Jericho, Tiberias, the Upper Galilee, Golan Heights, Acre and Haifa. Prices start at $680 per person dual occupancy in tourist class hotels. Their seven-night "Bible Christian Tour" starts at $606 per person, and they also offer one-day "Negev Desert Safari Tours" in 4WD vehicles from $68 per person.
Israel Tour Connection (tel. 800/2-ISRAEL; www.israeltour.com) also has a variety of themed tours from "Jewish Heritage" to "Holocaust Survivor Tours." For a variation on the traditional tour of Israel, their ten-day "Bike Tour" will provide a unique view of some of the country's most beautiful landscapes. The $1375 land only cost per person includes airport transfers, meals per itinerary, hotel, camping and kibbutz accommodation, an escort van, first aid person (EMT), repair technician and all camping equipment. The tour takes you from Jerusalem through the Jordan Valley and desert areas down to Eilat on the Red Sea.
The US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_922.html) has up to date travel warnings and advisories on its website, and it currently recommends that US citizens avoid any unnecessary travel to Gaza, the West Bank and other Palestinian areas of Israel (East Jerusalem). It also provides information regarding security concerns within Israel proper, where US citizens should exercise extreme caution especially in regard to use of public transportation and visitation of largely crowded areas.
For more information to help you plan your stay in Israel visit www.frommers.com/destinations/israel and www.goisrael.com. For a conversation with fellow travelers, head to our Israel Message Boards to join a discussion.