1- & 2-Day Affordable Escorted Tours
Egged Tours (www.eggedtours.com) and United Tours (www.unitedtours.co.il) are the two major day tour companies in Israel. They offer identical 1- and 2-day (and longer) guided bus tours from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to the Galilee, the Dead Sea, the Negev, the Coastal region, as well as tours of city and metropolitan areas. Some of their tours can also be taken from Haifa, Eilat, and other secondary cities. These tours can be an efficient way to visit a lot of places and fill in itineraries.
Much depends on the luck of the draw. Guides range from adequate to fabulous-- you might find yourself in a small congenial tour group that’s virtually a private tour, or a busload of unruly kids. A lot of time may be consumed as your tour bus makes the round of hotels picking up and dropping off other travelers in your group before the actual tour begins. If you’re thinking about taking more than two or three of these tours, it might be better to consider an organized, complete flight/hotel/package tour that will take you to all the major destinations you want to see in Israel. One-day United or Egged Tours start at around $70 per person for a bus tour of Jerusalem, while most 2-day and multiple-day tours range from $180 to $400.
Brilliant, low-budget routes were designed by Abraham Tours (abrahamtours.com/bus), which is affiliated with the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem, The routes take visitors to major cities throughout Israel, with brief sightseeing stops at sites along the way that would be hard to get to by public transportation. You get off at whatever town you want to stay in, and pick up the next bus or the one after that.
Day Tours to the West Bank
Depending on political conditions at the moment, a number of independent groups now offer escorted day tours into the West Bank/Palestinian Authority Areas. Always check State Department and Foreign Office travel advisories before entering the West Bank. For those who wish to see Bethlehem, Jericho, and other historic and sites under Palestinian Administration, these tours (all of which include varying degrees of emphasis on social and political conditions), can be an efficient way to explore. Most day tours range from NIS 200-NIS 400 per person.
Abraham Tours (www.abrahamtours.com) is one recommended operator, as is Green Olive Tours (www.toursinenglish.com) which offers a heavier emphasis on politics. Meeting point for Green Olive tours is usually the West Jerusalem YMCA on King David Street. Alternative Tours (www.alternativetours.ps/cmsms/index.php?page=jerusalem-political-tour-2), based in East Jerusalem offers tours with a more partisan Palestinian perspective.
Private guides arrange all the logistics of travel during the times they are under hire and can take you to major sites as well as out-of-the-way places efficiently. For those with little time, this can be a restful way to get a great deal done and get an in-depth understanding of the country. The government licensing program has helped to raise the general quality of guides in Israel tremendously, but there’s still always a risk in touring with a guide—you never know if they’ll be articulate, a compelling story-teller or a complete bore. So ask for extensive references before booking and, when you can, read online reviews of the guide in question. Many good professional guides have put together a brochure or video that will give you an indication of their styles and approaches. At these (or any) prices, you don’t want to be stuck with a lemon.
Costs: Approximate rates for a private guide are $300 to $400 per day for a Jerusalem tour by foot and taxi, $500 to $600 a day for a licensed and insured guide with a vehicle within Israel. There can be extra charges for more than 8 hours per day (the Ministry of Tourism recommends the extra charge begin at over 10 hours per day) and for off-road trips and use of off-road vehicles. If your guide accompanies you overnight, the fee should include the cost of his or her hotel room (in many places, a licensed guide will receive a discount—your guide will know where he can be put up at a discount rate). Some licensed guides are willing to offer lower rates in slow seasons, but most of the best licensed guides won’t. This doesn’t necessarily mean that some guides with lower rates aren’t good, though they may not be as established.
If you engage an Israeli guide to arrange excursions into Jordan, the rate could be $660 to $700 per day, including a vehicle and his hotel accommodations. Israeli guides are not permitted to guide in Bethlehem or in other Palestinian administered areas.
In Israel, it’s illegal for people to guide without a license. Unfortunately, if you go by car with an unlicensed guide, you’re probably not insured in case of an accident.
Recommended guides: Following are some guides with unusual background qualifications and specialties. If they’re not able to meet your time specifications or interests, they may be able to refer you to guides who will better match your needs.
* American-born David Perlmutter (tel. 054/420-1353; firstname.lastname@example.org) was a guide for the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel and helped design that organization’s hikes and tours. He specializes in mountain-biking, hiking, and off-road tours, as well as photography, wine and culinary, cultural, and general tours.
* Judy Stacey Goldman (email@example.com) is the Tel Aviv–based coauthor of The Underground Guide to Jerusalem and The Underground Guide to Tel Aviv, two lively books. Originally from Canada, she’s expert on Israeli cuisine, too.
* Richard Woolf (tel. 04/693-5377 or 050/589-4647; firstname.lastname@example.org) specializes in the Galilee, where he has lived for almost 40 years, but guides throughout Israel. Born in the U.K., he is very patient and well-informed.
* Sam Salem (tel. 054/215-8441; email@example.com), a member of Jerusalem’s Christian community, offers specialties that include Bethlehem, Jericho, the Old City of Jerusalem, and the Temple Mount. He has unusual access and connections to many special sites.
* Rabbi Jeffrey Bearman (tel./fax 02/676-5197; firstname.lastname@example.org), is a Reform rabbi (somewhat unusual in Israel) and a licensed guide.
* Susan Lamdan (email@example.com) is a guide in the Jerusalem area with excellent reader feedback. She’s strong on off-road hiking.
* Madeline Lavine (tel. 054/450-4098; firstname.lastname@example.org) specializes in tours that focus on archaeology and history in Jerusalem’s Old and New cities.
* Adam Sela (www.adamsela.com) is among the most respected guides for the Negev, southern Israel, and the rest of the country.
GoIsrael.com lists many (but not all) of the country’s licensed guides.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.