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Tourists Return to Israel and Prices Drop Accordingly: Five-Night Packages Start from $749

As interest in travel to Israel has spiked sharply upwards over the past six months, tour operators are making travel affordable, even for lengthy stays.

The center of the western religious world, Israel is a special place to many. Drawing believers on religious pilgrimages, Israel's great sites include the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, Via Dolorosa where Christ carried the cross, the town of Bethlehem, and the fort on Masada.

While a spiritual land to multitudes, Israel holds appeal for the less devout. Tel Aviv is a cosmopolitan city filled with a vibrant youth culture. Haifa remains a funky ancient urban corner where intellectuals sell antiques and artifacts from small stalls and stone-walled shops. Eilat, known for snorkeling, is a beach town that can hold its own with any other beach town. If you like spas and healing salts, The Dead Sea with its thick salt water content allows you to float aimlessly, and allegedly has healing powers. As interest in travel to Israel has spiked sharply upwards over the past six months, tour operators are making travel affordable, even for lengthy stays.

Gate One Travel (tel. 800/682-3333; has two "Super Saver" air/land city tours to Israel. A five-night/seven-day air and hotel package to Tel Aviv out of New York starts at just $749 with travel good through February 23, 2006; base-prices go up to $789 from February 24 to March 25, 2006. Daily breakfast and airline fuel surcharges are included in the price of the tour. The rest of the trip is up to you. Israel is not very large, and you can book daily sightseeing excursions through Gate One or your hotel. A similar tour flying into Jerusalem also starts at $749 with travel good through February 23, 2006. These tours both depart daily. Air security fees and departure taxes are not included in the price of the package. For a tour that includes sightseeing and in-country travel in an air-conditioned motor coach, Gate One also offers an eight-day air/land tour of the country coming in at an affordable $1,039 with accommodations at tourist class three-star hotels.

For longer trips to Israel with a focus on Jewish heritage and spa add-ons, try ARZA World (tel. 888/811-2812; Starting at $2,728, a 13-day "Exploring Israel" tour includes round-trip airfare out of New York, three nights in Tel Aviv, two nights in Galilee, two nights in Eilat and four nights in Jerusalem, fifteen meals including four dinners, all sightseeing in a deluxe motor coach, all luggage portage, and a book, The Spiritual Guide to Israel. This tour is filled with discussions, intellectually guided tours, visits to a Kibbutz to see the daily way of life in Israel and to an artist colony, and a rafting trip down the Jordan River. An optional attendance at a Sabbath service is also available. If you're looking to be pampered, a two-night add-on to the Carmel Forest Spa Resort starts at $629. Israel's largest spa, the Carmel Forest Spa resort is just 50 minutes from Tel Aviv in the heart of the Carmel Forest. Certain treatments are included in the price of the package.

On the lengthier side, Margaret Morse Tours (tel. 800/327-3191; offers a 17-day deluxe "Spring Saver" tour to Israel with airfare out of New York starting at $3,499. Departing on March 14, 2006, this trip includes tours with professional guides, fourteen lavish breakfasts, several Israeli dinners, a cocktail party, a gala dinner, entertainment evenings, a dancing cruise on the Sea of Galilee, and an itinerary packed with visits to the major sites, an overnight stay in a Kibbutz, a day-trip to Jordan and much more. Hotels on this trip are four- to five-star properties with all modern amenities.

Discover Israel ( has land-only travel deals to Israel and has a number of add-on trips to Eilat and Jordan to lengthen your stay in the region. An eight-day/seven-night trip hitting most of the major sites starts at $680 with double occupancy rates. Travel and availability at the above price is good from now through February 26, 2006, when the Discover Israel will announce new tour prices. The $680 price is for accommodations at tourist class hotels. The same tour with accommodations at luxury hotels starts at $1,190. The itinerary is packed with stops along the way from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv making stops at Galilee where Jesus allegedly walked on water, Tiberius, Jericho, and Nazareth. Discover Israel also offers very inexpensive hotel options for individual travel. Per night rates start at $24 in Tel Aviv, $22 in Jerusalem and $43 for Dead Sea hotels. Also, three and four day tours of Jordan are available. You can get a price quote online. The site also offers rental cars starting at $18 per day.

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