Israel, Palestine, and Jordan in 7 days
I always struggle with speed traveling. I always recommend staying in one place for as long as you can, to soak in the culture and get comfortable somewhere new. And remembering to relax when you are on vacation! But alas, I also always struggle with following my own advice, #mentalhealththerapistproblems. Although I do think I have started getting better at this, when I found myself planning a trip to Israel I just couldn’t resist. There is just seriously so. much. to see. Besides, the moment I heard “Let’s go to Israel” all I heard was “PETRA!” which isn’t even IN Israel, but it is next door in Jordan… so it was a double country visit from the very start…
So, how did we do it?
DAY 1: Getting Settled
So with Israel we chose the rental car route due to the lack of trains and wanting to be flexible with the places we wanted to get to. We got round trip flights in and out of Tel Aviv, so we picked up the rental from there. Rental cars were pricey, the car had a couple dents in it, but it worked great and there were no surprise additional charges when we picked up. As always, we booked an Airbnb. Our Airbnb was phenomenal. It was located in Jaffa, so the place was really packed in, but we lucked out with it coming with a mini garage. From our pad, we could walk to old city Jaffa and see the sites. And we had a laundry machine and fully functioning kitchen, so we felt right at home. A supermarket down the street had eggs, bread, sandwich meats, and cereal so we stocked up for the 3 days we had in Israel and saved money with breakfast at home and sandwiches on the go.
So our first day in Tel Aviv, we slept off a few hours of jet lag (horrible idea, but sleep was taking over me in a way it never has before), and then we headed to a ‘hip’ restaurant that was recommended by a friend. Port Said was delicious with a great artsy, local flair to it. I had the best garlic green beans EVER. We got various other tapas and enjoyed some local Israeli beer.
We enjoyed the sunset walking around old city Jaffa and seeing the beach. It was the night after Ramadan ended so there were loads of people around picnicking.
DAY 2: Jerusalem and Bethlehem
We headed out early for our day trip to Jerusalem. It took about an hour to get there, we used google maps and once in Jerusalem signs pointing us to the old city helped out too. We found that once you get to the outside wall of the city, as you drive around it you find various parking lots. At Zion’s Gate there were a few spots available so we snagged a spot, having no idea what we were going to find entering this gate. The parking was not free and there was a machine for paying your parking on site. We were only able to pay with coins, and you put in coins until you got to the time on the screen that you wanted to stay until. Then you take the printed receipt with the time marked on it and put it on your dashboard.
Zion’s gate wound up being a great place to start out. It was in the Armenian/Jewish quarter and right next to King David’s tomb, the holocaust museum, and the location of the Last Supper. We walked further into the Jewish quarter to find the old marketplace streets with ancient pillars still standing, some shopping, and then down to the Western / Wailing Wall.
We then walked through the Muslim quarter which was full of shops (there were so many souvenir shops, bargaining was a breeze with all the competition) until we found Via Dolorosa, the pathway that Jesus took carrying the cross. We walked up until we found the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter, which holds the site of crucifixion and burial. Here, you can touch the stone that the cross stood on, the marble that Jesus was laid on to be washed by Mary, and you can enter the ‘tomb’, referred to as the Edicule, and touch the actual limestone that Jesus’ body was told to be laid to rest on after his crucifixion.
It doesn’t sound like a lot, but we covered a ton of ground and after seeing the church (and waiting in line to touch all of the aforementioned items) we were absolutely exhausted. But this didn’t stop us from feeling the need to further explore once we got back to the car. With Bethlehem being nearby (about 10 minutes driving), we knew we couldn’t leave Israel without seeing Jesus’ birthplace, and I am really glad we went. We weren’t sure what to expect, if we would even be able to go, because to get there you must cross over the border into the West Bank, which is Palestinian territory. We decided to go and check it out, using google maps once again to take us directly to the Church of the Nativity. After driving through a bunch of apocalyptic looking signs and walls and fences and a few ‘check points’ where they only glanced at passports once, we were suddenly in Bethlehem. No questioning, fees, waiting in line, nothing. So we followed our map and found some parking in front of the church. The church was going through restorations so it we couldn’t see its beauty from the outside, but the site of Jesus’ birthplace was beautiful with a huge silver star on the ground marking the exact spot he was believed to have been born, along with a marked area where he was washed and slept.
From here, we got back in the car and headed right back to our Airbnb in Tel Aviv for some feasting on shawarmas and much needed rest.
DAY 3: Baha’i Gardens and Nazareth
We slept in and took our time making our way to the Baha’i Gardens in Jaifa, Israel. We were told that this was the most beautiful site in Israel so I had to see it. Reading up on the background of the gardens only got me more excited. The Baha’i faith is a faith based on acceptance of all religions, and it is at the bottom of the gardens that the founder is buried. We only stayed here for about 15 minutes as we couldn’t explore the gardens, only walk down the top portion of it and take photographs of it.
From here we drove another 25 minutes to get to Nazareth and see the Basilica of the Anunciation, the site where the Virgin Mary is said to have grown up. I was not adequately prepared for how immense and majestic this church was and I was absolutely blown away. Inside of the church was the perfectly preserved ‘cave’ and entrance to where Mary lived, and around it were various different tiles and architecture which were preserved ruins of previous churches. As this site was a major place of pilgrimage for Christians, several churches were erected over the cave by various different empires. The current church was built in the 60s in such a way to preserve as much of each other church that had ever been built as possible. The inclusion of these architectures made the church so unique, not to mention the obvious cave entrance in the center! The ceiling was shaped as a massive star. This church moved me in such an emotional way, in a way that I have never ever felt in any other church.
We enjoyed a typical Israeli dinner with a spread of all sorts of tapas and meats, it was a nice, relaxing end to our last full day in Israel.
DAY 4: Our Journey to Amman
On Day 4 we dropped off the rental car at Tel Aviv airport and began our anxiety inducing travel to Amman, Jordan. This really shouldn’t be a big deal since it is so close, but country border crossings and a volatile region makes for complicating travel. So much so that I made an entirely separate blog post dedicated to the details of this journey to help anyone else like me who felt utterly lost in this endeavor!! The good news is we made it just fine, $300 and 5 and a half hours later to our hotel in Amman.
We didn’t realize that it is normal in Jordan to have complimentary dinner in your hotel stay, so we explored around our hotel by foot and ate a typical Jordanian dinner at a quaint restaurant near the hotel. While in Israel, tipping was not customary in restaurants or really with anything, but Jordan is a totally different story. From luggage assistance in the hotel, 20% tip of meals, paying for restrooms (half dinar to 3 dinar), to taking pictures- a tip is expected! And while things were relatively much less expensive in Israel compared to the US, food and other items in Jordan were comparative to US prices. Hotels weren’t too expensive though, and they were always better than expected.
We had booked a tour of Jordan in advance rather than renting a car and finding Airbnbs. Our whole honeymoon was centered around seeing Petra, so we wanted to make sure we did it right. Our tour included 3 nights in nice hotels, each with breakfast and dinner, entrance to Petra, Wadi Rum Desert 4x4, and swimming in the Dead Sea. We tipped all tour guides (of Petra and Wadi Rum). We paid a total of $1200 USD for the both of us for this whole tour, through viator.com.
DAY 5: Wadi Rum
We were picked up early by our PHENOMENAL tour guide. He is highly recommended, he really made our whole trip. Super nice, he customized our tour to our liking, and he enjoyed talking with us during the long drives. He told us all about his country, and we told him about ours. And we have remained in touch since we left and truly hope we can go back to Jordan again some day and take a tour with Basel again. While we did both Israel and Jordan in 3 days each, I felt much more like there was so much more to see in Jordan. Someday!
Anyway, our first full day in Jordan was driving out to Wadi Rum from Amman and enjoying a few hours in a 4x4 exploring the desert. If we were to have added an extra day to our tour, it would have been glamping in Wadi Rum on this night. We had another highly recommended tour guide here. We paid 10 JOD extra to do some camel riding, and I got a great selfie out of it! Wadi Rum was absolutely gorgeous and we feel like we only got to see a tiny piece of it. More time here would have been enjoyed very much.
We ended the day in the town outside of Petra… Petra haha. Again, another nicer than expected hotel with delicious dinner and breakfast included.
DAY 6: Petra and the Dead Sea
We headed to Petra at 7:30am to beat the crowds and the HEAT (we were visiting in mid July). Highly recommended to beat crowds and summer heat in any way possible. We were hooked up with another guide here and walked through the canyons up to the magnificent Treasury. (This is where we got scammed into having to pay some guys for taking our picture, watch out they are sneaky!) The really incredible thing about Petra is that the tombs are literally carved into the rock faces, the insane details, and the inclusion of Roman, Greek, and Egyptian gods and symbols in all of its art. The Nabateans were businessmen, managing the trade of incense and spices for hundreds of years through this key route connecting Egypt to Rome and Asia, so Petra was a melting pot of culture and religious beliefs.
We saw incredible ancient artwork and infrastructure, loads of tombs, and an ancient greek amphitheater. Our guide left us at the steps to the Monastery, and we climbed all 850 steps to see the biggest tomb Petra has to offer! On the way to the stairs, locals will harass you to pay them to use their donkeys to get up there, but if you don’t mind a good workout you can most definitely do it yourself. And yes, it is DEFINITELY worth the climb.
We spent a solid 5 hours in Petra when we originally planned on 3. So expect to get stuck in there for awhile, and bring enough water! There was also loads of shopping inside Petra, and it even winds up the 850 steps to the monastery. Vendors are so desperate to sell things at this point that things get really cheap. Scarves, pants, dresses, jewelry, knick knacks, even lemonade! Knock yourself out shopping here.
We were absolutely wiped out by the time we got back to Basel in the village, and needless to say we took a serious nap on the way to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea was super cool, I had expected it to be easy to float there but I didn’t expect that it would literally hold me up like I was in a lounge chair! It is the lowest point on Earth, and 30% salt where normal ocean water is 5% salt, so… yeah. It is an interesting physical phenomenon that is for sure. You gotta do it.
DAY 7: Jerasch and return to Tel Aviv
We loved our tour guide so much we added on an extra stop before we left Jordan. Our flight out of Tel Aviv wasn’t until midnight so we had time to do an early morning day trip. We decided to go and see Jerash, the best preserved Roman city in the world. It had the best preserved hippodrome as well. The city was small, but well preserved as a result of later empires burying Roman temples to later build churches, then mosques. As a result the temple of Zeus was well preserved. The city was never totally destroyed and rather inhabited by new empires. The Temple of Artemis, which was never totally finished, was converted to a church. You can walk through long pathways flanked by pillars and fountains. It was amazing to walk through such a historically rich place.
And after Jerasch was a bittersweet goodbye to Basel and beginning our trek back to Tel Aviv, around 3pm. We were on our plane by midnight, and already discussing our hopes to return to Jordan again someday. It was such a beautiful place, with such remarkable history everywhere you turn. Even in Amman, in the downtown there is the Temple of Hercules! NBD. And while people warn of the insecurity and backwards ways of middle eastern countries, we never once felt unsafe or uncomfortable. Christians are widely accepted here and you can find churches standing right next to mosques, and women were not obligated to cover up their bodies. I was able to dress normally without feeling out of place.
It really was unbelievable that we fit ALL of that into one week. I really felt like we spent 2 whole weeks there. We were absolutely exhausted by the end, and with such a demanding itinerary we kicked our jet lag pretty quickly.
Basel Mousa was our main guide: firstname.lastname@example.org
Abdullah Ali was our Wadi Rum tour guide: email@example.com