Israel offers wonderful opportunities for the intrepid traveler, from participating in an archaeological dig to trekking in rugged areas. If you’re looking for that kind of adventure, the Internet will guide you in that direction.
Most tourists to Israel, however, opt for a gentler vacation: visiting unique religious and historical sites, sipping a latte at a Tel Aviv cafe, lying on the beach in Eilat or enjoying a mud bath at a Dead Sea resort.
Whatever the nature of your trip, there are certain things worth knowing before you go, especially if you’re going for the first time.
Passport & Visa
If you’re a U.S. citizen, you don’t need to get a visa ahead of time; a three-month visa will be issued when you arrive. However, you need to show a round-trip ticket, and your passport has to be valid for at least six months beyond the date of entry.
If you’re not a U.S. citizen, check www.mfa.gov.il for the list of countries whose nationals are permitted to enter Israel without a prearranged visa. If your passport was issued by a country not on that list, contact an Israeli consulate. The Los Angeles office is at 6380 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1700, and the phone number is (323) 852-5500.
You don’t need any special vaccinations to enter Israel.
Although bottled water is available everywhere, you can safely drink tap water.
Health standards in restaurants, cafes, markets and falafel stands — and even street carts, for that matter — are about the same as they are in the United States or western Europe, so feel free to eat anywhere you like.
Make sure to take sunblock with you (or buy it there) and drink lots of water: excessive sunburn and dehydration are two of the most common ailments that afflict tourists.
Medical facilities in Israel are excellent, and tourists can go to any emergency room. But a tourist has to pay for treatment, and since it could be relatively expensive, a travel insurance policy that covers medical expenses is worth considering.
APPLIANCES & ELECTRONICS The electric current in Israel is 220 volts AC, single phase, 50 Hertz. Three-pronged sockets (type H) are generally used. It’s useful to bring an adapter for electric products (electric shaver, portable iron, hair dryer) and a transformer for electronics (CD player, camcorder). Adapters and transformers are also available in Israel.
Since laptops are dual voltage, you don’t need a transformer, but you may need a two-pin converter plug. You can bring it with you or get one there.
Hotels generally have Internet access, and Internet cafes are everywhere.
Israelis love cell phones. It’s not unusual to see a group sitting in a cafe, each person talking on a cell phone. If your cell phone is programmed for international service, it will work in Israel. You can also rent a phone online, at the airport or via retailers throughout Israel.
Clothing & Weather
The weather in Israel is similar to that of much of Southern California: a long, hot, dry season from April to October and mild the rest of the year. Hilly areas, such as Jerusalem, can get quite cold in the
winter, and it even snows on occasion.
Dress in Israel is generally informal: sandals, Bermuda shorts and T-shirts are commonly worn. However, there are exceptions: In religious neighborhoods or at holy shrines and sites, one should dress appropriately — no bare legs or shoulders.
El Al has a direct 17-hour flight from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv. Instead of such a long stretch, you might decide to stop on the East Coast or Europe on the way. Many international airlines operate flights, or connecting flights, that originate in Los Angeles and land at Ben-Gurion Airport.
You need to decide ahead of time whether you will go on your own or as part of a group. A group tour has the advantage of relieving you of having to make arrangements yourself. You can find out about group tours through the Ministry of Tourism at goisrael.com or (888) 774-7723.
If you go as part of a group, you won’t have to choose your lodging.
If you organize the trip yourself, however, there is an enormous range of accommodations, from five-star hotels to youth hostels. In between are boutique hotels, bed-and-breakfast places, tsimmers (guestrooms), kibbutz guest houses and more. At the Ministry of Tourism Web site, click on the Accommodations link.
Aside from lodging, you’ll need about $50 per person per day for food, entertainment and local transportation. ATM machines are widely available and international credit cards are accepted at many stores and restaurants. It’s a good idea to have some cash with you, especially if you’re buying (and bargaining) in Jerusalem’s Old City.
If you’re going to drive a car, you need a driver’s license issued to you by the state where you live (e.g., California), or an International Driver’s Permit, which can be obtained at an AAA office for about $15. Whichever license you use, it has to have a photo I.D. You have to be over 21 to drive a rental car in Israel, and rental companies add extra charges to drivers under 25.
Driving in Israel can be challenging to those unfamiliar with it. If you’re not used to the car behind you honking before the traffic light turns green, or passing you on the right, you might consider public transportation, which is more than adequate.
Keep in mind, though, that most public transportation shuts down on Shabbat, as do government offices as well as many restaurants and businesses.
A quiet descends on much of Israel on Friday afternoon, a zone of silence that erupts with noisy, colorful, tasty street life after sundown Saturday. Enjoy it!