This post is very very long overdue!
I was travelling around Israel for approximately 2 weeks in late Oct / 10 - early November. I was travelling with my 70 year old mother and my husband.
There are plenty of posts that highlight the various attractions and give great reviews so I am not going to repeat what's already been written many times -
I highly recommend all of those locations - what I would like to focus on in this review is what I would have done differently.
First off - I made the very grave error of only booking a private tour guide for one day. That error caused me a lot of stress while on vacation. I did a lot of research prior to my departure and based on the forum discussions I decided that one day of touring with a guide would be enough and decided that I was enough of a 'seasoned' traveller to be able to guide my party on my own.
The other reason I was swayed away from hiring a guide was the costs involved - I've used private guides in China and Africa in the past and the costs for a private guide were very very inexpensive compared to guides in Israel - I had a hard time justifying the $500 / day.
Boy was I ever wrong - and was I ever sorry for having listened to the feedback that you can do Israel on your own with a good guide book - This was not the case for me - or my travel companions - we found we really needed the professional assisstance of a guide for there is just so much a guide book could teach you - and not all sights - infact - few sights have good signage telling you where you are and what you are seeing - or much historical reference. The cost definately reflects the end product - an organized and informative visit to a land filled with a very rich narrative history!
We had prebooked a guide from Toronto to visit Massada / Dead Sea / Ein Gedi - for this portion of the trip we used Madeleine Lavine - mobile # 054-4504098
Madeleine came highly recommended on this forum and after months of back and forth with her I finally booked her at the last minute - but I left it so long that by the time I made up my mind she was already occupied for the dates I was going to be visiting. Fortunately for us she was available for the full day -
She was incredible - A huge wealth of information - extremely professional - and a wonderful sense of humour - we thoroughly enjoyed our day with Madeleine and were very sad we only had the one day. I can't say enough about Madeleine - if you have a chance, don't think twice about it - just book her!!
I beleive we met with Madeleine on the 3rd day into the trip - and I knew by then that one day with a guide was not enough - So I asked Madeleine if she could help by referring me to a colleague she would recommend - we were still in Jerusalem, feeling very overwhelmed by all the sites, and realized we couldn't see it all on our own - well you could definately see it all on your own - I just found we had a hard time understanding and appreciating the historical reference. Madeleine made some calls for us and before we knew it she had connected us to yet another great guide - For a walking city tour of Jerusalem we used Shmuel Browns
Tel: 02 561-0785 Cell: 052 311-1265
Once again - a very professional and dedicated guide - Shmuel was super - he went above and beyond what was expected and left us with one of the most beautiful days of memories of our trip - He was patient and kind and incredibly knowledgeable!
Again, an exceptional guide who I highly recommend!!!
While I was in Israel I was emailing guides that had been recommended on various forums and they were all so kind and tried to help me - unfortunately it was so last minute that it was impossible to connect with anyone - but everyone online was extremely helpful - thanks so much!
The places I felt we did not need a guide were Tel Aviv and Haifa - We found them self explanatory and the guidebook was more than enough - ouside of Haifa (meaning north) you definately want a guide.
We rented a car for Haifa and I would not do that again - it's just too stressful being able to read the maps, explore the scenery, and find your way - I would recommend hiring a guide with a car if you are using Haifa as your base - we were in Haifa 5 days and that was too long 3 would be good. In Haifa we stayed at the Villa Carmel - it was beautiful - I would highly recommend this hotel!! We had dinner in their resto and it was soooooo delicious!
We also visited Acre from Haifa - we loved this little arab village - spent an entire day there and loved every minute of it - highly recommend a visit.
We visited Petra with Desert Eco Tours - Highly recommend them! Professional and efficient - Petra was exceptional and I recommend a visit when in Israel - it would be a shame to miss all that splendour when you're so close!! We stayed in Eilat overnight and didn't particularly enjoy Eilat - I would never visti Eilat for a vacation - but that's subjective - We stayed at the Dan Panorama and it wasn't so god- it was the equivilant of a run down canadian holiday inn.
We hired a private Taxi to Bethlehem - we were glad we took that last minute trip - Bethlehem is a very interesting place - worth exploring - a half day is hardly enough - but worth it if you have the time.
I found Jerusalem too crowded for my travel tastes - way too many travel groups - extremely large travel groups - you can't really appreciate the architecture and take in all the history when you are packed into a place like a sardine.
The final thing I wanted to comment on is our accomodations - we rented apartments while in Jerusalem & Tel Aviv - I found neither apartment was really what the advertiser portrayed on their ad - we rented through vacation rentals by owner - vrbo.com - the apartments we found had 2 reviews and the reviews were fine - I cannot recall the addresses right now - and the apartments weren't horribly bad - they were just mediocre - the only positive side to renting is the cost - it's considerably cheaper than a hotel - I had never rented before and I will never do it again - I like all the things a hotel has to offer!
So there you have it - my very long over due and very long winded feedback!!