City life in Old Jerusalem.
A few years ago, newly divorced and seeking a spiritual experience,
my mother set out on a faith-based trip to Israel with a group of
travelers from several different churches with participants ranging
from retirees to college students.
“It was one of the most significant trips of my life,” she said,
“as a journey and as a vacation.”
While she was seeking to learn more about her faith, she
returned with stories of the country’s five-star hotels in
Jerusalem and along the Sea of Galilee, fine dining and shopping
spots, spa treatments like mud baths and body wraps, along with
more active adventures like hiking and kayaking.
Millions of people from around the world look to Israel as a
spiritual center, as the country offers clients myriad historical
and archeological attractions many within short distance of one
another. In fact, some 600,000 North Americans visited Israel last
year, almost 30 percent of the total number of tourists, and
officials aim to double that number by 2010 by promoting “real”
people in some of their favorite spots throughout the country.
“Our goal,” said Arie Sommer, Israel tourism commissioner, North
and South America, “is to deflect the constant barrage of negative
news images of Israel, and to show the country as it really is:
sophisticated, hip, ancient, modern, friendly, spiritual and
Despite the occasional negative news, many tour operators
continue to see travel to Israel grow as more clients want to
explore not only their faith, but to also have an adventure in the
country’s diverse landscape of mountains, deserts and beaches, as
well as indulge in the country’s deluxe resorts and spas. In the
past, according to many tour operators, Israel often drew retired
travelers seeking faith- or history-based tours and a more
educational trip than a vacation. Although these types of tours
continue to be popular, tour operators are extending their
offerings to accommodate increasingly younger and more active
Adventures in Israel
Beach-goers play along the
In addition to offering customized and FIT tours, which have
dramatically increased in popularity in recent years, tour
operators are combining faith-based and educational tours with
adventure and leisure activities.
IsramWorld offers clients the 15-day Amazing Israel Adventure
that includes stops in Tel Aviv, Safed, Tiberias, Jerusalem and the
Dead Sea. Along with a professional tour manager, deluxe hotels and
special lodging and meals, clients can rappel or zip-line at Manara
Cliffs, kayak down the Jordan River, hike Zavitan Falls and at Ein
Gedi, climb to David’s Waterfall and experience a spa treatment
near the Dead Sea. Tour dates are available through November 2008
and prices start at $3,270.
For clients wanting a high-end Israel experience, Isram offers a
12-day Discover the Holy Land by Car tour starting at $2,650. The
tour includes all transfers by private car; sightseeing in some of
Israel’s most historically significant spots via private car or
microbus with a private guide; meals; and a commemorative gift.
King Tut Tours which specializes in escorted trips to Egypt,
Morocco, Jerusalem, Jordan, Greece and Turkey allows clients to
create their own personal, family, group or corporate tour, as well
as offering more adventurous tours like exploring the Jordan’s Rose
Red City by horseback or on foot. Friendly Planet Travel offers
those clients looking for a little adventure an Eilat and Red Sea
post-tour extension as an add-on option to its Classic Israel (nine
days from $1,739) and Jerusalem Express (eight days from $999).
Israel’s southern tip is home to warm, calm waters and has become
one of the country’s most popular vacation destinations. Here,
clients can explore coral reefs, scuba dive, snorkel and dive with
dolphins or opt to stay dry with an evening camel safari into the
In addition to offering popular Jewish and Christian faith-based
tours, Ya’lla Tours, which has been selling Israel since 1993,
offers clients more vigorous options like hiking and rafting
activities popular with families.
Coming of Age
Mount Scopus, outside Jerusalem,
is the home of the Mount of Olives
and Hebrew University.
Bar and bat mitzvahs in the Holy Land have also received much
attention from religious travelers and those looking for a
meaningful celebration abroad. For example, Fullerton, Calif.-based
Bound to Travel has been selling the destination since 1979, and
allows clients to celebrate their “coming of age” in the land of
A 16-day sample itinerary offers a mix of historical sites, as
well as leisure and adventure activities. Highlights include a boat
cruise across the Sea of Galilee; kayaking the Jordan River;
touring Jerusalem’s synagogues, art galleries and underground Soreq
Caves; participating in an ongoing dig with archeologists; camel
rides; mud baths and massages near the Dead Sea; and a snorkeling
cruise along the coral reefs of the Red Sea.
Certified Vacations, a tour operator that pioneered the
outsourcing of airline-branded vacation packaging, also offers
itineraries that emphasize Jewish tradition. The 11-night Grand
Jewish Heritage Tour includes visits to the Diaspora Museum in Tel
Aviv, a stop at Mount Scopus for a blessing and overnights in
Kibbutz guesthouses. Also available through the tour operator is a
bar/bat mitzvah add-on option at the Western Wall with a Rabbi, all
organized by Certified Vacations.
Clients can also find four-, seven- and 10-day family interest
itineraries via the Ministry of Tourism’s Web site, with highlights
including a walking tour of Jerusalem, floating in the Dead Sea,
hiking through a nature reserve and sights of Tel Aviv and
Group tours to Israel have remained fashionable with travelers.
Bound to Travel specializes in a variety of group tours, including
the eight-day Holyland Highlights and the 10-day Holyland Days of
Discovery. Both tours can accommodate 30 or more clients and
include a climb to the top of Mt. Carmel to visit the Stella Maris
Carmelite Monastery, a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and stops in
Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The tour operator also offers three- and
seven-night cruises, as well as a Holyland Study Tour, a unique
travel-study program for groups.