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Israel

Israel travel guide

Rarely out of the news, Israel doesn’t immediately spring to mind as a travel destination – but for walkers, culture-seekers and those who want to see the tangled political situation for themselves, the country has much to offer

Barely bigger than Wales, Israel packs in an extraordinary range of ecosystems: from the North’s snow-capped peaks, through fertile plains along the Med and the unique saline environment of the Dead Sea, onto the southern deserts with their enormous karst craters and lush oases.

Israel’s plant and wildlife is equally diverse – its 2,380 species of flora, 510 bird species and 116 mammals (to the whole continent of Europe’s 100), make it a hotspot for nature enthusiasts. Hikers too are well-catered for with hundreds of well-marked trails, including the 1200km-long Israel National Trail which meanders the entire length of the country.

At the crossroads of three continents and the world’s three major monotheistic religions, Israel has an exceptionally rich history, which is still visible today in its Roman ruins, Crusader fortresses and Jerusalem’s holy sites. And in modern times, the influx of immigrants from all four corners of the globe has created a vibrant of mesh of cultures quite unlike anywhere else in the world.

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Hike the Jesus Trail, which takes in historical sites important to all of the region’s major religions – Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze
  2. Explore ancient shipwrecks and a submerged Roman port when you go diving at Caesarea Underwater Archaeological Park (www.caesarea-diving.com).
  3. See the sunrise over the Dead Sea, from the atmospheric ruins on the top of Mount Masada
  4. Swim under waterfalls in the desert oasis of Ein Gedi Nature Reserve
  5. Spot some of the Hula Valley’s 510 species of bird – including migrating pelicans and honey buzzards
  6. Head to Haifa for a tolerant mix of Arab and Jewish cultures, dazzling hilltop views and buzzing café culture.  
  7. Stay in the desert outpost of Mitzpe Ramon for starry night skies, 4wd adventures and hiking in the world’s largest karst crater
  8. Float in the therapeutic waters of the Dead Sea – before it’s too late: with the water-level dropping at the rate of 1m a year, it wont be long before it dries up

Wanderlust tips

With the exception of Haifa, no public transport runs on the Sabbath (from nightfall on Friday to nightfall on Saturday) in Israel. Many restaurants and shops also close, though most of proudly secular Tel Aviv remains open. The same is true during religious holidays, which are particularly numerous in September and October.

Wear modest dress when visiting places of worship and orthodox religious neighbourhoods. It is a good idea for women to bring a shawl to cover bare shoulders. Men should cover their head when entering synagogues. Mosques will require you to take off your shoes before entry.

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