Israel and Jordan have cropped up on the lists of the world’s most seasoned adventurers of late. We decided to find out what all the fuss was about and gain some insider info. This is why we caught up with Zander, who embarked on a bi-country excursion to this neck of the woods in November 2018.
“You can’t really research beforehand, there are too many misconceptions about the rules and ways of people there. Go and see for yourself, I can guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
Zander works as a Travel Specialist at Expat Explore and his passion for travelling led him to the Highlights of Israel and Jordan tour. We asked Zander to give us some first-hand experiences and tell us about exploring the beautiful cities and landscapes of Israel and Jordan.
The locals are charming & intriguing
“In the same way that New Zealanders can known as ‘kiwis’ (their national fruit), Israelis are aptly referred to as sabras – a native fruit that is prickly on the outside and sweet on the inside”, recounts Zander. “These interesting folks tend to be quite neutral until you make an attempt to engage in their native tongue. Throw in a Slih’a (sorry) or toda (thank you), and see how they open up.”
He also noted that there are quite a few misconceptions about both countries. “We heard that ripped jeans were a big no-no. But Tel Aviv was much more diverse than you’d think. The city is incredibly cosmopolitan. The nightlife especially is prolific.” On the other hand, certain preconceptions are correct. “Jerusalem is majority orthodox and conservative. There are some things to enjoy at night, like the beer market, but there isn’t much of a night life per sé. A favourite spot for me was Eilat, which has a distinct resort flavour with all the expected amenities – I really loved it.”
Fun Fact! Israel has an abundance of ATMs and Forex (distance of 10-15m between each).
There is a big contrast between Jordan & Israel
If you’re visiting one after the other, be ready to encounter a vast contrast. “First off, Israel caters for tourists – their signage is in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Jordan does not cater for English-speaking travellers as much,” explains Zander. “Jordan is the next door neighbour of the powerhouse that is Israel. Because Jordan is open to refugees from all over the world, it may seem less prosperous. You’ll notice the difference as soon as you cross the border. For instance, the Jordanians have black water tanks on their roofs because they don’t have electricity. The Israelis, on the other hand, have white water tanks with solar panels. Nevertheless, the people are friendly and welcoming.”
Fun Fact! If you visit Jordan for one night only, you’ll pay exit tax. Headed to Wadi Rum? Be sure to take cash so you can take advantage of on-the-fly experiences.
Food is cheap; booze is not
“The food was delicious and affordable – olives in particular were in abundance. Meat is the focal point at meals, with sauces, dips and bread to complement it. Shawarma and falafel is also very popular. Beer, on the other hand, was very expensive ($12+ for 500ml),” recounts Zander.
The weather is great in autumn
Zander visited at the start of autumn and found the weather to be very pleasant. “Jerusalem was hot and dry with clear skies in daytime, becoming cool and comfortable at night. Tel Aviv was humid, which made for lovely beach weather; the nights cooled down but it wasn’t chilly. It’s the best time to explore. It did get quite chilly at night in Wadi Rum. So, I would definitely pack some warmer gear for desert outings.”
Yes, you’ll feel some tension
Political tension is part and parcel of a Middle Eastern experience. “Travellers weren’t allowed to go to the Wailing Wall with a Koran. We also felt that there was definite tension in Jerusalem. At the airports, the authorities are also very strict and thorough – the best is to keep your cool, go about your business and you’ll be fine,” explains Zander.
Hit the top tourist sights super early
According to Zander, all the top tourist attractions were very busy. “Jerusalem is vast. We walked the Via Dolorosa, and visited the Wailing Wall, Jesus Crypt and Virgin Mary. Both queues were at least 90 minutes long. Be sure to arrive early; regardless of the season, these sites are always packed.”
Fun Fact! The Wailing Wall is partitioned for male and female visitors. Women have to walk backwards to the wall and turn around as they touch it; men can walk facing the wall.
The Red Sea and Dead Sea are legitimately EPIC
According to Zander, the Dead and Red Seas live up to their respective hype. “I floated in the Dead Sea and it was amazing. We also watched the sun set over the Red Sea from a beach bar in Eilat. The mountains of Jordan were to our left, and we could see the mountains of Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the distance. All while we were sitting in Israel! That’s four countries in one go.”
You have to see it for yourself
“There are many misconceptions about travel to the Middle East. That’s mainly because you can’t research it properly beforehand. There’s not much to go on online. As such, there are too many misconceptions about the rules and ways of the people there. Go and see for yourself, I can guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised,” recommends Zander.