Israel on a Budget: Jerusalem & Mitzpe Ramon (Part 3 of 3)
After visiting Tel Aviv (Part 1) and Haifa & Nazareth (Part 2) I was ready to begin my quest for Israel on a Budget: Jerusalem & Mitzpe Ramon. Filled with so much culture for so many people and religions across the world, I was excited. Jerusalem does not disappoint. There were no acts of violence during our stay, though there were some incidents the week before and after we were there. After that, it was time to head to Mitzpe Ramon for Ramon Crater.
What to do in Jerusalem (4 Nights)
Jerusalem is just a 4 hour bus ride from Nazareth. With so much to see and do, a minimum of 3-4 nights are recommended. I was only able to stay for 3 and didn’t have an opportunity to see as much as I would have liked. I wasn’t able to see Bethlehem in the Palestinian Territory either.
- Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage site and hosts many of the sites travelers will want to see. Of the more than 200 historic sites, the most popular include:
- The Western Wall: A must-see with its historic significance and accessibility to everyone.
- Dome of the Rock: More difficult to get in to see on the other side of the Western Wall and is only available during certain hours. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the mosque. A great post about getting to the other side of the wall can be found at The Whole World is a Playground.
- Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Built atop the place of the crucifixion of Christ, as well as the tomb from which he was said to have risen.
- Tower of David: Near the Jaffa Gate entrance to Old City this tower hosts a museum the top has one of the best views of Old Town.
- New Jerusalem Tours gives a great free walking tour I attended of the Old Town districts but does not enter any of these sites so save time for that separately.
- Nearby walks and hikes outside of Jerusalem also yield a number of options for the slightly more adventurous:
- Lifta: An abandoned Palestinian ‘ghost town’ just outside of Jerusalem. It has remained uninhabited since the war in 1948. Locals advise not to come here at night… either because the ghost stories are true or because there may be some squatters.
- Mount of Olives: A holy site just outside the city walls of Jerusalem, accessible by walking or by taxi.
- Dead Sea: No trip to Israel is complete without a day trip to the Dead Sea. The low elevation has resulted in a high concentration of salt, making floating easy. The mud is also believed to have rich mineral properties that are good for the skin. It’s possible to travel there from Jerusalem by bus and will take a better part of the day to get there and swim. Food and drinks are available and some accommodations exist for those who would like to spend a night there.
- Another possible day trip to Bethlehem is another idea many may desire to pursue. For U.S. citizens, passing into the Palestinian Territory where Jerusalem is located isn’t much of an issue. Stay updated on news and the current situation before heading there but everyone I talked to while visiting said it felt completely safe and there were no acts of violence during their trip there. Accessible by bus, it’s about an hour from Jerusalem.
Where to Eat in Jerusalem
I went off of word of mouth a lot in Jerusalem regarding restaurants and didn’t quite find the level of excellence I was looking for. My friend and I dined in the Armenian Quarter at an Armenian restaurant across from where the authentic pottery is made and fount it rather westernized and uninspired. We went out for Ethiopian food another night and though it’s fun to eat together with the sour bread, I was reminded it’s one of my least favorite cuisines. The free walking tour also ends near a hummus place they recommend. It’s priced fairly but the portions are small and though it’s not bad, it wasn’t up to par with any of the other hummus or falafel I enjoyed in Israel. I did some research afterwards and noted two commonly recommended places in the Old City:
- Abu Shukri: Found in the Muslim Quarter, this great local spot and is said to be one of the most famous makers of hummus in the world. Find them at El Wad ha-Gai St 63, Jerusalem
- Hummus Lina Found in the Christian Quarter, this is another hotly contended favorite for hummus and local far. Find them at 42 Ma’alot E-Khanka St, Jerusalem
- Check out this list on Culture Trip list for more.
Where to Stay in Jerusalem
- Abraham Hostel: One of the best large hostels I’ve stayed in. They feature dinners in honor of Shabat, hummus nights where they teach participants to make this culturally important dish, and more. They also have a great common area to sit, relax, meet people or get some work done. Single dorm beds start at $20 and private couples rooms start around $70.
- Couchsurfing: 688 hosts accepting or may be accepting guests have logged in during the last month.
- AirBnB: Singles average $129 and couples average $139.
What to do in Mitzpe Ramon (2 Nights)
About 4 hours south of Jerusalem is Mitzpe Ramon, a small town in the Negev Desert built on the edge of Ramon Crater. We learned that it is not an impact crater but rather one created by erosion, like the Grand Canyon back in my home state of Arizona. With beautiful views for days, this is a great place to escape the city and see some of the natural beauty southern Israel has to offer.
- Walking along the perimeter of the crater, to the lookout point and to the Outdoor Garden are all simple hikes.
- Local hiking is available through NegevTrek for 3-5 day hikes when planning ahead. This is recommended by many locals but we unfortunately didn’t have time.
- WikiTravel also offers a huge list of additional resources here.
Where to Eat in Mitzpe Ramon
- There is a grocery store and Post Office in the center of town near the bus station. This area hosts a small shawarma and falafel spot which made some of the best food we had during our time there. I particularly enjoyed the shawarma on the loaf of French bread one night when I was very hungry. Sderot David Ben Gurion 8, Mitzpe Ramon, 8060000
- Hahavit is a little more expensive for what you get but the local dishes are very good. It’s worth heading to for dinner and a drink. Nahal Tsiah, Mitspe Ramon, Israel
Where to Stay in Mitzpe Ramon
- The Green Backpackers: We stayed at this hostel on the edge of the crater here, with a tall lookout point nearby. For the price and the great people we met, I highly recommend giving them a try.
- Camping: For hikers and those with a vehicle, this is a campground that may be of interest nearby. Just make sure to check the temperature and ensure you have the correct gear. We did not and weren’t able to do this.
- Couchsurfing: Only 11 hosts are active in the last month and are currently or may be accepting guests.
- AirBnB: Singles average $139 and couples average $148.
Final Thoughts on Travel to Israel
After spending about two weeks in Israel, I can say it’s one of the most beautiful and rewarding places I’ve ever seen. It’s also surprising how much there is to see and do in a country about the size of New Jersey. From historic sites to beaches, to food and people you’ll meet, it’s a truly unique experience. I was also happy to know that traveling Israel on a budget: Jerusalem & Nazareth can become a reality for anyone who is careful on their expenses. I hope this guide has helped provide some helpful tips.
“Israel is one of the most emotionally charged places I’ve ever been.”
Israel is one of the most emotionally charged places I’ve ever been. Outside Ben Gurion Airport I was amazed how many young soldiers were walking around with their weapons on the way to or from duty. I witnessed the co-existence Haifa is famous for one day over hummus and while walking the streets talking to locals. The following day I was curtly corrected in Nazareth who told me I wasn’t in Israel, I was in Palestine. While on a free walking tour in Jerusalem our Israeli guide explained how he was licensed to carry the sidearm he wore on his belt. As we passed through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City several people remarked to us that we shouldn’t trust what our tour guide said. They claimed he was a liar and he was only there for our money.
Then one day we came across children playing in the Muslim Quarter. They were running around and smiled. My friend, Swedish blogger Elin Nyqvist, and I started taking photos of them. They were nothing but smiles and laughter. Politics and religious differences didn’t matter to them yet. In that moment, to them, we were all just people having fun. We sat with them for a few minutes. Of everything I experienced in Israel, that was what I remember most.
Thinking back on that afternoon Elin and I discussed how perhaps, theirs will be the generation that changes Israel.
I hope that’s true.
Thanks for reading.
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