If Bruges wasn’t on your list of places to see…
Traveling gives you the opportunity to educate yourself not by reading about something from the books or news, but by experiencing and seeing it first hand. Of course we have all heard about the conflict Israel/Palestina in the news, but have you wondered how life is for the people living in that region, for those who what we see in the news is a reality. Something that they have to deal with on a daily basis.
When I decided to travel to Israel, it was clear to me that I would also like to travel to the West Bank. I wanted to experience ‘both sides’.
However one does not simply travel to Palestinian Territory, right? While it is possible and tourism to the West Bank is actually developing, there are many new guest houses, I necessarily wouldn’t recommend you to go solo. It is not only safer to go with a guide who knows the area, but also way more interesting as you get background information about the places you visit and you can ask a lot of questions. It will help you understand more about the conflict.
For four nights we based ourselves in the ‘Holy City’ where we stayed in Abraham Hostel. Jerusalem has a lot to offer and you could probably spent weeks exploring the old town, but it is also a great location to go on day trips in Israel, to Jordan or to the West Bank.
Their Best of the West Bank Tour , as the name gives away, really shows you the best of what this region has to offer. Stops included in the tour are the ancient city Jericho; bustling and modern Ramallah and Bethlehem- the city where Jesus was born.
This tour is aimed to show you the beauty of this region, you see the sights, get to try the food and meet the locals.
If you are interested in a more political approach or want to investigate further, the Hebron Dual Narrative Tour is renowned for for exploring both perspectives and narratives of the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict as you visit both sides and get to hear the stories from an Israeli and Palestinian guide.
My day exploring the West Bank
We got picked up early in the morning from Abraham Hostel for the ‘Best of the West Bank Tour’. We were asked to bring our passports along in case we get checked and dress respectfully.
We were all looking forward to the tour and curious what was going to await us. After a while our driver and guide who started the tour of us said goodbye, they were going to wait for us on the Israeli side since it is not allowed for IsraeliCitizens to enter the West Bank.
Our Palestinian guide for the day got in the bus and introduced himself as ‘Don’. He gave us a brief overview of the day and insisted that if we have any questions, we shouldn’t hesitate to ask him.
As it was going to be a long day, we started with a quick breakfast in a local restaurant.
With a full belly we climbed back in the bus and drove to our first stop, the Qasr el-Yahud baptism site. It is located on the Palestinian side of the Jordan river on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho. For Christian pilgrims it is a very important site, as it is considered to be the place where Jesus got baptized according to the New Testament. During the time we were there, we got to see a baptism ceremony.
In Jericho we had a little bit of time to walk around the new part of the city. We walked past some shops, watched a group of old men sitting together drinking Arabic coffee and playing chess. Life here seemed quite normal. People greeted us with ‘Welcome to Palestine’ and asked where we were from.
Especially in the old part of Jericho there is a lot to see: archaeological sites and quite a few attractions are linked with stories from the New Testament. Sights include the Mount of Temptation or the Sycamore tree of Zacchaeus.
A real contrast to what we have seen was Ramallah. A buzzling, modern city- full of cars, people. Together with our guide Don we walked through the busy market where you could find the most amazing vegetables and fruit, spices and of course haggling is a must here. Once again I was overwhelmed by the friendliness of the local people who were giving us some fruit to try.
Ramallah is considered the most affluent and cultural and you will find many bars and restaurants in the city. My highlight, a café called ‘Stars and Bucks’.
On the way to Bethlehem we stopped at a local sweet shop. Have you tried ‘Knafeh’ before? It is a syrup-soaked sweet cheese pastry that is very popular to serve during festivities. ‘Aladdin Sweets’ is very popular in the area for its delicious Knafeh and they were very happy to show us around their shop and take us in the kitchen to show us how Knafeh is made. Along with some Arabic coffee we were able to try this speciality. I tell you it is mouth watering.
Last stop on our tour was Bethlehem. After an Arabic lunch we walked around the city of Jesus’ birth with a local guide, visited sites old and new, and discover the puzzling paradox that is life in Bethlehem. We entered the beautiful Church of Nativity and visited the Milk Grotto Chapel, strolled through the Old City, and ended at the separation barrier.
Bethlehem is located only 10 kilometers away from Jerusalem and there has been and there still is a lot of conflict. The large Israeli West Bank barrier is a result of that. On the wall and throughout the city are street arts and posters that address the issue. Standing next to the wall was incredibly sad and thought-provoking and I honestly hope that one day there will be peace on this world.
To get back into Jerusalem we had to cross several check points and roadblocks. The day we spent in the West Bank was very interesting and eye opening. We got to learn about the culture and history of this region and got a glimpse in the everyday life of its people and got to learn about their hopes and struggles.
Other tours from Abraham Tours
As mentioned Abraham Tours offers a large variety of tours in Israel and to Jordan and Egypt. Another tour that we joined was a tour to Masada, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea. On that day you visit three sites full of natural beauty and history. If you are an early bird then I can highly recommend to join their sunrise tour as you will experience the sunrise from the Masada fortress overlooking the mountains and the Dead Sea.
We did the regular tour leaving at 7 am. Opposite to the West Bank tour, this was a self-guided tour. We got some background information in the bus and then were able to wander around the sites exploring them on our own. Once we arrived at Masada, we took the cable car up to the Masada fortress and walked around the historic site. It was a clear day so we were able to see the surrounding desert, the Dead Sea and even got to see Jordan in the back.
Ein Gedi is an oasis and nature reserve and it is incredible to see that such a place exists in the middle of the desert. The reserve is a sanctuary for many types of plant, bird and animal species. As you walk though it you will see many beautiful waterfalls and if you are lucky you might be able to spot some goats there.
My absolute highlight of this tour was the visit of the Dead Sea. Floating in the Dead Sea was always on my bucket list and I heard so many stories about it, but you really have to experience it yourself. The water of the Dead Sea is actually 9.6 times saltier than the ocean, so definitely don’t try to swallow the water 😉
I was first in doubt if it actually would work, but once I was in it was an absolutely amazing experience. After we enjoyed our swim, we covered ourselves in the black mud. After you wash it off, your skin will feel so soft.
Unfortunately the time we got to spend there was a little bit short. We got 1.5 hours there, but I could have easily spend the entire day there. Guess I need to go back at some point. Still, what a fun day it was.
Find out more about all their tours: https://abrahamtours.com
Traveler’s Little Treasures was invited by Abraham Tours to join their tours, however my opinion is, as always, my own.