By Carol Sottili
Sunday, May 9, 2010; F03
Who: Sara Young, 30, of Seattle and her boyfriend, Dan Bichanich, 31, of Madison, Wis., both civilian Army employees stationed in Stuttgart, Germany.
Why: To explore the country's beaches, history and nightlife.
When: Anytime August-November for 10-15 days
Budget: $1,000 to $1,500, excluding airfare
"Israel has been at the top of my travel to-do list for many years. I've traveled to dozens of other countries. This year, I am determined to make this long-dreamed-of trip come to fruition. I would be very interested in driving the country from one end to the other."
Israel is home to long stretches of sea beaches; a vibrant club and bar scene, especially in Tel Aviv; and history that goes back thousands of years. The country is also rather small and fairly easy to navigate, so Sara Young and her boyfriend, Dan Bichanich, should be able to satisfy their interest in beaches, history and night life and cover lots of territory in less than two weeks.
But the couple's budget, after paying for a car and lodging, leaves very little for food and sightseeing. Even hostels, or at least clean, well-regarded hostels, aren't cheap, and entrance fees are the norm. The only good news is food, which is relatively inexpensive at open-air markets and via street vendors. To stick to $1,500, the only way to make it work is to keep the trip to 10 days. And another day or two may have to be sacrificed if Young and Bichanich want to visit lots of sites and eat a couple of decent meals.
October is a good month to go. The weather is still nice, prices are lower than in the summer high season, and the holidays of September, when many places close for extended periods, are over. (Tip: Whenever planning a trip to Israel, remember that many establishments, and even public transportation in many cities, shut down for the Sabbath from Friday afternoon until Saturday evening).
Days 1-2. The couple's trip will most likely begin in Tel Aviv, where most flights land.
For most tourists, renting a car wouldn't make sense, especially in the larger cities, as Israel has a comprehensive train (http://www.rail.co.il/en) and bus system (http://www.egged.co.il/Eng). But parking is free at Eden House (http://www.edenhousetlv.com), a hostel in Tel Aviv's Kerem Hatemanim neighborhood, so it's easier to just pick up a car at the airport, park it and then use buses to get around the city. Eldan (http://www.eldan.co.il/en), Israel's largest car rental company, has economy cars for about $265 for a nine-night itinerary.
Eden House is a five-minute walk from the beach and has private rooms for $80 a night. It's close to Carmel Market, the city's largest outdoor market, and to bars and clubs on Allenby, Dizengoff and Lilienblum streets. Tel Aviv wakes up at about 11 p.m., and the nightclub scene ranges from wild dance parties to wine bars. Check out Abraxas on Lilienblum Street or Barzilay Club on Harechev Street.
Take a few hours during the day to walk around Old Jaffa, to visit the contemporary Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and/or take a walking tour of the city's architecture. Info: http://www.visit-tlv.com.
Days 3-4. Head north up the coast. Along the way, stop at the antiquities park at Caesarea (http://www.caesarea.com), which includes ruins built by Herod the Great in the 1st century B.C., and take a dip at Aqueduct Beach.
Distances are close, so it's easy to stay in one place and visit Haifa, Akko (also known as Acre), Nazareth and other smaller villages. Two beds in a dorm room at the Sea of Galilee Guest House (http://www.seaofgalileeguesthouse.com) in Moshav Almagor will cost about $55 a night, while a private double room will run about $120.
Explore the Druze village of Daliat el-Carmel, with its delicious ethnic foods. In Haifa (http://www.tour-haifa.co.il/eng), view the gardens and shrine at the Baha'i World Centre and walk the beachfront promenades. Akko, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has buildings built by Crusaders in the 12th and 13th centuries. Nazareth's sites (http://www.nazarethinfo.org) include the Basilica of the Annunciation. Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee offers nice beaches and the nearby Hammat Tiberias National Park. (Tip: Israel has a very extensive tourism Web site at http://www.goisrael.com).
Days 5-6. Jerusalem, about 110 miles south of Tiberias, is the place to get your history fix. The conveniently located Beit Ben Yehuda Guest House (http://www.beit-ben-yehuda.org) has double rooms for about $74 a night, including free parking.
A description of Jerusalem's sites would take pages: Spend some time on http://tour.jerusalem.muni.il before coming up with a final list of must-dos. Get an overview with a bus tour that allows passengers to get off and on; cost is about $21 per person. Within the Old City, the Western Wall, Temple Mount, al-Aqsa mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are highlights. In the new city, visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Day 7. Head about an hour south to the Judean desert and the Dead Sea. Splurge with an overnight stay at Belfer's Dead Sea Cabins ($110 a night for two), or pay $78 for a bungalow at Shkedi's Camplodge, both in the desert about 20 minutes from the Dead Sea, and bookable through many third-party booking sites. Hike the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve or float in the salty waters of the Dead Sea at Ein Gedi Beach.
Days 8-9. Last stop is Eilat, a resort town at the southernmost tip of Israel on the Red Sea about 136 miles from Ein Gedi. Accommodations are expensive, but $100-per-night rooms at the nicely secluded Cactus Bed and Breakfast (http://www.cactuseilat.com) also include breakfast. Eilat is known for it snorkeling, diving and beaches. Coral Beach Nature Reserve is a good place for beginning snorkelers. Dolphin Reef Beach has free-swimming dolphins; entrance fee is $17. Day tours to the historic city of Petra in Jordan can be arranged from Eilat, but they'll cost upwards of $100 per person. Info: http://www.explore-eilat.com.
Day 10. Make the five-hour drive back to Tel Aviv.
Total Cost: Car rental, gas and accommodations will run about $1,100, leaving a meager $400 for meals and sightseeing.
Interested in having us help plan your trip? Go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/goingourway.