12 Reasons to make Israel and Palestine your next travel destination

Overlooking Jerusalem. Photo by Jesse Pottinger

At approximately 20,770 square kilometres, Israel is just two-thirds the size of Vancouver Island, yet this tiny Middle Eastern nation is packed with an incredible variety of things to see and do. You could be diving in Eilat’s Red Sea one afternoon and sipping local craft beer at a Jerusalem market that same evening or taking in the sunrise from atop the ancient fortress of Masada and sitting beachside in Jaffa in time for sunset. But despite all that the country has to offer, it remains mostly under the radar for tourists from around the world.  Here’s 12 of the many reasons why more people need to visit this Asian oasis, and why you should consider Israel and Palestine as your next travel destination.

The Red Sea – Eilat

At Israel’s southernmost point is the city of Eilat, which connects to one of the northernmost points of the Red Sea. You may be familiar with this famed body of water from its biblical context, when Moses parted the waves allowing the Israelites to safely cross. In the present day, the Red Sea is a popular destination for its beaches, and because it offers some of the best diving in the world. Divers can expect to see a multitude of groupers swimming among the reefs, as well as octopus, turtles, scorpionfish, lionfish, sea snakes, parrotfish, dolphins and hundreds of other marine species. If you are exceptionally lucky, you might even glimpse a whale shark – the oceanic equivalent of spotting a unicorn. And for anyone who is not a certified diver, some of the most spectacular underwater sites in the Red Sea are just a short swim off shore and require only a snorkel and a pair of goggles.


The Dead Sea. Photo by Jesse Pottinger

The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is about 430 metres below sea level, making it the lowest point on earth. While daring adventurers trek to the top of Mount Everest, enduring extreme weather and frostbite to reach the world’s peak, you could be here, in your bathing suit, exfoliating in the magnesium and potassium rich salt water of nature’s spa, at the geographical antithesis of Everest. It’s hard to describe the feeling of floating in the Dead Sea, which is made up of 33.7 per cent salt. Imagine sitting in a bathtub with a rubber ducky and trying to make it float with its tail to the ground and beak in the air. It will inevitably flip horizontally every time. That is your body in the Dead Sea. Take every precaution to avoid letting the water in your eyes. It burns.


Lockers at the Overstay Hostel in Tel Aviv. Photo by Jesse Pottinger

Overstay Hostel – Tel Aviv

This place is called the Overstay for good reason. Once you enter, you will never want to leave. Nestled between Old Jaffa and Florentine neighbourhoods, the Overstay is everything that a hostel should be: Exceptionally friendly staff, rooftop bar and lounge, outdoor garden and walls lined with incredible works of art. They offer daily tours throughout Israel and Palestine, and even into neighbouring Egypt and Jordan, at competitive rates. If they are all booked up, don’t lose hope. You can rent a tent and sleep comfortably on the rooftop.

The fortress of Masada overlooking the Dead Sea. Photo by Jesse Pottinger


Masada is a UNESCO world heritage site that overlooks the Dead Sea in Southern Israel’s Judean Desert. It was build by the Judean King, Herod the Great, between 37 and 31 BCE as a fortress and palace complex for Jewish patriots who refused to bow to the Roman Empire that overtook the region. With much of its architecture still intact, it is regarded as an important archaeological site and holds great historical and symbolic significance among Jewish people. Today, it remains virtually unchanged from how it would have appeared over 13 centuries ago. The trek to Masada’s peak is short, but steep and daunting. For those who would prefer not to hike up the enormous plateau with the desert sun beating down, there is a cable car to ease the ascent.

Insanity of the Jaffa Flea Market. Photo by Jesse Pottinger


Jaffa is a small coastal city out of which the metropolis of Tel Aviv has expanded, and it is among the oldest ports in the world. Jaffa’s coastline offers incredible views of the Mediterranean Sea, and as you move inward, the city is lined with a network of narrow streets and alleyways packed with unique shops and cafes. The Jaffa Flea Market is a must-see for anyone visiting the area. Countless shops and street vendors display everything from old knickknacks, to tools, to textiles, in a haphazard patchwork of goods scattered along the ground and walls of several city blocks. A visit to Jaffa would not be complete without sampling the region’s prize fruit – Jaffa oranges. Fresh-squeezed orange juice vendors can be found throughout Old Jaffa. Once you try it, you’ll know what all the hype is about.

Within the walls of Old Jerusalem. Photo by Jesse Pottinger

The Old City of Jerusalem

The ancient city of Jerusalem is among the oldest consistently inhabited places on earth, dating back to 3000 BCE. Within its walls, the Old City occupies just 0.9 square kilometres in area, but contains four quarters – the Jewish quarter, Muslim quarter, Christian quarter and Armenian quarter – that each hold their own distinct cultural and historical significance. Whether or not this place is of any religious importance to you, it would be hard to stroll through the labyrinth of streets without being moved by the thousands of years of history that have unfolded here. There are numerous points of interest worthy of exploration, including the Western Wall, Temple Mount and Holy Seplucher, but simply getting lost in the maze of narrow roads is enough to inspire awe. For a small fee, you can also walk the circumference of the Old City from the top of the surrounding wall.

A hummus lunch in Old Jerusalem’s Muslim quarter. Photo by Jesse Pottinger


Hummus, not to be confused with Hamas – the Gaza Strip’s Islamic fundamentalist organization, is a blend of mashed chickpeas, olive oil, salt, lemon juice, tahini and garlic. It’s so simple, yet so delicious. The first time you bite into a piece of hummus-covered pita bread, don’t be surprised if you feel a single tear roll down your cheek. Hummus in the Middle East cannot be compared to the stuff you buy at your local Costco. The origins of this dish remain a hot-button topic between Israelis and Palestinians, though there is no doubt that it existed long before the state of Israel. Perhaps God himself mashed the first chickpeas, reached down from heaven and graced us with this glorious dip. You could probably go to Jerusalem, do literally nothing but eat hummus, and still leave feeling like you had a deeply spiritual experience in the religious capital of the world. It’s that good.

The Palestinian city of Nablus. Photo by Tariq Azeez


Situated between Gerizim and Ebal mountains, the picturesque city of Nablus is considered both the economic and cultural capital of the West Bank. The Old City contains an Orthodox Church and Samaritan synagogue in addition to 11 mosques and 17 Islamic monuments. Within the Orthodox Church lies Jacob’s Well, a place of significance for Jews, Christians, Muslims and Samaritans alike, where it is said that Jesus was offered a drink from a Samaritan woman, as recorded in John 4:5 of the New Testament. Nablus is also believed to be the birthplace of soap, and the same formula that has existed for centuries is still used in the city today. A visit to the Albader Soap Factory will give you a firsthand look at this ancient process, which uses local virgin olive oil and goats milk.

2017 Tel Aviv Pride Parade. Photo by U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv Pride Parade

You may be surprised to learn that Tel Aviv is host to an annual Pride Parade that is considered one of the largest in the world. Even as a Vancouverite, the weeklong pride festivities, which include a Pride Expo, LGBT Film Festival, LGBT Theatre Festival and Pride Parade, will undoubtedly leave an impression. The 2017 celebration gathered over 200,000 attendees, and was the first Pride event in the world to focus on the theme of “Bisexual Visibility.” It is no wonder Tel Aviv is widely considered one of the most liberal and most gay-friendly cities in the world.

A Na Nach in Jerusalem. Photo by Dan Soley

The Na Nachs

Na Nachs are a sect of Orthodox Jewish Israelis who follow the teachings of Rabbi Nachman, an 18th century Ukranian Rabbi who believed that the best way to worship God was by being happy and spreading joy. It is not uncommon to see his followers blasting techno music and dancing furiously from rooftops and through the streets of Israel in a unified effort to lift the spirits of those around them. And really, what better way is there to liven spirits than exposing people to some jovial public dancing?

Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem


This small town in the West Bank was the birthplace of both Jesus and King David, making it an important site for both Christians and Jews. It is also home to the Middle East’s largest Arab Christian community. The most popular destination in the city is, by far, the Church of the Nativity, one of the oldest churches in the world, the place where Mary gave birth to Jesus, and the inspiration for the nativity scene so commonly seen around Christmas time.

A bottle of Tubi 60. Photo by Jesse Pottinger

Tubi 60

This mysterious liquor is a fairly new addition to the hardbar selection in Israel, but since its creation in 2012 in the northern city of Haifa, it has exploded in popularity throughout the country. Tubi 60 contains 40 per cent alcohol, and is sold exclusively in Israel. The bottle ambiguously describes its murky contents as a combination of alcohol, lemon juice and spices, and its flavor – an unusual fusion of citrus and ginger – is unparalleled among other spirits. Tubi’s popularity, in part, lies in the fact that in addition to the intoxicating effect of the alcohol, it is said to act as a euphoria-inducing stimulant, helping to keep the party going well into the morning hours. This unusual side effect has prompted unsubstantiated claims that it may contain khat, a plant native to the region that causes amphetamine-like stimulation.

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