Offbeat destinations in Israel

Masada fortress

Israel is one of the most diversified spots on earth. Desert fortifications, weird waters of the Dead Sea or hills made of salt say it all for nature lovers. For those traveling to rub shoulders with locals, instead, deep glimpses into Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, as well as unexplored ethnic minorities and utopian settlements, will blend into a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Finally, the Middle Eastern cuisine combined with exceptional hospitality is one more reason to put Israel on your bucket list, and even plant-based travelers are not going to miss out on local delicacies. Going around? Whether you decide to rent a car, use public transport, sheruts (shared taxis) or hitchhike, you’re going to reach your destination with no trouble.     

Akhzivland – Anarchy inside Israel

Usually referred to as the most peaceful nation of the Middle East and an anarchic-hippy retreat, this micronation founded by a sailor, Eli Avivi, is a proof that an absolute freedom exist and you don’t need to put up with your government if you don’t want to. Although initially charged with a crime of “Creation of a Country Without Permission,” Eli was eventually granted a 99 years’ lease of the land after everybody had realized such a crime did not exist. The First Couple offers a chat, accommodation and a museum of eccentricities collected from all over the world during Eli’s life as a sailor. (Eli’s current condition makes communication with him rather difficult; however Rina, his wife, will be there to chime you with their jaw-dropping tales.) You can read my coverage and interview with Rina here: Country in Israel: What happened with Akhzivland? (Tribute to Rina)

Akhzivland

Amirim – Vegetarian dream

The village was set up back in the 50s with the aim of promoting plant-based, peaceful and inspiring life. Although some residents sneak some meat into the village, you’re not able to buy any animal products from the local store. However, the menus at Amirim’s eateries run both vegan and milk-based options. Friday is the best day to show up, as the local ‘Roman’ theater with a marvelous view over the Sea of Galilee hosts atmospheric concerts. This is also a good chance to meet the extraordinarily hospitable locals and try some couchsurfing. Many of the villagers are activists and artists, hence the initial impression of sluggishness couldn’t be more misleading.

vegetarian community

Majdal Shams – Peaceful bite of Syria

Majdal Shams is home to a Druze community north of the Golan Heights. Since the Six-Day War in 1967, the village has been under Israeli control. The Druze people are famous for their non-violence attitudes and unspeakable kindness. Hence, be prepared for a flood of smiles, invites, liters of coffee and any other acts of sheer altruism. The town’s most peculiar attraction is the Shouting Hill, featured in the award-winning 2004 movie “The Syrian Bride.” Druze families separated by the Israeli-Syrian conflict used to communicate with relatives and friends through megaphones assembled on opposite sides of a UN-controlled ravine.

Druze Community, Syria

Mount Sodom

Right next to the southwestern part of the Dead Sea, there is an ever-growing hill made almost entirely of salt. The 720 ft mount, crowned by polished limestone, has been sitting in the Judean Desert for hundreds of thousands of years, getting measurably taller and taller every year. If you’re familiar with the eerie biblical account of ‘“Lot’s wife,” one of the pillars separated is believed to be the wife herself punished for looking back at Sodom and Gomorrah being torn into pieces by God’s rage. The evocative hike requires a hat, sunblock and a few liters’ supply of water per person. Although the hill is not very high, it’s five miles long and three miles wide with little chance for shade.

Masada – Palace on the desert

One of the most ruthless and despised rulers in history, Herod the Great suffered from megalomania which left us with breathtaking examples of Roman architecture. His desert fortresses are usually perched on isolated sand-yellow rocks, such as the one in Masada which tells a chilling story of certain heroic mass suicide (you’re going to learn about it in the reminiscent setting of the isolated fortress). The fortification is very high and can be reached on foot following a winding “snake path” or by aerial tram. A hat and sunscreen are obligatory, while potable water stations are available all over the site.  

The Dead Sea – Walking on water

The Dead Sea – sharing its banks among Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan – is a 997 ft deep lake, which makes it the lowest point on dry land. However, its most thrilling uniqueness lies in the hypersaline water: the level of saltiness is so high that a person can float on the surface without the slightest effort or risk of drowning. Another attraction is the reservoir’s mineral-rich black mud widely used in organic cosmetics production as well as for therapeutic treatments at nearby resorts. (The extensive exploitation has caused so much damage that the Dead Sea is gradually… dying.) Two words of warning: (1) do not shave on the same day, or you’re going to get what “to rub salt into the wound” means literally. (2) Swallowing the water is very dangerous and needs immediate medical assistance.

Dead Sea, Israel

Mea Shearim – A rare glimpse into ultra-Orthodox neighborhood

The fact that it’s one of the oldest and most tourist-unfriendly Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem should already sound intriguing to any intrepid traveler. The residents – all dressed up in their traditional finest – make up a strictly Orthodox Jewish community that frowns at any intruder. What’s more, outrageous conduct such as bare legs, shoulders or shorter-than-maxi skirt may provoke an aggressive response. Speaking to or even walking on the same side as the opposite-sex is unthinkable. However, as long as you wrap yourself properly, don’t drive, smoke or use any mobile devices on Shabbat, you should be rewarded, safe and sound, with a truly unique experience.

Ultra Orthodox comunity

The Bahá’í Gardens – The eighth world wonder

The strictly monitored religious complex in Haifa looks like an actual projection of heaven: divine grandeur, equilibrium, and peace. And this is what Bahá’í faith appears to be about: whether it was Mohammed, Buddha, Jesus or any other prophet, the dogma states they were all legit and just right for the times and cultures they occurred in. Despite this highly nonpartisan stand, Bahá’í followers have endured massive persecutions. Another curiosity is that, despite being located in one of the biggest cities of Israel, it’s the Israeli citizens who are not allowed in and, surprisingly, everyone thinks it’s fair. (Before you go: check out the changing opening hours and dress modestly).

Bahai Shrine, Haifa

Palestine –  A day trip abroad

The Occupied Palestinian Territories is an area featuring nearly 50 years’ of military occupation, apart from stunning architecture and Banksy’s famous murals. It’s an absolute must for a complete tour around Israel as the conflict has been having a huge impact on both countries. Main cities are well connected by public transport, including the Jerusalem – Bethlehem route. (There’s only one car rental company in Jerusalem that covers insurance on both territories.) Although generally safe for tourists, political situation is unstable and travelers should stay clear of any possible unrest and, preferably, ask one of the locals to show them around: not only for safety reasons – Palestinian hospitality and kindness are second to none, and the citizens are always willing to share everything from a meal, history to personal experiences. As a hint, you might want to hear Hamdan’s personal story and read a detailed, local-coworked advice on travel around Palestine: Palestinian territories: Travel safety and etiquette.)  

Palestine

Note: The article originally appeared on Matador Network
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19 Responses

  1. Wow I had never heard of Akhzivland before and it sounds crazy! Israel is at the time of my bucket list because I think it would be incredible to see all the Biblical references in real life, thousands of years later. I wish it was easier to go to the Middle East from USA.

  2. nicole says:

    So much useful information, thank you for sharing your experience! I myself have had a negative connotation on visiting here, but you are definitely making me rethink that…and the dead sea is totally on my bucket list! I need to go here!

    • Hi, Nicole! I’m glad I’ve caused some second thoughts, hahaha 🙂 You shouldn’t, definitely. People are both wonderful and jerks, just like everywhere, but those who are wonderful are the essence of wonderfulness 🙂

  3. I’d really love to see the dead and to eat in this vegan place !!
    It sounds really cool, hopefully one day 😀

  4. This is so interesting, I didn’t know much about Israel as if I’m honest it isn’t somewhere I’d thought of visiting, but it’s great to see there is such a varied and interesting selection of things to see and do

  5. Oh this is thrilling. I’m desperate to visit Israel and stoked to hear vegan food isn’t hard to find. I adore Middle Eastern food and I’m constantly told the falafel there is out of this world. Of course the dead sea is something everyone should experience too.

    • Falafel rules, absolutely 🙂 The only thing is I don’t like it in Europe anymore 🙂 When you’re there, try it from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian place as they all have different secrets to make them unique!

  6. Joanna says:

    I’ve always wanted to go to Israel and this post is really making me want to make plans ASAP. Great pictures and great post.

  7. Hannah says:

    Love this post because Israel and the middle east is on my radar for later this year! So much history there- I’m pretty excited! Plus I’ve only heard good things.

  8. Ugh Isreal, more like IS IT REALLL?? These pictures are awesome. I have been literally dying to go visit the Dead Sea for quite sometime now. I hate that there are so many amazing sites to see and so little time! I will definitely be saving this for when I do make my way on that side of the world!

  9. Natasha says:

    Masada and the Dead Sea are the only places I’d heard of on this list – some awesome suggestions here, really interesting!!

  10. Lena says:

    Wow, this is a nice compilation! Was so interesting to read about a meat-less community. It’s like something from futuristic sifi movie 😀 I’ll bookmark the page for my planned trip to Isreal!

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