I have backpacked for years, always trying to make the best use of public transportation, flights, and tours. As a solo traveler, I never really thought to rent a car because it was quite expensive for solo travel and not easy to navigate. When researching Israel, I found that public transportation wasn’t super frequent and getting to some of the national parks was very difficult without a car or an expensive tour so we decided to get a rental car for a few days. After much research, we decided to rent a car with the Israeli company Eldan rather than use one of the American and European rental car companies, that seemed to have more bad reviews for charges for damages.
We hauled our backpacks by foot to an Eldan office west of the outer wall of Jerusalem arriving a half hour after opening time only to find we were the only ones in line. The check out process and getting the keys was an easy process but finding the car was more difficult. There was very poor signage but eventually we found the Eldan cars stored on the bottom floor of an underground car park about a block away. We pulled out onto the streets and quickly got on the main road heading east towards the Dead Sea.
With the car, we visited many amazing places:
At Qumran national park, you can see the area where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered.
At Ein Gedi, you can join loads of vacationing Birthright Americans, and swim in a refreshing waterfall with views of the Dead Sea.
Many of the beaches in Israel have been closed due to deadly sinkholes. The high salt levels cause unstable ground. Thus, there are very few places where people can access the Dead Sea, especially without paying for spa services. In Ein Bokek town, you can access the Dead Sea for free (excluding some small parking fees if you’ve brought your own car.) Floating in the dead sea is an otherworldly experience. It’s impossible to stand at any depth – the bouyancy forces you to float. While I’m glad I went for a float, I can’t say it was an enjoyable experience. Any tiny cut in your skin, from shaved legs to a hangnail sting link crazy. There’s also the fear of accidently turning over to your front and drowning. Even though you can do nothing but float, people drown in the Dead Sea every year.
Just south of Ein Bokek is a great place to access salt encrusted jetties. The striking colors of the white salt and the blue sky and the turquoise sea are amazing.
A drive up the hill to our hostel for the next two nights in Arad rewarded us with some amazing views.
Driving south from Arad, we stopped at Ein Advat national park – a national park where there were many Ibex deer. From the northern parking lot, it’s well worth doing the hike into the canyon.
Driving farther south, you can visit the small but well preserved Advat caravanserai ruins at the top of a hill.
Even farther south is the enormous crater called Miptze Ramon. There’s unlimited hiking but we didn’t have much time on this trip as we had to get back to Arad that night.
From Arad it is possible to take the desert road to the back side of Masada. From here, you can easily hike the Roman Ramp to the Masada ruins for sunrise above the Dead Sea. This is a great alternative to the cable car or 1 hour much more difficult hike on the snake path on the east side of the park. Masada is a fascinating place. You must visit the palace, the cistern, and enjoy the 360 degree views from the various sides of the village.
Leaving Masada, we saw Bedouins herding camels on the road back towards Arad.
Caesarea had a striking location near the Mediterranean Sea, but I was underwhelmed by the site itself.
We spent the night at a hostel in the only Arab town on the Med Sea called Jisr al Zarqa. We stayed in the middle of town and took a short walk out to the shell strewn beach for an amazing sunset.
The center of the town of Haifa was a bit confusing due to poor signage but eventually we found a free parking spot at the town’s information office. From there we hiked up the stairs to visit the most famous place of worship for the Ba’hai faith.
Less than an hour further north takes you to Acre, or Akko town. It’s a walled city with many historical sites. The sites are quite restored with high-tech displays but I enjoyed walking thru the cool temperatured crusader tunnels. I also liked walking the back alleys and watching locals.
Driving farther north along the Med Sea takes you to the closed Lebanese border. Usually border towns are ugly, dirty places that you want to get out as soon as you arrive, but this place was different. Here you can take a steep cable car to the amazing blue grotto called Rosh Hanikra.
Just a few miles south from Rosh Hanikra was the Akhziv national park & beach for an amazing sunset and then a 2 minute drive to our Kibbutz house for the night (booked on Airbnb).
As it was Friday, and tonight and tomorrow was Shabbat, we had quite a few miles to cover to get our rental car back by noon in Tiberias so we left pretty early. We stopped in the very Jewish and holy town of Tsfat. The prior day had been a holiday so unfortunately the synagogues didn’t open for visitors on this Friday morning.
Making our way out of Tsfat was confusing but eventually we made our way to Tiberias, with about half an hour to spare.
A thus ended our 5-day Israeli Road Trip. This made me realize car rental is an effective method to get around and can be cost effective at the same time. With the car we had the flexibility to stop where and when we wanted. We got to some spots off the tourist trail and got to stay in some places that would be nearly impossible without a car. I’m amazed more tourists don’t use rental cars in Israel. At any visitor site in Israel, the ratio of cars to tour buses was 1:1. We met some bus tourists from Kansas and they were awed and amazed how adventurous we were to road trip across Israel.