This past spring we went on an epic trip to Israel and Jordan and we want to share with you exactly what we did…so you can do the same (or learn from our mistakes and make your trip even better)! It all started out because we found some cheap direct flights to Tel Aviv, a city that has been on our list for awhile. Then when we started planning, we knew that we couldn’t be that close to Petra and Wadi Rum in Jordan and not cross that off our bucket list too.
We figured it might be complicated to cross the border into Jordan, so we started looking at tours…and wow were they pricey! We would have needed a private tour since we were going with our three kids and since Israel is already a pretty expensive place, adding on one of these tours would really have added up to much more than we wanted to spend. So we decided to do a little research and DIY the trip and it was so much easier than we expected. Here’s what we did:
10 days in Israel and Jordan
Day 1-5 Tel Aviv
- Stay– We stayed at the Carmel Market Apartments and we were really happy with the place. Not sponsored, just a great location, super helpful hosts, and nice space.
- What to Do- Hit the Beach! The beaches are awesome in Tel Aviv, better than we even imagined. The beach strip is 14 km long and made up of 13 official beaches, each with its own vibe. Our favorites with kids were Frishman Beach and Hilton Beach because of their shallow waters, but they all have snack bars, public restrooms with showers, and playgrounds. So good! Also don’t miss the Old Town of Jaffa. It’s definitely worth spending a morning (before it gets too hot) strolling through this beautiful part of the city.
- Eat- Tel Aviv has some seriously good eats. Our favorite thing to do was stroll through the Carmel Market and pick up odds and ends for meals back at our apartment. We also were obsessed with the little hummus shop just around the corner. Hummus here is a casual affair…you shouldn’t eat it at a restaurant, but instead at one of these little hummus stands all over the city. The menus are full of nothing but different kinds of hummus. You stop by and share one with a friend and don’t be confused like we were with the onion and green sauce! Onion is to dip in the hummus (they go together like champagne and strawberries according to one local we talked with!) and the green sauce is a spicy sauce to add to the hummus if you want a little kick.
- We liked Bezzo pizza for a quick meal after the beach and we had the best Shakshuka and Israeli breakfast at Bucke. We also heard good things about the Old Man and the Sea in Jaffa. The food there looked delicious and atmosphere is nice too. Tel Aviv is a foodie paradise…so much food and not enough time! The one down side is that food and drinks especially are pricey. We felt like we hadn’t left Switzerland at times when we would get the bill and we definitely weren’t expecting that. It’s nice if you have a self-catering place so you can fix yourselves a meal or two and save some shekels!
- Take a Tour- We definitely recommend that you spend a day or two taking a tour from Tel Aviv. Jerusalem is a can’t miss spot and we had a good experience when we were hosted by Abraham Tours. You can read about it here. We’d also recommend a bespoke tour with Puzzle Israel who partnered with us on an off the beaten path tour of the North of Israel. Their food tours in Tel Aviv also look great or talk with them about creating something unique for you and your family!
Day 6- Masada, Dead Sea, Eilat
On day 5, we checked out of our apartment and picked up a rental car in the city (conveniently walking distance from our apartment) then drove about 2 hours from Tel Aviv to Masada. We took the cable car up and walked around a bit but it was blazing hot so we didn’t stay too long. Learning about the tragic history of this place was fascinating though. Masada is right next to the Dead Sea, so it’s easy to pair it up with a stop there. Ein Bokek is the only free beach on the Dead Sea but note that the beaches on the south side, including this one, don’t have the mud to slather yourself in. There are changing stalls and showers at the public beach and lots of shady areas and the water is easily accessible, unlike the beaches on the north side. Just note with young children bathing in the Dead Sea might not be the best. Any splashing or rubbing eyes will be very painful because the water is so salty. Also if you have any skin abrasions (ladies don’t shave that day!), it will burn. Our 8 year old loved the experience but our 5 year old had a small patch of eczema behind his knee that made it too painful to stay in. Luckily the showers are close so you can quickly rinse off if you need to!
After the Dead Sea, we drove another two hours to Eilat where we stayed at a self-catering apartment for the next two nights. To be totally honest, we didn’t love Eilat. It is Israel’s original resort town and it definitely feels like it had it’s heydey in the 70’s. It’s all a bit tired and touristy looking. It’s also very expensive! What we did love were the views of the sea with the mountains of Jordan behind it and the snorkeling. Read on to find out what we would have done differently if we did it over!
Day 7- Snorkeling in the Red Sea
We’ve always heard about the snorkeling in the Red Sea and it was really worth our short stay in Eilat just to experience it. We went to Eilat Coral Beach Nature Reserve because you could snorkel right off the shore. Admission is 35 shekels for adults and 21 shekels for kids. You can also rent snorkels there if needed. It was easy with two kids and a baby and there were lots of colorful fish, but there are also lots of tour options if you want to go further out. We also read good things about the aquarium in Eilat but didn’t make it there since we spent most of the day snorkeling.
Day 8- Wadi Rum, Jordan
On this day we woke up early and got to the Yitzak Rabin border crossing around 8 am. You can’t take your rental car across the border, but there is a big parking lot where you can leave your car. We had read about long lines and anticipated it might be complicated, but it’s really a well organized process. There were no lines and it all went quite quickly with no issues.
The most complicated is all the fees so here is what you need to know before you go:
- You pay an exit fee of 101 shekels when you leave Israel. This can be paid by cash or credit card. Then what’s most important to note is that the cost of the visa into Jordan will depend on how long you stay. When you enter Jordan, you show your passport and if you stay at least one night or more you get a form that gives you a discount for Petra. You then proceed through with your forms and only pay when you exit the country.
- If you stay one night you pay 40 JOD per person for a visa and a 10 JOD exit fee per person. If you leave via the same border crossing and stay two nights then you only have to pay the 10 JOD exit fee per passport. The fees also have to be paid in cash. They can change USD to JOD if needed, but it’s not a very favorable exchange rate FYI! If you leave via the same border crossing and stay 3 nights or more then you don’t have to pay the visa or exit fees. So clearly the best deal is to stay 3 nights, especially if you are a family since the kids pay full price for visas and exit fees.
- We had read that we should arrange our transfer in advance from the border crossing as there is a bit of a “taxi mafia” situation apparently on the Jordanian side of the border. Most hotels in the area will be happy to arrange your transfer, so this is what we did. We stayed at Petra Moon Hotel and they arranged a private transfer for us from the border to the hotel and back along with 2 hour jeep tour at Wadi Rum for 220 JOD. We then only had to pay a 5 JOD per adult entrance fee to Wadi Rum.
Wadi Rum was amazing and if we didn’t have an infant, we would have loved to spend a bit longer and stay overnight in a bedouin camp here. With the baby though, the two hour tour was perfect and the boys even had the chance to ride a camel (which p.s. is a negotiable fee!). After Wadi Rum we were driven back to our hotel where we spent the afternoon in the pool and had a delicious buffet dinner. We highly recommend the Petra Moon Hotel in Wadi Musa. It’s just across the street from the gates to Petra, the staff are super friendly, delicious buffet breakfast, free minibar snacks, and welcome tea on their lovely rooftop. It was a total win in our book.
Day 9- Petra
We didn’t hire a guide to show us around Petra although I’m sure you would learn a lot if you did! We personally wanted to go at our own pace and were happy with our decision. The highlight for us was the Monastery which requires a hike all the way to the end and up. It’s a long haul but totally worth it. It’s possible to ride a donkey up the trail, but I’ve heard that it can be scary for the kids as it’s a fairly steep trek up. Our boys hiked it and were total troopers. There are lots of guides out there to read up on Petra and it is even more amazing than you can imagine! If you stay at least one night in Jordan, the entry is 50 JD and kids under 12 are free. If you come to Petra only for the day and don’t stay overnight then the entrance fee is 90 JD.
We were at Petra from about 8 am to 3:00 pm and were transported back to the border at Eilat right after from our previously arranged transfer service. We were all completely worn out after a hot and sweaty day of hiking, so we had a very low key night back in Eilat. We stayed at the cheapest hotel we could find since we were only there to sleep and had an early flight out the next morning.
Day 10- Flight from Eilat to Tel Aviv in the early morning. Afternoon flight from Tel Aviv home!
If we had to do it over again we would stick with the first part of the trip in Tel Aviv, but then instead of staying in Eilat we would cross the border and stay in Aqaba. The benefits of staying there are that there are nice hotels for much cheaper prices than in Eilat. You would also save the visa fees if you stay 3 nights or more in Jordan, so you save even more money this way. We would either hire a car or a driver depending on what worked out to be cheapest to get from Tel Aviv to Eilat. There is also a shuttle bus and there are multiple daily flights going there if you aren’t set on seeing Masada and the Dead Sea. If you skip the Dead Sea in Israel you can see it instead in Jordan. We would rent a car in Aqaba and also invest in the Jordan Pass as it’s another way to save money on entrance fees if you’re going to be in Jordan for a few days. It’s also worth looking into a multi-city flight to fly to Tel Aviv and home from Aqaba. (And if you happen to be reading this from Geneva, EasyJet has just opened up a direct route to Aqaba so it’s ideal!)
So live and learn! In hindsight, we could have definitely saved even more money on this trip but I’m glad we at least did it ourselves instead of doing an expensive private tour. Hopefully these tips will help you DIY a trip to Israel and Jordan and save some $$$ at the same time!