9 Things Tourists Should Avoid in Israel This Summer

Masada, Eilat, the jellyfish-infested Mediterranean and the entire Negev Desert: Here are the sites you really mustn’t visit in July or August

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Israel has gorgeous coastal areas...such as this one at Rosh Hanikra, but in summer, one has issues of crowding swimmers into tiny areas, and our friend the jellyfish
Israel has gorgeous coastal areas...such as this one at Rosh Hanikra, but in summer, one has issues of crowding swimmers into tiny areas, and our friend the jellyfishCredit: Moshe Gilad
Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan

Summertime and the living is queasy, as Ella Fitzgerald would doubtless have sang if she stayed in downtown Tel Aviv in August.

Many Israelis hightail it out of the country, or at least run for the hills, in the summer months – and for good reason. The heat, humidity, and influx of tourists and pests (the two are mutually exclusive) make parts of the country unpleasant and, much like a sleepover arranged by Bill Cosby, best avoided.

But if you are planning to visit Israel this summer, here are some things you should save for a rainy day in the fall, winter or spring.

1. Beit She'an National Park

MosquitoCredit: Dreamstime

This site in northern Israel is home to a brilliant archaeological park, with ruins dating back to Roman times. Alas, despite its Hebrew name ("House of Tranquility"), there is very little respite here in the summer months as Beit She'an becomes a gathering point for the country's mosquitoes. (If you listen carefully, you may even be able to hear them chanting "Don’t drain the swamp!")

Beit She'an Archaeological ParkCredit: Yaron Kaminsky

And that's not all: In any "Hot or Not" poll, the She'an Valley is off-the-charts hot. It was here, at Tirat Zvi kibbutz in June 1942, that the mercury hit 54 Celsius (129 degrees Fahrenheit) – which remains a daytime record for the Asian continent. As the advertising posters don’t say, “Beit She'an: Come for the mosquitoes. Stay because your tires are stuck in the melted tarmac.”

2. The Mediterranean

Nomadica often swarms in summer and here is one on an Israeli beach. Credit: Itzik Ben Malki

Overlooking the minor fact that in the tiny zone allocated for swimming at Israel's beaches, you'll spend the whole time wondering if the lifeguard is screaming at you – tourists face a particularly annoying menace during the very months when a dip into the cool water suddenly becomes an attractive proposition: Never mind the floating plastic bags, there may also be jellyfish to fend off, and good luck spotting the difference from a few meters away.

The good news is that the jellyfish working their way up Israel's coastline in the summer months are not deadly. Think of their stings as a Katy Perry song: Sufficiently irritating that you never want to suffer them again.

Still, if you do get stung (and not just by the price of watermelon at the beachside cafés), don't bother applying vinegar or urine to the affected area. Neither method works – and anyone telling you otherwise is just taking the, well, you know. Palliative lotions may do the trick or, more reliably, you can grit your teeth and wait it out. The pain of common Nomadica jellyfish stings usually wears off within an hour, unlike your kids' whining.

A ride at Luna Park, Tel AvivCredit: David Bachar

3. Amusement parks

For a country so proudly high-tech, Israel's theme parks are anything but. My kids long ago renamed Superland in Rishon Letzion "Averageland," while the Luna Park in north Tel Aviv feels like a mom-and-pop operation where mom and pop long ago got an acrimonious divorce. Feel free to memorize the Hebrew for "Can I see the safety certificate for this ride?" ahead of your visit. (And because they are nothing if not consistent, my kids call this place "Six Rags.")

The water parks at Shefayim and Meymadion, both in central Israel, also feel like relics from another era: some of the slides look leakier than the Trump White House. But that doesn't stop them getting packed as Israeli kids seek sanctuary from the summer heat, leading to long lines (and the rare sight of Israelis queueing in an orderly fashion). Still, on the plus side, no jellyfish!

It can get crowded at Ben Gurion AirportCredit: Nir Keidar

4. Ben-Gurion International Airport

OK, given that 90 percent of visitors to Israel come through Tel Aviv's international airport, this one is pretty unavoidable. But it's not just BDS activists who should expect considerable delays here this summer. Ben-Gurion will be the site of the biggest Jewish exodus since Moses did his party trick with the Red Sea.

Some 23 million passengers are expected to use the airport in 2018, though you may feel they're all using it the same day you're flying. Take the advice of Burt Bacharach and make it easy on yourself by allowing plenty of time to navigate the long security lines. Those smug-looking people you see will be Israelis with biometric passports and the shortest queue times.

5. The Negev

All visitors to Israel need to spend a few days hiking in the Negev, but only camels should think about heading there in the summer. Just a few hours in the desert heat will have you conjuring up mirages of beautiful oases – which may actually be your best bet given the grimness of Be'er Sheva in July. The spendthrift Netanyahus like to relax in coastal, cushy Caesarea; the frugal Ben-Gurions liked to live in a shack in the desert town of Sde Boker. For once, you should trust the instincts of the current Israeli prime minister and his wife.

Do visit the Negev, but not in summerCredit: Moshe Gilad

Sure, going full Lawrence of Arabia and sleeping under the stars in Bedouin tents sounds tempting (so tempting, in fact, that a government official is probably planning to evict the Bedouin from them as I write). But it's far more enjoyable in the spring or fall. And the whole point of going to the desert is to find peace and tranquility, or to hear the wolves howl and the jackals bay – something you definitely won't get when busloads of young Birthrighters roll up, loudly searching for their misplaced Jewish roots.

The snake path up Masada; above it one can see the cable carCredit: Ofer Perlman

6. Masada

This hilltop fortress overlooking the Dead Sea entered Jewish mythology in the year 73 when its 960 Jewish zealots reportedly decided that a suicide pact was a better option than surrendering to the Romans (no doubt asking the question, "What have the Romans ever done for us?"). Truth be told, modern archaeology is not convinced that there was any major battle there at all between the ancient Romans and Jews. Still, any modern-day zealots feeling suicidal are invited to ascend to the top in the height of summer, using the path that snakes its way ever upward. It's a brutal experience and will produce levels of schvitzing rarely seen outside of a Chris Christie gym session.

Masada remains Israel's most popular paid tourist attraction, so if you do visit in the summer expect lengthy lines for the cable cars – which is also currently the only Israeli mode of transport free of road rage incidents.

7. Staying in Tel Aviv

Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv, the "White City"Credit: Alex Levac

Let's clear up a misconception: Tel Aviv is known as the White City because of its fine collection of Bauhaus buildings, not any racist policies. You’re probably thinking of Afula in northern Israel. Tel Aviv is also now unofficially known as “Airbnb City,” after its remarkable adoption of the sharing economy in recent years. Over half of all tourists visiting the city use the Airbnb or other home-sharing websites – way ahead of the global trend.

Lod: Why postcard sales are low.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Tel Aviv is so short of hotel space that the Tourism Ministry recently set up a program to encourage developers to convert office buildings into hotels. Permanently, of course, not just at night, because that would just be plain annoying for those working late in Accounts.

Meanwhile, the paucity of rooms makes Tel Aviv very expensive for tourists, especially in the peak seasons. Sadly, there are very few alternatives in the area: there's a very good reason postcard sales are so low for Ramle, Lod and Ramat Hasharon.

8. Jerusalem's Christian sites

You can't miss them – the large groups of Christian pilgrims traipsing through the Old City's quarters, religiously following a guide who is retracing Jesus' footsteps from two millennia ago: the Via Dolorosa; the Garden of Gethsemane; the stores offering a three-for-two deal on Jerusalem candles.

A worshipper carries a cross during a Good Friday procession through the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem's Old City March 25, 2016.Credit: Reuters
Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, JerusalemCredit: Ammar Awad, Reuters

It’s a miracle how the Old City manages to cram all these pilgrims in during the summer months, which may be why the Israeli government – which, much like God, moves in mysterious ways – recently decided to bar the 30,000 Indonesian Christians who visit yearly. Now we must all pray that the governments of Italy and Brazil offend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leading to further bans. Then the Old City might get some breathing space this summer.

9. Eilat

You know what would make Eilat the perfect tourist destination in the summer? No tourists. The hotel pools are overcrowded. The bars and cafés are overcrowded. The promenades are overcrowded. The beaches are overcrowded. Even the dolphins at the nearby reef start to get in your face after a while. And for this dubious privilege, you will pay top shekel.

And the Dead Sea resorts are no better, in case you were wondering. When the description of a place matches that of hell – it's boiling hot and reeks of sulfur – it's time to look elsewhere for your kicks.

Where should you go instead? Well, now wary of Turkey, Israelis increasingly swear by Cyprus and the Greek islands at this time of the year.

The Red Sea resort city of Eilat in the summerCredit: Tomer Appelbaum



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