I’ve experienced boring tours, tours with rude guides and tours that just aren’t all that organized. However, the “Jerusalem, Dead Sea, Bethlehem, & More Group Tour” has taken the cake as the worst tour I have ever done in my life. It was a complete disaster from start to finish.
This type of tour is meant for someone who has VERY limited time in Israel but still wants to try to see the highlights. (Hi, that’s me!) In order for a tour of this nature to go off without a hitch, it needs to be incredibly organized with experienced guides…as there are A LOT of stops and a tight schedule to adhere to. I had taken tours like this with crazy schedules while in Turkey, and they were great tours! This gave me a false sense of confidence in taking this tour in Israel…
For this tour I was working with Tourist Israel, however, I now realize that there are numerous companies this tour can be booked through, and it will all be the same experience. These companies range from Viator to GetYourGuide to Fun-Time Tour & Travel. Everyone on my tour had booked through a different company, but we were all stuck on this crazy day together.
I had also been very confident working with Tourist Israel because they were professional and responsive prior to the tour. (By the way, they sponsored my husband and me on this tour, so if you’re ever worried I’m not 100 percent honest in my blog posts because I’m being sponsored by a company, hopefully, this post will put your mind at ease). Their reviews on Tripadvisor were also very positive, and other people on this tour had used them for tours in Jordan and said they were great. It seems for this particular tour, though, they have not figured out how to do it properly.
Now, that you’ve made it this far, I’m sure you’re curious as to WHY this was such a bad day, and why you should absolutely NOT book this tour. From insanely late starts, to leaving group members behind to pushy sales stops…I’ll take you step by step through it below.
Jerusalem, Dead Sea, Bethlehem, & More Group Tour Itinerary
For reference, this is what the day was supposed to look like.
06:30 – Pick up from Tel Aviv
07:45 – Pick up from Jerusalem
08:00 – Guided tour of Jerusalem
11:30 – Head to Bethlehem
12:00 – Tour Bethlehem
14:30 – Drive by Jericho to Qasr al Yehud (time permitting)
15:30 – Free time to relax at the Dead Sea
16:30 – Leave the Dead Sea
18:00 – Dropoff in Jerusalem
19:00 – Dropoff in Tel Aviv
NB all timings are approximate
Events (Disasters?) of the Day
*Note: I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to see such historical and incredible places. However, the point of this post is to help other people who are planning a trip to Israel, so they don’t make the same mistakes as us. I want you to have an amazing time in Israel!
Pickup from Tel Aviv
• We were instructed to all meet in front of a hotel in Tel Aviv before 6:30 am. There were multiple tours going to different parts of Israel here, and it was pure chaos. There was one “guide” who was there instructing people as to which bus to take. He was incredibly unorganized and unprofessional.
• At 7 am the “guide” informed us that our bus is late due to a tire problem.
• We departed over an hour late. I understand that these things happen, and I’m not convinced this tour would have been much better even if the bus had departed on time (it just set the tone for how the day would go!)
Arrival to Jerusalem
• We then exited the bus in front of another hotel in Jerusalem – more confusion, no one knew where our tour is supposed to go. Eventually, 6 of us are stuffed into a vehicle and driven about 2 blocks. (The rest of our group eventually arrives at the same destination after walking.)
• Our driver drove off and said our guide will arrive in 10 minutes.
• We waited 30 minutes before I emailed Tourist Israel, and then we called their emergency number.
The Guide in Jerusalem
• Our guide showed up a full 40 minutes after we had arrived in Jerusalem, after we were already an hour late. He merely waved to us from across the road where we were standing and then proceeded to speed walk ahead of us. He didn’t even introduce himself or offer any explanations.
• We then raced to a spot in Jerusalem (no idea where as we literally received nothing of value in the form of information on this tour). We talked about how old the city is before running to the Western Wall.
• The guide ran through security and did not even wait for our entire group to pass through security before apparently giving a meeting point and time and saying no photos are allowed. Not even half our tour heard this! So, we were all late and wandering around trying to find the group…and we all were in trouble for taking photos. This really burned me, because I LIKE TO FOLLOW THE RULES, but I need to know what they are. I had no idea I wasn’t supposed to take photos, as I had seen TONS of photos of the Western Wall prior to coming here and thought I was OK. (Now I know you can’t take photos on Saturday due to Shabbat – lesson learned.)
• We then go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We are only allowed 10 minutes here. (This is the church that is allegedly built on the site of Jesus’ Crucifixion and burial…so, only 10 minutes here is REALLY disappointing.)
• We then ran to some church to talk about something (no idea what, I couldn’t hear the guide) before running through a market.
• The market is crowded and has different alleys to go through, and our guide was literally moving at a jogging pace through it wearing neutral colored clothing and sort of holding up a closed black umbrella. He never even bothered to see if any of the group was following..nor did he have any idea how many of us there actually were, as he never counted our group.
• We did eventually lose one group member. We hollered at the guide to go find him…after hollering at him, he did eventually find the missing group member and took us to our next bus.
The guide’s name was Chris, and he had to have been the worst guide I have ever had in my entire life. It was appalling!
• Our guide here was nice and seemed knowledgeable, however, it was difficult to hear him at many times. He was really quiet, and I only heard about 25 percent of what he said.
• This guide, once again, did not bother counting our group members…we actually left an elderly woman in Bethlehem because she could not find our group!!! She was transported to our restaurant at lunchtime by the Palestinian police!!!
Side note: many of the group members were upset because we did not get to see the Nativity in Bethlehem…we only visited the church that is built on it. This was something I had been aware of potentially happening due to long lines to see the Nativity. It is clearly stated on Tourist Israel’s website that we may not see it…However, if you booked via Viator or any other of the numerous booking sites out there, this was NOT clearly stated.
Restaurant Stop for Lunch
• The restaurant was the best part of the tour. All went smoothly here and the food was good!
Gift Shop on the Way out of Bethlehem
• So, we RACED through Jerusalem and Bethlehem…so we could stop for 30 minutes at a gift store that wasn’t selling anything interesting?! I could have screamed (and was also regretting not having wine with my lunch by this point).
• Oh joy, we arrive to the Dead Sea and are ushered into ANOTHER gift store. There’s more pressure to buy “exclusive” Dead Sea products. (It’s almost all AHAVA products – which are carried by Nordstrom.)
• The experience floating in the Dead Sea was really amazing. This part of the day was great! (There were no guides, though…so…) I’ll put together a separate post on this whole experience.
• We had just over an hour to float in the Dead Sea and get a beverage from the bar. The bus driver communicated our time of departure and everyone was there on time. BUT, once again, we had to switch buses…and the next bus was late. We left the Dead Sea nearly 45 minutes after we were supposed to…which would have been fine if we weren’t all stuck on a bus for this time. (Another group who joined our bus said this was actually PLANNED to make up for departing late…except no one communicated this to our group!)
Arrival in Tel Aviv
• FINALLY we arrive back in Tel Aviv, but we’re dropped off at a different location than the hotel. I’m not actually sure where we were even dropped off. Not that this is a big deal, Tel Aviv is safe and easy to navigate…it just really was the cherry on the top of a very difficult day.
But Our Group Members Were Awesome!
I do want to give a shout out to all the 26 people (or maybe 27…there honestly might have been one more group member lost in Jerusalem) who were on this tour with me. Every single person was simply a lovely human being. I can’t even imagine how awful this would have been if our group members had been turds as well. These were some of the kindest and most good-natured people I’ve come across on a tour! It pains me that we met on a tour that was such a craptastic experience.
Also, if you need further proof that this tour was a complete sh*t show, I do see that some of the other group members are beginning to write their own reviews on Tripadvisor. I would also like to point out, that our tour members were from all over the world. Some were from the US and some from the UK, as well as the Philipines, India, China, Greece, Romania, etc. They all agreed this tour was HORRIBLE. So, this wasn’t just my American mindset being too critical of a service.
What to Do Instead
I would recommend taking at least one full day at Jerusalem, and then a half day each for Bethlehem and the Dead Sea. These places really deserve more than a few moments stop. You would be better off determining what is the most important place for you to visit and dedicating your day to it vs trying to cram it all into one, like we did.
And if you really want to try and see it all in one day, I would book a private tour. This company, here, has nearly perfect ratings for their tours, according to Tripadvisor. Having a dedicated guide and vehicle just for you would likely make this trip more doable. (However, the prices reflect this.)
Thank you for reading this really long post! I do hope this helps someone when making a decision of what tours to book in Israel. Please share this with anyone planning a trip to Israel.
*Click here to read all of my posts from Tel Aviv.
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*Tourist Israel partnered with me for this post. (Obviously.) All opinions are my own, and I am never compensated for a positive review.