April 12th 2017
Before selecting Shalom Tours, I looked at the offerings of many other tour companies. They omitted key sites of interest, or offered heavily faith-oriented programs. My husband and I wanted an itinerary with not only customary destinations like Jerusalem, the Galilee, Bethlehem, Jericho and the Dead Sea but also less frequently visited places like the Negev Desert, Mitzpeh Ramon Crater, Timna Mines, Israeli defense forces, Eilat, and the Red Sea. We also wanted a tour that was based in Israel, not crafted by Americans for Americans although our group were mostly Americans. My mother (age 78) and her sister (age 80) were also traveling with us. Though in good health, they needed a tour they could manage.
Only Shalom Tours offered a tour that met all our criteria. Ultimately, we chose the 11-Day Holy Land & Petra Tour. We opted out of the Petra Tour, and took a leisure day in Eilat, as we were visiting Jordan on a separate tour later. Shalom Stark was very prompt and detailed in his correspondence with us. He understood what we wanted and offered tours that best suited our needs.
From start to finish, our tour was well-planned and well-organized. An attendant met us at Ben Gurion Airport and helped us file a lost luggage report when part of our luggage did not arrive. Our first guide, Benayah, was extremely knowledgeable and had a good sense of humor. He knew how to engage all the diverse members of the group. He was also adept at reordering the itinerary (without leaving anything out) based on circumstances. The tour was fairly hectic, though this is understandable considering the wealth of sites that were packed into it. Nothing was left out – from the dazzling Mediterranean cities of Caesarea and Acco to the mind-blowing ruins at Capernaum. There was a prayerful presentation at the Garden Tomb given by a docent at the site, a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, and a chance to bathe in the river Jordan at Yardenit. We even stopped at a scenic overlook in the Golan Heights where we could look across the border of Syria and see an ISIS checkpoint. There was literally something for every taste. Our only wish was to have spent more time at the Dead Sea. Our bus driver, Atef, was obliging, efficient, and skilled at navigating through tight areas.
After spending 6 days in the northern part of Israel with Benayah and Atef, we spent 5 days in the southern part of Israel with Eli, who served as our guide and driver. He alertly re-routed our trip to avoid a jammed checkpoint (we arrived during Eid) and took us on a fascinating drive that skirted Israel’s border with Egypt. Eli gave a fascinating account of Ben-Gurion’s life during a visit to the former prime minister’s desert home.
Another item on our wish-list was to stay in hotels that were Israeli-owned, not part of American-owned chains. We thoroughly enjoyed our stays in the Dan Panorama hotels in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and at the Kibbutz Lavi in Galilee. The Dan Panorama in Eilat was also nice, but the service there was less attentive, possibly due to the large crowds of vacationers.
A couple of pointers: it can be searingly hot in Israel in early September, and many sites call for modest dress (especially the Temple Mount). Be prepared for the experience of blazing sun and heat! Also, be sure to set aside some gratuity money for your guides and drivers.
We were 100% satisfied with this tour and can enthusiastically recommend it to anyone (and already have!).