Many people planning a trip to Israel or visiting never think of hiring a guide. Actually there are some real advantages. Here are 10 good reasons for hiring a tour guide:
- A guide will work with you to create a tour customized to your interests.
- A guide can handle all the logistics (itinerary, accommodation, food, transportation) for you and probably save you money.
- A guide can take you to places that you would never know about even if you spend a lot of time reading guide books or searching the Internet.
- A guide will point out things that you would never notice.
- A guide will explain and make sense of what you are looking at.
- A guide will put what you are seeing in its historical, religious and cultural context.
- Using a guide is the best use of your time, you’ll get to do and see more.
- A guide is educated and trained to guide and then licensed by the Israel Ministry of Tourism.
- A guide is experienced and up-to-date.
- A guide is your personal resource, answering your questions and able to suggest things that match your interests, both before and during your trip.
Why not just use the Internet to research and plan your trip to Israel?
That’s what a lot of people think. For one thing, it takes a lot of time and there’s a lot of mis-information on the Web. For instance, I came across an article about Masada (recently rated the world’s most popular tourist site by Condé Nast Traveler magazine) on a popular and well-written site and was surprised to find quite a few errors. Here’s my list:
- “Masada is the Hebrew name for an ancient rock plateau” Actually, Masada/מצדה comes from the root for stronghold/מצד. Geologically it’s a horst, a raised block between 2 faults in the earth.
- “famous for housing palaces built by the Romans as well as a mighty fortress built by King Herod the Great.” Herod actually inherited Masada from the Hasmoneans but most of the structures we see today are by Herod. There are 2 palaces, the Western one and the 3-level hanging palace on the northern cliff both built by Herod – there are no palaces built by the Romans. The mountain itself is a fortress surrounded by a casemate wall.
- “Israeli soldiers who complete their basic training are often sent to Masada as part of a swearing-in ceremony, complete with the declaration that “Masada shall not fall again”.” You can read that on a lot of sites on the Internet, it’s history. Today Israeli recruits do the swearing allegiance to the State at the Western Wall. At the completion of their training some soldiers do a strenuous overnight march and end at a site with importance to their unit – I think one unit does end at Masada. When I guide Masada I present the new findings and theories and take time to explore the Masada Myth.
- “King Herod The Great (also well-known for ordering the death of every first-born son in Israel in the ubiquitous Biblical story)” Only recorded by Matthew, many scholars doubt this. See Wikipedia or other Internet sources.
- “cable car operates from the Dead Sea side and takes about 15 to 20 minutes” Maybe overall, the travel time is ~3 minutes to climb the 459 meters.
- “thermal baths” Thermal implies hot springs, there are none up on Masada although there are some in the vicinity of the Dead Sea and as a guide I can take you there. The author probably meant Roman bath.
- “Entrance fee is 25₪ and 49₪ if you include the cable car” The entrance fees to the site have increased, see the Israel Parks Authority website for more up-to-date information (I found errors on the IPA site as well).
- In the summer heat, the park authorities can close the Snake path. To climb it before sunrise, you might be more comfortable doing it with someone who has climbed Masada previously (like a guide).
- Masada is an hour and 40 minute drive from Jerusalem. If you’re going to spend almost 3 hours driving in the car wouldn’t it be nice to use that time to learn more about what you’re seeing from a knowledgeable guide? It’s also possible to visit other sites of interest on the way.
So on your next trip, think about hiring a guide, maybe for part of your trip or for a special site or subject that you are particularly interested in. Consult with your guide about recommendations for less expensive accommodations, interesting hotels, hostels or B&Bs, best deals on car rentals, suggestions on restaurants. Get together with friends or others at your hotel and together hire a private guide, it will turn out to be cheaper than a larger, fixed itinerary group tour and you get to set the itinerary.
But don’t take my word for it, ask your friends or Google “Why hire a guide” to read other peoples’ views; here is one article I found on the Independent Traveler website “When Do You Need a Tour Guide” – good advice.
If you’re going to be in Israel on business try to plan a day at the end of your trip (even the day you’re flying out) to experience something of this incredible country, you deserve it. I’ve guided business travelers enabling them to see what they were interested in, in the short time they had available.
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