State of Palestine Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

The State of Palestine, located in the Middle East, is a region steeped in history and cultural significance, making it a compelling destination for travelers. Despite the geopolitical challenges, the area boasts iconic historical sites such as Bethlehem, home to the Church of the Nativity, and Jerusalem, with its Old City housing holy sites for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The diverse landscapes, from the Dead Sea to vibrant markets, offer a unique blend of ancient history and modern life. With warm hospitality and a rich cultural heritage, Palestine provides a profound travel experience for those seeking to explore its historical treasures and immerse themselves in the unique narratives that define this land.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 📅

The best time to visit the State of Palestine as a tourist is during the spring (April to June) and autumn (September to November) months. During these periods, the weather is generally mild and pleasant, making it ideal for exploring the historical and cultural sites scattered across the region.

Spring (April to June):

  • Spring is characterized by mild temperatures and blooming landscapes.
  • The weather is generally comfortable for outdoor activities and sightseeing.
  • This period offers a vibrant display of flowers and greenery, enhancing the visual appeal of the landscapes.

Autumn (September to November):

  • Autumn is another favorable time to visit, with mild temperatures and clear skies.
  • The weather is conducive to exploring historical sites, markets, and natural attractions.
  • Autumn is also a good time to avoid the peak summer crowds, providing a more relaxed travel experience.

Considerations:

  • Summers (June to August) can be hot, especially in the inland areas, making outdoor activities less comfortable.
  • Winters (December to February) can be cooler, and there may be occasional rain.

It’s important to be aware of local events and holidays, as well as any potential travel restrictions or security concerns. Additionally, consider the specific regions you plan to visit within the State of Palestine, as weather conditions can vary. Always check the latest travel advisories and plan accordingly to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Getting around the State of Palestine as a tourist involves various transportation options, and the choice may depend on your destination within the region. Here are some common ways to get around:

  1. Taxi:
    • Taxis are readily available in cities like Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Ramallah. Negotiate fares in advance or ensure that the meter is used. Shared taxis, known as “sheruts” or “servees,” operate on set routes and can be a cost-effective option.
  2. Car Rental:
    • Renting a car provides flexibility, especially if you plan to explore various regions at your own pace. However, driving conditions and traffic regulations should be thoroughly understood. Check for any restrictions related to movement within the region.
  3. Public Buses:
    • Public buses operate in major cities and towns, connecting various destinations. While they are a budget-friendly option, schedules may vary, and services might be limited in some areas.
  4. Shared Minibuses:
    • Shared minibuses or vans, known as “servees” or “marshrutkas,” operate on fixed routes and are a common mode of transportation between cities and towns.
  5. Walking:
    • Many historical and cultural sites in places like Jerusalem and Bethlehem are within walking distance of each other. Walking allows you to explore at a leisurely pace and absorb the local atmosphere.
  6. Guided Tours:
    • Joining guided tours can be an efficient way to explore specific attractions. Local guides provide insights into the historical, cultural, and religious significance of the sites.
  7. Trains:
    • Limited train services are available in the region. The Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed train connects these two cities, offering a convenient option for travel between them.
  8. Bicycle Rental:
    • Some areas, particularly in cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, are becoming more bicycle-friendly. Renting a bicycle can be a sustainable and enjoyable way to explore certain regions.
  9. Domestic Flights:
    • While there are no domestic flights within the State of Palestine, Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv is a major international airport with connections to various destinations.
  10. Private Transfers:
    • Private transfers, such as pre-arranged airport transfers or guided tours with transportation included, offer convenience and ease of travel.

Before traveling, it’s essential to consider the specific regions you plan to visit, as well as any travel restrictions or security considerations. Additionally, consulting with local tourism offices or using reputable transportation services can contribute to a smoother and more enjoyable travel experience.

What’s the Official Language?

The official language in the State of Palestine is Arabic. Here are some basic Arabic words and phrases that can be useful for tourists:

  1. Hello: Marhaban (مرحبًا)
  2. Goodbye: Ma’a as-salama (مع السلامة)
  3. Please: Min fadlak (من فضلك)
  4. Thank you: Shukran (شكرًا)
  5. Yes: Na’am (نعم)
  6. No: La (لا)
  7. Excuse me / I’m sorry: Afwan (عفوًا)
  8. Help: Musa’ada (مساعدة)
  9. How much is this?: Kam hatha? (كم هذا؟)
  10. Where is…?: Ayna…? (أين…؟)
  11. I don’t understand: Ana laa afham (أنا لا أفهم)
  12. Do you speak English?: Hal tatakallam al-ingliziya? (هل تتكلم الإنجليزية؟)

Learning a few basic phrases in the local language can enhance your travel experience and help you connect with the local people. Palestinians often appreciate the effort made by tourists to communicate in Arabic, even if it’s just a few words.

Where to Stay? 🏨

In the State of Palestine, there are various accommodations catering to tourists, particularly in cities and areas with historical or cultural significance. Here are some areas where you can find accommodation options:

  1. Jerusalem:
    • Jerusalem is a popular destination with numerous hotels, guesthouses, and boutique accommodations. The Old City and surrounding areas offer proximity to historical sites.
  2. Bethlehem:
    • Bethlehem, known for the Church of the Nativity, has a range of hotels and guesthouses. Staying in Bethlehem allows easy access to significant religious and cultural sites.
  3. Ramallah:
    • Ramallah, the administrative capital, has a growing number of hotels, guesthouses, and serviced apartments. It’s a vibrant city with cultural attractions and a lively atmosphere.
  4. Nablus:
    • Nablus, with its historical and architectural charm, offers a variety of accommodation options, from modern hotels to more traditional guesthouses.
  5. Hebron:
    • Hebron, known for its historic Old City, has accommodations ranging from hotels to smaller guesthouses. It provides a unique cultural experience.
  6. Jericho:
    • Jericho, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, has hotels and resorts. It’s a good base for exploring the surrounding area.
  7. Dead Sea Resorts:
    • Along the Dead Sea, you’ll find resorts and hotels offering spa experiences. This area provides a relaxing environment with the opportunity to float in the hypersaline waters.
  8. Taybeh:
    • Taybeh, a Palestinian village known for its brewery, has a few guesthouses. It offers a more rural experience.

When choosing accommodation, consider factors such as proximity to the sites you plan to visit, your budget, and the amenities offered. It’s advisable to book accommodations in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons. Additionally, check for reviews and ratings to ensure the quality of the stay. Always stay informed about travel advisories and conditions in the region before planning your visit.

What to Eat? 🍽️

Palestinian cuisine is rich in flavors and reflects the region’s history and cultural diversity. Here are some must-try Palestinian dishes for tourists visiting the State of Palestine:

  1. Falafel:
    • Deep-fried balls or patties made from ground chickpeas or fava beans. They are often served in flatbread with vegetables and tahini sauce.
  2. Hummus:
    • A creamy dip made from blended chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. It’s commonly served with flatbread.
  3. Mutabbal (Baba Ganoush):
    • Similar to hummus but made with roasted eggplant instead of chickpeas. It has a smoky flavor and is typically served as a dip.
  4. Musakhan:
    • Roasted chicken seasoned with sumac and served on flatbread, often accompanied by sautéed onions and pine nuts.
  5. Maqluba:
    • A one-pot dish with layers of rice, vegetables, and meat (chicken, lamb, or beef), cooked together and then flipped upside down for serving.
  6. Knafeh:
    • A traditional Palestinian dessert made with layers of shredded phyllo dough, sweet cheese, and syrup or honey. It’s baked until golden and crispy.
  7. Shawarma:
    • Grilled meat (usually lamb or chicken) sliced thinly and served in flatbread with garlic sauce, tahini, and vegetables.
  8. Mansaf:
    • A traditional Jordanian-Palestinian dish consisting of lamb cooked in a fermented dried yogurt sauce, served with rice and pine nuts.
  9. Warak Enab:
    • Grape leaves stuffed with a mixture of rice, pine nuts, and spices, often served with yogurt.
  10. Fattoush:
    • A refreshing salad made with mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, and crispy pieces of toasted or fried flatbread. It’s dressed with a sumac-infused vinaigrette.
  11. Za’atar Bread:
    • Flatbread topped with a mixture of za’atar (a spice blend featuring thyme, sesame seeds, and sumac) and olive oil, then baked until crisp.
  12. Basbousa:
    • A sweet semolina cake soaked in simple syrup and garnished with almonds or coconut flakes.

Exploring local markets, street food stalls, and traditional restaurants will provide a delicious introduction to Palestinian cuisine. Don’t hesitate to ask locals for recommendations, and be open to trying the diverse and flavorful dishes that make up Palestinian gastronomy.

What to See? 🔍

The State of Palestine is home to a wealth of historical, cultural, and religious sites. Here are some must-see places for tourists:

  1. Old City of Jerusalem:
    • Explore the Old City’s quarters, including the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Dome of the Rock. The Via Dolorosa and the Mount of Olives are also significant sites.
  2. Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem:
    • Visit the Church of the Nativity, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where tradition holds that Jesus was born. The adjacent Milk Grotto and Shepherds’ Field are also important pilgrimage sites.
  3. Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem:
    • One of Islam’s holiest sites, Al-Aqsa Mosque is part of the larger complex on the Temple Mount. It has stunning architecture and is open to non-Muslim visitors.
  4. Masada:
    • Explore the ancient fortress of Masada, overlooking the Dead Sea. It has archaeological remains and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  5. Dead Sea:
    • Float in the hypersaline waters of the Dead Sea, known for its therapeutic mud. The area also offers stunning views and resorts.
  6. Jericho:
    • Visit one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Attractions include the ancient city walls, Tell es-Sultan archaeological site, and the Monastery of the Temptation.
  7. Hebron Old City:
    • Explore the Old City of Hebron, with its narrow streets, markets, and religious sites, including the Cave of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque.
  8. Taybeh:
    • Visit the village of Taybeh, known for its Christian heritage and Taybeh Brewery, one of the oldest breweries in the Middle East.
  9. Nablus Old City:
    • Wander through the historic streets of Nablus, known for its well-preserved architecture, markets, and traditional hammams.
  10. Sebastia:
    • Explore the archaeological site of Sebastia, which includes ruins from various periods, including Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman.
  11. Qumran:
    • Visit the archaeological site of Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. The Qumran Caves and the Visitor Center provide insights into this significant historical find.
  12. Wadi Qelt:
    • Hike or drive through Wadi Qelt, a scenic valley with monasteries such as St. George’s Monastery clinging to the cliffs.

When visiting these sites, be mindful of local customs and regulations. It’s recommended to check the latest travel advisories and guidelines before planning your itinerary. Hiring local guides can enhance your experience by providing historical and cultural context to these significant landmarks.

What to Do? 📸

As a tourist in the State of Palestine, there are several enriching experiences and activities to consider. Here are some must-do things to make the most of your visit:

  1. Take a Guided Tour of Old City Jerusalem:
    • Explore the narrow streets of the Old City, visiting religious sites such as the Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Dome of the Rock. A guided tour can provide historical and cultural context.
  2. Visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem:
    • Explore the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus. Don’t miss the adjacent Milk Grotto and Shepherds’ Field.
  3. Float in the Dead Sea:
    • Experience the unique buoyancy of the Dead Sea. Don’t forget to try the therapeutic mud and enjoy the stunning landscape.
  4. Walk the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem:
    • Follow the path of Jesus on the Via Dolorosa, experiencing the Stations of the Cross and the journey to the crucifixion.
  5. Sample Palestinian Cuisine:
    • Indulge in Palestinian dishes like falafel, hummus, and knafeh. Visit local markets to taste authentic flavors.
  6. Attend a Cultural Event in Ramallah:
    • Check for cultural events and festivals in Ramallah, the cultural capital, to witness Palestinian music, dance, and arts.
  7. Visit Al-Aqsa Mosque:
    • Explore the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of Islam’s holiest sites. Enjoy the beautiful architecture and the expansive Temple Mount.
  8. Tour the Old City of Hebron:
    • Wander through the Old City of Hebron, experiencing its historical streets, markets, and religious sites, including the Cave of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque.
  9. Hike in Wadi Qelt:
    • Take a hike in Wadi Qelt, a scenic valley with monasteries such as St. George’s Monastery clinging to the cliffs.
  10. Engage in Local Markets:
    • Visit local markets in cities like Nablus and Jerusalem to buy traditional Palestinian crafts, spices, and souvenirs.
  11. Explore Archaeological Sites:
    • Explore archaeological sites like Masada, Sebastia, and Qumran to discover the region’s rich history.
  12. Attend a Traditional Palestinian Wedding:
    • If the opportunity arises, attend a traditional Palestinian wedding to experience the cultural celebrations and hospitality.
  13. Participate in a Cooking Class:
    • Join a cooking class to learn how to prepare traditional Palestinian dishes and gain insights into local culinary traditions.
  14. Learn Dabke Dancing:
    • Experience the lively Dabke dance, a traditional Palestinian folk dance, by attending a performance or joining in a local event.

Always be respectful of local customs and traditions, and stay informed about any travel advisories or guidelines. Engaging with local communities and being open to new experiences will enhance your journey in the State of Palestine.

Culture and Safety 🦺

Culture:

  1. Respect Local Customs and Traditions:
    • Palestinians place great importance on respect. Be mindful of local customs and traditions, especially in religious sites and conservative areas.
  2. Dress Modestly:
    • Dress modestly, particularly in religious sites. Women should cover their shoulders and knees, and men should avoid wearing shorts in certain places.
  3. Greeting Etiquette:
    • Greetings are important. Handshakes are common, and using titles and appropriate greetings show respect.
  4. Photography Etiquette:
    • Always ask for permission before taking photographs, especially of people. Some places may have restrictions on photography.
  5. Respect Religious Practices:
    • Be respectful during religious practices and ceremonies. Maintain a quiet and observant demeanor in places of worship.
  6. Ramadan Considerations:
    • If visiting during Ramadan, be aware of the fasting period. Eating, drinking, and smoking in public during daylight hours should be done discreetly.
  7. Hospitality:
    • Palestinians are known for their hospitality. If invited into someone’s home, it’s customary to accept food or drink as a sign of appreciation.

Safety:

  1. Stay Informed:
    • Stay informed about the current political and security situation in the areas you plan to visit. Check travel advisories from your government and reliable sources.
  2. Register with Embassies:
    • Register with your embassy or consulate upon arrival. This allows local authorities to contact you in case of emergencies.
  3. Use Reputable Tour Operators:
    • When engaging in tours or excursions, use reputable and licensed tour operators. They are likely to have experienced guides and prioritize the safety of their clients.
  4. Health Precautions:
    • Check with healthcare professionals about necessary vaccinations and health precautions before traveling. Carry essential medications and ensure access to medical facilities.
  5. Local Transportation:
    • Be cautious when using local transportation. Ensure that vehicles are in good condition, and if possible, choose reliable transportation options.
  6. Secure Your Belongings:
    • Keep your belongings secure to avoid theft. Be cautious with valuables, use hotel safes when available, and be discreet with expensive items.
  7. Emergency Contacts:
    • Keep a list of emergency contacts, including local authorities, your embassy, and any tour operators. Share your itinerary with someone you trust.
  8. Travel Insurance:
    • Obtain comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and other unforeseen events.
  9. Stay in Established Accommodations:
    • Choose well-established and reputable accommodations. These establishments are more likely to prioritize safety and security measures.
  10. Stay Alert and Be Mindful:
    • Stay aware of your surroundings and be mindful of cultural norms and potential safety concerns. Trust your instincts and avoid risky situations.

By respecting local customs, staying informed, and taking necessary safety precautions, you can have a rewarding and secure travel experience in the State of Palestine. Always check for the latest travel advisories and consult with local authorities or tour operators for up-to-date information.

Conclusion

Visiting the State of Palestine offers a profound journey into a land rich in history, culture, and religious significance. From the ancient streets of Jerusalem to the tranquil shores of the Dead Sea, travelers can immerse themselves in a tapestry of traditions and landscapes. Respect for local customs, engagement with the warm hospitality of the Palestinian people, and a keen awareness of safety considerations are paramount. While challenges exist, the experience is rewarded with a unique blend of spirituality, authentic cuisine, and the opportunity to witness a resilient and vibrant community. A visit to Palestine promises not just a touristic adventure but a cultural odyssey leaving a lasting impact on those who embrace its diverse and captivating narrative.