Israel’s best kept secret

You don’t have to go overseas to gain exciting new experiences, meet extraordinary people and stay in unique places. You can do all of that here in Israel, on your back doorstep.

Naot Farm in the Ramat Hanegev area near Sde Boker (photo credit: Courtesy)
Naot Farm in the Ramat Hanegev area near Sde Boker
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With vacationing overseas not an option right now, it’s time to rediscover Israel.
Yes, traveling overseas isn’t the same as vacationing at home. But travel isn’t just about going somewhere to take a vacation: travel is about new experiences, about meeting people and cultures, about experiencing different landscapes and environments, and about breaking every day routine.
You don’t have to go overseas to gain exciting new experiences, meet extraordinary people and stay in unique places. You can do all of that here in Israel, on your back doorstep.
Israel has a great collection of hostels in locations around the country – from Eilat in the South all the way up to the Golan Heights in the North – that are well placed as a base for exploring.
Hosteling has become an ever more popular means of vacationing in recent years, both in Israel and around the world, as people seek more meaningful and local experiences and the opportunity to meet other people – not to mention prices that are significantly lower than those at hotels.
“Hostels don’t aim to compete with hotels for level of accommodation. The advantage of hostels is the experience,” says Efrat Laor of ILH – Israel Hostels, an umbrella network of more than 30 independent hostels around the country.
“If you are looking for a real and authentic Israeli experience and for the opportunity to get to know new places and meet new people, then a hostel is a great bet for a holiday that won’t break your pocket.”
Yaron Burgin, one of the founders of Abraham Hostels & Tours, knows a thing or two about travel and the hostel experience, having backpacked his way around at the globe after a short career in hi-tech.
Upon his return to Israel, he decided to get to know the “home country” and embarked on a trip along the length and breadth of the land.
On his backpacking trip around the country, he came across Shkedi’s Camplodge in Neot Hakikar, near the Dead Sea, where he ended up working for four years before setting up his own hostel.
Burgin says that Israelis have become familiar with hostels while traveling overseas and really cherish the memories from their great hostel experiences.
With the current situation, says Burgin, who is also one of the founders of ILH, “There’s no better time than now to enjoy the communal and local experience of a hostel in Israel.”
We checked to see what prices are like as hostels reopen after the two-month closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. With tourists still locked out of the country, discounts are available.
Double rooms start at around NIS 250 per night and for families, savings can be particularly significant as the price per person in a large room can drop to below NIS 100 per night.
The hostels don’t have a kashrut certificate, but all have fully equipped kitchens for self-catering, and you can bring your own utensils – and in Israel a supermarket is never far away
Here are some of our favorite hostels for a truly Israeli experience:

The Golan Heights Hostel
Located on Moshav Odem. Rooms are basic, but there is a sauna to let off some steam after a hard day’s hiking and a great pancake breakfast. The hostel has a good collection of strategic board games, hammocks, a library and free Wi-Fi. You can get advice from staff about trips in the area and the hostel also organizes various activities such as a day camp at the Banias Stream, trips to the Jordan River and ranger tours in the Odem Forest.
We recommend a trip to the Sa’ar waterfalls, fed by snow from the Hermon range, the Nimrod Fortress and the Odem Forest.
www.thegolanheightshostel.com/

Naot Farm
Naot Farm in the Ramat Hanegev area near Sde Boker produces goat cheeses and offers cabins and “tube rooms” built inside huge air-conditioned concrete pipes. The farm is situated in a barren desert landscape, but guests are spoiled with a large wading pool to cool off in, hammocks to relax and there is a fire pit to sit around in the cool desert evenings.
The dining room, which has a fully equipped kitchen, turns into a lounge in the evening and has a piano, a library, TV, Wi-Fi and, most importantly, cold beer and a porch cooled by the desert air. 
You can take a tour of the farm, which ends with coffee and homemade cookies.
We recommend taking a nighttime moonlit visit to Nahal Hawarim. 
www.naotfarm.co.il/

Shkedi’s Camplodge
A khan – a desert inn – on Moshav Neot Hakikar between the Dead Sea and the Arava region is perfectly placed for hiking trips in the area, near to popular desert trails such as, Wadi Perazim, Mount Sodom, the Small Crater, Wadi Tamar and more.
The lodge has wooden cabins, and desert tents - all air-conditioned - as well as a converted bus that sleeps four.
There is a fully equipped shared kitchen, a camp lodge bar with a chill-out area, a central bonfire and a hammock drone where hammocks are hung in a circle.
Storyteller, music and yoga workshops are offered with booking in advance, as are massage treatments.
The area is a hiker’s paradise and you can cool off in desert pools at Ein Plutit Spring or at Nahal Rahaf where you can also go rappelling.
shkedig.com/en/

Juha’s Guesthouse
The only guesthouse in the Arab fishing village of Jisr a Zarqa, itself the only Arab village on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. The guesthouse is in the heart of the village, literally a stone’s throw from the sea.
The guesthouse describes itself as a social business and operates a young leaders program for youth from the village and an open gallery with exhibitions, movie nights and workshops for local residents and visitors.
We recommend trying an authentic Arab meal at the homes of local residents, which Juha will organize for you. The guesthouse also runs Arabic lessons, from weekend workshops to full-week courses.
The village is located near the Roman ruins of Caesarea, which can be reached via a 30-minute walk along the Israel Trail.
Ask staff for details on other hiking options.
www.zarqabay.com/

Clil Guesthouse
A special Galilean experience in the heart of nature some 20 minutes’ drive from Nahariya and half an hour from Acre. The guesthouse is located in the thick of an olive grove that is part of the ecological community of Clil in the foothills of the Western Galilee overlooking the Mediterranean. All households in Clil are off-grid and the guesthouse, made out of wood, is no exception, running completely off solar panels.
The guesthouse has two double-bed private rooms and one four-bed room, all running out onto a stunning balcony with views right down to the sea.
There is a kitchen where you can cook and vegetarian meals are available. If you fancy eating out, Clil and the surrounding area have several great dining options, including the renowned Clil Cafe and Silverman’s bakery and pizza. If you have a car, Acre is well worth the trip, both for its historic sites and its culinary offerings. For beer lovers, the Malka craft brewery on Kibbutz Yehiam is not far away.
There are also plenty of activities and hikes in and around Clil. Walk from Clil to the ancient fortress of Yehiam or to the Druze village of Yanuch.
A soul retreat center just a few minutes’ walk away offers meditations, vipassana and yoga classes, while other options include horse riding, ATV tours and ceramic workshops at Jara studio in the village.
www.clilguesthouse.com/

Abraham Hostel Tel Aviv
An urban Tel Aviv hostel in the eclectic Electric Garden neighborhood, a hip area full of designer boutiques. The hostel offers dorm rooms, private rooms and family rooms.
Hang out on the rooftop garden or at the lounge, where you can watch a gig by local musicians. There is also a gallery presenting works of Israeli artists and a bar open to guests and outsiders.
Abraham Hostel offers a range of urban tours and cooking workshops, to mention just a couple of the available activities.
Abraham Hostel has another two hostels in Israel, one in downtown Jerusalem, and another in the old city in Nazareth.
All the hostels in the chain conduct activities with a local emphasis to provide an unmediated experience and they all have communal kitchen facilities and a lounge where you can hang out with other travelers and share meals and experiences.
www.abrahamhostels.com/tel-aviv/

The writer is the founder of trvltrend.com. A tourism professional with many years of experience in digital and offline marketing, e-commerce, integrative media planning, and public relations, the main focus of his writing is digital trends in travel and hospitality.