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Do You Need a Smartphone in Israel?

Smartphone in IsraelLike most questions, the answer to the question “Do you need a smartphone in Israel?” is “It depends.” Many tourists only need a phone to call and text family and friends in Israel. For them, a smartphone is overkill. But if you are renting a car or want to stay in touch with friends and colleagues overseas, you will want a smartphone on your trip. Here are some of the advantages of having a smartphone in Israel:

  • GPS: If you plan on renting a car, you will want to use an app like Waze to help you get around. Nothing is more frustrating than getting lost in a foreign country and losing valuable time looking for your destination.
  • E-mail: If you want to stay in touch with the office, e-mail on your phone is the best solution. You can quickly answer important e-mails any time of the day and won’t need to pay extra fees for wi-fi at your hotel.
  • Social networks: If you like to stay in touch with people through Facebook and Twitter, you won’t want to be away from them for the duration of your trip. Having a smartphone will allow you to easily share your trip with your networks by posting photos in real time.
  • Google: When you’re away from home, you need to look up a lot of information. You may want to find a restaurant near you or find out about an attraction. Even if you’ve planned your itinerary down to the minute, plans may change suddenly (stormy weather or a friend canceling on you). Internet access allows you to quickly substitute another activity.
  • Skype: If you will need to make a lot of overseas phone calls, Skype can be a great way to save money on international conversations.

If you’re unsure what type of phone you want on your vacation to Israel, contact NES Mobile representatives for help.

Zoos, Aquariums and Petting Zoos in Israel

Zoos in Israel - Ramat Gan Safari

Ramat Gan Safari

Traveling with children? Just love animals? Israel is home to numerous zoos, aquariums and petting zoos spread around the country.

The most famous of Israel’s zoos is the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. The zoo focuses on preserving rare species and prominently features animals indigenous to the Land of Israel, especially those mentioned in the Bible. The zoo’s Noah’s Ark Visitors Center features a film about animal conservation. A children’s playground and petting zoo are a perfect place to take a break in the middle of your visit. When walking becomes difficult, hop on the train which rides around the zoo.

The Safari in Ramat Gan is a great way to meet animals in their natural habitats. The African park features zebras, wildebeest, hippos and rhinos etc. roaming the grounds freely. Visitors can drive through in private vehicles, on a bus, or with a train tour. The main section of the zoo is home to many species of birds, mammals and reptiles. Animal feedings take place at various times throughout the day. The safari tour ends with a drive through the lions’ habitat, and back through the African park.

Visitors to Eilat will not want to miss the Underwater Observatory. A glass-bottomed boat tour of the Red Sea lets you see the tropical fish swimming about. The aquarium features fish, sharks and sea turtles swimming in large tanks.

The Carmel Hai-Bar Nature Reserve educates about animal conservation in the north of Israel. Wild sheep, wild goats, fallow deer, roe deer, Griffon vultures, Egyptian vultures, and Bonelli`s eagle are all bred at the wildlife preserve. The goal is to release them into the wild. Guided tours are available and it is recommended that you check that the reserve is open before planning a visit.

Some zoos are dedicated to one species, such as the Monkey Park in the Ben Shemen forest near Modiin. This park is a sanctuary for primates. All visits are with a guided tour by a staff member. Gan Guru is a park dedicated to Australian animals, such as kangaroos and koalas. The kangaroos can be petted and fed. Hamat Gader, famous for its spa, also boasts one of the largest crocodile farms in the Middle East with approximately 200 crocodiles of various species.

A complete list of Israeli zoos can be found here.

How Do I Connect to the Internet While on Vacation in Israel?

MifiMany travelers long to spend a vacation in Israel. Some come every year, while others once in a lifetime. For some, the hardest thing about traveling 6000 miles from home  is being away from friends and family. For others, it’s being away from their PC. Fortunately, there are several solutions to stay connected, keep in touch with friends and family back home, and connect to your favorite sites and apps.

Most Israeli cafes and restaurants have free WIFI for guests eating there. The same applies to most hotels, but some hotels charge as much as $25/day for one internet connection (which only works in the hotel). It’s always a good idea to check first with your hotel about the costs and internet speed. Please keep in mind that the busier the hotel is, the more likely you are to have slow internet.

Another economical Wi-Fi alternative when traveling to Israel is to use NES Mobile’s mobile broadband solutions. The prices vary from $5-$7.5 per day for NetStick and Mifi devices respectively (long term rental plans range from $40-$55 per month), which is significantly cheaper than many Israeli hotels which charge $25/night. In addition, these devices are not limited to the hotel, but work virtually everywhere in Israel. There are three options for mobile broadband.

  • If you have a suitable UNLOCKED GSM mobile smartphone, all you need to do is to insert the NES Mobile SIM card with Unlimited Data.
  • Rent a USB modem (NetStick) from NES Mobile to insert in your laptop
  • Rent a Mifi device in Israel. The MiFi device does not have to physically touch the computer and can connect to 5 devices simultaneously, such as a PC, laptop, tablet, iPad, or a smartphone. The Mifi device is small and can fit into your pocket, and the rechargeable battery lasts for 4 hours (you can also leave it connected to electricity the entire time). The MiFi device needs to be within 30 ft of the devices. You pay by day or by the month.

All plans include Unlimited Internet Data. More details at NES Mobile Short-term plans.

Na Laga’at

Na Laga'at

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Looking for something really special to do in Israel? Get a taste of what life is like for the blind and deaf with a visit to Na Laga’at.

The Nalaga’at Deaf-blind Acting Ensemble was founded in order to integrate deaf-blind people into the community and produces shows which aim to change perceptions and views. Shows are performed on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

Na Laga’at is home to two unusual restaurants. Cafe Kapish serves kosher dairy cuisine, with a challenge. The waiters are deaf and hearing-impaired and communicate with the diners through sign language. For a more intense experience, dine at Blackout Restaurant, where food is served in total darkness by blind waiters. Experience the taste of food without the distraction of sight.

Na Laga’at is located at the Jaffa Port and can be reached by car via the Ayalon Highway or by bus #10. More information is available at the Na Laga’at website.

Packing for Israel

Packing for Israel

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I don’t know about you, but I always find packing for a trip to be stressful. You don’t want to bring too much but you don’t want to bring too little. Forgetting toothpaste isn’t so bad; you can buy that anywhere. But who wants to buy another jacket when you have a perfectly good one at home?

To alleviate some of that stress, here are some items you may not realize you should be packing for Israel:

  • Cool weather attire. Even in the summer, it can get cool at night in certain parts of the country. Jerusalem and the Negev can be quite cold in the evenings. Bring a light jacket or long sleeve shirt. If you are coming in the winter, be aware that it can be really warm or really cold. You do need to bring a coat, but also have a lighter jacket handy in case you are lucky enough to be here on warmer days. Homes are not as heated as they are in the US, so a warm sweater will serve you well if you plan to visit Israeli residents.
  • A transformer. Israeli electricity runs on 220 watts like Europe does. If you are coming from the US, your 110 watt plugs will require a transformer in order to work in Israel.
  • Modest clothing. If you plan to visit holy sites such as the Western Wall, women must wear modest clothing. This means a long skirt and sleeves. Kippot are available at the Wall, but you will want one with you if you plan to visit synagogues.
  • Hiking shoes and a hat. If you plan to visit national parks and hiking trails, you will need closed, comfortable shoes. Israel is a rocky country and you can get hurt wearing sandals or Crocs. Even in the winter, it’s easy to get sunburnt or dehydrated. If you are outdoors for a significant amount of time, a hat is an absolute necessity.
  • Your favorite toiletries. Don’t expect to find the same brands you are used to at home. If you do, prices may be significantly higher than what you are used to. It’s the worth the amount of space they take up in your luggage to have all the cosmetics and toiletries you enjoy for the duration of your vacation.

National Parks in Israel

National Parks in Israel - Einot Zukim

Einot Zukim (Ein Feshkha)

Israel is home to about 150 national parks and nature reserves. They are generally inexpensive and some are even free. Some are on sites of historical and archaeological significance and others focus on the flora and fauna of Israel. If you are traveling with children, national parks can be a great opportunity for them to run around and learn something at the same time.

Ein Gedi is a beautiful national park, with a short or long hike. The waterfalls and pools of Ein Gedi are magnificent and a great way to cool off in hot weather. Ibex inhabit the park and can be seen in an enclosure at the entrance. Not far from Ein Gedi are the national parks of Masada and Qumran, which are of great historical and archaeological significance. Children will love Einot Zukim (also called Ein Feshkha) where they can swim in a semi-natural pool of water.

Hurshat Tal in the north of Israel offers camping or bungalows for rent. It’s a great base for day trips in the Upper Galilee. A natural pool of water and water slide can entertain a family for a full day. Hurshat Tal can get very hot, so check the weather before deciding to sleep outdoors.

Castel National Park was the site of an important battle in the Israeli War of Independence. Learn about the history of the establishment of the State of Israel while walking through a maze of tunnels. There’s a pleasant picnic area in the park for eating lunch and stretching your legs.

Beit Shearim provides a fascinating look at burial caves from the time of the Mishnah. The Galilee was the center of Jewish intellectual life during this time period and Rabbi Judah the Prince made his home here for a while. There’s a small tunnel children will get a kick out of crawling through.

This is of course only a small sampling of Israel’s national parks. For a full list of parks and information about each one, see the Nature and Parks Authority website.

Do You Need a Phone in Israel?

Israel Cell Phone RentalWhen cell phones first became popular, most people still managed without a phone on vacation. Phone booths were still prevalent and we were all a bit less dependent on our phones. But these days, it is really difficult to be without a phone even for a week. Making arrangements to meet friends and family is so much easier when you have a cellphone. And when you are standing in front of the restaurant wondering whether they are late or you are in the wrong place, a cellphone can be a lifeline.

Calling ahead to places you plan to visit is also much easier when you have a phone handy. Instead of waiting till you get back to your hotel and all the offices are closed, make your phone calls in a lull between activities.

If you are traveling with your spouse and/or adult children, you will want the option to split up and meet up again easily. Coordinating this without a phone will lead to much frustration.

When you’re in a foreign country, you need much more information than you do at home. Directions, opening hours and recommendations are at your fingertips with a smartphone or a phone call away with a regular phone.

And of course, if you need to stay connected to your workplace while you are away, you will want access to your e-mail. A computer can only be used in certain places and hotels generally charge for wi-fi, so keeping in touch with a smartphone is an excellent option. If you are active on social networks or want to use GPS while driving, you will certainly need a phone.

Click here for more information on renting a cell phone in Israel.