From green rolling hills to a Mediterranean culture and cuisine, the hospitality of the Arabs, first-class souks, historical cities that are thousands of years old and one of the most interesting political scenes in our modern history, visiting Palestine, especially a tiny region called the West Bank, will definitely surprise you.
Whether you are interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a lover of Biblical and Christian sites or just a backpacker seeking adventure, Palestine is a country adaptable to any kind of traveler.
For a sense of inspiration, also read: 10 things I didn’t know before traveling to Palestine
Visit Palestine (West Bank): A travel guide and 2-week itinerary
In this Palestine travel guide you will find:
Traveling to Palestine – Things you need to know
Travel Insurance – If you are traveling to Palestine without insurance, you are completely nuts, as accidents can happen anywhere at any time. When I visited Palestine, I used World Nomads, one of the best insurance companies out there, as it fully covers any type of accident, including rescue and repatriation.
Wait, West Bank or Gaza? – You probably know this already but Palestinian territories are divided into two regions: the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, both separated by the state of Israel. You can’t enter Gaza unless you are a journalist or an NGO worker. This article is for those traveling to the West Bank.
Is it safe to visit Palestine? – For the past few years, whatever you have heard on the news in relation to the war with Israel, has happened in the Gaza Strip, which is an isolated, hermetic and inaccessible piece of territory. The West Bank is a totally different place which has lived in peace for almost twenty years, since the Second Intifada.
How to get in – There are no international airports in Palestine, so you can only enter overland through Israel. The Palestinian border is controlled by the Israeli authorities. Read more: Israel – Jordan border crossing.
Visas – A Palestinian visa doesn’t exist. If you are in possession of an Israeli visa, you can visit the West Bank. Most nationalities, especially EU countries, USA, Canada, Australia and Japan, can get a free visa on arrival. On this link, you can find whether you are one of the lucky countries or not.
Israeli stamps? – The Israeli authorities don’t stamp passports anymore. Instead, they give you a slip containing all your personal information, which you need to keep with you if want to travel to the West Bank. This is quite a controversial topic. You can find all your answers here: Avoid Israeli stamps – FAQ.
Currency – In Palestine, the currency used is the Israeli Shekel. 1USD = 3.60ISL. Exchange offices are available throughout the country.
Language – Arabic is the official language. A large proportion of the Palestinian population is well-educated and many speak good English. Taxi drivers and shop keepers speak a very basic English.
When to go – The West Bank is a year-round destination, with slightly cold winters and moderately hot summers. Some desert parts, though, like Jericho, can get extremely hot in summer. I would say that either spring or autumn would be the best time to travel to Palestine.
Transportation – Since both the Israeli authorities and settlers need to drive throughout the region, roads are in a very good condition. The West Bank also has an efficient public transport system, connecting all cities and towns. Typically, you have two options: big buses, which are cheaper but slower and less frequent; or serveece, which are brand new yellow mini-vans that are slightly more expensive but faster and way more frequent. Within cities, towns and between small villages, shared taxis are also very common.
Hitchhiking – While backpacking in Palestine, I hitchhiked five or six times and I never had to wait for more than ten minutes and, even in smaller areas and towns, some cars were stopping voluntarily, asking me if I needed a ride to somewhere. Very rarely, they will ask you for money. It only happened to me once.
Internet / SIM Card – High-speed Wi-Fi is available throughout the country. You can buy either a Palestinian or an Israeli SIM card. Palestinian SIM cards are cheap but only have 2G not 3G, so if you want good internet data you must buy an Israeli one, which can only be bought in Israel or in border cities like Kalandia, close to Ramallah. A brand new SIM with one month’s worth of data and calls costs around 90ISL ($25). However, I always recommend using Tellink, which is an international SIM that can be used across the globe. It’s better to make sure and always stay connected!
A book – I strongly recommend buying the Palestine Travel Guide by Bradt, which is the only exclusive book guide to the region. Alternatively, you could also buy the Israel & West Bank combo by Lonely Planet, although it is not very comprehensive for the Palestinian Territories. For trekking routes, I recommend Walking Palestine, the best book for trekking in Palestine out there.
People and religion
After traveling to practically all the Middle Eastern countries, I will dare say that Palestinians one of the most hospitable peoples in the region. Either because they rarely see foreigners, have an international bad reputation due to the Israeli conflict or just because they are kind by nature, the fact is that you should always expect loads of coffee, food and house invitations. Traveling in the West Bank is extremely pleasant.
Palestine is a Muslim country, Sunni Islam being the most practiced religion. Hebron, Nablus and Jenin are more traditional and conservative, so you should always dress modestly there. Ramallah, a surprisingly cosmopolitan capital, is more laid-back, so is Bethlehem, the city with the largest Christian population.
Home to some of the most important Biblical sites in the world, Christianity also plays an important role in the West Bank, not only in Bethlehem but also in several Christian villages around Ramallah and Jenin, like Taybeh and Zababdeh, where even local breweries can be found.
Travel to Palestine – How much does it cost?
You will be surprised if I tell you that the West Bank is not a budget backpacking destination, with similar prices to Greece and Portugal. Since accommodation is pretty expensive, I would say that you can’t travel for less than:
$25-$30 a day
Airbnb – Definitely, the cheapest option for a couple. You can find double rooms for as little as $20.
Remember that you can get $35 of free Airbnb credit if you sign up through my link.
Hostels – The cheapest if you are backpacking solo but, honestly, they are pretty expensive for what you get. They are available throughout the country and prices range from 50ISL ($14) to 75ISL ($20).
Hotels – Personally, I didn’t stay in any hotels, as private rooms were too expensive. Typically, you won’t find anything cheaper than $30 or $40.
Please note that you can find further details on where I stayed further down, in the ”Travel Itinerary” section.
Fast food is cheap but, if you want a bit of a change from shawarma and falafel, you will have to spend some more money.
Street falafel – 3-5ISL (80¢ – $1.40)
Shawarma – 8-15ISL ($2.20 – $4.10)
Kebab – 10ISL ($2.80) per piece
Half a roast chicken with rice – 25ISL ($7)
Proper, good Palestinian meal – 40-75ISL ($10 – $20)
Beer in a bar – 15ISL – 25ISL ($4 – $7)
Beer in a store – 5ISL ($1.40)
These are the prices of some of the bus, mini-van and shared taxi journeys I took:
Serveece (mini-van) from Hebron to Ramallah (53km) – 27ISL ($7.50)
Bus from Ramallah to Nablus (52km) – 11ISL ($3)
Shared taxi within the city of Bethlehem – 3ISL (80¢)
Like its neighbor Lebanon, Palestine is a Mediterranean country whose cuisine goes far beyond just shawarma and falafels, as many people believe. From delicious fresh salads, including hummus and baba ganouj, to more elaborate stews and roast dishes, where olive oil is king; if you can afford it, in Palestine, you can also enjoy your way through food. These are some of my favorite dishes:
Makluba – The Palestinian dish par by excellence. Apparently, there are many variations but the one we ate had chicken, rice, cauliflower and eggplant. Makluba literally means ”upside-down”, because, when it’s being cooked, the chicken is placed at the bottom of the pan so, when it’s ready, you pour out the contents, leaving the chicken on top.
Msakhan – It consists of roast chicken placed on an oily slice of bread and topped with chestnuts and loads and loads of onions. It’s quite a heavy meal, so Palestinians have it for lunch.
Fatteh – This is not only Palestinian but from all the Levantine region. it has flatbread, olive oil, yogurt, chickpeas and loads of nuts. It a super powerful breakfast. I freaking love it 😀
Visiting Palestine: A 2-week backpacking itinerary through the West Bank
I spent 40 days traveling in the West Bank and Jerusalem and still I couldn’t visit everything I wanted to. But I like to travel slowy, spending 3 or 4 days in each place. That’s why, in my opinion, if you only have 2 weeks, the itinerary suggested below is totally feasible. The good news is that, since the region is pretty small, distances between each destination are short and quick.
Jerusalem – Day 1-3
Why go? Today, Jerusalem is part of Israel but the eastern part of the city is completely inhabited by Arabs. If Palestine ever becomes an independent state, East Jerusalem would be capital of the country. Being the holiest place for the three main monotheist religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) in Jerusalem, if you wanted, you could spend an entire eternity exploring and wandering around the Old City. I spent 10 days there myself but you only need a few days to visit the main sites.
Things to do in Jerusalem – Highlights
Western Wall – One of the most important landmarks in the city and a very holy place where, every day, thousands of Jews come to pray and venerate it. It is also called the Wailing Wall as, during the Ottoman period, Jews would go there and lament the destruction of the previously destroyed Temple Mount.
Church of the Holy Sepulcher – Whether you are religious or not, the Church of the Ressurrection is an impressive building, where, apparently, Jesus was crucified. You can also find his empty tomb, from where, according to Christians, he rose from the dead and ascended to heaven.
Temple Mount / Al-Haram ash-Sharif – A real landmark, as this is one of the holiest places for both Jews and Muslims. The Dome of the Rock is believed to be the place from where Prophet Mohamed stepped to heaven. The last time I was there, in March 2017, it was only possible to visit in the morning.
Hang out at Yehuda Market and around – For some reason, all travelers always finish their day at Yehuda Market, which is a regular market that, at night, turns into a bunch of small alleys where you can find budget food, beer and an awesome vibe, both local and international. Around this area, you can also find plenty of pubs and bars. Location: 31.784976, 35.212340.
Mount of Olives – According to the Bible, the Mount of Olives is the place where the Judgement Day will start. And not only that, it is also a great place to watch the sunset over the Dome of the Rock.
Where to stay in Jerusalem
Abraham Hostel – The most famous hostel in Israel. Nice backpacking vibe, friendly staff and loads, loads of organized activities.
Palm Guest house – Located at the entrance of the Old City, this is a relatively affordable mid-range option.
How to get from the airport to Jerusalem
There are two options. Bus nº485 costs 16ISL ($7), departs every half an hour or so from the first floor and leaves you at the Central Station. Sherut (shared mini-vans) cost 68ISL ($19), depart more often, are faster and leave you closer to your final destination. During Shabat, bus nº485 doesn’t run.
Bethlehem – Day 3-4
Why go? With hundreds of tour groups roaming around, Bethlehem doesn’t give the feeling that you are in the West Bank but, since this is the birthplace of Jesus, it is one of the most visited places in the Middle East. Apart from all the Christian sites, this is a great place to easily get a close feeling of the consequences of the Israeli occupation.
Things to do in Bethlehem – Highlights
The Wall – In 2001, after the Second Intifada, Israel started building a wall, 8 meters high, which would eventually separate Israel from the West Bank. In the center of Bethlehem, the wall is decorated with progressive and Pro-Palestinian paintings, including a real painting from Banksy. Note that most Banksy paintings are fake and the only real one is the white pigeon.
Aida Palestinian refugee camp – In 1948, after the Israeli-Arab war, the Palestinians were expelled from their native land, being forced to settle down in several refugee camps across the West Bank and other neighboring, Arab countries. Aida is perhaps the most well-known camp, although, in my opinion, it is also the most commercialized. The wall is built right beside it and has some very cool graffiti on it.
Dheisheh Palestinian refugee camp – Less visited and way more interesting than Aida, in Dheisheh, you will see the real picture of life in a Palestinian refugee camp. The camp also has loads of very interesting martyr paintings. Actually, I did an Airbnb stay here, one of the best traveling experiences in my life. You can read about it here: Airbnb in a Palestinian refugee camp.
Please note: Both Aida and Dheisheh are extremely safe and foreigners are always welcome. There is no need to go on a tour unless you want someone to explain the history of the camp to you. Cameras are also welcome but, if taking any portrait, ask for permission first. It’s a good idea to spend a few dollars at one of their shops or cafés. I’ve been to more than 10 refugee camps. Any question, feel free to ask. You might also like this travel story: Visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Iraq.
The Church of Nativity and the Old City – Well, you made it all the way to Bethlehem. Perhaps you should go to see the place where one of the most influential people in our human history was born, right? The entrance is free but try to get there early, otherwise, you’ll be standing in the line for hours. The old part the city is also worth spending a couple of hours in, wandering around the different souvenirs shops.
Mar Saba (Day trip) – Constructed in an isolated desert valley during the 5th century, either carved into or built on the cliffs, Mar Saba is an Orthodox Christian monastery, considered one of the oldest inhabited monasteries in the world. Today, around 20 monks live at this impressive monastery and, the surprising fact is that they still live the same way their ancestors used to, meaning that there’s no electricity and cell phones. Entrance to women is strictly forbidden but either way, you will spend 90% of your time outside of it. How to get to Mar Saba: Located 30km from Bethlehem, if you don’t want to take a taxi, you should take a mini-van to Ubeidiya (4ISL, $1.10) and from there, either hitchhike or walk the remaining 5-7 kilometers. Location: 31.704939, 35.331314.
Where to stay in Bethlehem
Airbnb in Dheisheh (Top Choice) – Does it sound scary to you? It shouldn’t. Palestinian refugee camps have been going on over 60 years and, today, they have become mere city neighborhoods. If you really want to have an authentic and ultimate experience, you must stay here. You can read my whole experience on this link.
Remember that, if you sign up through my link, you will get $35 of free credit on Airbnb.
Bunksurfing Hostel – If you prefer staying in a hostel, this is one of the most budget choices.
Walled Off Hotel – Located right in front of the separation wall, this famous, thematic hotel is inspired by the work of the artist Banksy. Staying here must be an awesome experience. They have both dorms and private rooms. Even if you don’t stay here, you can visit the museum.
How to get from Jerusalem to Bethlehem
Buses leave all day from the station right in front of Damascus Gate, in the Old City of Jerusalem. It takes less than 1 hour but it all depends on the mood of the Israeli authorities when crossing the border. Cost: 30ISL ($8).
Hebron – Day 5-6
Why go? One of the most interesting places to visit in Palestine but also, the most troubled. Hebron is the only city where Jewish settlements are within the city itself. The tension is extreme, which can be seen at every corner of the city. The Mosque and Synagogue at the Cave of the Patriarchs, one of the holiest sites for both Jews and Muslims, are separated by a bulletproof glass. It’s insane.
There is so much to say about this. I’ve written a full article about it: Visiting Hebron, the most troubled city in Palestine
Things to do in Hebron – Highlights
Arab side (H1) – What used to be a busy market, full of joy and happiness, is today nothing but a semi-abandoned area, whose inhabitants can’t avoid expressing their hatred of the settlers. The old Arab quarter is full of deserted streets with random walls placed in the middle of them by the Israeli authorities. Most of the windows are protected to prevent the settlers throwing objects at them.
Mosque and Synagogue of the Cave of the Patriarchs – A very holy place for both Arabs and Jews, this is the place where Abraham, one of the most important figures for both religions, is buried. His tomb is located right in between the synagogue and the mosque, separated by bulletproof glass. Crazy.
Jewish Side (H2) – It’s also important to go and see how the settlers live. I suggest you go there and try to talk with an Israeli. Many of them, will be happy to share their side of the story with you, as they also want to end with their international bad reputation.
Remember to check my article for further info: Visiting Hebron, the most troubled city in Palestine
Herbawi Kuffiya factory – In Palestine, there is the first and only kuffiya factory (Palestinian scarf) that has ever existed in Palestine. For further details, read this post: The Art of the Palestinian scarf – Visiting the kuffiya factory in Hebron.
Where to stay in Hebron
Couchsurfing at Mo’s (Top Choice) – Mo is a Palestinian who has hosted over 600 people in Hebron. He was more than happy to be included in my guide Meeting Mo was one of the highlights of my trip!
Hostel Hebron – If you are not into Couchsurfing, this is the only backpacker hostel in the city.
How to get from Bethlehem to Hebron
Buses leave from the station which is closer to Hebron Road. Here: 31.709617, 35.199298. Price: 16ISL ($4.40).
Ramallah – Day 7-8
Why go? Home to a large expat community, Ramallah is a cosmopolitan city where you can hang out for few days in its numerous pubs and restaurants, besides visiting Yasser’s Arafat’s Tomb and the Historical Museum. Ramallah will definitely surprise you.
Things to do in Ramallah – Highlights
The Mausoleum and Museum – The place where the former President Yasser Arafat is buried and also a Historical Museum that showcases the story of Palestine from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict perspective.
Taybeh brewery (Day Trip) – Yes, a brewery! Located in Taybeh, the town with the largest proportion of Christians, this is the first micro-brewery ever founded in Palestine. In the mornings, they offer free tours and a beer tasting for free. You can also buy additional beers at 7ISL ($2) per bottle. How to get to Taybeh: Mini-vans leave from the main station and cost 7ISL ($2). It’s a very small village, so you’ll find the microbrewery easily.
Nightlife in Ramallah – A visit to Ramallah is not complete without getting drank at any of its many bars and pubs. The locals recommended Garage, Fuego and Sangria’s to me.
Where to stay in Ramallah
Hostel In Ramallah – A cool hostel with a nice backpacking vibe run by two brothers.
How to get from Hebron to Ramallah
From the main bus station in Hebron (Location: 31.528543, 35.095612), mini-vans leave all day long. Price: 27ISL ($7.50), for a 53km trip.
Nablus – Day 9-10
Things to do in Nablus – Highlights
Why go? Located in a beautiful valley between Mount Ebal and Gerizim, Nablus is a real off the beaten track destination, home to, perhaps, the most beautiful Old City in the Middle East, with plenty of narrow alleys filled with sweet and olive oil shops. Nablus is a vibrant Muslim city and the authentic Palestine where you will find the friendliest locals and the best food.
The Old City – Wandering around the huge Old Town (Qasaba) is definitely the highlight of any trip to Nablus. And guess what. Around the alleys of Qasaba you will also find the most colorful job in the Middle East.
Kunafeh! – Kunafeh, oh… yes! This dangerously delicious cheese based pastry with orange syrup on top that can be found across the country, is originally from Nablus and, Al-Aksa, a shop located in the Old City, serves what is considered the best kunafeh in Palestine and, of course, in the world. A piece of kunafeh typically costs 5ISL ($1.40). If you don’t eat kunafeh, you haven’t visited Palestine.
Samaritans – According to the Samaritans, Mt Gerizim, one of the mountains that form the valley around Nablus, was the first piece of land that was ever created. The Samaritans are a religious group which is very close to Judaism, even though they don’t like people to say that. The largest community of Samaritans in the world are in Nablus and they live in peace with their Muslim neighbors. They live at the top of Mt Gerizim, where you can find a museum explaining their history, and the only liquor store in town! Location: 32.200556, 35.273333.
Where to stay in Nablus
Airbnb with Basil (Top Choice) – Basil is an extremely helpful young Palestinian who will make your stay memorable. We stayed at his place twice.
Success Hostel – The most backpacking-friendly hostel in Nablus.
How to get from Nablus to Ramallah
We took a big bus from the main station and paid only 11ISL ($3) for a 52km ride.
Jericho – Day 11-14
Why go? At 400 meters below sea level, this is considered the lowest city on Earth and, with 10,000 years of history, it is also the oldest inhabited city in the world. Disturbingly hot in summer but pleasant in winter, Jericho is a desert city with the largest number of touristic sites ranging from stunning Christian monasteries to ancient ruins, awesome hikes, a Bedouin culture and the gate to the Dead Sea, although it is not under Palestinian control but Israel’s.
Things to do in Jericho – Highlights
Saint George Koziba monastery – Located in Wadi Quelt, this is another beautiful Greek Orthodox monastery carved into the rocks. The entrance is free but I recommend you go there early, before the place gets filled with endless pilgrims and tourists. Dress modestly, otherwise, you won’t be allowed to get in. Inside the monastery, they offer water, tea and coffee, for free.
Trekking to Wadi Qelt – Wadi Qelt is a valley that connects Jericho with Jerusalem. Around 10km after Jericho, there are some natural springs that make an excellent day trek through rolling arid hills, Bedouin camps and striking views of the valley. Some parts of the springs are deep enough to swim in. On weekends, you might find some groups of Palestinians enjoying a picnic day. Of course, expect invitations to join them.
Monastery of Temptation – Apparently, this is the place where Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights meditating and fasting during the temptation of Satan. Today, instead, you can find another Greek Orthodox monastery which is the third architectural masterpiece built on a cliff. From the monastery, you get awesome views of Jericho, the Dead Sea and the mountains of Jordan. You can easily walk to the top but, for 30ISL ($8), you can also go up by cable car.
Hisham’s Palace – Constructed in the 8th Century (arguably), these Islamic ruins were just the second residence of some kings but they contain some of the most well-preserved Islamic mosaics that have ever been discovered. The entrance ticket is 10ISL ($2.70).
Where to stay in Jericho
Sami Hostel – Located in a refugee camp, this modern hostel is run by a very kind and helpful man. It might be slightly far from the city center but mini-vans are passing by the hostel continuously. It’s the cheapest hostel in town.
Extending your itinerary
Jenin (2 extra days)
Why go? The least visited part of Palestine, Jenin is a cozy, little city with a beautiful old town, surrounded by a beautiful green scenery.
Things to see in Jenin – Besides wandering around the old town, in Jenin, there is also a refugee camp where foreigners are more than welcome. Inside the camp, there is a famous NGO called the Freedom Theater, where you can volunteer, even for a short period of time of 1 or 2 weeks. In the hostel where I stayed, I was the only person who was not volunteering there. You can find more information about the NGO here.
Where to stay in Jenin – Cinema Guest House is the only hostel in Jenin. As I just said, most guests are volunteers working at the Freedom Theater.
How to get to Jenin – From Nablus, we took a direct bus for just 10ISL ($2.70), 50km.
Zababdeh (2 extra days)
Why go? This barely visited part of Palestine is home to the most beautiful scenery in the region, composed of green rolling hills, olive oil trees and where you’ll be likely to see wild turtles. In Zababdeh, we also had an unexpected, peculiar experience. Read more below on ”Where to stay section”.
Things to see in Zababdeh – Besides visiting the church built on the place where, supposedly, the Virgin Mary spent one night on her way to Bethlehem, Zababdeh is the place from where to go on short day hikes through mountain villages, fields and green rolling hills. I recommend you go hiking around Raba, a village located 6km from Zababdeh.
Where to stay in Zababdeh – When traveling in Palestine I heard of someone called Father Firas, who was a Christian priest from Zababdeh. I was told he liked to host foreigners at his church, so I decided to give him a call. Father Firaz is not only a priest but a man with a lot of influence throughout the region. For the last few years, he has been trying to build bridges with Israel through meeting people and getting contacts from all over the world. He is a wise man from whom you will learn a lot about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. We spent 3 nights at his church and he blessed us with tremendous hospitality. I can’t recommend Father Firas’ guest house highly enough.
Note that you don’t need to be a religious person to stay at his house but just someone interested in the conflict and history of the country. Several journalists and writers have stayed here. There is no fixed price and he will tell you to pay as much as you want. Contact him at [email protected] or [email protected]. Phone number: +972599789282. When you arrive in Zababdeh, just ask for Father Firas. Everybody knows him.
How to get to Zababdeh – Zababdeh is only 10km from Jenin, from where you can take a mini-van for just 5ISL ($1.40).
Qalqilya (1 day)
Why go? If you are interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, after Hebron, this is a super interesting place, since this is the village most affected by the construction of the separation wall, as it practically surrounds the whole community, completely drowning its economy. Many fields owned by Palestinians were left on the other side of the wall, so the Palestinian farmers have to go through insane security checks every single day. If this was not enough, the different check points are only open during certain, alternate hours a day, so quite often, the Palestinian farmers have to wait for hours at their fields before they can go back home. The saddest part is that Qalqilya doesn’t receive the international attention that Bethlehem does, so instead of having a wall filled with cool Banksy paintings, there you just find an 8 meters gray, sad, concrete wall, 8-meters high.
How to get to Qalqilya – You can easily go by bus from Nablus on a day trip. That’s what I did.
Remember, don’t visit Palestine without insurance!
World Nomads is the company I use and best out there
And, if you are visiting Palestine for just a few days, perhaps you should consider buying an international SIM Card like Tellink, as it won’t be worth it to buy a local one.