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Backpack & Budget

Staying Flexible in the Holy Land

March 23, 1997|LUCY IZON | Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer

If you are heading for Israel and want the freedom and flexibility of independent travel but need help making accommodation and transportation arrangements, the Israel Youth Hostels Assn. can help.

Discover Israel programs enable budget travelers to explore Israel and see some key sites in Jordan and Egypt (the Sinai Desert). The programs range from do-it-yourself packages to group tours that include camel treks in the Sinai.

Packages include shared room facilities in hostels operated by the Israel Youth Hostels Assn., which has 31 hostels throughout the country.

On the Youth Hostel Trail is a package for do-it-yourselfers that includes hostel bed, breakfasts and dinners, Egged (the national bus service) passes, a pass for entrance to Israel's nature reserves, and travel kits with maps and informational materials. When you purchase a package, your materials are waiting for you at the first hostel. Seven-night packages are $340; the 14-night version is $650 and the 21-day package is $910.

For those who want a package with guided tours but also lots of free time, there is the seven-night Taste of Israel Tour for $420. It includes accommodations at the Jerusalem youth hostel and offers guided tours in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth. The group will visit Cana, Tabgha and Capernaum, and take a boat ride on the Dead Sea. Two days are set aside for free time before visiting Masada and relaxing at Ein Gedi Spa. The morning of Day 8 ends with breakfast. This package is also available with double room accommodations for $500.

Exotic tours such as a camel-trekking adventure in the Sinai Desert is within reach of those on student-style budgets. The nine-night tour costs $470 and begins at the youth hostel in Eilat. The group travels to the Red Sea to snorkel, then heads to Mt. Horeb to camp near the monastery of St. Catherine. The next day the camels are loaded for hikes through colorful canyons, where hikers can meet Bedouins. The group moves on to the oasis at Dahab, Egypt, for more hiking and swimming before returning to Eilat. This tour departs three times a month. Travelers must be prepared for a rugged hiking trip; camels carry only the luggage. Sleeping bags are provided.

If you want to explore the same area in a vehicle, seven-night Eilat vacations with four nights at the Eilat youth hostel (with breakfast and dinner) and a four-day guided Sinai safari tour (full board) is available for $420. You can begin the package in Eilat on any day but Thursday.

A seven-night Eilat Leisure package with youth hostel accommodations, breakfasts and dinners, a Jeep safari (including lunch) and a Red Sea cruise (with lunch) are available for $330. The same package with a double room is $400.

Fly/drive packages with youth hostel accommodations are also available. Prices vary depending on the number of people traveling together and type of vehicle. A seven-night package for three people in an air-conditioned Ford Fiesta with unlimited mileage, costs $300 per person. Gas and personal accident insurance is extra. High season (April 15 to 30, July 1 to Aug. 25 and Dec. 20 to Jan. 1) is an extra $12 per day. Depending on availability the fly/drive packages are available with private accommodations in guest houses at an extra charge.

For more information on youth hostels in Israel or on any of these packages, contact Israel Youth Hostels Assn., Binyaney Ha 'coma, P.O.B. 6001, Jerusalem 91060; tel. 011-972-2-655-8400, fax 011-972-2-655-8432.

Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer. She can be reached at http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/izon

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