For a full experience of important pilgrimage sites all over the Holy Land and for abundant opportunities to interact with the Living Stones, we recommend an itinerary of fourteen days (including travel to and from home.) However, if you or your group prefer a shorter trip, we offer itineraries of ten days or even seven days.
The final cost for your trip is determined by length of the itinerary and available air fare at time of booking. In general, the cost for a Living Stones Pilgrimage is competitive with other Holy Land or European pilgrimages of the same length. Remember to budget extra for souvenir shopping and free time activities!
The Holy Land is very safe for international visitors. Unlike other conflict zones, foreigners here are not intended targets of violence. Thousands of visitors from many countries continue to travel to the Holy Land every day without incident. HCEF office personnel and volunteers in the Holy Land provide ongoing support throughout the pilgrimage. All HCEF pilgrimages have been successful and without incident. In response to surveys taken after each trip, pilgrims consistently say they never felt afraid or in danger.
All travelers must have a US passport that is valid for at least six months from your departure date. Be sure to have at least one copy of your passport that is kept separately from your actual passport during the trip and it is advisable to leave a copy at home with a friend or relative. Visas are not required for Palestine/Israel. If your pilgrimage is visiting Jordan, a group visa will be prepared through HCEF prior to your departure. Please remember to provide your full passport information at time of registration, for air ticketing and Jordanian group visa if applicable.
The Holy Land is seven hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Savings Time/ ten hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Savings Time.
Purchase of travel/trip cancellation insurance and medical coverage is strongly recommended. This will give you the “peace of mind” that you are insured for those possible monetary losses incurred due to a last minute trip cancellation or the need to leave the trip before completion (be sure to carefully read the terms of any policy you may purchase). Check with your medical insurance provider to determine if you have international coverage. If international coverage is included by your carrier, be sure to bring your medical insurance card in case you need it while traveling. If international coverage is not provided, you can generally purchase medical insurance as part of your trip cancellation policy. HCEF does not offer travel insurance but your pilgrimage leader may advise you with regards to insurance options available. In addition, if you are a member of AAA, they offer travel insurance. The need to purchase travel insurance (including medical coverage) is a decision each pilgrim should consider seriously.
In winter months (November – April) weather will be generally cool (40’s -50’s) and you should be prepared for rain (raincoat and/or umbrella – a small foldable umbrella is a must). Layering of clothing is recommended. Jordan, the Sea of Galilee, and the desert areas can be a little warmer. In summer months (May –October) weather will generally be warm (70-90's) so lighter clothing is needed; however, at least one light weight jacket or sweater is also recommended. It will generally be warmer in Galilee than in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Generally dress is conservative and very casual. Very comfortable shoes are a must. Shorts and sleeveless tops are generally not permitted in churches, so please plan your wardrobe so that legs and arms are covered. If your itinerary includes a swim in the Dead Sea, don’t forget a swim suit. Pack light so you have room to bring home things you purchase during the trip. It is highly recommended to limit you checked luggage to one bag per person since baggage storage on buses is often limited. Your carry-on bags must be able fit in the compartment above the seats or under the seats** (ladies, a purse is considered a carry-on, so plan accordingly). A small tote bag or back-pack is very handy to carry items you may need with you each day such as: bottle of water, medications, small Bible and notebook. Camera and extra camera batteries, rain gear, sunglasses, hat, and scarf as needed (depending on season).
Language isn’t a problem since most people we meet will speak English. Arabic, English, and Hebrew are all spoken. If you would like to learn some basic Arabic before your trip, your hosts will appreciate your desire to greet them in their language! We provide our pilgrims with a list of basic Arabic words and phrases.
The local currency in Israel and Palestine is the New Israeli Shekel (NIS), but U.S. dollars are accepted at most locations. Many businesses also accept Euros. There are many banks in Israel with a network of ATMs. In Palestine, the largest bank is Bank of Palestine which also has an extensive ATM network. Most ATMs have an English language interface and will dispense either in Israeli Shekels or U.S. dollars. Be sure to notify your ATM card issuer before your trip that you will be traveling to Israel and Palestine.
Credit cards are widely accepted, but many smaller shops prefer payment in cash. Take cash in small denominations and take a major credit card for emergency purposes. Cash should be in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50 (please do not bring $100 dollar bills). Take at least 25 $1 bills (US currency coins cannot be used in the Holy Land). A small change pouch is convenient for carrying small bills for small expenditures, but purchase a money holder that can be worn as a belt under your clothing as a secure way to carry most money and your passport. Wallets should never be stored in back pockets or in outer pockets of back packs. It is also recommended that money not be conspicuously displayed in public. Be sure to notify your credit card issuer before your trip that you will be traveling to Israel and Palestine.
Voltage in the Holy Land is 220, compared to 110 in the US. You will need an adaptor and a converter for small electric appliances. These items are available at most travel stores or on line. Chargers for laptops and smartphones accept wither 110 or 220 volts input, but you will still need an adaptor because outlets in the Holy Land are a different design.
Wifi is excellent at most hotels including the HCEF Inn in Bethlehem. But we remind you to enjoy a full experience of your pilgrimage by keeping device use to a minimum. You are here to get a real experience, not a virtual one! Try not to spend your pilgrimage “behind the camera” – professional photos of the holy places are available at many locations. The best and most meaningful memories will be your photos of the people you meet and your interactions with them.
Telephone apps that can be downloaded for free onto smart phones in order to communicate with loved ones at home include WhatsApp and Viber. These apps work wherever you have internet access. Many mobile plans in the US allow you to add international service for one billing cycle (1 month) in the specific countries you will be visting (Israel and Jordan.)
Meals generally consist of traditional Arabic food. Most lunches and dinners will begin with an expansive appetizer course that includes many types of salad, hummus, and other types of traditional items such as grape leaves and olives. The main course is usually grilled meat (chicken, beef, and lamb) or fish with rice and vegetables. Fresh fruit is often included as dessert. Fresh vegetables and fruit are plentiful in the area and are always a good choice. Vegetarians can normally find a good choice of selections. Please notify your pilgrim leader before departure of any special dietary requirements, so that appropriate options can be arranged.
Pilgrims should be in generally good health. Prepare as possible for the long flight over and back and for the standing, walking, and climbing of stairs – i-t is suggested that preparation include a routine of moderate physical exercise. Generally our schedule on and off the bus will be from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm, but these times may vary on some days. Most days the longest walk time is only about a half -mile, but resting may be in the form of standing and listening to a description of what we are seeing before moving on to the next site or returning to the bus. Remember that many holy and historic sites do not have the same accessibility for people with disabilities as we are used to in the US, It is very important to have comfortable shoes. It is also important to drink water regularly so you don’t become dehydrated.
Customary standard tips are additional to the basic price of trip and will be collected by your pilgrimage leader prior to departure. Tips are customary for guide, bus driver, and hotel waiters, and HCEF will handle all these customary tips for the group while you are in the Holy Land. Pilgrims can always give additional tips personally to guides, drivers, or waiters based on exceptional service provided. Tips to any other service personnel are at the discretion of the traveler and based on services provided. It is customary for each pilgrim to make a modest offering at each of the churches and holy sites you will be visiting.
By traveling with HCEF, you and your group will be generating economic activity that directly benefits Christian families living in the Holy Land and helps them to stay in this land in the midst of very difficult economic conditions. We use Christian tour guides and Christian owned hotels, restaurants, logistics providers and souvenir shops to provide the maximum economic benefit to Christian families. But even more important is the fellowship you bring to your brothers and sisters when you come to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. They will know that they are not forgotten and that the worldwide Church holds them in prayer as they remain steadfast witnesses of Christ in this special place. You will also almost certainly find that you receive far more than you give, and you will form lasting personal bonds that will continue long after you return home.
There are many excellent books available on the history of the Holy Land and its three faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. There are also many excellent studies of the complex and difficult situation in the Holy Land today, and how we arrived at the present situation. HCEF recommends a list of books for pilgrims to read before departure (as you have time and interest; don’t worry, there will not be a test on this!) These resources can help you get the most of your experience, and you can also refer back to them after you return home.