Several years ago I used Wendy’s website to research a trip to South Africa and Zambia. At Wendyperrin.com we found a great travel planner who arranged a wonderful private guided trip for me and my wife.
So when we decided to visit Israel and Jordan, I figured Wendy’s site would be a great place to start our search for a travel planner expert – we were not wrong. We found Joe Yudin of Touring Israel. Joe came highly rated via Wendy’s site. All the details we needed were readily available and I was easily able to reach out to Joe for a private interview before moving forward.
The results was a 10 day, private guided tour of all the spots we wanted to see in both Israel and Jordan. Joe and his team (Maria) made sure the trip met our budget and Amir, our private guide, made sure the experience was unique and special.
Joe Yudin was excellent. He and his team “tailor made” our itinerary going back and forth to meet our specific needs (e.g., dive in Red Sea and side trips to Bethlehem and Petra). The ten days we spent with our primary private guide, Bena, were very interesting. He was extremely knowledgeable in both Old and New Testaments as well as archaeology, having studied the latter in depth. Our guide on the last day, Adam, was also very knowledgeable, and both were very personable too—very important especially if you are spending all that time together. We had a problem with a gift shop in Jordan (overcharged) and although it was not the responsibility of Joe Yudin Tours, they got back about 95% of our money (balance was wire transfer fee and bank charge on our end, which we will look into with the bank). We couldn’t take care of this ourselves because we were flying out the next day and would have had to go back to Jordan, etc. They really went out of their way to return the items and worked hard on our behalf, which we really appreciated. Overall a first-rate travel company.
Date of Israel trip was Nov 8-Nov 24, 2016
We are very seasoned world travelers and are very picky with touring outfits and guides. We always use Wendy Perrin’s WOW List. Her pick of Joe Yudin that we selected from her WOW List literally knocked our socks off! The trip with Touring Israel was a trip of a lifetime!
We were in Israel for 16 days and wanted a highly personalized 13 day tour all over the country. From the first conversation with Joe/Gil on the itinerary, to last minute changes with Maria and speaking with Bena Mantel our tour guide prior to arriving- – , the Touring Israel team is highly professional, super customer focused and you can feel their passion for this country. From the moment we arrived in Israel at the airport we felt like royalty as we were whisked through security to a waiting car and off to the hotel.
Bena Mantel, who was our tour guide ,was nothing short of phenomenal. His knowledge of archeology, religion, geo politics, and just about everything under the sun was amazing. Bena is super intelligent, with a great sense of humor and showed such excitement in communicating layers of history in a way both my husband and I understood and we felt his passion which was contagious. My husband loved his stories of his army experiences and what it is like to serve in the military in Israel, which is compulsory.
While we had a highly customized tour, Bena had no problem changing things around on the tour, once he got to know our likes and dislikes. For instance, Touring Israel had booked great restaurants for dinner, but we wanted more of a casual local combo of locally owned late lunch/dinner venues. In every place we visited, Bena knew of many restaurants with great food (the Druze food in the Golan Heights, the little family owned place in Mahane Yehuda Dr. Shakshuka with the best Shawarma and the burger joint which was great!) When we wanted to cancel the sound and light show in Jerusalem or something else that did not appeal to us, no problem. Bena and the touring Israel office (Maria) took care of everything. I was also traveling with medication that needed to be kept cold and while I had a cold pack the meds would have been in a hot car for 8 hours till we finished for the day in Caesarea and went on to our next hotel in Northern Israel. Bena lives nearby the sites we were touring and volunteered to offer the freezer in his home to store my meds!! He graciously introduced us to his wife and children and cleaned out a section of their freezer to fit my medication to keep it cold–totally above and beyond and I was so grateful to him :-)
What really set this trip apart form other personalized tour guides we have had were the interactions we had with Bena. I believe Bena opened doors for us to tour in places that other tour groups could not go and for that it was a much richer experience for us–Plus, he knew everyone at all the sites and one could see that all the people he came in contact with at the sites really liked and respected him and told us so. Toward the last part of our trip we wanted to change hotels and go back to Tel Aviv earlier (which we loved!) and Joe Yudin called us personally and made it happen in the blink of an eye. He secured us a deluxe room at the Norman, two days earlier than our planned stay there in Tel Aviv. Both the Norman and the King David were stellar hotels- -We had a suite on the sixth floor in the Kind David and a magnificent view of the old city which was truly magical. The Norman was in the middle of Tel Aviv and was perfect for us. Both hotels had superior customer service, great food and all the modern amenities one could think of in a 5 star property. I cannot say enough good things about the King David and the Norman. I originally wanted to stay at the Waldorf, but Gil and Maria convinced that the Kind David would fit what we wanted better and they were right!
The trip to Israel was a long awaited lifetime vacation and it was such a beautiful spiritual journey with Bena and Touring Israel. This was the most stress free relaxing international trip we have ever taken, even though we were active every day. I highly recommend them to anyone that wants a luxury, personalized trip with customer service that is above and beyond.
In December 2015, my husband and I enjoyed a phenomenal 8 day trip to Israel planned by Touring Israel. Our guide, whom we absolutely loved, was Ari Melnik (be mindful that there are two Ari’s who work with Touring Israel). Ari brought so much insight, meaning, and fun to our experience!
We found Touring Israel through Wendy Perrin, formerly of Conde Nast. This is the third time we have used a guide recommended by her (first with Croatia and then with Turkey and Greece) and have had great success each time.
Joe Yudal and Maria of Touring Israel were terrific from the very beginning…responsive, prompt, organized, and friendly. They availed themselves to us consistently throughout the trip.
Touring Israel offers highly customized tours. Joe listened to our preferences and suggested an itinerary based on our interests. We travel together globally about ten weeks out of each year and strongly prefer traveling independently, just the two of us, as we love our couple time together. Thus, initially, we were a bit concerned about the idea of one tour guide being assigned to us for 7 days and driving us everyday. However, when we met Ari Melnik (again, be mindful that there are 2 Ari’s) any concerns immediately disappeared! He was fantastic.
Over the course of 7 days, we experienced an incredibly diverse array of sights. We will forever be impacted by what we learned and experienced. Israel is an amazing country, and Touring Israel did a really nice job balancing biblical and ancient sights with museums and other sights relevant to the creation of Israel after World War II. Having Ari as a guide was perhaps what made this trip so much more meaningful than it otherwise would have been even had we followed the same itinerary. We were further able to customize each day and Ari was flexible and incredibly accommodating. He is well connected with Golan Heights wineries and it is obvious he is well respected by other guides. From him, we gained insight on life, politics and religion in Israel today, with its incredibly nuanced complexities. One morning, we expressed interested in going to an Arab grocery store. It was not on our itinerary. We spent about 30 minutes there, asking Ari dozens of questions, as we did everyday. It was such a treat to have him all to ourselves, as he is incredibly knowledgable, funny, and extremely easy to be with.
Furthermore, Ari is exceedingly intelligent and well versed in literally thousands of years of history. He is a walking encyclopedia. He is skilled at communicating in layers accessible even to those who don’t typically take a strong interest in history. I have a Ph.D. in history and admired the way he takes very complex notions and communicates them in interesting, engaging ways. His knowledge base is so vast that he would be a great fit for those, like us, who love history but also for those who prefer the 3 minute sound bite.
We could not imagine a guide who could have been any better. We were thrilled with our choice of Touring Israel and our good luck at being paired with Ari. We feel that we made a new friend and were genuinely saddened when the trip was over and we had to see “see you later” to him.
What really set this trip apart from others was the personal interactions we had with Ari, Tali, the folks in the Golan Heights, etc. Ari opened doors for us that otherwise would not have been open to us. He introduced us to local people and encouraged us to be inquisitive in our interactions. He was culturally sensitive and offered perspectives on current Arab-Israeli relations we otherwise would not have heard. Essentially, we had a MUCH richer, more meaningful experience because of Ari. It was amongst the most entertaining and enlightening travel/educational experiences we have ever had. Israel is a fascinating country, and Ari made it all the more amazing.
Here is a breakdown of our highlights:
The Norman in Tel Aviv is a great boutique hotel. Good location. Latest in technology. Great rooms, breakfast, and bar. Service was excellent.
King David in Jerusalem is a national institution. This is the hotel where visiting diplomats stay. Service was stellar. Our suite had a nice view of the Old City. It is definitely an experience to stay here.
The Scots in Tiberias was charming and had an interesting history. Good location, breakfast, and service. It overlooks the Sea of Galilee and you can watch the sun rise over it in the AM, which was beautiful.
Touring Israel provided great advice on hotels and we were extremely happy with all of them.
One amazing aspect of Israel we did not anticipate was the quality and innovation of its culinary scene. We were highly impressed. We ate and drank very well and the service was excellent. If you are foodies, do not miss:
Tel Aviv: North Abraxis was fabulous. Amazing lunch. Try the cauliflower, beets, tomato salad. Staff very friendly.
Popino was OK, not great. Menu incredibly creative but disappointed in execution.
Pronto was better than Popino. Good Italian at Pronto. Again, do not miss North Abraxis.
Jerusalem: Mona was excellent. Chakra was unreal and so much fun. This restaurant is world class. Chakra was our favorite restaurant in Israel. Sit at the bar.
Mach Nehuda restaurant was OK, not great. Fun atmosphere.
Magdalena’s was very good. Avi’s is good for fun, casual dining in Tiberias.
Palmach Museum in Tel Aviv was a great way to begin our visit and established an understanding of modern Israel.
Loved Ari’s tour of the artsy, bohemian old neighborhood.
We enjoyed the Western Wall tunnel tour and recommend it.
City of David, Room of the Last Supper, King David’s tomb, Mount of Olives, Basilica of Agony, Garden of Gethsemane, Via Dolorosa/14 stations of the cross, and Church of the Holy Sepulchre are all musts.
Chef Tali Friedman’s Mach Nehuda shuk tour and cooking class at her atelier remains a great memory. We loved spending time with Tali, who is gregarious, warm, personable, and extremely talented. Her sous chefs were friendly and patient in teaching us preparation techniques. We really enjoyed chatting with them over the 4 hours we spent with them. Furthermore, Tali gave great restaurant recommendations and went above and beyond in ensuring that our dining experiences in Jerusalem were top notch. She is very knowledgable and walking the shuk with her and cooking afterwards was a unique experience. We gained an appreciation of Israeli cuisine and the culture of the market that would have been unlikely had Tali not been with us. If you are at all interested in culture and cuisine, add this option to your trip. Everyone, however, should buy some tahini at the shuk.
Yad Veshem Holocaust Museum- An absolute must visit museum in Israel. The exhibits are impressive and thorough, but what made the eperience for us was the commentary and guidance from Ari. His guided tour of the museum made an already meaningful and emotional visit all the more powerful. The way he concludes the tour when you exit the exhibits will take your breath away.
The Israel Museum is highly diverse. It holds the Dead Sea scrolls, very impressive artifacts related to thousands of years of Israeli history, and a fascinating collection of contemporary art. We wish we had had more time there.
Bethlehem/West Bank- we did a two hour excursion to visit Manger Square, the Church of the Nativity, Milk Grotto, the Shepherds Fields, and Church of the Good Shepherd… Israeli- based guides are not licensed to go into Bethlehem and Touring Israel arranged for us to have a driver and Christian guide there with whom we felt very comfortable. It was definitely an experience going through the checkpoints into Palestine. We are very glad we did this.
We enjoyed visiting a really cute neighborhood in Jerusalem and seeing the Church of St. John the Baptist.
Masada was amazing. If you are in decent shape, hike it! The average time it takes to walk/hike it is about 50 minutes. The views are beautiful.
Dead Sea- we loved floating in the Dead Sea but didn’t love the resort where we swam and had lunch. The choices in the area aren’t fabulous. We only spent a few hours there, but would have stayed a bit longer had we been able to schedule spa treatments. Book ahead of time if interested. Even in December, the water was chilly but perfectly doable if one is interested in getting in and floating.
Tiberias- Capernaum and Mount of the Beatitudes were beautiful and interesting.
The Syrian lookout point was unusual and we enjoyed walking around and looking out into Syria. There were 2 UN peacekeepers keeping an eye on Syria and the border.
The winery tours in the Golan Heights were fun and a nice change of pace. Ari is friends with a lot of the winemakers, which made it all the more fun. I’m fairly certain we were given special treatment bc of Ari (this happened in a lot of places).
Tzfat, a village in the north that is a major center for the study of Kabbalah, was good for art, jewelry, crafts, etc. We enjoyed shopping there for a few hours. We visited 2 old synagogues, and per his usual, Ari brought so much significance and meaning to each place we visited.
Finally, the sunset on the Mediterranean at King Herod’s Caesarea and aqueduct was spectacular.
What we probably wouldn’t do again:
Carmel Market in Tel Aviv
Tower of David sound and light show
Jeep tour in the Golan Heights
Bike tour of Tel Aviv
Israel is an extremely casual country. Even in its finest restaurants, people dress very casually.
Israeli wines are impressive and the price point is very accessible.
Hike Masada if you are in good shape. Great experience to walk as Jews did in the 1st century.
We felt very, very safe in Israel, safer than we often do in the US. It is a very modern country and the people were very friendly. The impression we had is that most Israelis love America and Americans.
Israel is a very small country. We spent 8 days in country, and while our itinerary was packed we were able to do most of what we wanted. Hiring a driver (and/or a guide whose name is Ari Melnik) is ideal!
It was disappointing that bc of the current religious situation non-Muslims are not allowed on the Temple Mount.
Be aware that you will gain a different perspective from having either a Jewish, Christian, or Muslim guide. We are Christian and enjoyed learning about Judaism from Ari.
Jog along the promenade at sunset in Tel Aviv towards Old Jaffe.
The weather in December was fairly warm in Tel Aviv and a bit cooler in the Golan Heights. Jerusalem was also pleasant. The Dead Sea was chilly but we were still able to float in it for a few minutes. Do NOT get that high salinity water in your eyes!
Everyone speaks English. Literally, everyone we met.
We used the VIP treatment at the airport upon arrival which was very nice. There was literally a car waiting for us wen we deplaned onto the tarmac. We did not use the service on the way back and it was fine. If you are flying business class, you will be shuttled through faster lines.
If given an opportunity, sit at the bar in restaurants. You will be entertained and get lots of treats.
The crowds are thin the week before Christmas in Israel and the weather was mild and pleasant. Great time to go!!!
A trip to Israel will be a lifetime highlight, and your perspective on faith and the current global political situation will be enriched greatly by this experience.
We returned home yesterday and I wanted to let you know what a wonderful trip we had.
We were greeted by Motasem as we approached the customs area, and with amazing speed, guided us through customs and the visa process.
We then met Adel, our driver for the week. He was friendly and professional. On our free afternoon in Amman, he was very accommodating of our requests to visit my daughter’s host family and to tour parts of the city we had not yet seen.
Ed, our guide for the week, was excellent as well. He is very knowledgeable and engaging. He was able to tailor his discussions to our particular interests, while also educating us about the history of Jordan; both ancient and modern, and life in modern Jordan. He made suggestions for changes in our itinerary that improved our experience: he recommended that we visit Shobak castle instead of Kerak and that we move our jeep tour of Wadi Rum to the evening. We arrived so we could see the sunset in the desert. I do recall that Jonathan had initially recommended Shobak and changed it to Kerak when I asked questions about it, but I was glad Ed changed our minds–we loved Shobak. He was great with our daughter who is in Jordan for a semester, conversing with her in Arabic.
The itinerary worked well for us. The Citadel and Jerash were very nice (I loved it, but my wife is not a fan of ruins and tolerates my interest). The trip to Mt. Nebo was good from a historical and biblical perspective, unfortunately the view was hampered by haze that day. For me, Madaba was the least rewarding part of the trip. Seeing the mosaic in the church was interesting, but did not engage us as did the rest of the trip. As I mentioned above we enjoyed Shobak, both the drive to the castle and exploring the site.
What can I say about Petra other that it is amazing–the monuments, the history. Ed’s narrative helped us to appreciate the site and its significance, made sure we appreciated not only the treasury, but the other experiences in Petra. We climbed to the Monastery and the Royal Tombs. We did have our one regret of the trip in Petra; it was very hot by the time we were leaving and we walked out of the site. In retrospect, we should have chosen to have taken the carriage out.
Our stay in Wadi Rum was excellent. Our jeep tour with our Bedouin guide was good and we greatly enjoyed staying in the camp and our dinner there.
Because we moved the jeep tour to the prior evening, we asked to make a stop in Aqaba on our way to the Dead Sea. We made a brief stop in the museum near the shore (I don’t recall the name) and spend some time overlooking the sea and marveling at the beauty of the water and area.
We have never experienced anything like the Dead Sea. We loved the experience.
Joe seemed to think we were a little crazy wanting to go to Wadi Mujib (as did our guide Ed), but it was one of the highlights of the trip for us. Hiking in the canyon was fun for all of us and very different from the rest of out trip. We did hire a guide, which was a good choice, we did appreciate his help getting up some of the tough spots. The beauty of the falls at the end of the hike was a great reward.
We loved the hotels that Joe booked for us. The Four Season was amazing–the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in a hotel, amazing service. We ate at the restaurants there twice and both were excellent. My wife is ready for another stay at the Kempinski resort at the Dead Sea. Again amazing service and food. We did partake of the services of the spa and had a top-notch experience.
Thank you for helping to make our trip to Jordan a very memorable experience. I hope to travel to Israel in the future and will come to Joe to plan that trip as well.
Joe and his team have their ears to the ground and know what’s going on. We were in Israel on November 4, when an Israeli Border Police officer was critically injured by a Palestinian driver near Hebron–the latest attack in a wave of increased violence in Israel. Yet we felt totally safe. Our guide wasn’t going to take us anywhere that wasn’t safe. We felt safer in Israel than in some areas of New York City where you don’t want to go at night. There are parts of New Jersey that are more dangerous.
We also liked that there were fewer tourists than usual in Israel. The religious sites were crowded, and there were cruise ships bringing in a lot of tourists, but other places were not crowded, and the hotels weren’t that busy, so they were going out of their way to do stuff for us.
My husband and I used Joe Yudin to arrange a week-long tour focusing mainly on the modern country of Israel with stops in the Negev Desert, Tel Aviv, and Haifa. Starting with my phone conversation with Joe, I was impressed with his honesty, directness, and his desire to understand what we were looking for as travelers. The itinerary was tailor-made for our needs and desires. Adi Ziv worked tirelessly on turning the itinerary we made with Joe into a reality on the ground. She was extremely professional, always available, and a good communicator both before our trip and while we were in Israel.
Our guide, Lior Laufer, was one of the best guides we have had in our travels. His knowledge was extensive in both current events as well as history. He customized our itinerary as we toured, canceling events and rescheduling in order to give us the best experience based on our sightseeing goals.
One of our touring goals was to be off the beaten path and meet local people to better understand the modern country. Joe’s Touring Israel team set up fantastic meetings for us with an author, a journalist, a chef, a Druze family, a former IDF commander, Ethiopian immigrants, and a Tel Aviv resident who gave us a tour of the street art scene in his neighborhood. All of these we could not have accomplished on our own. We feel Touring Israel helped us achieve these goals.
We told Touring Israel that we wanted to stay in hotels which reflected the local place and culture. The hotels were right on target. All of the hotels had excellent service.
Additional touches that made Touring Israel stand out were the detailed itinerary they sent with a suggested reading list as well as a list of recommended restaurants in the cities we visited. Adi set up dinner reservations for us which were in walking distance to our hotels and which matched our tastes perfectly. It was so relaxing not to have to think about where to go or pick out a restaurant at the end of the day.
One of the key elements in planning the perfect trip for us with Touring Israel was to be clear in our travel goals, the type of traveler we are, as well as being thorough in our pre-trip communications.
On our way home, I commented to my husband that this was the most stress-free trip we had ever taken. It was also the most personal and customized. With Touring Israel, you do get what you pay for. I wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone wanting a personalized trip in Israel.
We toured with Joe for our grand-sons bar mitzvah just last week. I have to say Joe was amazing not only did he plan an excellent site for the bar mitzvah at the wall but he followed up with some pretty special stuff. We have been to israel many times and I would put joe up there as number one guide and would not hesitate to recommend him to anyone. Joe shelia was the best.
Best trip ever. I dotted and T crossed for all arrangements. He was on top of our trip from day to day and making any adjustments as desired or needed. Joe did a great job planning the trip with us and Daphne was a fantastic guide.
Spent 2 1/2 weeks traveling in April 2015 with my cousin. Both of us are active senior citizens and we had a guide, Yoram Mor, who was provided by Touring Israel. The entire trip was planned by Touring Israel.
We had a terrific time right from the start. The hotels selected for us were of the highest quality and were frequented by people who were very knowledgeable and experienced Israel travelers.
It was a customized experience. We had some great food experience tours that involved going to the markets and trying many different local specialties, and we had one cooking experience where we met our guide Tallie and shopped in the market and then prepared an exceptional gourmet meal.
We had an art tour of the Tel Aviv museum which was superior. One of my best touring experiences which Yoram provided was the walking tour of the City of David. Absolutely terrific experience.
We had so many excellent experiences planned by Touring Israel, I can go on and on. We had some great experiences with meeting Israelis in different capacities. We met journalists, military people, art lovers, food lovers and had the most positive travel experience I can recently remember.
Our guide Yoram was born in Israel and obviously his parents were Israeli. So there wasn’t much about the Israel experience that he could not help us with.
On Independence Day he made a reservation for us at the most rocking Independence Day party that you could imagine, in a restaurant in Jerusalem .
I highly recommend this experience for anyone at any age.
Our family from the U.S. went to Israel for our grandson’s bar mitzvah. The entire trip was planned with Touring Israel and Joe Yudin was our guide for the entire trip, that took us from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to a Beduin camp in the desert to Tiberas in the North and innumerable places in between. In Jerusalem there were 20 family members, for other parts of the trip there were only 6 of us. For the whole trip, we traveled in a large, very luxurious bus with a great driver. Joe and his team set up everything and everything was perfect, including making changes on the fly.
The Bar Mitzvah service was at Robinson’s Arch at the Southern section of the Western Wall and Joe not only found a great progressive (Reform) rabbi to officiate, but secured the best location, above everyone else with places to sit and shade. He set up fun activities for the kids (surfing lessons, etc.) and great places to visit–Beit Guvrin, a firing range where we shot Uzis, the Palmach Museum, etc.
Above all, in many different ways, he conveyed his love and pride in Israel and made sure we understood how extraordinary a place it is–our love for Israel, which we had from prior trips, manifestly increased from this trip.
I can’t say enough good things about Joe and his company–our trip was a once in a lifetime experience–and we would recommend him highly to a large group or to a single family, like ours.