On my second to the last day in Jerusalem I decided to go to Bethlehem. It wasn’t an easy decision because I’ve been hearing some people saying that tension has arisen in the area — the deadline for the Israel moratorium on settlements happened on the very day I visited Bethleehem.
As it was a last minute decision my options were limited, there are a couple of tours that organizes trips to Bethlehem but it was too late for me. So I went through Google to see how I could commute to Bethlehem from Jerusalem . Sure enough I found one which indicated what I needed to know: it’s just that in reality things are sometimes a little bit different. So here’s my take on this…
Find Bus 21 on the Arab bus station along Sultan Suleiman road. You could always have a chat with the driver to know if you’re on the right bus. To locate the station turn right after exiting Damascus gate and on the left side side of the road you’ll see a path where lots of buses go in and out, just follow that path and you’ll find the station.
A one way trip to Jerusalem costs 6.50 Shekels(1.80 USD) as of the time of writing. From Jerusalem to Bethlehem, the bus 21 does not get checked in a checkpoint. From Bethlehem to Jerusalem, it gets checked. But that’s another story.
Get off at the last stop of Bus 21. And from there look for the road with steepest ascent, go straight and in 10 minutes you’ll find yourself on Manger Square. Don’t get bothered by taxi drivers who will tell you it’s a 45 minute walk.
As I went there on an off peak season, there weren’t a lot of tourists, most tourists came by via guided-tours. From the bus stop to Manger square I was an easy tourist target. And so on my way back I was told that the bus doesn’t pick up tourists because of the checkpoint. I ignored the guy by saying I came here by bus and that there is no way the bus driver is going to refuse me for the way back.
When the bus came the driver refused to let me in saying that there is a checkpoint… I am sure that the bus driver is cohorts with the taxi driver, as why would anyone refuse someone with valid passport. Nevertheless, I listened to the guy who warned me about this, he said he could take me to the checkpoint for 20 Shekels and from there I could take the same bus. Just for the fun of it I refused to go with him. I went straight back to the tourism office at Manger Square and told them about the incident. Strangely enough the Tourism office did not refute what I have been told before. She said I could take a service-taxi or a taxi to the check point and take bus 21 after the checkpoint, she gave me a guide map for this. The price for Service-taxi… 3 Shekels and for the taxi… not more than 15 Shekels. From the Check point to Damascus gate expect to pay 3.50 on bus 21.
I have kept the Palestinian guide map in my luggage, and when I was being checked in the airport it raised a red flag to one of the controllers. I found it almost funny… the lady checking my bag changed faces as soon as she found the guide map! She had to show it to her superiors..All in all I had to wait in line for 1 hour and a half and 45 minutes for bag inspection.