Riding a camel across the undulating dunes of the Moroccan Sahara is unquestionably the stuff that holiday memories are made of. Any element of discomfort will fade into the distance, along with the recollection of any aching muscles when you shake the sand out of your shoes and remember the sunsets…
When you are introduced to your camel it might not be love at first sight, but, as it will no doubt be down on its haunches, the getting on process at least will feel relatively straightforward – but don’t be lulled into complacency, as the interesting bit is when your camel stands up to start the journey onward. With a lurch forward followed swiftly on by a reciprocal lurch backward, the whole ship of the desert metaphor becomes abundantly clear.
The first time my now grown-up children experienced a camel ride they were quite young, and the excitement of the camel ride was met with squeals of delight which were swiftly followed by shrieks of pure fear as they held on to that saddle for dear life. It was character-forming we told them…
Quite simply, the single most useful piece of advice when it comes to getting on and off your trusty steed before you even embark on your journey, is to follow the instructions of your guide.
Having prepared you for the worst, as my kids soon found out, once you are up and, on your way, it is most definitely worth it. Life takes on a different rhythm in the desert and the loping gait of the camel is part of that journey. And it is exactly that rhythm and gait that is key to enjoying the experience – in fact the second piece of advice is to simply relax as much as possible and roll with the slightly ungainly flow of the camel that makes it the perfect vehicle for crossing vast stretches of sand.
The primary reason for any discomfort is the width of the camels back – unlike its equine cousin the horse, the camel is not built to human scale, so that relaxing tip just mentioned, can take some work! You will feel a little off-kilter, and you will most definitely feel muscles being engaged that you didn’t know existed. Try and find a comfortable seat for yourself once up on the hump, and then simply sit back and enjoy the ride.
Aside from the ride itself, there are a few practical tips to bear in mind that will make the whole experience more pleasant.
It is a good idea to wear long comfortable pants and socks. The motion of the camel can cause your pants to creep slowly up your calves, exposing your legs to the sun, sand and camel. Even though it might be warm, you will be grateful to be covered up – there is a reason why your guide will be wearing a turban and robe to protect himself from the sun. You will also need room to stretch your legs over and across the back of the camel, so make sure you have room to manoeuvre in whatever you decide to wear. Keep that sunscreen to hand, and while you might not win any awards for a fashion statement, wearing socks can prevent any contact itchiness that may occur. Aside from that, keep it simple – the last thing you want to be worried about is excess luggage!
Camels and Cameras
Consider attaching or tethering any phones, cameras, or other devices. You’re on a camel, so of course you want pictures, and while it’s simple enough to stop to retrieve a fallen camera, camels are tall creatures, and any fall will be a long one. Also – referring back to the opening comments – it’s the getting on and off that’s the hard bit, so once you are up and have found your seat, you might want to stay there for a while!
A Final Camel Riding Consideration
Don’t forget the aspirin or ibuprofen. While half an hour on a camel may not sound like much, it can be a lifetime on your hip joints or your knees—especially if they’re weak or prone to injury. Camel rides certainly won’t do any lasting damage, but the unfamiliar stance they put you in may cause some minor discomfort if you ride for more than 30 minutes. Carry a light painkiller with you just in case.
And now that you’re prepared, go ride that camel!
If you would like any more advice or suggestions about the perfect desert itinerary to discover Morocco’s hidden Sahara – with or without a camel – get in touch with us to find out more about our tours.
Pauline de Villiers Brettell is a freelance writer and designer who lives between the UK and Morocco. When in Morocco she is based in the small seaside village of Asilah, and spends time working with local weavers and sourcing textiles in between attempting to grow enough olives for an annual supply of olive oil! She writes about all of these things — the olives, the carpets, and other elements of design inspiration — on her blog Tea in Tangier: www.teaintangier.com.
Photos by Lucas Peters. Lucas is the principal photographer and author of the Moon Guidebooks: Morocco as well as Marrakesh and Beyond published by Hachette. He edited and contributed to the Our Morocco anthology and helps the travelers of Journey Beyond Travel experience the adventure of a lifetime. He lives in Tangier with his family.