For some reason (that still remains a mystery to me), when I first looked into going to Morocco for a week-long horseback camping trip, I assumed it would be a fairly straightforward journey from the tiny Thai island on which I live. Once I actually researched my flight options, I realized that in fact it would take four flights over three days to get from Koh Tao to Agadir, the starting point for my riding trip. Basically, I’d spend almost as much time traveling to and from Morocco as on the actual expedition. By the time I came to this conclusion, however, I had emotionally committed to the trip and wasn’t going to let anything like reason or logic get in the way of my equine adventure.
Most of the excessive travel time was due to awkwardly timed flights; I was going to have to stay overnight in Malaysia, as well as Dubai. Fortunately, I was able to arrange my Emirates flights to spend the bulk of my outbound connection time in Dubai, taking advantage of the free tourist visa and stopover offered by Emirates for tourists who want to check out this Middle Eastern metropolis. I was going to have 18 hours in Dubai; from 13:20 to 07:25… so, what to do?
I headed to Pinterest to see what others did on their Dubai layovers, and saw that they mostly went to the mall and to the Burj Khalifa. I’m not really into manmade things… I had no desire to stare at a bunch of buildings or shop for gold. So, I kept searching and soon found a sunset camel trek through the desert… much more my style. I researched the treatment of camels in Dubai to be sure that I could ethically get on board (an essential step for any sort of animal tourism) and then booked the trip.
The timing was perfect; the tour began at 15:00 with a hotel pickup, which gave me just enough time to get out of the airport, grab the shuttle to the Best Western airport hotel I’d booked, and drop my backpack/ change my clothes/grab my camera. There were just four of us in the group, plus our guide, who drove us about 45 minutes away into the desert. We met up with some other tourists at that point and were brought to our camels. There were a total of seven camels tied together in two groups; I spent some time petting each one and they were all calm, kind, and in good condition. We were assigned our camels, mounted up, and got going.
The camel ride itself lasted about an hour, and it was decent. It’s obviously designed for people with no riding experience, and it felt quite strange to ride without having any control of the camel myself, since he was just tied to the camel in front of him. It’s obviously no substitute for galloping horses in the wild, but I didn’t expect it to be. The desert itself was beautiful; we rode over some dunes then stopped and dismounted our camels for a snack of Arabic coffee and dates before mounting the camels to ride back to the main camp. The sun was beginning to set over the dunes, giving us stunning views as the changing colours spread through a sky completely devoid of clouds.
The guides brought more snacks (chicken kebab wraps and falafels, this time), and everyone took lots of sunset shots and chatted amongst themselves while I, true to form, hung out with the camels. Once the sun had set, around 6pm, we were brought into the main camp where we were to spend the rest of the evening. Here a whole bunch of tour groups combine; there must have been a couple hundred people in all, spread throughout the camp.
The camp itself consisted of a large stage, surrounded by tables, each assigned to a tour group. There were various activity stations scattered To be honest this portion of the tour was mediocre at best. There was a henna booth (which I passed over since I have enough real tattoos), as well as a dress-up area where we could dress in traditional Emirati attire and pose for a photo; basically the definition of religious & cultural appropriation. I also skipped the souvenir shop, and instead headed over to the falcon area, where several birds were chilling. We were meant to be able to hold the falcons but the handler was too busy chatting up a tourist MILF to share his birds with me, and I got shooed away when I pet the birds, so I went to smoke a bit of shisha with one of my fellow tourists (shisha was included in the tour but the staff try hard to get you to pay about $15USD for table service… just say no!)
Anyway, I killed some time until about 7pm, when a buffet BBQ dinner was served; it was very good, and had a large variety of Middle Eastern food. I’ve been eating it since I was a kid, since my father is Egyptian, and it’s still one of my fav cuisines so I was super happy with the spread. While we ate, a couple of dance shows took place on stage: a guy who spun in a circle for an extremely long time, and a belly dancer who proved that breast augmentations are, in fact, available in the UAE. Once the show was over, we packed up into our vehicles and were driven back to our hotels, where I was happy to have a hot shower and short sleep before heading back to the airport for my early morning flight.
So, would I recommend this activity? Well, I’m glad I went - it was pretty fun and I like camels. It was the most adventurous option for my stopover, though we were definitely on the beaten (by camel hooves) path- as expected, of course. While the camp activities weren’t really my thing, it was still decent and lots of people seemed to be into it. One thing I will say is that as a solo traveler, I had to pay a single supplement of nearly 100%… this was because the camels are usually two-seaters, so I basically had to pay for two half camels. However, the camel portion of the tour was only about an hour of the entire five hour ordeal, so I think doubling the price for a solo traveler is quite unreasonable. Still, my only regret is that I didn’t take a photo of a camel’s feet so I could then caption it “this is the only kind of camel toe I like”.
What do you think? Would you have gone on this tour?
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