The city of Marrakesh is a jewel to explore, but with its close vicinity to the Saharan desert, its hard to pass on an opportuinity to take a camel riding tour. So we didn’t.
Morocco is a vast country and as a result the choices on which tour to take were a little daunting. The key factor is time. We had three days in the city. The most spectacular tour involves a three-day safari tour to Merzouga, with camel riding to watch the sunrise and sunset, and a night camping in the Sahara. That was out of the question. The full day tour to the Ouzoud Waterwall was rich in beauty and had wild monkeys. But no camels. The best option looked like the day trip to Ouarzazate and Ait Ben Haddou, which incorporated a camel ride through the Saharan outpost of Ait Ben Haddou, recently famed for its part in Game of Thrones. However the fourteen hour tour over the Atlas Mountains would have dominated our long weekend. Choices choices.
With our limited time our research took us to a morning camel riding tour on the edge of the city. It seemed the perfect solution for our dual-needs, firstly it would only take up a half day, and our second, the need to ride a camel so bad. Did we regret our decision to take the reduced tour? Hell did we. It’s the ideal pick for anyone visiting the red city for a short break and an insatiable thirst to channel their inner Lawrence or Lorna of Arabia.
We booked our tour through Get Your Guide, and the service was provided by Dunes and Desert. Our tour consisted of roughly two hours riding the camel, with a break in the middle for tea at a village. Reviews were strong and reviewers praised how the camels were treated. You can check out the tour at this link, Palm Grove 2 Hour Camel Riding Tour. The tour cost €30 per person and I think was well worth it. For those who need to channel their more adventurous side you have the option of turning up the excitement on the tour and splitting the time between camel riding and quad biking.
Pick up and getting there
Communication was excellent, with emails sent confirming the tour and pick up times. This was further confirmed by a phone call. As our pick up was at 9am the bus was unable to enter the Medina and collection was arranged outside Restaurant Diaffa, about two minutes walk from our Riad. The mini bus was prompt and the ride to the location outside the city took around thirty minutes. We were joined onboard by two Londoners, and six French nationals. The drive through Marrakesh was exactly as I had come to expect, chaotic and busy yet without incident. As we left the city confines behind the roads turned rough. In the distance the snow-capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains shimmered on the horizon. Nearer our destination of Palmeraie the road turned to dirt track. Palmeraie is a desert like landscape with palm groves. It’s a sparse area dotted by a few farms and small villages.
When we arrived at the complex we were met by the guides and the camel walkers. We were paired off based on the language of our tour, so we officially met Danny and Lindsey from Kent. Our tour guide was to be Yassine, a really friendly local, who entertained us throughout our tour. He was disappointed to learn that Irish people don’t say “top o the morning to ya”. Hollywood has a lot to answer for. After some mint tea, we were taken inside for an opportunity to leave our belongings in lockers. Once here the guides wrapped our heads in a chech, which is a traditional head scarf. We would be grateful for it in the heat out on the desert.
With the formalities out-of-the-way it was time to meet our camels. We were relieved to see the camels were healthy looking, and if their moods were anything to go by; happy. The camels were desert dromadaries, and mine as it were was called Shema, with Beatas called Fakka. When we headed into the desert we would be tied together in a group of four, with Faka behind me. We certainly got along, I rubbed his head when I could, and unbeknown to me, he licked my back when he could. I’m guessing that’s camel for I like you. They spit when they don’t. Either was I ended up with camel saliva on me. I’ve always been an animal person so I was delighted to now number some camels amongst my friends.
How do we get on this animal?
Whilst the camel ride would prove to be amazing, and a highlight of our trip, one obstacle stood in our way. Getting on the camel. It’s not like a horse, the camel is happy to chill on the ground and wait for his passenger to climb on. Camels can carry up to 300kg so getting up with you on their back isn’t a problem; for them. There are no foot straps but they do have a multi coloured saddle, with a looped handle. Should you do a camel ride, this handle is your friend. It’s what keeps you from landing on your butt as the camel rises. Firstly the camel fully extends its rear legs so you’re convinced you are going to fall forward. Hold on tight. Then it bends its rear legs as it extends its front legs, so now you are falling backwards, before finally coming level by bringing up its back legs again. It really was a see-saw and was a nervy few seconds. It’s high up there, much higher than any horse I have ridden. Thankfully the camels were the definition of calm, and you are given time to acclimatize before taking off.
The perfect experience
The ride into the desert follows marked trails for the most part. As soon as you are settled its merely a pleasure to sit, watch and enjoy the landscape. We noticed the camels’ feet, they rose in rhythm, and as they touched the ground again, they spread like soft cushions, gently absorbing the impact. It summed up the whole experience; it was a soothing, relaxing one. I had heard that riding a camel was uncomfortable, but that wasn’t our take, we only noticed our thighs a little stretched as we disembarked later.
We broke off into two groups with the four of us English speakers, our camel guide (sorry I don’t recall his name) and Yassine together, and the six French nationals with their guides. It was hot out there, even at 10am. Bear in mind we took this tour in November, so the assumption is in summer temperatures would be over 40. Even in this barren terrain it was amazing to see a shepherd leading his flock from one place to the next in search of any grass that broke through the unfertile soil.
Yassine was more than happy to take some shots of us as we rode the camels. Word of warning though, I nearly fell off the camel trying to get my camera back. I also realised post holiday that I was sitting on the camel like it was a Harley. Bad posture. I looked weird. Beata took to it well and looked the part. A natural.
The ride took us through the first set of palms which provides some wonderful photo opportunities. Needless to say I took those. The tour company took the opportunity also bringing along a professional photographer to take shots here. When you return from the tour there is a chance to buy the photos in large prints. They are relatively expensive, charging 100 Dirhams for 2 ( €1=10 dirhams), 150 for 4 (which we bought) or 200 Dirhams for all the photos on a USB.
Finally we wound up a path to an enclosed village where we would stop. I never discovered the name of the village, and it doesn’t appear on google maps. I did learn that it was an Amazik area, and the people were Arab and not Berber. It gave us the chance to take a break from the heat, and the camels happily took a chance to chill too. Our belief that the camels were well-tended was confirmed, as one of the relaxing camels expelled a massive yawn, showing off all his enamel, the tour leader stuck his hat on the camel. I’m convinced the camel was smiling.
The Art of Mint Tea
We took a break at that village. They don’t have much to live off of, but whatever locals we met, they greeted us with a friendly smile and a carefree attitude. We seated under a canopy on arabic cushions around a table side. So was to begin our lesson on the art of making Moroccan mint tea. It was interesting to watch, the whole ritual involves everyone in the group, with all having an input, on when the tea was just right. Using huge amounts of both mint and sugar, and surprisingly green tea imported from Asia, the tea was poured, and repoured. It must be brewed in one of those magnificent Moroccan teapots. Eventually the foam on top is the determinant, once its good, the tea is ready. Mint tea with no foam is simply bad. I have to say for someone who isn’t a tea drinker, it really was good. It was all the better for the pancakes with almond and syrup that accompanied it. The tour also included a demonstration on how bread is made traditionally out in the desert villages.
Yassine our tour guide had wandered off a few times during our trek, but we were soon to find out why. He had woven two camel rings from the branches of the palm trees, for Beata and Lindsey. It really was an immense bit of weaving and so impressive.
The way back took us through a denser palm grove which was reminiscent of an oasis. From there our trek took us back through the barren landscape of the Palmeraie area to the compound. It perhaps wasn’t the most eventful of tours. But then again it didn’t need to be. Riding a camel across this terrain, building an affinity with the animals in your vicinity, and relaxing with some locals over a fresh pot of mint tea, was more than enough for us. In fact it was probably the one thing from Morocco that will live longest and fondest in our memories.
If we left you a little inspired to take to the desert the next time you are in Morocco, then please like, pin, or share.
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