king lists

Valley of the Kings
Valley of the Queens
Valley of the Nobles
Valley of the Workers






Everyone expects to see camels in Egypt, and see them you do, just about everywhere. While the humble donkey is the preferred beast of burden for most people, there are still camels being used to haul loads to market (often pretty huge loads!) and most of the guards at the remote sites ride them. But, more camels are in the "tourist industry" than either of those uses, I think.

The quality of a camel is tied to its color. White camels are most prized and you'll often see them as riding animals with decorated saddles and bridles with many thread tassels. Black camels are the bottom of the barrel and are used for draft animals. In between they are yellow, brown, red, and gray.

They're all the same species -- single-humped camels -- but the variety and size differences are impressive. Draft camels can carry enormous loads -- up to a thousand pounds, I read. We saw a few camels with load of sugar cane that practically buried the camel underneath. They didn't seem to be struggling at all.

Riding camels
If you didn't ride a camel -- and get your picture taken -- no one believes that you actually went to Egypt. It's true. It's the first question people ask, often before asking if you saw the pyramids, "Did you ride a camel?" If you don't have photographic proof, they are a bit skeptical. I guarantee it. So, expect to find camels around the major tourist areas. They are especially popular around the pyramids at Giza, with dozens of entrepreneurial young camel riders out near Chephren's pyramid willing to boost you up for a ride. You'll pay dearly for it if you aren't a keen bargainer, but you will get some good pictures. Try to avoid them, or arrange for a camel ride through your hotel or tour so that you aren't subject to the sales pitch.

The camels are in better and worse shape -- most of the guidebooks have some recommended stables for camels that are in good condition and reasonably priced. This should cost you about $$$ for a 15 minute ride. Some websites I've found have horror stories of people taking camel or horse rides near the pyramids and the drivers either not letting them get off or threatening to run them into the desert if they don't pay more money. I never saw this happen, nor has anyone I've ever talked to. If it does, well, sit tight and start yelling for the tourist police, I guess. There are a ton of them out there and they'll come running.

There are dozen more places to get camel rides, if you are interested. Here are a few:

  • Saqqara -- you can ride camels from Giza to Saqqara (be warned, it's a ways!) or back. Most people seem to prefer horses, though.
  • Aswan -- you can ride camels from the Nile to St. Simeon's Monastery, and further on to the Tombs of the Nobles. It's a long ride, but you have some really good stretches to go loping off across the desert like Lawrence of Arabia.
  • Sinai -- camels can haul you up the long trek to the top of Mount Sinai, or out into the desert with the bedouins.

The Details
Everyone has been warned about getting on camels -- lean back, lean forward, lurching. It's not that hard. Most of the camels we rode had stirrups on the saddles, so you have something to push against when you lean back, and a high pommel to keep you from sliding off. It's amusing as hell to everyone to watch, but it's not hard. Camels get up butt first and sort of rock their way to their feet. So, lean back -- waay back with your feet stuck out in front -- first, then lean forward quickly, then back again until the camel is upright.

Camels are surprisingly tall, much taller than a horse, and it can be a bit disorienting to be perched way up there. Getting off is about the same as getting on. Lots of lurching, just in the other direction. We didn't see anyone fall off, although Mark seemed to be waiting for me to do it!

You'll see a lot of the tourist police and the camel guys riding with their feet crossed over the camel's neck instead of hanging down beside, or one knee crooked around the pommel of the saddle. We were encourage to NOT do this, as we weren't as comfortable and might bother the camel with all that shuffling around -- or, more likely, they were worried that we'd fall off.

And, unless you ask, you aren't allowed to "drive". Even then, only if you're out in the desert and there isn't anything to run into. Usually, the camels just follow along with the lead camel. On the way to Aswan, I had a chance to jounce off on my own, but once we got about 100 yards ahead of the other camels, my camel (Mickey) refused to go any further and just stood there, waiting for the others to catch up.


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r. fingerson