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
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.
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
The camels are in better and worse shape -- most of the guidebooks have
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.
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
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.