Is there a better way to experience the desert that from the back of a camel? From the Saharan sand seas of Morocco to the Martian landscapes of Jordan's Wadi Rum and beyond, there is no better way to experience the desert that from the back of a camel.
Before you saddle up, it's wise to check the calendar carefully. October to May is prime season in north Africa and the Middle East for camels. The weather will be hot but not unbearably so — once the summer months arrive, many tour operators shut down completely and put their camels out to pasture until cooler temperatures return. If you're doing an overnight trek, December and January bring reminders that deserts extreme environments, so you'll need to pack for cold nights as well.
You'll need to pack for the trek itself. On the ground you'll quickly learn the locals are covered up for a reason — protection from the sun is absolutely vital, and long trousers prevent chafing and saddle sores. We'd recommend a wide-brimmed hat, though you may want to go local and get wrapped in a scarf to keep out the rays and the dust. Your guide will help you tie it like a touristy Lawrence of Arabia — great for camel-back selfies, once you accept you'll never look a quite as cool as a Bedouin born to it.
Suitably attired, you're ready to meet your beast. That camel sitting quietly in the sand looks easy enough to mount. There's usually something like a stirrup, and you can swing yourself across the hump without too much effort. But hold on tight, because a camel stands up with a weird three-fold, as if their legs contain an extra joint that needs to unfold. As it rises you're tipped gently forward and then suddenly jerked back, and just when you think you're done, thrown forward again. It's a tricky affair – no wonder camels always look so grumpy.
Camels, you've just discovered, are wilful creatures, and it's a relief to discover that amateurs aren't just handed the reins and pointed towards the nearest dune. Instead, you'll be led by the guides on your chosen route, and you can concentrate on the views, the gentle swaying of the camel's gait and the almost imperceptible sounds of those huge padded feet on the ground.
Treks can last anything from an hour to several days, but the best are timed to finish at the end of the day so you can watch the sun set in a blaze over the sands. A battered enamel teapot is filled with tea and a frighteningly strong pour of tea, to be placed in the embers of a campfire. Tiny, scalding tea glasses are passed around as you rub the pleasant sore feeling from your muscles. As the sky darkens, the stars come out in their countless number, and the dusty white Milky Way is smeared across the sky. In the clear air of the desert you can feel a thousand miles away from the rush of every day life, and as you hear the self-satisfied grunt of your camel settling into the sand, you might just be tempted to reply in kind.