Our youngest baby celebrated her birthday whilst we were in Morocco and her only request was to visit the desert, sand dunes and have a desert camel ride! This post discusses whether we did the right thing or not.
You want a WHAT?!
Maybe you know from our previous posts about avoiding animal cruelty as tourists and how abusive we found Marrakech medina that we oppose animal tourism and cruelty. In fact we’ll do ANYTHING to support animal charities and even rescue animals whilst we’re travelling. So her request really placed us in a quandary.
There was absolutely nothing else she wanted to do and we were unsure as to whether it was possible to avoid animal cruelty and have a camel ride, so we hit Google for some help and came across a few agencies that would offer such an experience.
Finding a desert tour
If you’ve ever been to Morocco you’ll know that you cannot turn a corner without having some sort of animal ride shoved down your throat. For anybody who’s visited Morocco, you’ll know that the problem is ethics around animal cruelty which is prevelent.
With so many tour agencies, how can you find one that actually respects animals and doesn’t abuse or exploit them? I mean is this even possible?
Here’s two ways we discovered that you can possibly find an agency that respects animals:
- Tour agencies use third parties so unless they’re willing to divulge who the camel owner/agency is, you could end up with any animal and owner. The only thing you can do is look at the original agency’s reviews on TripAdvisor, search Google or Facebook for other reviews and blogs.
- You could book directly with camel owners and make your own way into the desert but again you’re reliant on reviews from other people and in my experience most tourists are pretty ignorant at spotting animal abuse.
Booking the desert camel ride online
We knew that we’d be staying on the outskirts of Ouarzazate so we did the most amount of research we could online and thought we’d found a reputable agency. We chose DesertMajesty.com and picked a day trip.
The description of the tour was incredibly vague but the agency had good reviews on TripAdvisor and as well as camel rides they offered a full day visiting various towns along the N9 route down to the dunes.
The Tinfou Dunes were a good three to four hours away from us in Ouarzazate but despite spending all day in a car our youngest would at least get her camel ride. Oh the things we do for our kids, hey!?
Three nights in Ouarzazate
As we had already spent two weeks on the west coast of Morocco, we booked Ouarzazate as it was nicknamed the gateway to the desert. It sits in the south-east of the country with its nearest border being Algeria.
We spent three nights in an EcoLodge in the desert (review of our time opens in new tab) on the outskirts of Ouarzazate. In comparison to the warmth of the coast, the desert was mighty cold and we felt quite unprepared when the sun went down and the cold desert nights set in. If you go to Morocco make sure you take some warm layers with you for the colder nights.
You can book your time at the EcoLodge through this link. We’ve noticed they’ve added a pool since we stayed and doesn’t it look lush!
How Much Did a Desert Camel Ride Cost?
A little while ago we decided to swap physical presents for experiences. We felt that our lives were becoming too materialistic and rather than being bogged down with ‘things’ and ‘stuff’, we wanted to gift our kids memories instead.
The desert camel ride tour cost €250 for all of us. We felt this was a pretty good price for a full day’s tour for five people so we booked it.
Collection from the EcoLodge
We were collected at 8am from Ouarzazate (pronounced Wazazate) by our driver and his 4×4. Car seats are non-existent in Morocco so in a bid to protect our youngest two, they sat in the back sixth and seventh seat and we, the adults & our eldest child, sat in the middle section.
You could take your own car seats but as we were flying we just thought they were too bulky. In hindsight we probably should have taken them even if it does make us stand out as foreigners (which we detest). Moroccan driving is at best selfish and at worst, downright dangerous – but then this is the case in many developing countries.
Although the roads are generally in a good condition around towns, cities and on major routes, once you head out of town, the pot holes, lack of lines and disintegrating sides become more frequent although nothing too bad.
Driving over the Tizi’n-Tinififfte mountain pass
Our first destination was 1660m above sea level. The road was constructed along the old caravan trail by the French military in 1936 and is now part of National Route 9.
The road to the Tizi’n-Tinfifite summit is asphalted but pretty steep and avalanches, heavy snowfalls and landslides have been known to occur. High winds are very common and as we were leaving the area two days later we were caught in a blizzard at a similar height. Luckily nothing the day we went on our tour though.
Starting from Ouarzazate, the ascent across the Tizi’n-Tinfifite is 10km long and has an average gradient of 5.5% although some have sections up to 7.0%. Pretty steep!
The road twists and turns sharply above the canyon. The river no longer passes through this section but it’s a great example for kids on how water can channel out rock, cutting steep sides into it.
Arriving into Agdz
The town of Agdz sits in the lush green Dra’a Valley. It is described as a desert oasis and in comparison to the rest of southern Morocco, the Draa Valley is a long, green oasis in a dry, rocky landscape.
Known as “the date basket of Morocco”, this fertile corridor is home to an abundance of date palms, orchards and irrigated fields. Despite its rich history, culture and fame, the Berbers of the Draa Valley still live in ways very similar to those of their ancestors. They ride donkeys, wash their clothes in the river and depend on clay to build their houses.
I like this simple way of life and think it’s much more environmentally friendly than many western societies.
We were taken up to a building labelled as Bashawiyat to get a panoramic view of the valley. What a great view!
We skirted through Zagora
The drive from Agdez to Zagora takes roughly three hours and after stopping on the outskirts for a quick drink, we were whisked through quickly en route to see some pottery being hand-made.
It was disappointing that we didn’t get to see more of Zagora which seemed a lively and well built town. There was a market and plenty of cafe style shops around. If you’re visiting, I would suggest you add Zagora to your itinerary as it looks like a good place to stop.
Tamegroute local potteries
Poterie Traditionnelle Tamegroute is nestled into the side of the main road between Zagora and Tagounite.
After you’re shown how the traditional potteries are made and told all about the kilm the hard sell is on to buy pottery and give tips. Whilst the pottery is nice it is nothing particularly special but we felt compelled to buy a few pieces which were etortionately expensive and of course when you’re backpacking, where do you put fragile pottery?
Overall I wish we’d missed the potteries out. By the time we arrived in Ouarzazate we’d already been subjected to three weeks of hard sell, guilt trips and excessive prices and my patience had really run out at the harassment. And yes, I know I am writing this from a point of immense privilege but it’s certainly something to be aware of.
Remember, Don’t touch the donkeys!
My kids insisted on touching most animals in Morocco – despite warnings not to. It’s hard not to feel compassion for the donkeys who are chronically abused and we also rescued a cat in Marrakesh HOWEVER the kids came home with ringworm!
After three weeks of insessent diarrhea I’m sure their immune systems were battered and picking up ring worm was just an inevitable occurrence.
Ringworm is not caused by a worm, it’s caused by a funghal infection and comes up as an itchy patch of cicrcular blemished skin. It’s relatively simple to get rid of with funghicdal cream but it can take a while!
A desert camel ride to remember
Our camel ride started out well; one camel was so grumpy he didn’t want to get up and so was left to carry on sitting down. I missed the man kicking it, which you can see on the film… I am still not sure what to make of this. It doesn’t sit comfortably with me.
The camel ride was short, about 20 minutes and we were led away across some dunes to experience the lunging of the poor animals who clearly didn’t want to be disturbed. Oops.
In retrospect, I failed to ask myself if riding the camel was of benefit to the camel and if it served the camel any purpose. This is my go to reference question when analysing if we cause abuse to animals. If my riding/touching/presence to the animal brings it no positive benefit then what is the purpose and effect?
The best part of our camel ride was seeing the dunes! We had a good chance to climb and roll down the dunes and see the view across the desert which were the best we’d seen in Morocco and that was just the entrance to the desert. It’s a shame we didn’t make our way further down south as I’d have loved to see the stars.
Stopping off at Riad Lamane
There was nothing in the company’s description about stopping for food so we were surprised when we pulled up outside Riad Lamane in Zagora for a late lunch. Sadly Desert Majesty didn’t ask us about food preferences either and we were served a steaming bowl of chicken tajine.
We have been plant-based for a number of years now and for vegans, a bowl of chicken thighs is a massive problem. It put us into a really difficult position. We ate the salad and then chose to pick the vegetables out of the tagine, leaving the chicken.
Did I feel guilty? Yes, absolutely! A few chickens lost their lives for that dish but also food in Morocco can be in short supply. I don’t want to disrespect the locals by not eating their food but at the same time I just don’t want to eat animals.
If you book a tour with DesertMajesty, make sure you inform them of any dietary requirements – even if they don’t ask.
So did we do the right thing?
We visited Morocco in February of 2017 and I am writing this post in April of 2019. It has taken me this long to analyse whether what we did was right and sit down and try to put it into words.
Interestingly, our daughter asked me just a few weeks ago if riding the camel was abusive and if we caused it harm. I always try to be honest with our kids. We all make mistakes but the key is to learn from them and not make them again.
We previously had a foot spa in Greece which I later learned was highly abusive to the fish. I think our desert camel ride was possibly not abusive but, for us, it wasn’t the right thing to do. That doesn’t sit comfortably with me and we shan’t do it again! Lesson learned and now we move on.
A video of our desert camel ride
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What else could you do in Morocco?
We spent four weeks in Morocco, here’s some ideas on what you could do whilst there.