Camel rides in Morocco are a great way to experience the landscape, and Kasbah camel trekking is becoming popular. I had a perfect outing on Saturday, but a multi-day expedition might be my next adventure! I’d like to experience the Sahara Desert at night – Milky Way, sunsets, moonlight, and shooting stars!
Ranch de Diabat
My camel ride began at Ranch de Diabat – about a ten-minute drive from Essaouira. Wish I had known about it before making my current reservation. It’s a fantastic coastal ranch, offering comfortable accommodation, a hammam, and fun activities – horseback and camel riding along the beach, quad-biking, and kitesurfing! Diabat is bordered to the north by the Oued Ksob River, which is low now, due to a lack of winter rain.
Dromedary versus Camel
My camel, Aladdin, was really a dromedary. The main difference between camelids is their number of humps. Camels have two humps and dromedaries one. I had a morning ride. Since afternoons are busier and more popular, it was just me and my guide, Mustafa – an excellent opportunity to learn one-on-one about the desert and camels. I rode Aladdin and Mustafa, Timbuktu.
Mustafa – Camel and Horse Trainer
Mustafa brought the two camelid calves from Mali West Africa to Morocco and trained them together. Aladdin is 10 years old and Timbuktu 11. Dromedaries can live for 40+ years. Also a horse trainer, Mustafa is an amazing, intelligent person. He taught me about camels and the Sahara.
“The dromedary camel (camelus dromedarius aka Arabian Camel) is the one with a single hump. It was introduced from Arabia into Egypt in the 9th century BCE, and in the rest of North Africa not before the 5th century BCE” worldhistory.org
Mustafa elaborated on his training methods – always using kindness and never forcing or hurting the animals. Two things were obvious – the camels were best friends, and they both clearly loved and trusted Mustafa. Like magic, he motioned with his hands, and Aladdin and Timbuktu knew exactly what to do. The ride was gentle, and it only took a few minutes to get into the sway of movement over sand dunes. Camels may look grouchy, but I learned that they’re really sweet animals, especially when they’re well trained.
The most difficult part of the ride is when the camel stands up (with you on its back) at the beginning, and then kneels down, so you can get off. Mustafa guided them through it easily, so there were no abrupt motions. They moved their large, gangly bodies almost as delicately and precisely as ballet dancers.
I was astonished by their sure footedness and strong, long, muscular legs. I thought Aladdin and I had a great vibe, and I enjoyed every minute of the time. The scenery was mostly beach and sand dunes, but it was very beautiful. On a gorgeous, clear day, with light wind, there were vistas of Essaouira and the Island of Mogador. Mustafa took most of the fantastic photos included in this post!
Flora and Fauna
Mustafa knew Diabat native flora and fauna. Animals living in the area include sand cats, fennec foxes, weasels, squirrels, and wild boar. We saw gulls, egrets, flamingoes, falcons, guinea fowl, and a variety of birds migrating from cold winter weather in Europe to warmer African climates.
Plant genus Silene is the “most diverse of Moroccan flora, containing over sixty-nine species”. Many endemic plants have medicinal purposes and are used for desert survival. Mimosa absolute is abundant in the coastal areas we explored. Aladdin and Timbuktu nibbled on it. The rose is Morocco’s flower symbol.
Camel Caravan Trade Routes
Mustafa gave me a history lesson about some of the nomadic groups who settled the area and established trading posts. From the 11th century BC, Portuguese and Phoenician traders (originating in the Mediterranean Levant region of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel) explored and colonized Morocco. They built towers and followed centuries-old camel caravan routes, passing through oases and water springs from Marrakech to Timbuktu, bringing home gold, silver, cloth, salt, and spices.
Movie and Television Filming
The beauty of the area is reflected in the many movies and television series filmed around Diabat and Essaouira, and other areas of Morocco. These include – The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Spartacus (1960), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Man Who Would Be King (1975), The Mummy (1999), Gladiator (2000), Babel (2006), Inception (2010), Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015), and Game of Thrones.
“The people of Morocco never recovered from Jimi Hendrix’s visit in 1969, and the tales are remarkable. Like George Washington, he slept in everyone’s house around the Moroccan countryside!”
American Guitarist Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) is an icon in Diabat and Essaouira. People love to talk about him and his visit in the summer of 1969. There are remarkable tales and fictitious stories about what he did. These legends and myths are a part of Essaouira culture.” During Hendrix’s visit, he stayed at Hotel du Pacha, which was famous for being a “hippie” hotel. Today, it’s Hotel Riad al Medina.
Dar Es-Sultan Palace
Built during the 18th century, Dar Es-Sultan (Dar Soltane) has been deserted since the end of the 19th century. Now a “sandy fortress enthroned in wild nature, the collapsed Andalusian-style palace sits near the beach at the foot of Diabat village,”.
The palace was the summer residence of Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah al-Qatib – Mohammed III – founder of Essaouira. A “crossroads of trade and traditions,” consuls from all over the world met there. Large “ceremonies were held in the salon with luxurious furniture made by Dutch craftsmen”. Dar Soltane “consisted of five pavilions and a patio overlooking the wadi (valley) river basin”. The palace was “so visible it occasionally served as an alignment point for navigators in the Bay of Essaouira”.
“In 2020, following a request from the National Institute of Sciences of Archeology and Heritage (INSAP), the Minister of Culture, Othman El Ferdaous, officially registered the Dar Soltane Palace as part of Moroccan National Heritage.”
Castles Made Of Sand
Some say that Jimi Hendrix – whose stopover in Essaouira “forever marked his life as a man and musician – let his inspiration drift there, when writing his famous song Castles Made Of Sand”. Others say that’s fiction, since the musician “composed the piece well before his visit to Morocco”.
The camel ride was a sweet, uplifting experience.
Stunning photos. A wild sand cat? Wow.
The camel ride wasn’t touristy at all – provides a great perspective of the surroundings via the original means of desert transportation. Next stop in February is Giza Egypt and the pyramids, where I hope to go on a multi-day desert trek. The biggest concern is how the camels are treated and that they aren’t exploited. I read that multi-day trips are easier on them than short-duration rides. Will look for an established, reputable camel trekking company. The desert is getting my attention in a big way – fascinating…