Camel Riding or Culture Ruining?


spacerWe rode camels.  We finally did it.  We’ve been living in Morocco for years, but this was the first time we’ve mounted these gnarly hump-backed beasts.  My brother’s family was in town and so we loaded up all the kids and did the tourist thing.  Local Moroccans tell us that riding camels is just for tourists, but come on, who doesn’t want to ride a camel?

There’s something exotic about it.  It reminds you of the movies where ancient caravans traveled through the desert on camels and everyone wore turbans.  Of course, camel riding isn’t a reflection of authentic Morocco any more than belly dancers are, but when you travel to a foreign country with a vastly different culture it’s natural to be reminded of the stereotypes that we’ve developed from movies.  And the local guides are happy to indulge our false assumptions about their culture if it gives them a job.  

Some people may think this is ruining the “real” Morocco, but I compare it to Disney World in America.  The Mickey Mouse theme park is American culture on steroids, but it’s unlike anywhere else in “real” America.  Mickey and Minnie are life-sized rodents, which makes no sense, but Americans have adopted them as cultural icons and we enjoy the fun of it.  It’s the same with camels in Morocco.  Average Moroccans don’t ride camels, but this has become an icon of Arab culture, and it’s developed as a symbolic experience of this exotic country.

What do you think?  Are exotic tourist destinations becoming too commercialized?  Leave a comment and share your views.







  1. I’m so glad you’re ‘back’. Haven’t heard from you in a while. I love your posts on Morocco. About the camels. How many of us get to ride one. Whether it is a touristy thing or culture, I think everyone should have a chance to ride a camel if the opportunity presents itself.

  2. i think it would be much nicer to experience the proper culture of a country and not things invented for tourism – things that the natives do as a matter of course. we tend to avoid the tourist things as much as we can, and go to places the locals use instead. it’s much nicer to get embroiled in the culture as it really is.

  3. Beautiful photos! Interesting question about tourism and culture…I have often thought about how different real life is in America from what it appears to be near major highways, let alone places like Disney World. I imagine the concept holds true for world travelers.
    Thank you for visiting my blog,- I’m looking forward to many returns to yours 🙂

  4. So true about Disney, I really do not get why people are so obsess with the place, but if I ever go I do want to ride a Camel, just like Disney you have to try it once…I did not like Disney world, the lines, the prices and is not as magical as they say…at least the camel is a real animal not like Mickey.

  5. It could be a fine balance in not ending ruining culture. That depend among other things who is offering camel riding. If it is the same people who use camels, who have a culture for camels, who link this touristic thing to their own life, then it is ok. Like in Sinai, Egypt, were it is the beduins who invite tourist to their camels, and presents their life at the same time. If it is a “Disney World”-version, people with money wanting more money, then it is a scam, ruining culture. People have to make a living, and it is good if indigenous people all over the world can keep their culture, be proud of it and make a living from it. PS. I have seen camel owners in Cairo/Giza who was really treating the camels badly, I would never give such people a single dime..

    1. Yes, I really think you have a point, bentehaars. On the other hand, I don’t think the majority of tourists want to see the authentic culture. It’s not very pretty or exotic. Some have clarified the difference between a tourist and a traveler. Visitors to Morocco often have different agendas. Thanks for your comment.

  6. If done correctly tourism can sustain a culture rather than ruining it! Never been able to get excited about the camels on the beach routine but our experience as a family riding into the desert on camels and staying in tents in the sahara remains memorable, and I hope contributed something to the local community.

  7. I rode my first camel in Jordon, and I can’t say how grateful I am to myself for making that decision. Like you said, there’s something exotic about it, and I think it’s almost majestic – being so high off of the ground and galloping so fast… Amazing.

    As for it being good or bad as far as tourism goes, I would compare it to small talk – it can be fun to just chat about light, meaningless subjects, testing wit, making jokes – but in the end, you know nothing about the person you were talking with.

    Camel riding is the “shallow” experience, like any tourist attraction is; you won’t learn much about the culture about the country – but it is fun.

    I think I’d prefer both if I were to visit Morocco – camel rides as well as the more authentic activities you can only experience by “rooting in”.

  8. I made great things with a camel guide in a place called Sidi Kaouki near Essaouira. I helped him find tourists during the day and he helped me get stoned during the night. He travelled Morocco all year from the desert to the mountains to the beach and for him his job was very real and migratory like days of old, but adapted for the modern world. So I don’t think it was inauthentic just because he traded in tourists… Great shots btw!

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