Camel safaris in Jaisalmer are a very popular way to see the desert in Rajasthan, India. Scores of companies in Jaisalmer offer safaris; use this guide to choose wisely and to best enjoy your time in the desert.
- First, see this travel guide to Jaisalmer.
Booking Your Camel Safari
Needless to say, but going into the desert with complete strangers can present lots of opportunities for stress and hassle. Booking with a trustworthy, reputable company is essential. Try speaking with other travelers for recent recommendations rather than trusting what you see on review websites that are often 'tweaked up' by friends and family.
While pretty much every hotel or business in town will happily book a camel safari for a commission, staying in a nice hotel does not ensure a nice experience in the desert. While ignoring all the touts on the street, your best two options are either to book through your accommodation or walk into a tour company office.
Don't simply trust the photos you are shown in the safari booking office, you'll see the same photos used later again and again in other shops.
Ask for specific details and find out if the tour starts out by jeep to take you deeper into the desert. You'll want to know details such as how large the group is, what meals will be provided, if you'll be sleeping under open skies or in a tent, etc. Competition is fierce; don't settle for muddled answers or cave into sales pressure.
The typical camel safari in Jaisalmer lasts for two days with one night in the desert, however, trips up to 30 days are available! See more about camel safaris in India for booking longer expeditions.
What to Expect
Technically, you'll be riding dromedaries -- a larger, heartier version of the camel with only a single hump. Don't worry, even the guides still refer to them as 'camels'.
The desert in India is different than the Sahara Desert. Don't expect to start out in a desolate landscape with nothing but sand as far as the eyes can see! Even despite starting tours in a jeep to get deeper into the desert, the landscape is still arid with scrubby vegetation. You'll mostly be riding a meandering path through arid grasslands and past small villages.
You'll typically only spend a couple of hours on the camel at a time, before stopping for long food breaks. While this sounds like a short amount of time, most people's backsides can't take any longer in the saddle! Even experienced equestrians are inevitably sore the next day.
A big emphasis is put on providing enough food for guests. The guides skillfully prepare fresh vegetable curries and made-from-scratch chapati breads from raw ingredients over a small fire in the desert. Let your cooks know if you prefer spicy or not spicy.
Desert safaris stop at a strip of sand dunes, providing lots of photogenic landscapes for people who are looking for the 'real desert'. Hordes of wandering dung beetles live in the dunes; while they aren't aggressive, they are a nuisance and may give your bare bare feet an exploratory pinch.
Depending on the size, your safari may be consolidated with other groups to camp in the dunes. The camps are often resupplied by jeep and some companies offer free cold beer and soft drinks on a first-come-first-served basis.
You'll be sleeping in cots to get off the ground; some companies put guests into tents at night. If possible, opt to sleep outside -- spending a night in the open under the desert stars is truly unforgettable!
The desert is completely dark at night. To avoid attracting insects, only a small cooking fire is built a distance from the camp. You'll definitely need a reliable flashlight.
- See 10 tips for better travel photos to help get the best shots of the desert.
Tips for Enjoying Your Camel Safari
While you could simply bounce on your camel silently and the guides will happily oblige, the real fun of going into the desert is learning something. If your group is small, you may be asked to help pull water from the well for your camels, or even to chop vegetables for lunch. This is your chance to ask questions, participate, and learn a little about the camels and life in the desert.
You'll be surprised at how high you sit on top of the tall camels. Hold on tightly when your camel is kneeling or standing, it can jolt you out of the saddle.
What to Wear
Obviously going into the desert means a lot of time sweating in the sun without cover, then shivering at night when temperatures drop. Dress for both extremes and cover as much exposed skin as possible. A hat or something to protect your head is essential.
Unexpected rain is a possibility during the wet summer months, so have a way to waterproof your camera and valuables. Insects can be a problem at night.
Women are recommended to wear a sports bra or extra support as camels don't really offer a smooth ride. Bring a scarf and cover as much exposed skin as possible for village encounters.
Camel Safari Packing List
Take only a very small day bag as it will have to be secured to the front of your saddle. You won't need much and a large bag will get in the way.
- Lip balm
- Hat or something to cover your head and neck
- Insect repellent (see how to avoid mosquito bites)
- Torch / flashlight
- Toilet paper
- Hand sanitizer
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Small amount of cash for a tip
- Jacket and extra clothes for cool mornings and evenings
- Waterproof bag for cameras
Sahara Travels (http://www.saharatravelsjaisalmer.com) near Gate 1 of Jaisalmer Fort is one of the longest operating safari companies in town. You may find cheaper safari trips around town, however, it's worth the extra difference to book with a reputable company. While in the office ask to see the logbooks with kind remarks left by happy customers of all nationalities.
Unfortunately, Mr. Desert -- their charismatic local celebrity -- lost his battle with cancer in 2012.
After Your Camel Safari
Assuming you've had a good experience and the tour was delivered as promised, it's customary to tip your guides at the end of your camel safari. There are no set guidelines for tipping, but many people choose to give between Rs. 200 to Rs. 500, depending on the length of your safari.
Competition between guides is tough, and they are rewarded with more tourist treks based upon guest feedback. If you really enjoyed your experience, say so when back in the office. Complement your guides by name in the logbook.
- See more about when to tip in India.
Warnings and Responsible Travel
Unfortunately, even some of the larger safari operations have poor practices such as leaving rubbish in the desert. Don't be afraid to say something and set an example by collecting your trash to pack out.
- See more about how you can travel responsibly.
Once stopped for the night, keep an eye on your belongings; temporary workers and friends of the staff may come and go.
Giving pens and candy to village children just encourages them to beg from tourists. Avoid setting bad trends by giving handouts. See more India travel tips for dealing with beggers.