Even first-time camel riders can join the 10km amateur race, hiring a camel, saddle and handler on the spot!
The refreshing cultural experience of being in Maralal at the Camel Derby is said to be even more worthwhile than the actual camel races! That’s not to say that the races aren’t impressive and entertaining, drawing competitors (not their camels) from across Kenya and the rest of the globe, since 1990 when the event was started.
This unusual derby is an exciting (if not bizarre) mix of authentic cultural and adventure activities, bringing together Kenya’s traditional tribes and the region's finest camels.
Cultural aspects include local dancing, manyattas and traditional ceremonies, as well as arts and crafts stalls. Various Samburu tribes adorned in traditional clothing and beaded jewellery gather at the event, dancing and singing in celebration – a real cultural feast. Adventure events, besides the prestigious camel races, range from cycling races and donkey rides to fun runs and stuff for kids.
The 2013 International Maralal Camel Derby
Kicking up dust from the 1st of August 2013, this is set to be a completely unique and colourful (strange) three-day event, focussed mostly on riding one-humped camels.
This year’s annual event is again going to be held near the remote market town of Maralal in northern Kenya, attracting plenty of local and international visitors (and camel riders). It's hard to believe, but camel riders hailing from Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada, England, France, Spain, Sweden, Japan, China, Mexico, Holland, Italy and South Africa, among others, have raced here over the years.
Why in Maralal?
This remote desert outpost is in the heart of camel country and is also the gateway to the wild northern region of Kenya - one of Africa’s truly unspoilt wilderness areas. Set some 345km north of Nairobi, this is an ideal stopover for the adventure-loving traveller, especially during the Camel Derby.
The race is held 3km south of Maralal in Samburu County, home of the nomadic Samburu people, relatives of the Maasai. For centuries camels have been an important part of life in this region of Kenya, used as the mode of transport for the nomadic people of the north. The camel derby is thus a celebration of the local way of life and winning is a great local honour, with competitiion running high.
The Camel Experience
The race is designed to test the stamina and ability of camel riders, both pro and beginner. Of course, the speed and strength of the competing camels are also tested.
This event is set up for participation, not just watching from the sidelines. If you're not up for the 10km amateur camel race (or pro) then you're losing out, but you can join the cycling race, the 10km fun run or the 5 km fun run for the physically challenged.
Here's a clearly non-professional, but funny video of the Camel Derby:
Please Note: All photos are from the Yare Camel Camp website.