The annual King Abdulaziz Camel Festival is an event that is much anticipated in the Saudi calendar. The 28 day marathon event is the largest camel festival in the world and was introduced to mainstream Saudi culture by a group of Bedouins all the way back in the year 2000. Since its introduction, the festival has been running every Spring and the number of excited attendees has increased year on year ever since. The first occurrence of the Camel Festival acted mostly as a beauty pageant and saw the Camels and their breeders judged on their appearance and physical attributes. Essentially, the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival is like the Middle Eastern alternative to American dog shows. The prizes for participating and winning contests are staggering – winners have the possibility of taking home up to $30 million dollars as a cash prize!
A Valuable Cultural Insight
The organizers behind the Camel Festival refer to the event’s mission as promoting and preserving the Saudi culture and national values. As such, there really is no better opportunity for international travelers to the country to gain a first hand perspective into the country’s culture. The 2018 occurrence of the festival ran from the 19th March to the 21st April this year and it was the first year that international tourists were in attendance.
If you are considering a trip to the Saudi Kingdom, then organising it so that it coincides with the 2019 camel festival could be a chance to have an incredibly unique travel experience. The additional benefit of traveling during this period is the fact that the climate, though still hot, will be at its most pleasant, as compared to traveling during the humid, sticky summer months.
What’s So Great About Camels Anyway?
You may be appreciative of the fact that the Saudis wish for annual events that promote their country and its unique culture, but why this? Why camels?
Camels have long been an integral part of Middle Eastern culture and lifestyle. Known as “the ships of the desert”, these majestic creatures have been utilized for centuries for transporting people and cargo long distances across arid deserts and harsh climates. Camels have helped people traverse lands that may have otherwise been inaccessible for them many years ago and so with that considered, why wouldn’t the Saudis want to celebrate camels? More than their value as a form of transport, camels have other benefits in Middle Eastern culture – acting as a source of food, milk, and apparel/manufacturing resource (their hair and skin may be used to produce a variety of goods and items).
What Happens During the Event
Though the festival originated as a Camel beauty pageant, camel racing is now also one of its main attractions. Camel owners from all over Saudi Arabia bring their camels to participate in the races. With each race that occurs, anywhere between 20 and 100 camels may be running, making each race quite a sight to behold! What better way to witness the true Saudi spirit first hand than by viewing a fast-paced camel race while surrounded by Saudi locals, all cheering on their favorites?
Camel Obedience Test
Just like dogs and horses are put to the test in the US, the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival sees camels challenged in order to determine how much they respect, and are close to, their owners. Afterall, dogs may be considered as being a man’s best friend but who said that camels can’t be too?
Camel Beauty PageantIn an attempt to determine which Camel’s beauty brings all the boys to the yard (or something to that effect), Camel beauty pageants are held. Which camel has the shiniest mane? Who has the finest pearly whites? You will be able to find out at the camel beauty contest.
Entertainment For All of the FamilyThe King Abdulaziz Camel Festival offers far more than just camels (even if they are the predominant focus of the event). The grounds over which the event is held are expansive and there are so many activities and events taking place, attendees can spend at least one very full day visiting the celebrations. Various tents and stages are scattered among the event grounds, each offering different entertainment options. From live music, to musicians and performers, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
Browse the Traditional Heritage MarketThe heritage market at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival showcases wares spread across over 100 market stalls. Here you can shop for an array of wonderful traditional Saudi products – from rich tapestries, rugs and fabrics, to spices and perfumes. Many of the stands here also serve typical Saudi dishes such as Kabsa and Roz Bukhari.
How to Attend the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival
The excellent news about the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival is that it is completely free to attend and no advanced reservations are required. For the 28 day period throughout which the celebrations are occuring, the festival is open everyday from 8am until 10pm. It is important to note, however, that the specific dates of the festival vary slightly each year. It is also worth noting that some of the events only occur in the mornings so be sure to check the event schedule beforehand so that you can be sure to catch the things that interest you the most, and therefore make the most of your time at the festival.