It hardly seems a year since last year’s Camel Festival, but as soon as you turn off the main Madinat Zayed to Liwa road you will be in no doubt that the 9th edition of the fabulous festival has rolled into town!
Flags line the road – now dual carriageway – as it wends its way into the desert, past signs directing you to “Camel Milking Contest”, “Saluki Racing” and the like. This year the festival is concentrated around a new souq building, just a kilometre along from Million Street where you can find further shopping opportunities of the camping kind. The camel beauty contest – always a festival highlight – takes place in the morning in the grandstand area just beyond the souq and this is where the prizes are presented each afternoon.
As you drive up the road you will see the camps on each side, many Emirati families come here and camp for the month with their camels and salukis; you will also see some Bahraini, Qatari and Saudi flags too as this festival is internationally renowned. At night, once all the individual camps are illuminated, it looks like you are in the middle of a very spread out fairground!
It will take you just 90 minutes to drive here from Abu Dhabi, and from Al Ain and Dubai you can add another 60-70 minutes of journey time.
Here’s a schedule – printed a week ago, so some things may change slightly.
The festival kicks off early in the morning with camel racing (on most days) and camel beauty contest judging.
The souq is open all day from 10am to 10pm except for Fridays when it opens around 3. There tends to be a lull from around 2pm to 4pm while many stallholders catch a much needed siesta!
My friends from the Al Ain Classic Car Museum have a wonderful display of classic cars which is open from 10am to 10pm each day – find it at the back of the souq area.
In the afternoon at the grandstand, around 3 or 4pm the day’s winners are announced, prizes are presented, and if you are you are lucky some of the winners families will do an impromptu dance in the arema.
You might also catch the winning camels being paraded down “million street”, escorted by their owners’cars, bedecked in their national flag.
Once darkness falls (and there are many opportunities to take amazing sunset shots) the souq cranks up a gear and it becomes even more atmospheric and there are guides to explain the handicrafts and traditions on display.
For me, today was just a quick recce – after moving house yesterday I am still sorting out boxes and somewhat short on energy – but I will be back in the next couple of days to see if I can capture some of the atmosphere with some photos!
The festival continues until December 30th.