Tourists looking for authentic local experiences should check out horse and camel racing in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh is the easiest place to catch these two popular spectator sports, which feature Arabian horses and top-notch camels in action, but places like Taif and Sharurah have their traditional races, too. Plan a trip to Riyadh between November and March or Taif in August to see some of the best horse and camel racing in Saudi Arabia.
Camel racing in Saudi Arabia, a national pastime
Camel racing may sound peculiar for tourists visiting Saudi Arabia, but the sport is one of the most traditional pastimes of the Arab world. Camel racing dates to the pre-Islamic era, and the tradition of producing the strongest, fastest and most beautiful camels continues today.
What exactly is a good racing camel?
A good racing camel is light weight and has small palms, a large chest, long legs and a long tail. These pampered contestants are fed a special diet of mostly dates, milk, honey, dry grass and corn, all superfoods that help camels stay slim and trim. A healthy racing camel can run up to 40 kilometers in one hour and requires little water, so while camels run at a slightly slower speed than horses, their endurance is second to none!
Horse and camel racing in Saudi Arabia | Riyadh
Horse races in Riyadh take place at King Abdulaziz Equestrian Field in Alfrusiya Park. The track is a popular place for locals to hang out during the cooler winter months, as the track welcomes families in one section and single spectators in another. An onsite snack bar keeps the kids happy, and a classy restaurant overlooking the track serves tasty brunches and lunches and allows females to eat abaya-free.
Horse and camel racing in Saudi Arabia | Janadriyah, Riyadh
The National Festival of Heritage and Culture, known locally as Janadriyah, is a two-week festival that takes place just outside Riyadh, at the Janadriyah Cultural & Heritage Festival Venue near King Abdulaziz Equestrian Field. The festival traditionally is scheduled during February, but the 2020 event will coincide with the G-20 summit, hosted by KSA in November. Janadriyah is Saudi Arabia’s most important historical and cultural festival. Not only can participants see camel races, but they also can experience Saudi folk art, music and literature.
Horse and camel racing in Saudi Arabia | Thumamah District, Riyadh
Camel racing doesn’t take place in Thumamah National Park anymore, but tourists can still ride camels there! This sprawling desert area serves as a respite for Riyadh locals, who pack the park on weekends to ride quad bikes on the sand dunes, go rock climbing and camp under the stars. Local farmers in the area keep herds of camels and horses in the area, and tourists who ask nicely are welcome to go for a ride after paying the designated fee.
Camel beauty pageant | Dahana Desert (Ad Dahna), Riyadh
Part of the month-long King Abdulaziz Camel Festival that takes place in February annually, the camel beauty contest draws more than 30,000 well-groomed camels to the Dahana Desert (Ad Dahnaa). The contest is the highlight of the entire festival and showcases the dedication of camel handlers throughout Saudi Arabia. Camels are judged for their most graceful features, including the lengths of their necks, the shapes of their noses, and of course, how they strut their stuff. Runway etiquette (and keeping a close eye out for cheaters) is essential during the camel beauty pageant, as the most gorgeous camels can fetch prizes up to a million Saudi riyals!
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Horse and camel racing in Saudi Arabia | Crown Prince Camel Festival, Taif
Travelers who plan a trip to Taif during August can attend the newly-established Crown Prince Camel Festival, which coincides with the annual Souk Okaz Festival. For two years in a row, the camel festival has featured more than 10,000 camels who competed in more than 400 rounds of competition. That’s the dedication it takes to be the most beautiful camel in Saudi Arabia – and to compete for cash prizes totaling more than 52 million Saudi riyal!
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Horse and camel racing in Saudi Arabia | Sharurah, Empty Quarter
Adventure seekers who can score a ride with a Saudi local should make a trip down south to the Empty Quarter, where camel racing is picking up speed. Races take place regularly in the town of Sharurah, near the Yemen border, and are hosted by long-time residents and tribal members who are hoping to attract more tourism to this off-the-beaten-path – and super gorgeous – region.
Travel tip – while the Empty Quarter in the south of Saudi Arabia is seeing more and more tourism (and it definitely is an area worth exploring!), tourists should exercise caution while visiting. Foreigners should always travel with a local guide and never venture off on their own.
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