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Travelling through Rajasthan and feeling some adventure then why not head to Jaisalmer and indulge in a camel safari through the epic sand dunes of the Thar desert!?
In this post I shall go through everything you need to know to find yourself the best, authentic and least touristy camel safari in Jaisalmer.
Where to stay
Jaisalmer is awash with cheap and not all so nice accommodation options. Looking on my favourite site, Booking.com, you can find deals for as cheap as $1 per night.
Go this option if the budget means everything to you but don’t expect anything amazing. Spend a little more and get something, well, “adequate”.
In all truth, I can’t really recommend anywhere for you to stay as the place I stayed was cheap but not the nicest. The photos online looked quite ok, it had a nice roof terrace (true), hot showers (maybe to a snowman), free wifi (only worked when the owner was around! Why pay for wifi routers when you can just hotspot your mobile data to your paying guests!?)
All that aside, the owner was really nice and did his best to pour free chai down our necks every time we saw him….
So to wrap up accommodation:
- If you’re cheap like me then this place was called Tejomaya Guest House
- If your not quite the total budget traveller then spend around $10-15 per night and you should be ok.
Planning your camel safari in Jaisalmer
As with anything, a little prior planning can go a long way to ensure you have the best time possible and don’t waste your money on a load of crap. Here’s a few thing to consider:
Best time of year
Certainly not between May and October, well unless you want to melt… The province of Rajasthan gets extremely hot during the summers with temperatures soaring well over 40c. 45c, in a desert with little to no shade… I’d rather not.
In fact our guide explained that in the summer months all of the guides go to their other jobs as it was too hot to be trekking around the desert.
In our guides case that other job was splitting rock to make big red rustic looking bricks to build houses. I’d imagine not the easiest gig in summer but that’s all that is available.
Anyways back to the point I’m trying to make the best time of year is in winter. We went in December and the days were sunny and around 20c, however the nights were bitterly cold. I guess that’s just what happens in the desert….
How many days/night?
This could well be the most important thing to consider.
Well, let me explain. As much as floating through the desert on your own camel/”magic carpet” while being looked after by your very own guide sounds all the rage. As with everything in life, nothing is that simple.
One thing you need to know, CAMELS ARE NOT COMFORTABLE TO RIDE, AT ALL!!!!!
Although our guide did his best to make the seats as comfortable as possible by layering thick blankets on them, after 2-3 hours we both just wanted to get off.
At the beginning of the safari me and Agne were both wondering why our guide was walking while there was a spare camel. By day 2 we knew.
We went for 3 days and 2 nights. It was totally enough. To be honest I don’t think either of us could have handled another day on the camel.
Which sand dunes you’d like to visit
According to our “hotel” manager/tour organiser there are two sets of dunes that you can visit the Sam and the Khuri.
The Sam dunes are crawling with tourists and our hotel guy didn’t want us to book to go there as there would be lots of other tourists and it would be more of a campsite than the desert seclusion that we were looking for.
Following his advice we opted for the quieter Khuri sand dunes. The dunes that he said only few visited and he promised that we wouldn’t see another tourist while on our safari.
To be fair to the guy, we did only see one other couple and their guide in the very far distance in 3 days.
By camel or 4×4?
I know that this post is about a CAMEL safari and not a jeep safari but just letting you know what the options are.
There are plenty of tour operators in and around Jaisalmer offering both camel and jeep safaris. Expect to pay around 3 times the price for the 4×4 vs the 4 legged.
As budget as I am, I can’t lie, there was a few times on day 3 where I wished I had just stumped up the money for the jeep. Probably seen all the same scenery in just one day and one night.
What to take with you
As with any tour/excursion there’s always some extras you should take with you. Here’s a few for the camel safari in Jaisalmer:
- Sun cream – Well there ain’t much shade in the desert and being sat on the back of a camel for hours on end will tend to leave the paler among us pretty well toasted.
- Sun gigs – Not a cloud in the sky, it gets pretty bright around noon.
- Wet wipes – Ah yes, the backpacker staple that is wet wipes. The chances of finding a shower in the desert are pretty much non existent….
- Warm clothes – Did I mention the desert at night can get a little frosty, especially when you’re used to Asia temperatures.
- A decent camera – As always, take a decent camera with you wherever you go. I took the Nikon d3400.
- Some sweets/school pens – Walking around the desert villages you will no doubt be bombarded by children asking for these so a pocketful is handy. Something we wished we were told before we went on the safari.
- Toilet roll – Do I need to explain!?
While taking all the home comforts you can think up will most likely make your time in the desert more pleasant, one thing you must bear in mind is that everything you take must fit into a average sized daypack. Your 85 litre carry everything just won’t fit on the camels back.
The camel already has to carry you! Don’t bring another 20kg backpack!
How much to pay for a camel safari in Jaisalmer
This depends pretty much what kind of experience you’re looking for i.e how many days/nights you want and do you want to be swimming in a sea of other tourists.
Shopping around Jaisalmer the cheapest tour we could find was around 1000 Rupees per person, per day. That was for a bog standard tour to the Sam sand dunes.
Our hotel guy was offering a trip to the Sam dunes for 1100 per person per day or for 1400 per person per day you could go to the Khuri sand dunes.
We opted for 3 days and 2 nights in the Khuri dunes, which equated to 4200 rupees per person.
The 4200 rupees each included pick up and drop off from the hotel, a camel each, all food/drink and 2 guides.
At the time of writing 4200 rupees was equal to £46 or $60.
Booking on a camel safari
Booking on a camel safari in Jaisalmer is almost too easy.
Everywhere you go around the city you will be approached and offered camel safaris. If you want something a little more formal then there is an abundance of tour operators and tour shops pretty much everywhere you go.
As always, a bit of a haggle is definitely worth a go with almost anything in India being overpriced to start with. Especially if you’re there out of high season and there’s less tourists around, this will give you a lot more bargaining power.
The actual safari
Right, so now that we’ve been through where to stay, what sand dunes to visit and things to consider and all the rest of the boring crap, here is our 3 day, 2 night camel safari in Jaisalmer….
Our camel safari started at 8am by waiting on the front of our hotel for the owner to pick us up and take us to the safari starting point. Naturally he was late. After 6 months in Asia, this was nothing new.
35 minutes later than planned we were in his car on our way out of the city and into the vast nothingness that is the Thar desert.
Once we arrived, you guessed it another 45 minute wait for the “camel man” to arrive with our transport. Just keep calm, your travelling and time means nothing.
One thing I did notice about the Thar desert, it’s absolutely crammed with wind turbines. In all honesty, this kind of shocked me. After a month already in India and witnessing the complete lack of infrastructure to deal with the supply of running water and household rubbish in the cities, here I am in the asshole of nowhere and they have literally hundreds of multi-million pound windturbines.
I had to ask the hotel owner and he said they were from foreign investment. Makes sense I guess. According to him, now many of the tiny villages out in the desert have electricity.
Anyways, back to the camel safari. Soon enough our guides turned up, Kamal on foot and his son riding one of 4 camels.
After a quick meet and greet with our guides, the hotel owner jumped in his little white car and retreated back to the city limits of Jaisalmer.
Daypacks and food loaded up, it was time for us to climb aboard our camels. Not the easiest thing in the world to do, I’m pretty tall but trying to get a leg over the saddle of a fully grown camel is still a challenge.
Once we both clambered onto our camels it was a 2 hour ride to a nearby village where the camels filled themselves with water, our guides filled water bottles and we were harassed by the village children.
After leaving the village it wasn’t long before we stopped for some lunch. The guides laid out some rugs on the sand for us while they went off and made some food.
After lunch we headed back out into the wilderness in search of the sand dunes where we would spend the night. 2 hours later, just before the sunset we reached the Khuri sand dunes.
Upon arrival, we all went out in search for fire wood. Partly to cook our evening meal and the rest so we could sit around a camp fire under the stars.
Kamal then cooked us our evening meal, dal, rice and chapatti from scratch all on his improvised on pan desert stove. Very impressive!!
After tea we all sat around the camp fire talking about where we were from. For Kamal, hearing about our background and why we were sat in the desert with him was fascinating.
But not nearly as fascinating as hearing his story. Kamal had always lived in a tiny desert village, a village with less than 75 inhabitants and no electricity. He only ever goes to Jaisalmer when he needs supplies but otherwise spends his whole life out in the desert. In the winter months he would be a safari guide and in the summer when it was too hot for tourists he would cut stone to make bricks for houses.
As hard as his life sounded we got the distinct impression he wouldn’t change it for anything. After all, its all he knows and he is completely happy with it. One thing is for sure Kamal is made out of tough stuff.
After sitting talking around the camp fire for an hour or two it was time for bed. I say bed, what mean is 5 blankets, 2 underneath and 3 on top.
Remember earlier, I mentioned some warm clothes!? 5 blankets ain’t got shit on the Thar desert at night.
As cold as it was, the Thar desert is a great place for star gazing. Second only to the rest stop I found on the road between Broome and Kununara in Australia.
The next morning we woke early to see the early sun over the sand dunes. here’s a few shots from that morning:
After exploring the sand dunes for an hour we had breakfast and then back onto the camels.
To be completely honest, the second day was just like the first. Camel – food – camel – village – camel – camp for night.
The only differences were that after probably 8 hours on a camel so far our asses couldn’t take it and we decided to walk most of the day and 2, the second village was larger with more kids.
These kids were ferocious, in a nice way. They just wanted to be our friends and show us where they lived but it was pretty overwhelming.
As bad as it sounds we just wanted to escape.
After the village, Kamal knew another really nice spot for an overnight camp. Me and Agne once again went scavenging around for fire wood. Food, campfire, bed.
At the start of day 3 Kamal asked us what time we wanted to be picked up. Did we want to go and see another village and be picked up in the afternoon or did we want to go back earlier?
You guessed it! We had had enough of the desert and wanted to go back to civilisation. We were back in Jaisalmer by 12.30.
Would I do it again?
I really don’t know as amazing as the dunes and night sky was, 3 days on a camel was just too much. If I was ever to do it again then 2 days and 1 night is certainly enough.
Although I may never be back to the Thar desert I have got plans to visit the Sahara desert as part of a road trip from the UK to Morocco this coming winter.
Have you ever been on a camel safari in Jaisalmer? I would love to hear your experiences.