Al Wathba Camel Races

Camels are one of the iconic images of Emirates. Historically, they were a critical component of daily life, used for transportation, food, trade, and much more. While the locals are more inclined to drive a Mercedes now than ride a camel, there is still a very active camel racing scene in the UAE.

The race track at Al Wathba is the one closest to Abu Dhabi and features races every weekend in the cooler months (October through March). Plan to arrive early, by about 7am, if you want to get the full experience.

Don’t be worried if you get there and do see many people. My family and I were one of only about two dozen spectators who attended throughout the entire morning. Also, don’t feel obligated to sit in the official grandstands. We started there, but quickly realized that every stands around the track. This is really the best way to experience the races as you can get quite close to the camels and may even be able to strike up a conversation with an owner of handler if you’re lucky.

Due to previous human rights concerns, camel races are no longer held with human jockeys. In order to get a competitive advantage, some racers used to use very young (and under-nourished) children as jockeys. Now, all jockeys are radio-controlled robots that sit on top of the camels back and are “driven” by their handlers who follow the camels in SUVs on a parallel race track.

As there are no jockeys to make sure the camels run straight when the race begins, each camel must have a handler who stands in front of the starting gate. They hold a break-away rope attached to the camel’s harness and then have to dash out of the way once the race begins (while hoping not to get trampled).

Unlike most horse races, camel races are very long affairs. The race track itself is about 6km long and each races takes about 10-12 minutes. I clocked a couple of camels and determined that camels maintain an average speed of about 22mph. They don’t look fast, but they are moving.

Camel races also rarely seem to finish dramatic chases to the finish line. In pretty much every race we watched, the lead camel was several lengths ahead of his closest rival… and in some cases several minutes ahead of the last place finisher.

After all the races have finished, camel handlers will bring out their young camels who are still training. You get a huge “camel parade” and then a free-for-all race with literally hundreds of camels speeding around the track at once.

This is truly one of the can’t-miss experiences of any visit to the UAE.

  • Al Wathba Camel Race Track
  • Arriving at the Race Track
  • Racetrack
  • Leading a Camel to Race Track
  • Gwen, Don, and Vic at the Racetrack
  • Camels Arrive for the Race
  • Staging Area
  • Camel Resting Before Race
  • Camel Close-Up
  • Pre-Race Area
  • Camels Prepare to Race
  • Unique Jockey Color Schemes
  • Racing Camels
  • Racing Camels
  • Camels with Handler
  • Gate Handlers
  • Camels and Handlers
  • At the Starting Line
  • Staging Area
  • The Race Begins
  • Staging Area
  • Handlers Scramble Away from Starting Gate
  • Camels Start the Race
  • The Home Stretch
  • Chase Trucks Control Robot Jockeys
  • Sprint to the Finish
  • Running for the Finish Line
  • The Home Stretch
  • Last Place Finisher
  • Practice Laps
  • Training Racing Camels
  • Carrying Robot Jockeys
  • Camel Handler
  • Handlers in Camel Parade
  • Robot Jockey

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