If you’re Kenyan or living in Kenya then count yourself lucky for having such events like the Maralal International Camel Derby which cannot be described, one just has to go see for themselves.
Unexplainable because I couldn’t explain to my friends how a camel could run, and if at all it does, how fast. I couldn’t either get anybody to explain this extra ordinary phenomenal to me.
Being in Nairobi that time, I needed no explanation but to pack up my bags and head to Northern Kenya, Maralal town in Samburu county.
Maralal is a small town which serves as an administrative centre of Samburu country. It’s tucked in the Ol Donyo Lenkiyo mountains, east of the Loroghi Plateau which makes it the beginning of the Great Northern wilderness. It’s an amazing town where local’s domestic animals graze in harmony with Zebras, giraffes, Impalas, gazelles among other herbivores.
Maralal International Camel Derby is an annual event that celebrates the rich Samburu culture every August. This event draws crowds from different countries in the world and Kenyans alike.
The event is categorized into 10 kilometre Armature race which happens on day one and professional camel race which takes place on day two. Besides the camel race, there is also a 10 kilometre bike ride for professional cyclists and a 10 kilometre Marathon which enables you to test your speed as you enjoy the breathtaking Samburu landscapes.
The camel race starts at the Derby Grounds which is in the town centre. It’s often characterized by local and visiting spectators filled with excitement and colour.
Maralal International Camel Derby is organized by the Samburu County government and sponsored by Magical Kenya and Kenya Commercial Bank.
If you plan to take part in the Armature race which in short is for all who don’t ride camels or even interact with camels on a daily basis, you need no prior camel ride practice. Since no safety orientation is done prior to the race, it’s important you search online for camel racing tips.
Note that when riding a speeding camel you just don’t sit on it, otherwise your butt will be badly hurt. Get to know how to ride a camel before you actually do it.
Camels are gentle animals which listen, just not sure if Swahili, English or the local Samburu language 😊
The best part is Armature racers have a guide who leads the camel and talks to them on your behalf. The guides are from the local community, perhaps the young men who look after their family camels on a daily basis. They know them by name and can communicate quite well with the camels.
If spectating, just dress for the weather. The clothes you pack could also be determined by whether you plan to camp or stay in one of the few available Lodges in Maralal.
Get your cellphone and camera fully charged before you leave Nairobi. Bring a fully charged power bank and extra camera batteries if you can. Power outages are very common in Maralal.
Carry enough drinking water and both soft and alcoholic drinks and experience a picnic in the wild with priceless views.
How to Dress for Maralal International Camel Derby
I’m Kenyan and we rarely check the weather forecasts. I prepared for the Maralal International Camel Derby based on the scanty information I get from local media. At some point, I googled how to prepare for a desert safari, because clearly, Maralal to me was a desert.
I was totally wrong. Maralal turned out to be very cold and wet. Night temperatures went as low as 14 degrees Celsius. Day temperatures were barely 25 degrees Celsius, with rains almost every day.
Besides dressing for the weather, if racing camels, it’s advisable to wear pants that are soft on your body. This is because racing a camel involves a lot of friction between your legs and the camel back, which we all know it’s not soft like a bear.
If you wear a pair of jeans or anything Khaki, you’re likely to be left with bruises as a result of the friction.
Also, the cushion on the camel body where you sit on is not spongy as such. One additional tip which nobody will tell you is bike bikers work well. They give you that extra sponge that leaves your bum not too hurting.
If driving to Maralal, the best road option is the Nairobi-Nakuru highway, diverting at Gilgil and driving to Nyahururu. Since a road trip is not as fun if you don’t make random stops, two stops; Delamere shop and Nyahururu town are just enough.
Alternative roads to drive are through Isiolo or even Baringo. This depends on how many days you got to adventure. The Isiolo road is best if you’d like to combine the camel Derby adventure with a visit to Ngare ndare forest.
The road is in good condition, tarmacked until just past Rumuruti (Road C77). The Tarmack ends at a small town called Posta (There is no actual post office), which means three-quarters of your drive is on a good road.
The other one-quarter stretch from Posta to Maralal Town is rough and quite bumpy, though way still better than the road to Maasai Mara. The drive on the rough road takes approximately 2 hours.
If travelling on a budget, then camping is your best accommodation option in Maralal. If not a fan of sleeping on the ground or can’t just camp two days in a row, there are local Lodges near the Derby Grounds like Maralal Safari Lodge (where we stayed), Sunbird Guest House, Samburu Guest House among other smaller options.
Special thanks to Adventure 360 Kenya who carefully organized this trip for us. The amazing crew who travelled with us namely Charity, So-So and the super experienced driver worked tirelessly to make our trip seamless and enjoyable. Transport, accommodation, meals etc were well organized.
The extra details like the Picnic in the Wild made the 2017 Maralal International Camel Derby special and forever memorable. A bonus visit to Kenyatta House in Maralal Town and a drop off at Thomson Falls, Nyahururu which were not part of the itinerary was awesome.
I would give Adventures 360 a Five-star rating when it comes to organizing safaris and Festivals. If you’re visiting Kenya and would like to explore the wild, I highly recommend them.