Camel racing is one of the most popular sports in the UAE and one of the most authentic Middle Eastern sports. Camel races in Dubai attracts thousands of spectators, both locals and tourists, and hundreds of camel trainers and owners vie for multi-million dollar prizes. The Al Marmoom Camel Race Track in Dubai is one of the largest and most modern in the world and is a great place to find out more about this fascinating sport and its historical and cultural heritage.
In the winter months the camel racing tracks in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and other emirates attract hundreds of participants and spectators and attending one of the races is one of the best ways to get in touch with the most authentic local culture.
What you will find in this guide to Camel Races in Dubai:
- Camel Races: The National Sport of the UAE
- What is Camel Racing?
- Al-Marmoom Camel Race Track
- Other Camel Race Tracks in the UAE
- FAQs on Camel Races in the UAE
Camel Races: The National Sport of the UAE
Camel racing is one of the oldest Middle Eastern sports, with origins dating back to the Middle Ages. Camel racing was practiced already in the 7th century in various areas of the Arabian Peninsula and Asia, especially on the occasion of festivities and social events.
Established as a popular sport throughout much of Western Asia and North Africa, camel racing has been both a pastime for the commoners and an amusement for the elite. Initially they were held on makeshift tracks, as an attraction for festivals or wedding banquets. Over time, similar to other sports, camel racing has evolved. The ever richer prizes up for grabs have attracted breeders, owners and jockeys, making it a professional sport.
In recent times this sport has been mostly forgotten, in favor of other more popular and famous ones. Camel racing and its historical and cultural heritage was about to disappear forever. The UAE is among those few countries where this cultural heritage has been preserved and promoted. Locals love camel racing. The rich prizes to be won in the races, as well as the generosity of the elite and the local government, allowed the development of facilities of the highest level, such as clinics and hospitals for camels, specialized centers for veterinary screening, training facilities and professional camel racing tracks.
What is Camel Racing?
The camel has been for centuries the most precious animal for the Arabs, as it was essential for travel, for work, for moving goods and people across the desert. It was also a source of wool, milk and food. Even though camels are no longer an essential means of transportation in the UAE today, many local families still proudly own their camels. Others are traded for meat, yet others are a popular tourist attraction.
Today, the UAE is also a premier camel racing destination, with participants coming from all over the globe, especially neighboring Oman and Saudi Arabia. Some of the world’s richest camel racing is held in Dubai, attracting hundreds of participating camel racers.
Each camel race has several dozen participants. The tournaments feature qualifiers and final races, with a final cash prize for the winning camel. On the day of the race you will be able to see dozens of camels adorned in the traditional way, with brightly colored elements. Even the people around the camels dress in the traditional way.
The camel trainers wait beside the track, and when the race starts, they race the SUVs on a parallel track, next to the camels. This is because camels are not ridden by a jockey. Coaches cheer on camels with megaphones from their speeding SUVs.
Until a few years ago, jockeys rode racing camels. But the jockey’s weight slows down the camel, so light jockeys were preferred. This led to the custom that the jockeys were children. Now this is no longer possible, as it is illegal in the UAE. You will notice little jockey robots riding camels: this is the incredible and innovative technological solution adopted in camel racing in Dubai. An interesting blend of tradition and modernity.
The camel trainers have a remote control in their hand, with which they command the little jockey robot, which is able to jog the camel just like a human would. In addition, the jockey robots have sensors that can monitor the camel’s health and performance in real time.
The races are usually held in the early morning (between 6.00 and 10.00) and in the afternoon after 14.00. All the major races are held in the winter months, when the temperatures are cooler. Each camel is adorned in a different bright color so that the trainer can recognize it from a distance.
The race is 10 km long and usually takes about fifteen minutes. The prize for the winning camel of the most important competition held in Dubai can exceed 20 million dollars!
Camel Races in Dubai: The Al-Marmoom Camel Race Track
Al Marmoom Camel Race Track is the premier camel racing track in Dubai, located in the desert just outside the city. Al Marmoom Camel Race Track is one of the most modern camel racing facilities in the world, and one of the largest. Located near a major nature reserve, Al Marmoom is home to the camel racing track and other facilities for camel owners and trainers, including a camel hospital, a forensic laboratory where camels are screened for doping, as well as centers specialized in the health of camels.
Al Marmoom Camel Race Track is also home to the Dubai Camel Racing Club, which is responsible for promoting and preserving the cultural heritage of camel racing and organizing races and festivals. The Al Marmoom Heritage Festival usually held in April attracts thousands of people, tourists and locals. Here you can see hundreds of camels up close, watch the competitions and folklore shows, and learn more about camel breeding and training.
The Al Marmoom Camel Race Track can only be reached by car or taxi and is approximately 30 minutes drive from downtown Dubai. It is located near exit 37 of the Al Ain-Dubai (E66) highway.
Other Camel Race Tracks in the UAE
The Al Marmoom Camel Race Track is the most famous camel racing track in the UAE and the most important in Dubai, but there are other tracks in the country as well. These are the main ones:
Al Wathba Camel Race Track in Abu Dhabi
One of the largest camel racing complexes in the UAE, with several tracks and dedicated breeding and training facilities.
Emirates Heritage Club Camel Race Track in Abu Dhabi
Another important camel racing track located between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, along the E16, near the village of Sweihan.
Al Sawan Camel Race Track in Ras Al Khaimah
The most important camel racing track of the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah is located near the airport and is one of the largest in the UAE. In the winter months it’s a good place to watch the morning camel races.
Al Tallah Camel Race Course in Ajman
The camel racing track of the emirate of Ajman is located a few kilometers from the city center and can also be easily reached from Sharjah Airport.
Lubsa Camel Race Track in Umm Al Quwain
It is a large camel racing track located in the desert east of Umm Al Quwain along the E55 highway.
FAQs on Camel Races in the UAE
Where can I watch camel racing in Dubai?
The major camel races are held at the Al Marmoon Camel Race Track, although there are smaller tracks throughout the UAE. However, it is easier for a tourist to attend one of the camel races at Al Marmoon, as the schedules of the small local tracks are usually only known to a small circle of locals.
Near the Al Marmoon Camel Race Track is the Dubai Camel Racing Club, founded by the Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Created with the intention of preserving the cultural heritage of camel racing, this is an important cultural center that organizes and promotes the most important camel races in the UAE.
The races are usually held in the season between November and April, while in the other months it is possible to observe (with a little luck) the training of the camels. There is no real fixed schedule of the races, which makes it a bit tricky for a tourist to watch a camel race. However, you can try asking at your hotel reception or have a look at the Dubai Camel Racing Club website, which has an up-to-date calendar of major races.
Another good option is to attend a smaller race, there are some tours from Dubai that allow you to fully experience the Al Marmoon Camel Race Track, get in touch with the racing camels and find out more about this ancient and exciting sport.
Are camels faster than horses?
A racing camel runs at an average speed of 40 km/h and is capable of sprinting up to 65 km/h. Although a camel is normally slower than a horse, it is easy to see that racing camels are capable of running as fast as a horse. A racehorse runs on average at a speed between 30 and 55 km/h with sprints of up to 70 km/h.
How much is a racing camel worth?
The price of a racing camel is similar to that of a racehorse and its value is determined by its performance and breed. Just like with horses, racing camel breeders select the best camels to achieve the best performance. Prices for a camel suitable for racing, but without a great track record, start at $10-30,000. A good racing camel can easily be worth $100-300,000 and more. Some of the top performing camels can reach valuations of over $2-3 million.
Can you bet on camel racing in Dubai?
You will be surprised to find out that in the UAE people don’t bet on camels, just like they usually don’t bet on people, horses or other sports. With rare and well-regulated exceptions, bets are not allowed, as they are gambling and therefore not allowed in Islam.
Racing camels compete for a prize, which is often worth a lot of money. The competition is between camel owners, who compete for the prize by participating in the race. Spectators can cheer, have fun, enjoy the show and hope their favorite camel wins, but they can’t bet on it. Article 414 of the UAE Penal Code punishes betting and gambling with imprisonment of up to 2 years.
Is camel racing ethical and legal?
Camel racing is perfectly legal and encouraged in the UAE, as well as many other Arab countries. The ruler of Dubai himself is a camel racing enthusiast and owner of racing camels, as are much of the local elite. Indeed, camel racing – especially at a high level – is an elite sport, which only the most powerful sheikhs and tribesmen can afford.
Camel racing is at least as ethical as horse riding. The two sports are quite similar and racing camels are treated very well by their owners, just like horses. In Dubai there are hospitals for camels, specialized structures for their well-being and clinical laboratories used for health and anti-doping controls.
How much does it cost to attend a camel race in Dubai?
Attending a camel race in Dubai is usually free, but if you want to watch a camel race as a spectator at the Al Marmoon Camel Race Track you will need to go there early in the morning on the day of the race, or better inquire at least the day before to secure a seat . Bear in mind that camel racing in Dubai is very popular, with both locals and tourists, so it may already be sold out. There is no dress code, people usually dress casual.
Some local operators offer tours that allow you to attend a camel race without the hassle, arranging everything necessary, from transport to the entrance, as well as a visit to the stalls where the camels wait for the race, so you can meet the camels up close. Prices usually range between $60 and $150.
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