Jaisalmer Camel Safari – Avoiding Hotel/Safari Scams

The hotel rooms in Jaisalmer are dirt cheap, but there is a catch.  Most hotels will expect you to book a camel safari through them, which is where they make their money.

We had learned from our good friend and fellow traveler, Mariana, about a scam involving hotels and camel safaris.  Here is how it starts. You are arriving on a train or bus and an Indian person approaches you and appears to be very friendly and tells you about a hotel that he, his friend, brother, cousin, etc, has at a great rate with great facilities.  In our case, the guy came up to us and told us that he was from London and was traveling with his Norwegian and British friends and said that his brother had a hotel in Jaisalmer and then provided us with a brochure of the guest house.  Of course the photos looked great and the amenities included: 2 minutes distance to the fort, rooms with TVs, hot showers, and most importantly, no hassles about choosing their camel safari!  Now, if we had not heard about this scam from Mariana, we probably would have fallen for it.  Besides, we had already booked a room at Reunka guest House, but the offer sounded so good, that we agreed to take a look since he was offering a free ride into town. When we left the station, to no surprise, his Norwegian and British friends were nowhere to be found.  Once we arrived at the guest house we were shown the room and it wasn’t bad for 150 rupees, but it certainly did not look like the photos either!  The worst part was that there was no TV, just an empty shelf and a cable, and his excuse was, ” Most guests don’t watch TV, but I have one if you want.”  … Yeah, uh huh.  We smiled and started to leave and he tried to persuade us that he had a better guest house across the street.

Renuka Guest House

Heidi was more firm than I and we started to walk down the street until we found a rickshaw that took us to the Renuka Guest House, where our reservation was.  By the way, a rickshaw ride across town should cost no more than 20 rupees.  If they want more, start walking.  Renuka, is recommended by Lonely Planet, and is supposed to be “squeeky clean”.  That is not the case at all.  In fact, the previous one was much cleaner!  It didn’t matter because we were tired and they were nice, so we paid more than double the price at 350 rupees for the night.  Probably the best thing about Renuka is they are known for their no-hassle approach to their camel safaris.  Sure enough it was hassle free as we sat down with them and they gave us their shpeile, but their cost was 50% more than what we ended up paying.  We wanted a one night adventure (returning in the morning) and their price was 1200 rupees per person.  We ended up choosing Ganesh Travel based on reviews we read online and the mentioning of it in the Lonely Planet.  The cost for the same safari was 850 rupees per person, which is quite a bit lower.  How, you may ask?  Well, Ganesh is probably the only camel safari company in Jaisalmer that actually owns its camels, therefore, there is no middle man – the hotels!

The key is to make sure that your hotel will not expect you to book a camel safari with them.  Make sure that you ask them ahead of time, otherwise you might be wondering why you are paying so little for your room!  A couple of guys on our safari were actually kicked out of their hotel after the hotel staff found out that they booked their safari with a different company.  Luckily, Ganesh travel offers baggage storage!  Another thing that they may try to pull on you is they may lie to you and tell you that if you don’t book your safari with them, you won’t be able to get a safari for the next day.  This is a complete lie and a scam.  In fact, you can even get same day safaris in some cases.

Finally, it seems that all budget accommodations offer free rides into town (since it’s so small).  So if you don’t want to book ahead of time, just exit the train station and you will see plenty of hotels offering rides into town for you to choose from.

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