Wahba Crater: Saudi Arabia’s Natural Wonder

Wahba Crater: Saudi Arabia’s Natural Wonder

The opinion that Saudi Arabia has a lot to offer to travelers is widespread. If you don’t mind evading the luxurious hotels of tourist hot spots, like Madain Saleh or Abha, then there are countless possibilities for unforgettable “back-to-basics” camping trips to marvelous desert spots and mountain areas. One of those places worth paying a visit to is the Wahba Crater, 254 km away from Taif.The trip can be easily done in a weekend when traveling from Jeddah or its surroundings. You can leave Jeddah somewhere in the morning on Thursday, arrive before sunset, descend the crater on Friday morning and return the same day.The enormous crater, two km in diameter and roughly 260 m deep, is located on the western edge of a lava field called Harrat Kishb. As for its origin, there are two prevailing theories. One is that the crater was caused by the impact of a meteorite, as its appearance resembles that of other meteoric craters. Most geologists, however, now agree that an underground volcanic eruption led to the formation of the crater. The fact that the crater is surrounded by a vast lava field seems to support this theory. Nevertheless, a third, less common, explanation is that the hole was initially caused by a meteorite that resulted in volcanic activity in the region, which in turn increased the size of the crater.

Regardless, the origin of the crater, it is a breathtaking sight. Not only the immense size of the crater, but also the pearly white bottom — once a lake, but now covered with sodium phosphate crystals — make the view from the top unique. When arriving from the side of the nearby village Um ad Dom, you cannot presume the existence of any crater until the road suddenly comes to an end. It is only when you get out of your car, that you become aware of the giant hole that stretches at your feet. This is a good moment to take some first-impression snapshots, so make sure you arrive before sunset. While overviewing the crater from this side, you will see the remains of date palm plantations on the northern side of the crater. The green of the palm trees and grass form a spectacular contrast with the white salt on the bottom, the black lava fields around you and the blue sky above.

The best — and probably only — side to descend the crater is from the north. This side is also the most practical place to camp, which means you have to get back in your car and drive over rocks sand and dunes. It is recommended to go with an SUV or at least a car with four-wheel drive and drive around the 11 km long circumference of the crater before putting up your tent.There is plenty of space to set up a camp — just make sure you carry thick mattresses to sleep on, as the ground — a bed of volcanic ash — is rather tough. It is equally important to bring a warm sleeping bag and some chunky clothes, as temperatures might drop to 10 degrees Celsius at night, and not only in winter. In addition, as the area is known for its strong winds, bringing a windbreaker can be useful, too. During the day, however, it is hot most of the year, and the sun is strong. That is why starting your hike around sunrise is not a bad idea, nor is the use of a sunblock and the consumption of plenty of water. However, don’t be discouraged by these precautions, as the hike is certainly rewarding.

It should not take more than one hour to go to the bottom of the crater. Although going down is not really difficult, the path is quite loose at certain places, so be careful and make sure to wear proper shoes. Also, as there is no telephone signal within the area (except on top of some hills), it is advisable to climb down with at least three people.While descending, you will pass the remains of palm tree plantations, which some welcoming shade and wonderful photo opportunities, as well as water springs, which explain the survival of the evergreen palm trees and grasses here. Other parts of the hike will be rockier, making it possible to find beautiful lava stones.Going back up may take a bit longer and be more challenging, depending on your physical fitness and the heat of the sun. As the crater is fairly steep, ascending it can feel as a true workout! Again, just take your time, drink enough water and have a break on your way up in the shadow of the palm trees.

Wahba Crater is under the protection of the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD). As a result, no amenities are provided for visitors, and tourists are asked to take away all the rubbish they bring in with them.When traveling from Jeddah, you can choose to drive the official road, via the Taif-Riyadh highway. A new road between Madrakah and Birkat, however, makes the journey some 75 km shorter. In addition, it gives you the possibility to make an interesting stop at Birkat Al-Akeek, after about two thirds of the road.

Birkat Al-Akeek is an important archeological site, as it used to be a principal stop on the Hajj route from Alkoufa in Iraq to Makkah, built around 800 AD by the orders of Zubaida, the wife of the fifth Abbasid Caliph in Iraq, Harun Al-Rashid. What is left of the site is a big basin surrounded by trees that provide a good shade for a midday snack or small lunch. From Birkat Al Akeek, it is only 120 km to Wahba Crater.A weekend excursion to Wahba Crater will undoubtedly be a refreshing one. At night, while watching the countless stars and enjoying the quietness of the place, the hectic city with its noisy cars, boisterous neighbors and stress seems miles and miles away. – Arabnews