Al Waba (also spelled Wahbah) Crater is a large volcanic crater which is 2.2 km in diameter and around 250 meters deep, located in the heart of Saudi Arabia. It is great spot for a day trip from KAUST, Taif, Jeddah, or Medina for an overnight to go hiking and exploring in the winter months.
I’ve had loads of positive feedback from my previous post on our visit to Mada’in Saleh and other folks seeking tips and advice about the crater. With that in mind, below is a bit about our trip, including a few logistical details for others who wish to visit.
Please note: There have been some new COVID-19 regulations issued since we visited. We are following all local regulations and encourage you to do so too.
Here are the top 4 reasons I recommend a visit:
- The spectacular crater – If you are geologically-inclined, this is a great place to see a volcanic crater up close.
- Great hike or view – For those who are relatively fit and wish to climb down into the crater, it’s a nice (although somewhat demanding) hike. The spectacular and other-worldly views can also be enjoyed from the rim, without hiking into the crater itself.
- Easy to access – The road to the crater rim is entirely paved which makes it accessible for people without a 4×4.
- Not too developed – It is not overrun with lots of people or shops – the nearest stores are roughly 45 minutes drive away. This means you can enjoy the views relatively undisturbed.
Where is it?
Al Waba Crater is in a relatively remote location in central Saudi Arabia. It takes about 3 hours to travel from Medina, 3.5 hours from KAUST, or 4 hours from Jeddah.
The route is entirely paved with many small towns along the way where you can get food, drinks, and petrol.
What caused the crater?
The Waba Crater was created 1.14 million years ago as part of a volcanic eruption. Flowing lava from a nearby volcano came into contact with a water source, causing an explosion that resulted in what’s known as a maar crater (source).
At times, rain water accumulates in the bowl causing a temporary lake. The bottom of the crater has a dramatic white crust caused by salt crystals and other minerals from the evaporated water (source).
For those who wish to learn more about the geology, I encourage you to search on google – there several scholarly articles available about this area which may be of interest.
The views from the rim
Many people visit the crater without hiking into it. There are small picnic areas as well as plenty of space to drive your car right to the rim to enjoy the views. This makes the location enjoyable from your car even on hot summer days.
I also understand that there is a dirt path around the circumference of the rim, which takes around 3 hours to explore.
Hiking into the crater
The hike into the crater is a worthwhile experience. While the walls around the entire crater are very steep, there is a single rough walking path leading into the basin. The path takes about 45 minutes to an hour to go down and roughly double that to get back up again.
This path is quite steep at times so please be careful. We brought our 6- and 8-year-old children and the hike was fine for them from a physical ability perspective, but they needed supervision throughout from a safety perspective. As it is so steep, I would not recommend doing this hike with toddlers or babies.
The path also has a lot of loose stones and steep switchbacks. This means that if you accidentally kick any loose stones, they may be a hazard for other hikers below. Please be mindful of this as you go.
The basin has nice views, but no shade, so I recommend doing the hike on cooler days or in the winter months. Even during the winter, it is recommended to only do the climb early in the morning or in the afternoon so you don’t get overheated. The crater also seems to have its own climate which may be warmer or more windy than nearby areas. Come prepared with lots of water, snacks, a first aid kit, etc.
On the topic of water, one reader of this post provided the following tidbit: “Even in the coolest months of the year, the crater warms up fairly well during the day. Many hikers have hiked down and became dehydrated (causing rescue team to be called). So plan on lots of water more than you think you need.”
Primary Hiking Path:
This is the entry to the primary path in and out of the crater. There is a dirt road to the entrance, which is a bit bumpy, but firm so should be accessible even with a 2WD car. Hiking path location.
Advanced Hiking Path:
One reader of this post let me know that there is also a more advanced route out of the crater to consider. The North-Eastern part of the crater may be of interest by climbing UP from the bottom. You will come to a green oasis with underground water and plan trees. Only for advanced hikers and more water in this case. Here’s a picture of this route:
What else is there?
Here are few other things you can find at the crater:
- Picnic huts: There are some simple picnic huts which you may wish to set up at for the day.
- Visitor’s Center: This was unfortunately closed when we went.
- Toilet facilities: There are some toilets next to the Visitor’s Center, but these do not appear to be opened regularly and were closed during our visit.
- Mobile phone coverage: Mobile phone coverage via STC is available at the crater, but may be a bit spotty.
- Lava fields: There are lava fields within a few minutes drive of the crater although we did not go during our visit. It is also recommended to explore these during the cooler months and hours of the day.
Here are a few things that you won’t find at this site:
- Garbage facilities: Plan to bring your garbage home with you!
- Drinking water: I’ve mentioned water 10 times in this post. You’re hiking in the Saudi desert. Bring loads!
Nearby town – Mahd Adh Dhahab
Pro-tip! The town of Mahd adh Dhahab is a 45 minute drive from the Crater. Here you can find small grocery stores, simple shwarma or fried chicken take-away shops, and a gas station. There is also a very nice, brand new playground called Half Moon Park just outside of town which is a great picnic spot along the way.
Camping at Waba Crater
To be able to set off early for a morning hike into the crater, we camped near the crater the night before. We set up camp in a field a ways off from the rim as the crater was kicking up some wind. (Update: I have since learned that this is a common occurrence, so recommend setting up camp away from the rim.)
There is ample space to set up camp away from others and there is little light pollution here, so it’s a great place to take in the stars.
It can get quite cold at night. Be sure to check the nighttime temperatures for when you are visiting and pack accordingly.
What to bring?
There are places in the nearby towns to buy food, drinks, and petrol. If you don’t speak Arabic though, you may struggle to find anything other than the basics. Here are a few things I recommend you bring along:
- Sun protection: There is little shade here, so remember to bring lots of ways to protect yourself from the sun’s rays, including hats, sun screen, sunglasses, and other sun protection.
- LOTS of water: This is the desert after all. Always bring more than you think you’ll need. (We brought more than we thought we needed and still ran out!)
- Food – There are no food provisions at the crater.
- Hiking boots
- First aid supplies
- Warm clothes/bedding – if you’re camping overnight.
- Garbage bags
This is a great spot! It’s interesting to see it firsthand and the area has a really refreshing untouched beauty. The crater was surprisingly quiet for being such an interesting site.
There is not much infrastructure around, which I suppose may change as tourism continues to mature in Saudi Arabia.
What did I miss?
Do you have questions or comments about my post? Have you been to the area and have something to add? Leave a comment below – or contact me directly to discuss writing your own guest blog post on ClaireSale.com.