On a previous visit to Saudi Arabia, I had wanted to visit Wahbah crater, but that visit didn't materialise. So when we wake up in Taif for an early start towards the crater, I am excited: it is finally going to happen! The driving is easy, but long. The last hour or so is on a narrow road that runs through desert landscape. Plenty of camels near the roadside, sandstorm warning signs, and empty landscapes. Oh yes, there are small villages, and as I have done so often before, the question poses itself again: why do people choose to live in these circumstances in such a big land with more pleasant living conditions? When we make a final turn right, the road leads straight to the rim of Wahbah. Our navigation app has been underestimating our speed and we arrive well ahead of the planned time. There is a small building, but no one else around: we are the only car here. We put on our hiking shoes, fill our water bottles, and just when we set about to walk to the edge, a man with a white beard comes out of the building. With a combination of fearsome gestures and a few English words, he tells us that going down into the crater is forbidden. Apparently, people have died here recently: he puts his hands on his throat and closes his eyes to make his point.
We have read that going down into the crater is the thing to do, and now we need a plan B. Walking around the rim, obviously. First, we walk to a viewpoint building. When we reach the wall, the crater opens up before our eyes. We see a wide, roughly circular crater, with a white stained bottom: it looks like salt but to be precise, they are sodium phosphate crystals. Beyond it, the landscape of volcanoes jutting out of the plain we have been driving through. We are at the western edge of the Hafer Kishb basalt plateau, distinctly different from the landscapes we have seen on our drive from Jeddah to Taif, and further northeast. We decide for a counter clockwise walk. The beginning turns out to be quite easy. We make sure never to stray too far from the edge, to appreciate the changing angles from which we see the enormous hole below - it is two kilometres in diameter, and roughly 250 metres deep. Fortunately, there is a light breeze, which makes the mercilessly shining sun bearable. We find patches with bright green bushes and palm trees: there must be fresh water sources below. Actually, date palms were once cultivated inside the crater, probably profiting from the fertile volcanic soil. It turns out there even is a waterfall, but the last rain must have fallen a long time ago, as the landscape is bone-dry. We try to guess the halfway point, but it turns out to be harder than we imagine. We find a nice spot with great views, eat most of the food stuff, drink water, and decide that it is time to speed up. We still have a drive to Mecca, and have set an ultimate departure time of 2pm.
We now walk a little faster, cutting through the landscape to find the shortest route. We have been wondering how to pass the rocky hill that rises steep out of the crater deep below on its western side. We are getting closer now, and still can't see how to proceed on the inside of the crater wall. We follow what look like footsteps in the dry landscape. We end up walking on the outside of the crater, loose the sight of it, and make our way through a landscape of sharp rocks and loose shrubberies that are as dry as they can be. When we reach a higher point, Wahbah crater comes into sight once more. We walk the last stretch on the rim, and see the large whitish center again. The light is a little softer than before: the sun is not as relentless as it was a few hours earlier. We climb the steep hill leading us back to the small building. We see our friend from before again, and are surprised to see another car: two other visitors have come all the way. We have walked quite fast, taken a few breaks for pictures, and still took more than three hours to walk around Al Wahbah crater. From here, we head directly to the holy city of Mecca, where we will arrive at sunset. Far from the solitude and natural beauty of Wahbah crater.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Wahbah Crater (Saudi Arabia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Wahbah Crater. Read more about this site.