Have you ever stood at the edge of a vast desert, where the golden sands meet the sky, and felt a call to explore the mysteries it holds? This is exactly how my adventure to Wadi Al Disah began.
Nestled in the heart of Saudi Arabia’s Tabuk Province, Wadi Al Disah is a hidden gem of breathtaking natural beauty. The moment I first gazed upon this desert valley, with its towering cliffs and lush greenery, I knew I was about to embark on a journey unlike any other.
Wadi Al Disah, or the Valley of the Palms, is a paradox of sorts – a lush oasis cradled in the harsh desert landscape. It’s a place where time seems to stand still, and the hustle of modern life fades into a serene, unspoiled natural beauty.
This is a long article with everything I know and learned about Wadi Al Disah, with details about my experience, so you know what to expect and how to better prepare yourself if you plan to visit or hike this gorgeous valley.
GPS (Start of Hike): 27°38’1.21″N, 36°31’12.23″E
GPS (End of Hike): 27°38’24.44″N, 36°35’56.67″E
How to reach: Ideally, car rental.
Duration of the hike: about 5 hours or more depending on your speed.
Hiking distance: 9.2 km / 5.7 miles each way, 18.4 km / 11.4 mi total.
Best season: November to March for cooler tempratures.
Best Time to Visit Wadi Al Disah
Timing is everything when planning a visit to Wadi Al Disah. The valley, much like the rest of the region, is subject to the whims of the desert climate. The best time to visit is from November to March, when the weather is cooler and more conducive to exploring the great outdoors. During these months, the daytime temperatures are pleasant, allowing for comfortable hikes and exploration, while the nights are cool, perfect for camping under the stars.
Summer months, from June to August, are best avoided due to the intense heat that can make outdoor activities challenging and less enjoyable. However, it’s important to note that even in the cooler months, the desert climate can be unpredictable, and it’s always advisable to be prepared for sudden changes in weather.
In my journey, I chose the mild days of mid-December, and it was a decision I’ll never regret. The temperate climate allowed me to fully immerse myself in the beauty of the valley without the discomfort of the scorching desert sun. But no matter when you choose to visit, Wadi Al Disah promises an experience that is both exhilarating and humbling, a reminder of the vastness and beauty of our natural world.
Getting to Wadi Al Disah
Embarking on a journey to Wadi Al Disah is an adventure in itself. The valley is approximately 135 kilometers southwest of Tabuk, the closest major city. From Tabuk, you have a few options to reach this hidden treasure.
If you prefer the freedom of driving, renting a car is your best bet. That’s what I did. The roads are well-maintained and offer a scenic drive.
- Simply head south from Tabuk on Route 80, and after about 150 km or 93 mi / 1.30 hour, turn left onto Route 8756.
- Continue on this road for about 30 min / 45 km or 28 mi.
- Then, turn left again on Route 8761 and after 15 min / 22 km or 14 mi, you will arrive in Al Disah.
This route takes you straight to the heart of the valley. The journey by car offers not just convenience but also the pleasure of witnessing the dramatic change in landscape as the urban sprawl gives way to the majestic desert. I really enjoyed driving in the Saudi desert. The roads are in perfect condition and quite empty, and the scenery is mind-blowing.
For those who prefer not to drive, public transport options might be available, although they are less frequent and probably require a bit of planning. Buses from Tabuk can take you to the nearby towns, from where you can hire a local taxi to the valley. But I haven’t chosen this option and I can’t really advise you on this.
Alternatively, guided tours are available and can be a good choice if you’re looking for a more structured experience. These tours often include transportation from Tabuk, a knowledgeable guide, and sometimes even meals and camping equipment. It’s a hassle-free way to experience Wadi Al Disah.
The moment I entered Wadi Al Disah, I was struck by the stark contrast between the barren desert landscape I had just traveled through and the lush greenery that lay before me. It felt like stepping into another world.
The valley unfolded like a vivid collection of greens and browns, with towering cliffs of reddish-brown sandstone creating a dramatic backdrop. The sound of a gentle breeze rustling through the palm fronds and the distant chirping of birds added to the valley’s serene ambiance.
The sun played hide and seek between the cliffs, casting ever-changing shadows on the valley floor, and the air was fresh, filled with the scent of wild herbs. It was a sensory feast – a far cry from the monotonous hues of the desert I had left behind.
The Hike Through Wadi Al Disah
The real essence of Wadi Al Disah, however, is best experienced on foot. The hike through the valley is nothing short of magical. I started my hike relatively early in the morning, at about 9 am. I reached the end of the valley a little after 11 am, and was back to the starting point at about 2 pm. So you can count an average of 2.30 hours each way to hike the entire valley, plus some extra time for breaks and snacks.
The hike is about 9.2 km (5.7 miles) each way, so it is a quite big hike. I usually am a fast hiker, but if you walk rather slowly and take regular breaks, it will probably take you 3 hours each way.
So that morning, I simply got on my rented car and drove towards the valley until the end of the road. That’s where you start the hike. I was told to park on the left along the road, as the right side is reserved for the jeeps of local tour operators.
The trail starts off very welcoming, with soft sand underfoot, gradually narrowing as you venture deeper into the valley. It’s a journey that tantalizes all the senses. One thing I remember very vividly is the coolness and humidity of the atmosphere when I entered the valley, trying to make my way through large pools of water and dense reeds, contrasting greatly with the extremely dry desert I had been seeing so far.
As I moved along the path, I was greeted by the diverse flora that thrives in this oasis. From the towering date palm trees (Phoenix dactylifera) and doum palm trees (Hyphaene thebaica) to the dense reeds, each turn revealed a new aspect of the valley’s ecosystem. I even saw a few oleander shrubs (Nerium oleander), which is a common garden shrub. It was pretty cool to see them in the wild!
One of the highlights of the trail is the narrow canyon sections, where the cliffs converge, creating a corridor of rock. The play of light and shadow in early morning here is a photographer’s dream. At about two-thirds of the way (after about 5.5 km/3.4 mi), the canyon eventually opens up to a much wider area, before becoming narrow again until the end.
Throughout the hike, the silence of the desert is profound, broken only by the sounds of nature – and the occasional car. It’s a place that not only showcases the beauty of the Saudi Arabian landscape but also provides a deep sense of peace and connection to the natural world.
Preparing for Your Adventure: Packing List
A successful adventure in Wadi Al Disah begins with proper preparation. The key is to pack light but smart. Here’s a basic packing list to ensure comfort and safety during your exploration:
- Water: This is essential. Carry enough water to stay hydrated throughout your trip.
- Sun Protection: Sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses will protect you from the desert sun.
- Comfortable Clothing: Opt for light, breathable fabrics. Long sleeves and pants provide sun protection.
- Sturdy Footwear: Good hiking shoes are a must for uneven terrain.
- Snacks: Energy bars, fruits, or nuts can be great for a quick energy boost.
- Basic First-Aid Kit: Include band-aids, antiseptic wipes, and any personal medications.
- Navigation Tools: A GPS device, or are helpful, though the trail is fairly straightforward.
- Camera: For capturing the breathtaking scenery.
- Portable Charger: If you plan to use your phone for navigation or photography.
Remember, the key to enjoying your adventure is to be prepared but not overburdened.
The People of Wadi Al Disah
One of the most enriching aspects of my journey through Wadi Al Disah was the interaction with the local people. The inhabitants of this valley are a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the human spirit. Their lifestyle, deeply intertwined with the land, offers insights into a simpler, yet profoundly rich way of life.
During my hike, I encountered local farmers tending to their crops or their goats, a reminder of the valley’s role as an agricultural haven. Their warm smiles and hospitality were heartwarming. In conversations, they shared stories of their ancestors, giving me a glimpse into the valley’s history and its significance in their lives.
The children, curious and full of energy, were quick to show me around their playground – the vast, open landscape of the valley. Through their eyes, I saw a world where every rock and tree had a story, a stark contrast to the often materialistic and digital world we’re accustomed to. They were very excited to see themselves on the screen of my camera, when I showed them the pictures I took of them.
These interactions were a reminder of the universal language of kindness and respect. In Wadi Al Disah, you’re not just a visitor to a stunning location; you’re a guest in the homes and hearts of its people. I have a fun panorama with the children around me in the virtual tour.
Wadi Al Disah is a photographer’s paradise, offering a plethora of stunning vistas and unique geological formations. Here are some tips to capture the essence of this majestic valley:
- Best Spots: The narrow canyon passage, with its interplay of light and shadow, is a must-capture. The viewpoints overlooking the valley offer panoramic shots, especially enchanting during sunrise or sunset. Don’t miss the natural pools, where the reflection of the cliffs creates a mesmerizing effect.
- Lighting: The golden hours of sunrise and sunset provide the most magical lighting, accentuating the textures and colors of the cliffs. Midday sun can be harsh, but it also brings out the stark contrasts of the landscape.
- Composition: Look for contrasts in your frame – the lush greenery against the barren rocks, the play of light and shadow in the canyons, or the solitary tree standing against the vast desert backdrop.
- Timing: Early morning is ideal, not just for the soft light but also for fewer crowds. Late afternoon also offers excellent lighting conditions, with the added bonus of capturing the changing hues of the sky at sunset.
Remember, photography in Wadi Al Disah is as much about capturing the landscape as it is about capturing the mood and spirit of this extraordinary place.
Safety and Etiquette
Exploring Wadi Al Disah is a thrilling experience, but it’s important to do so responsibly:
- Navigation: Stay on marked trail (usually along the river itself or following tire tracks) to ensure your safety and protect the valley’s delicate ecosystem. It is difficult to get lost as you just need to follow the path and the valley, but it can be useful to load the satellite image of the valley on your phone before leaving so you have an idea of where you are and how long more to go before reaching the end.
- Cultural Sensitivity: Be respectful of local customs and traditions. If you encounter local inhabitants, greet them politely. Seek permission before taking photos of people, especially women and children.
- Environmental Respect: Leave no trace. Carry out all trash and avoid disturbing wildlife or plant life. Remember, preserving the natural beauty of the valley is everyone’s responsibility.
Accommodation and Food
Accommodation and food were the biggest challenges for me during my visit to Al Disah. It is a remote and quite lost area, and there isn’t much there. Let me tell you about my experience.
Before the trip, I went to Booking.com to find accommodation near the valley, in the village of Al Disah (that doesn’t seem to be available anymore). When I arrived there, I saw that there were suitcases and clothes inside, other visitors were already using the place. I managed to call the person to ask, and he basically already had guests and could not let me have the house. Luckily, I was supposed to pay only when I check in to the property.
Later, the guy came to meet me and offered me to stay in one of his tents a few meters away, as he apparently also owned the nearby campground. Not very sure of what I wanted, he took me to an open area nearby with an Arab tent in the middle, where they offered me some tea and where I could have a snack that I had in my bag, as I hadn’t had lunch and I was starving.
There, I met with two very nice Saudi youngsters who came with their car and camping gear, and were planning to spend the night at this campground. We had a good time chatting and playing some games until dinner time came.
The three of us were starving, and we ordered some chicken. It seems that the meal came from very far and they charged us something like 30 USD per person for this not-bad-but-not-incredible chicken meal. We were quite disgusted, feeling cheated, and the three of us decided to leave this place, and spend the night together somewhere in the desert around.
Long story short, they took out their mat and camping gear, we had a very nice evening chatting and learning about each other’s cultures, they slept in their tent and I “slept” in my rented car I had parked near their tent under a doum palm. And luckily, they let me keep their traditional thick coat for the night because it got really cold and I honestly don’t know how I would have done without this coat! So I did the Wadi Al Disah hike after a mostly sleepless night spent fighting the cold at the back of my car.
Later on, when I tried to explore the village in search for decent food, all I could find was a small mart selling very basic stuff, and anything that could have looked like a restaurant was closed and looked abandoned. Since I only came here for the hike in the valley, I just decided to leave and go on to my next destination, Al Ula.
Beyond the Valley: Nearby Attractions
While Wadi Al Disah is undoubtedly a highlight, the Tabuk region has much more to offer. Extend your trip by exploring these nearby attractions:
- Desert near Al Disah: Just outside the village, you can drive a few minutes or walk to a really beautiful piece of desert where you are surrounded by the jagged mountains typical of the region. I went at sunset and the colors were truly mesmerizing.
- The desert around Tabuk: While the city of Tabuk itself is not going to be a highlight of your trip, there are some beautiful desert areas around, and I chose a spot roughly 80 km west of Tabuk for a DIY hike in the desert full of amazing sceneries.
- Duba: Tired of the desert? Nicknamed “The Pearl of the Red Sea”, Duba is a city on the Red Sea coast, one and a half-hour drive away from Al Disah. There, you can enjoy an ancient castle, gardens, and the corniche walk along the sea, among others.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need a guide to explore Wadi Al Disah?
It’s definitely possible to explore on your own, this is what I did. A guide can enhance the experience by providing insights into the valley’s history and ecology and make things easier for you, but I did enjoy my solo hike very much.
Are there facilities in the valley?
No, so it’s important to come prepared with essentials like water, food, and first-aid supplies.
Is it suitable for children?
Yes, but keep a close eye on them, especially in areas with steep or uneven terrain. The whole hike might be too much for a child to endure though.
Can I visit Wadi Al Disah all year round?
Yes, but the best time is between November and March when the weather is cooler.