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Al Shuwaq Canyon (?) and Wadi Disah


View Saudi Arabia 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Thankfully, the Brat-from-Hell in the room next door finally went to sleep last night, and so did I. I slept surprisingly well, albeit with some very strange dreams.

When we arrive at the coffee house next to the restaurant on the rooftop of the rich-sister-hotel next door, we are asked for our room number. The manager then proceeds to tell us that as we are the paupers-in-the-annexe (not his words), we do not have breakfast included in the price of the room. Insisting that we do indeed have breakfast included as part of our package, he goes away and comes back some minutes later and agrees it is “OK”.


We order a cheese omelette and a plate of shakshuka. Having eaten shakshuka in restaurants in the past, as well as made it at home, I am very surprised when something resembling red scrambled eggs arrives.


As you can see from the google search below, this is what I expected to get: a pan of eggs poached in a mix of tomatoes and spinach {or other vegetables).


Getting a whole set of proper metal eating utensils is a bonus, however, elsewhere we have been given a plastic spoon and fork wrapped in plastic, even in 'proper' restaurants. Rarely does the package include a knife.

Excursion to Al Shuwaq Canyon and Wadi Disah
As we were informed that today's day trip is in a four-wheel drive by a local person, not Bacha, our regular driver. I asked Bacha last night if he would come along, partly because we really enjoy his company, partly because he is a very good facilitator and go-between/translator, and partly because he has not been to this part of the country before. He is full of curiosity and enjoys seeing new sights and learning about the culture and history. He was, however, told that it was only really suitable for two passengers in the vehicle. What a shame.

Bahil, our local driver, arrives around 20 minutes early to pick us up, and we feel a little uneasy when we realise that his English is barely better than our Arabic (ie almost non-existent).

Bahil, our driver for the day

As we head southwest out of Tabuk, the desert scenery starts to show some more interesting features.




As he turns off the main road, using google translate, Bahil explains “desert road”, followed by a huge grin. “Surprise”.



After around twenty minutes or so of driving around the rocky outcrops, Bahil finds a gap in the barriers and re-enters the main road. Is that it as far as the huge surprise?


After a few minutes, we go back off road again, not far from where we were earlier.


He keeps driving around in circles, as if he is looking for something in particular, chatting away to us in what I assume is Arabic. Whatever it is, neither of us understands a word he is saying.


With google maps showing on the dashboard, he calls a friend and has an animated conversation. I occasionally hear the word “location” being uttered. Even after the call finishes, he plays around with google maps, before mumbling “sorry” and performing a U-turn.


Another friend, another phone call, another apology, another U-turn follows.


Yet again we drive around in circles, close to one rock formation, then the next.


It's all very pretty, but hardly what I would enthusiastically call a 'surprise', as these kinds of rock formations are pretty common around here.


The 'desert road' varies from smooth sand to pretty rough rocks in places.



We see some camels in the distance and head in that direction.


Bahil asks the herder directions, while I photograph the camels.



Again I hear the word 'location' several times, and lots of gesticulations. The harsh guttural sounds of Arabic always make the speaker appear angry, even when the facial expressions show otherwise.


Eventually, the camel herder half-heartedly points toward some rocks in the distance. I have no confidence that he has any knowledge of the place Bahil is trying to find, and it seems neither does Bahil, as he drives off that way, and having consulted google translate mutters hopefully “maybe...”

Nah, this isn't the place he is looking for either, and changing his mind, he returns to the main road.

This pattern continues for quite a while, as he goes back off the road again, around and around in circles, then back on the main road, before returning to the desert once more. I am beginning to recognise the rocks now, having been in this spot before. Several times.

Bahil once more returns to the main road before phoning another friend and consulting google maps.

This friend obviously does not know the direction either, and Bahil calls up another mate. Still no good. By this time he seems to have run out of friends to ask, as he scrolls through his list of contacts on the phone.

By this stage we have been driving around a very small patch of desert for the last hour, covering no more than a linear kilometre, something Bahil also is painfully aware of. Eventually, he somehow manages to convey that we don't have enough time to look for 'whatever' anymore, and will head directly to Wadi Disah.

Oh good.

Back on the main road and heading for Wadi Disah

As we continue south, the scenery becomes more mountainous, with a new road cutting through the valley.



Wadi Disah
As we turn off the main road towards Wadi Disah, there are hints of the grandiose scenery to come.


Bahil stops the car at an area with lots of other vehicles and people milling around.


He gestures towards one of the open safari vehicles, while chatting away in Arabic. We are not sure what he is trying to say, so the other driver comes over to attempt to explain. We ask if he wants us to transfer across to the other Jeep. He doesn't understand what we are asking any more than we understand him. If only Bacha would have been allowed to come with us, he could have translated.

This goes backwards and forwards for some time, until Bahil phones George (our local agent) and hands the phone to David. George explains that we should go into the canyon in the open truck as it is much better for photography.


I sit in the front, partly as it is easier to get up into that seat with my poorly knee rather than trying to climb on the wheel and swing my leg over the bodywork at the back, and partly because it gives me a better viewpoint for photography.


The Jeep goes off deeper into the canyon, with Bahil following behind in his car. The road becomes a track, and at times the track becomes a puddle. All around us, the ragged cliffs loom high and menacing, while the arid desert has now turned into a verdant oasis.





In places the grasses are so high and lean across the track, meaning that they slap me in the face – or rather slap the camera, which is permanently glued to my face at this stage – as we drive through.



At some intriguing steps cut into the rock face, we stop, and Bahil climbs up. It is a shame that we cannot understand the explanation he offers.


Mostly the rock is a mid-brown, with a nobbled look, but in one place, there is an open-ended cave through much paler rock (sandstone maybe?). The shape reminds me of elephant feet.




We continue through the breathtaking scenery – around each and every bend, there is a new and stunning vista.




At a bend in the track, with an elevated area, we stop, and Bahil gets out a cool box from his car, and spreads a carpet on the ground. Picnic time! There is so much food!






There is a chicken Caesar salad, spicy pasta salad, kibbe, spring rolls, stuffed vine leaves and what I think is mashed potato with a sauce.

The drivers don't eat with us, but take theirs at a separate location.



The temperature difference between the sun and the shade here in the canyon is the most noticeable I have ever experienced. I would say it is at least 10 degrees cooler in the shade. Even in the moving car, we can feel how the temperature drops considerably when entering a shaded area.


After this late lunch, we make our way back through the canyon. The sun is now low on the horizon, giving a totally different ambience. Spectacular doesn't even begin to describe it. This surely has to be a highlight of our visit to Saudi Arabia.





As we get nearer the original meeting point, we see a number of people and camels. It seems that visiting the canyon at sunset is a popular thing to do. There is a even a large bus full of locals wanting to transfer into the waiting safari vehicles.



We transfer back into Bahil's car for the journey back to Tabuk. It's a fast road and we both sleep a little on the way.

Camels on the side of the road



Tabuk Castle
Once we are back inside the city, the driver stops by what I assume is Tabuk Castle. The castle is closed, however, so we make do with seeing it from the outside, all lit up.


After a quick shower and change, we head to the same restaurant as last night, with the same order as last night. It is just as good tonight.

The most delicious lamb steaks, ever!

And so to bed.

Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this amazing trip for us. Check out their website for details of this and many other fascinating trips.


Posted by Grete Howard 21:10 Archived in Saudi Arabia Tagged landscapes oasis desert canyon breakfast castle camels picnic off-road saudi middle_east saudi_arabia surprise ksa undiscovered_destinations shakshuka al_shwaq wadi_disah tabuk desert_road camel_herder safari_truck tabuk_castle lamb_steaks banan_suites

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Well after an uninspiring start this day certainly delivered - what amazing scenery and light for photography! A shame though that you couldn't communicate properly with your driver.

by ToonSarah

Beautiful rocky scenery.

by irenevt

Thank you Sarah and Irene, it was a stunning place. At the time, the lack of communication was frustrating, but it all adds to the great adventure.

by Grete Howard

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