You might have seen photos of the gargantuan hole in the middle of the desert spewing out flames and a beam of light out of its core high up into the night sky while watching National Geographic or some documentary on the weirdest places on Earth. Although the Darvaza Crater has got quite large exposure in the media, it still remains very rarely visited by ordinary tourists. Central Asia is an extremely interesting place both naturally and historically. However, travelers almost always skip it choosing the popular beaches in Southeast Asia. Come to Darvaza and you'll feel as if you were teleported to Mars - it's a unique, outlandish and eerie experience that cannot be compared to anything else you've seen before.
What is the "Door To Hell" Darvaza Crater?
The crater is located in the middle of Karakum Desert in central Turkmenistan, 260 km (160 miles) from the country's peculiar, white marble, featured in the Guinness World Records Book capital - Ashgabat (I've described it here). The desert is rich in natural gas deposits and in the 1970s, Soviet scientists were conducting research as well as some drilling in the area. During an accident, the site collapsed and the crater was formed. Due to the danger of deadly gas fumes emerging from the pit, the scientists decided to burn it off. They assumed that it would take around a few weeks. And, after more than 45 years it's still burning...
Nearby, there are also two other craters: one filled with water and the other is also burning - but nothing like Door To Hell crater. However, there is some oil at the bottom and it's really interesting to see how the liquid is on fire.
No one knows how long more Darvaza Crater will burn as the Turkmen government is thinking of closing the site. However, the crater is one of the main landmarks of Turkmenistan and if it were located in any other place, it would probably become one of the most famous wonders of our planet - just like the Grand Canyon or Egyptian Pyramids. Let's hope Turkmenistan will open its borders for tourism, loosen up the freedom politics and won't shut this extraordinary place. But maybe, with the crowds of tourists, camp sites and hotels around it will never be as impressive as it is now?
How to get to Door To Hell Darvaza Crater
It's a myth that it's extremely difficult to get to Turkmenistan. Yes, you have to purchase a tour in advance but you will still have freedom to walk where you want without the guides. Another way is to obtain a short, transit visa. But even then, there's no public transport available to take you to Darvaza so you will have to use a tour agency anyway.
Getting a visa is pretty straightforward - you can do it at arrival in Ashgabat (provided you've submitted your details to a tourist agency) - it won't take more than 30 minutes and there's not much paperwork involved. You can find info about obtaining the visa here.
If you want a reliable company, you can contact Owadan Tourism - they have an office in Ashgabat right beside the Russian Market. I used their services and everything went smooth and perfect.
The road from Ashgabat through Karakum desert is boringly straight, however in a horrible condition. Many potholes and the quality of asphalt will make sure it will be adventurous! The driver will take care of everything - the camp, the food and the place to sleep - you won't have to worry about anything. The whole ride one way takes around 5 hours and it's best to arrive at Darvaza at dusk - at night it's incomparably more exciting than in daylight!
Local Village and the ride through Karakum Desert
Halfway to the crater, there's a stop in one of the local villages - called Erbent. The village turned out to be something completely opposite from what I'd seen in perfectly maintained Ashgabat. You can walk around and see the way people live in this barren place in the middle of nowhere. No trees, nothing green, only sand and some grass as far as your sight can reach. The only sound you hear is the whistling wind blowing sand off the dunes.
The main food source for the locals are, of course, camels. They are different than those in the Middle East, they roam around freely and look more wild. You can see the women in the village milking them and sometimes they can offer you some camel milk cheese.
Door To Hell experience - Is it worth it?
Darvaza means 'gate'. The ever burning crater is 60 meters wide (200 ft.) This phenomenon is unique on Earth and I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would! I visited the site in November when it was pretty cold but the crater warmed up the air around and it was really pleasant. At first, I was a bit disappointed because during the day it's not as spectacular as it is after dark. But when the sun set, I couldn't believe my eyes: from a distance it looks just like a ray of light coming out of the desert - an unforgettable and so extraordinary sight. When you come closer, you can hear the silent rustling - the flames moving up from the center of the crater. It all looks as if the rocks themselves were on fire. When you sleep there - it's just an amazing, impossible to describe feeling - staring at the milky way in this barren, empty place you can really experience how little we - humans mean in the face of the vastness of nature.
It was one of a kind experience that I will never forget - if you love different, unique, not touristy and off the beaten path places - Darvaza Crater is for you!
There are also other sites in Turkmenistan that are as spectacular as this. For example, Yangykala Canyons - white/red sandstone gorge that used to be a bottom of the ocean in prehistoric times. Stay tuned, I will write abut it in the near future.
From Darvaza, we drove up North to Dashoguz where we stayed overnight and visited the ancient remains of the Silk Road towns. I will also post about it soon.
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