If you love traveling off the beaten path, the Dravaza gas crater, also known as the Door to Hell, will be right up your street! Check out these Darvaza gas crater facts, including its history, how to get there, famous Darvaza spiders, and a collection of incredible original photos.
Turkmenistan is a strange country indeed. The capital, Ashgabat, is a marble monstrosity with empty streets guarded by soldiers and policemen.
It is the only capital I have walked around and not experienced the hustle and bustle of people going about their daily lives.
So it is with little surprise that hidden in the vast Karakorum desert of Turkmenistan is another strange edifice, the Door to Hell (or Gates of Hell) at Darvaza.
Visiting Darvaza Gas Crater: The Door To Hell
History Of Darvaza Gas Crater
In 1976, when the country was part of the Soviet Union, geologists were scoping the desert for oil. Upon setting up a drilling operation near the small settlement of Darvaza, they noticed the escape of natural gas, and the drilling area collapsed into a giant sinkhole.
The engineers and geologists decided the best way to stop the gas from escaping was to set it on fire and let it burn itself out. Well, the flames have been burning now for over 50 years!
Although the Door to Hell, as it has become known, is not a tourist attraction, it does attract a specific type of visitor (myself included) searching for unique places around the world.
My Visit To Darvaza Gas Crater
I visited Turkmenistan when I was making my way overland from England back to my home in China, and Darvaza was one of the principal reasons for visiting the country.
As visiting Turkmenistan is notoriously tricky (the government doesn’t really want tourists and routinely refuses both tourist and transit visas with no reason given), and to save money, I arranged a tour with a friend.
My friend and I were lucky enough to be granted five-day visas (the tour company said that two other people who applied were refused).
Strangers In A Strange Land
We arrived by cargo vessel from Baku in Azerbaijan. After waiting around at the port of Turkmenbashi (named after the former Dictator), we were whisked away to a palatial hotel on what looked like a large seaside resort.
However, not only were we the only guests in this colossal marble hotel, but it seemed we were also the only people in the whole resort. Well, aside from the secret policemen that loitered in the lobby, eyeing us with suspicion.
After a surprisingly tasty breakfast in an empty dining hall, we were picked up by our tour guide and driver and driven 600km across the desert to Ashgabat.
We repeated similar scenes at the hotel in Ashgabat, complete with “secret” policemen, but there was a little more life than there had been in Turkmenbashi.
Driving Through The Desert
The next day, after some brief sightseeing around the empty capital, we were picked up in a 4X4, ready to head back into the Karakorum Desert to spend the night at the Door to Hell. To say we were excited would be an understatement.
The road was more of a dirt track with many potholes and police checkpoints every 100km. The rule is that you must slow down at the checkpoint, make eye contact with the police to see if they want to pull you over, and if not, continue on your way.
We first stopped at the small village of Yerbent, a series of shacks and yurts with rusting Russian jeeps littering the foreground.
We were hoping to see the local Bactrian camel herd, but they had wandered off (though we did see a few from the road).
As we neared Darvaza, we stopped and checked out a small sinkhole filled with water before leaving the track and heading off-road into the sand dunes (which was good fun). As we crested a dune, the sight we had been waiting for was below us!
The fiery crater looked massive, and there was nothing else around in every direction save for a few tents perched on a ridgeline (which would be our home for the night).
Our driver raced down the other side of the dunes toward the Door to Hell, and I don’t think I was alone in wondering about the condition of the brakes!
Darvaza Crater: The Door To Hell
We parked a few meters from the crater’s edge and got out. I was shocked at the level of noise produced by the flames. A giant “woosh” would send out a burst of heat every now and again. It was an impressive sight.
There was no fence or safety notice (as it’s not considered a tourist site), and we could get quite close, though our guide warned us to stay at least two meters from the edge.
My friend and I stood for an hour, taking in the scene before us and taking photos from every conceivable angle.
We headed up to the ridge to a small wooden shack and barbecue, where we ate a decent meal of shashlik (barbequed chicken) and salad, all washed down with a few cold beers. We were shown to our tents after dinner, where we opened a bottle of vodka and sat watching the crater below us as the sunset.
The Door To Hell At Night
The crater looked even more impressive in darkness as the flames licked up into the night sky. We walked back down to the crater and noticed thousands of sets of eyes on the ground in the torchlight. These were the famous Darvaza spiders.
Every time we got close, the spiders would dart down into holes in the desert. Above the crater, hundreds of birds flew back and forth, which was an extraordinary sight. I can only surmise that the heat must attract a lot of bugs (like the spiders), and the birds come in and pick them off.
After another hour at the crater, we returned to our tents to finish off the vodka and toast our success in visiting this strange place.
The next day, we continued north on our way to Uzbekistan and bid a fond farewell to Turkmenistan.
Things To Know About Darvaza
Since our visit, a fence is now surrounding the crater, which somewhat limits the view. In 2022, the Turkmen president issued a decree to have the flames finally extinguished. However, he has been saying this for many years, and nothing has happened yet.
That being said, it’s entirely possible this strange attraction will soon be no more, so visit before it’s too late.
Turkmenistan remains closed to tourism due to Covid, with no signs of reopening. The country relies heavily on its natural gas and oil deposits and sees tourism as unnecessary (a Soviet paranoia is very much still present there!).
If and when the country does open, book a tour for the best chance of getting a visa, and make sure to include a trip to Darvaza on the itinerary.
Getting To Darvaza
Due to the Door to Hell location, it isn’t recommended to visit on your own. Public transport (buses and marshrutkas) will only take you to the nearest settlement, and wandering off into the desert alone is not a good idea at all.
A tour to Turkmenistan doesn’t come cheap (around $1,000 for four days), but you can do what I did and try to find a friend to go with you to halve that cost.
A trip to the Door to Hell is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If the authorities decide to extinguish the flames, you may never have the chance again!
Turkmenistan is also a fascinating country to discover. Ashgabat is well worth a visit, and you can also visit Merv/Mary, which was the most populous city on the planet at one time!
About The Author Of “The Door To Hell: All You Need To Know About Visiting Darvaza Gas Crater”
Steve Rohan is a writer from England. He has visited over 60 countries and lived in China for six years. He prefers to travel “off the beaten track” and discover places few others venture to while avoiding flying at all costs. You can read about his adventures on his blog, The Trip Goes On.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about Steve’s fascinating journey to the mysterious Door to Hell at Darvaza.
Just before you go, you may want to explore this eerie UK destination that’s not far from London:
Thanks for stopping by!
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