Young Pioneer Tours

Visiting the Gates of Hell – Darvaza Crater: Turkmenistan Guide

Life is full of moments, the enviable bad ones and good ones and then randomly comes a magical pocket of time where a moment is so unique you know it will stay with you forever.

Many people have had to wait three long years for the reopening of Turkmenistan and to tick off its most iconic destination – Darvaza, famously known as the “Gates of Hell”. Then others grew up listening to Marco Polo’s stories or playing tag in the swimming pool where one shuts their eyes and yell “Marco”, while others with eyes wide open try to be avoided and must say “Polo”. Some of us curious kids learnt from a young age through a small game about a renowned traveller and set our sights on crossing a similar path one day.

What is the Darvaza Crater?

A quick Google search on Darvaza is enough to mesmerise many of us, a blazing inferno in a land few even know about; not only is it surrounded by mystery but beautiful enough to wow, so too is its history. 

The short story goes – Turkmenistan was once a part of the Soviet Union, and in 1971 when looking for liquid gold, aka oil, they hit a pocket of natural gas resulting in the collapse. Or so they say, details can be somewhat sketchy. The Soviets weren’t entirely concerned. They believed it would go out in a few days, at most weeks, but it still spews fire four decades later. No one knows how long it will continue to burn, and there are often rumours that the government will finally end, bringing its existence in an otherwise barren landscape to an end. Again, these are just rumours but both essential points to consider travelling sooner rather than later. 

The extraordinary crater is a breathtaking site, and it is no wonder that roughly 6,000 people a year made the journey prior to the pandemic. Although relative to almost every other tourist attraction on Earth, the numbers are tiny. 

What is it like witnessing the Darvaza Crater?

The Darvaza crater, better known as the “Gates of Hell”, tickles all your senses; it is one of those places you must see to believe. Whilst beautiful during the day and as the sun sets, the glow it projects in the pitch-black Karakum desert is show-stopping. At 60 metres in diameter and 20 metres in depth, it is like no place on Earth.

Is Darvaza Crater safe?

A hole spewing fire in the desert does require caution; falling in would not be pretty. In an attempt to keep people safe, the Turkmenistan government built a fence around the crater, although it is clear it has seen better days as tourists eagerly to see the hole in all its glory have destroyed parts of it. Even once up close, you need to be mindful of the heat; the hot air packs a mighty punch, and your eyes – let’s say, temporary blindness.

Another point to consider safety-wise is what you don’t see: the gas causing the flames. Whilst the methane itself is not regarded as dangerous, its ability to displace oxygen inevitably means there is less available, which can have adverse effects such as breathing, dizziness, etc. That’s why it is essential not to get too close; listen to your body and use common sense!

Staying in Darvaza

On our tours, we stay in Darvaza to soak it in all its glory – sunrise, sunset, the crater’s glow in the desert’s emptiness. We set up camp about 1.5km from the hole and stay in traditional-style yurts. It allows the opportunity to see the primary kind of homes people have stayed in for thousands of years in central Asia. There is little surprise when you stay in one how they have stood the test of time – a sturdy, reliable way to be protected from the environment. The yurts looking out to the glow of Darvaza are amongst the best yurt experiences!

Traditional style yurts

Our tour visiting the Darvaza crater in July 2023 

Each of us had our reason to be there; for some, a pilgrimage to complete a dream; for others, to see it in all of its glory and for a few of us, it was much more profound. On our recent summer tour, we all took a minute of silence around it to be thankful for our lives, our privileges and the opportunity to put ourselves in the way of something so beautiful. Some even walked around it, promising when they completed their entire trip around, they would go on to do whatever they sought. 

That is the thing about being there; it feels magical; for my account, being there made me feel like all the things I did, even wrong, led me here, and I felt tremendously grateful for the privilege. That night I moved my bed outside to view it from the outdoors; it was perhaps the most incredible sleep of my life. 

If you want a sign to take the leap and visit this place, this is it. 

Our next tour is our Turkmenistan New Year’s; you can reign in the New Year, sip on champagne, BBQ dinner, with fireworks and farewell 2023 and make 2024 the best. We would love to see you there!

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