Many people have had to wait three long years for the reopening of Turkmenistan and to tick off its most iconic destination – Darvaza Crater, 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.
So despite its ominous name, the Darvaza Crater has become a symbol of Turkmenistan’s unique natural wonders and continues to attract adventurers and curious travelers from around the world.
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.
It is not just about seeing the flames—it’s a multi-sensory experience. You can hear the crackling of the flames, smell the faint scent of burning gas, and feel the heat on your skin, immersing you in the dramatic spectacle of the crater. Despite its association with fire and destruction, there’s a strange beauty to the Darvaza Crater.
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!
Overall, the Darvaza Crater is generally considered safe to visit, although it’s essential to be cautious around the crater’s edge, especially at night when visibility may be limited. The ground around the crater can be uneven, so watch your step to avoid accidents. Our YPT guide and local staff will also be there with a watchful eye, ensuring safety protocols are in place.
Staying in Darvaza
Staying in yurts near Darvaza, Turkmenistan offers a unique and immersive experience in the heart of the Karakum Desert. 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!
So not only when staying in the yurt do you get a genuine glimpse into the region’s nomadic heritage, you get comfort with modern adaptations such as beds, linens, and sometimes even basic electricity.
Preparing for Darvaza
The good news is if you join a YPT tour, we prepare everything for you – permits, blankets, bedding, and even a BBQ dinner. Don’t worry, vegetarians, we have you covered, but here are some tips that may help you along the way!
Clothing: Pack appropriate clothing for the desert environment. Light, breathable clothing is recommended to cope with the daytime heat, while warm layers are necessary for the cooler nights. Remember to bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen for sun protection.
Photography: Bring a camera or smartphone to capture the incredible scenery! If you want to get some of the best photos ever, this is your chance. A flash goes a long way, as well! But with that, bring enough memory cards and batteries to last throughout your visit.
Before your tour, we will send out a packing list explicitly catered to when you visit in case of any seasonal changes!
Eating and Drinking at the Crater
For the most authentic experience by the crater, we offer traditional Turkmen cuisine. This includes dishes such as plov (rice pilaf with meat and vegetables), kebabs (grilled meat skewers), shurpa (meat and vegetable soup), and various bread varieties like flatbread or naan. For the ambitious, you can even take a class and put on your chef hat. The group will be thankful!
Fear not, vegetarians. While Turkmen cuisine is meat-heavy, we can accommodate vegetarian preferences upon request. We can offer vegetable-based dishes, salads, and other meat-free options.
Visit the Gates of Hell on tour
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.
Honestly, the Darvaza Gas Crater offers a one-of-a-kind travel experience that combines adventure, natural wonder, cultural immersion, and environmental curiosity, making it a compelling destination for a wide range of travelers. It is no surprise it is a bucket-list item for so many travellers.
If you want a sign to take the leap and visit this place, this is it.