What is the Darvaza Gas Crater (aka the Door to Hell)?
The Darvaza Gas Crater, also known locally as the Door to Hell, is a giant burning sinkhole in the middle of the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan. The flaming crater was formed as a result of a drilling accident in 1971 in the then Turkmen Republic of the USSR. While drilling for natural gas which is abundant in the area, a large sinkhole developed beneath the ground. As dangerous natural gases escaped, geologists decided the best course of action would be to set light to the gas and let it burn off. Almost 50 years later and that gas is still burning strong!
Where is Darvaza?
The site of the crater is located near the small village of Derweze in central Turkmenistan. The "door to hell" lies just off the highway between the capital Ashgabat and the ancient city of Konye Urgench. Given its extreme location in a notoriously hard to get to country, Darvaza receives few visitors which makes a trip there even more special.
Getting to the Darvaza Gas Crater
The only way to reach the Darvaza Gas Crater is by 4WD from Ashgabat. The 267km journey takes around 4 hours due to the bad state of the highway. Really, it's little more than a dirt track in some places and vehicles must constantly swerve to avoid potholes. There are a couple of interesting places to stop en-route including the desert village of Yerbent, which is like the set of a soviet Mad Max movie. Rusting vehicles sit half-covered by sand from the encroaching desert and small houses with green roofs bake under the intense sun. If you are lucky you will spot the many Bactrian camels from the roadside.
Into the Karakum Desert
Just before the turning to Darvaza, there is another smaller crater filled with water (and unfortunately plenty of plastic trash). To get to Darvaza, you must leave the highway and cross into the desert which is why the only way to visit is by 4WD vehicle. Sand dunes obscure the view of the crater until the last moment.
As you cross the ridge, suddenly the desert opens up and Darvaza can be seen in all its glory. Nothing but desert and a giant hole in the ground spewing flames skywards. A safety fence has now been erected around the site, but that is a recent development. In previous years it was possible to get dangerously close to the edge; the only thing repelling those foolish enough to stand too close was the intense heat and periodic explosion of flames. Both the heat and the noise of the flames is more intense than imagined.
Darvaza at night
Darvaza looks even more exceptional as the sun begins to set. The eery glow can be seen from miles around and the sound of the flames burning carries on the wind. As night falls birds and bats swoop above the crater to feast on the myriad bugs that are attracted to the warmth and light of the fire. When walking near the crater at night it's possible to see the tiny bright eyes of desert spiders as they pop out of their holes in the ground!
Facilities at Darvaza
Darvaza is not considered a tourist attraction in Turkmenistan and as such there aren’t much in the way of facilities, especially given the location. There is a yurt on a ridge overlooking the crater and barbeque for cooking an evening meal, but you will need to bring all supplies with you on a visit. Tents are erected for those visiting as part of a tour, and there is a shack with a drop toilet.
Safety at Darvaza
It goes without saying to stay away from the edge and it's recommended that you don't go nearer than two metres as the sides are not stable. Do not camp near the crater as poisonous fumes are released and spending too long inhaling these can be very dangerous. Given that Darvaza is in the middle of the desert, keep tents closed and always shake out your shoes for scorpions!
The future of Darvaza
The Turkmenistan government has talked about extinguishing the flames at Darvaza Gas Crater so be sure to visit while you still can! Indy Guide can help arrange tours and a driver to see this unique destination before its too late!