If you’ve ever wanted to visit Turkmenistan you’re probably already familiar with the Darvaza Gas Crater, sometimes referred to as the Gates of Hell. Sitting pretty much in the centre of the country, 4 hours drive north of the capital Ashgabat, the crater takes its name from the former village of Darvaza located nearby. The village of Darvaza was disbanded by the former leader of Turkmenistan, in 2004, as it was felt the village was an unpleasant sight along one of the main roads crossing the Karakum desert.
How the crater came to be varies depending on who is telling the story, as there is no official documentation of this event by either the local Turkmen authorities, or the Soviet Union, which Turkmenistan was a part of at this time. Some time during the 60s or 70s the area was identified as a potential oil or natural gas field. An exploratory drilling expedition was carried out at the craters location, but the thin roof of the cavern below collapsed under the weight of the drilling rig, taking the drilling camp with it and forming the crater.
Local oral histories suggest nothing was initially done about the odourless natural gas potentially leaking from the crater, whilst some other accounts suggest it was set on fire virtually immediately. Locals suggest that over time, the odd stray camel would succumb to the gasses, but it took the death of some local shepherds camping nearby for the decision to burn off the remaining gasses.
The crater was expected to burn for a few weeks, but, close to 50 years later the crater is still on fire and now serves as one of Turkmenistan’s main, albeit bizarre, tourist attractions. Throughout the years, both of Turkmenistan’s recent leaders have ordered the extinguishing of the crater, but, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, the current President of Turkmenistan seems to have recently accepted the craters role as a tourist draw to one of the least touristed countries on Earth. In fact, in 2019, he was famously seen driving doughnuts around the crater after a safety barrier was constructed around it.
We visit the crater on all of our tours of Turkmenistan, be it our popular 5 Stans tours, or our longer dedicated tours of Turkmenistan each year in March. Just before leaving the main road for the short cross country drive to the crater, it is also possible to visit two other gas craters, sometimes referred to as the Mud and Water craters. Camping overnight at the crater offers the best opportunity to enjoy the spectacle as the Sun sets and provides the most dramatic night time views of this flaming behemoth.
Turkmenistan is also famous for its tricky to get Tourist Visa, but, not to worry! As part of our tours to Turkmenistan you will be provided with a Letter of Invitation that will allow you to get a visa on arrival if flying into Ashgabat airport, or, at a Turkmen embassy in your country if one is available.