Camping At Darvaza – The Door To Hell

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Darvaza Gas Crater Camping At The Door To Hell Turkmenistan

Scarring the earth like a vicious pockmark, the Darvaza Gas Crater burns ferociously in an intense, permanent rage. Sunken into the heart of Turkmenistan’s Karakum Desert, the flaming circular pit has become known as the “Door to Hell”, inspiring images of a fabled entrance to Lucifer’s Underworld. Completely remote in an already isolated nation, it may just be Central Asia’s most peculiar attraction. But despite the obvious appeal to intrepid travellers, very few people actually have the chance to see this curious spectacle.

The Darvaza Gas Crater only came into existence relatively recently. In 1971 a Soviet team were conducting oil exploration with a drill rig when a natural gas field collapsed in the Karakum Desert, creating a gaping scar. Methane began leaking into the atmosphere from what turned out to be the sixth largest gas reserve in the world. How the crater became the burning pit of hell is a disputed mystery, but many believe geologists deliberately ignited the gas, hoping it would extinguish in a few days. Over 40 years later, it is still alight.

Darvaza Gas Crater Camping At The Door To Hell Turkmenistan
A couple stare into the burning gas crater.

As we were drawing up our plans to cross central Asia we knew that we would have to add the Darvaza Gas Crater to our itinerary. However trying to get to the Door to Hell is a tough affair. Besides its remote location, there are no signs to alert travellers of its whereabouts and no common methods of transport to get there. Most people do day trips from the capital city Ashgabat, spending hundreds of dollars for the chance to see the crater for just a few hours.

Even more difficult is just being approved for a Turkmenistan visa in the first place.

Travelling to the ex-Soviet nation is a mission in itself. Turkmenistan already has some of the strictest visa laws of any nation on the planet. Independent travel is almost impossible, with the only option of entering Turkmenistan being on a difficult-to-attain transit visa. These are valid for between 3-5 days and are date and location specific. The process is often delayed for weeks on end, or denied without reason. The only way to arrive on a longer tourist visa is by joining a group tour, being escorted by a government-approved guide everywhere you go. It may not allow for independent travel, but it does let tourists stay past 5 days and explore more thoroughly. This was the option we ended up taking.

We visited Turkmenistan with the overland adventure tour company Dragoman, which not only allowed us to have more time exploring the nation, but meant we had our own transport to drive to the Door to Hell. And with more time on our side, we had the unique opportunity to spend the night camping at the Darvaza Gas Crater.

Dragoman Truck Darvaza Gas Crater Camping At The Door To Hell Turkmenistan
A desert sunrise with the Dragoman truck.
Tents Darvaza Gas Crater Camping At The Door To Hell Turkmenistan
Our Drago canvas tents near the edge of the crater.

Having spent our first night camping in the wilderness near Konye Urgench, an important historical site from the fascinating Silk Road, we headed south on a mild November morning. Our group was eager to get to Darvaza before darkness set in. With the kilometres rolling over on a potholed highway and the scenery rarely changing, it seemed like perhaps we would be cutting the daylight hours fine. Suddenly our guide Murat pointed down an unpaved road and said we had reached the turn off. Soon we were leaving the highway and heading into the desert.

A rough track carved its way through the sand dunes of the Karakum Desert, spidering off in countless diversions. There are no signs guiding the way, or even to alert you that one the Door to Hell lies just 7km from the highway. If it wasn’t for Murat we would have sailed straight past the road.

We bounced along the track, almost getting stuck in the deep sand. As there are no overhead obstructions in the way, we were allowed to sit on the roof seats for an unparalleled view of the desert – a unique feature on the Dragoman trucks. The going was slow, but eventually we climbed a hill and caught our first sight of the burning gas crater. Even in the mid-afternoon sun, it glowed brightly like a lit flare buried in the soil. Its size was immense, and cries of astonishment were shouted in unison. We parked the truck only 100m from the crater, the wind blowing the noxious fumes in the other direction. We had arrived at the Door to Hell.

Jazza Digging Darvaza Gas Crater Camping At The Door To Hell Turkmenistan
Jazza helping to dig the truck out from the soft sand. This track was tough to traverse, even for our experienced drivers.

Before evening kicked in we pitched our tents and made camp; setting up the cooking gear and preparing our campfire. We had been collecting firewood en route, knowing that the chance of finding any near the crater was almost zero. As the sun began to set we climbed to the top of a nearby hill to watch the day turn into night. The darker it got, the more the burning crater radiated, creating an orange haze that rose into the sky.

Under the infinite Milky Way the Door To Hell took on its haunting guise. We walked to the crater’s edge and stood mesmerized as flames danced and twirled below. The crater is 70m in diameter and up to 30m deep. In 2013 an expedition partly funded by National Geographic abseiled to the bottom of the crater, examining whether life can survive in this insane environment. They did indeed find bacteria at the bottom of the pit. But for us, standing near the crumbling edge with no protection, a fall would mean almost certain death.

Darvaza Gas Crater Camping At The Door To Hell Turkmenistan
Staring into the flames of the Door to Hell.

After our group cooked a delicious dinner Alesha and I circumnavigated the Door to Hell, snapping photos and just generally being overwhelmed with the magnitude of where we were. We stood in silence for what felt like an eternity, hypnotised by the burning pit beneath us. No photos or stories can ever truly explain the feeling of being there.

We eventually retired back to our campsite, sitting around our own small fire drinking beer and wine with the group; the Door to Hell acting as the impossible backdrop. Around midnight we headed to our tents, keeping one door open to admire the Darvaza Gas Crater in our temporary front yard.

Darvaza Gas Crater Camping At The Door To Hell Turkmenistan
Sitting around our own small fire, with the Darvaza Gas Crater in the background.

Waking before the sun we climbed the hill again to watch the dawn of a new day. Our big group of friends all huddled around on the peak, smiling at the gorgeous sunrise over the Karakum Desert. Afterwards it was time for breakfast and to pack up our camp. We bid farewell to Turkmenistan’s strange attraction and headed back along the rough track. We managed to get the truck stuck in the sand, forcing ourselves to dig it out. Even the journey out was treacherous and difficult. By lunchtime we were on the way to Ashgabat, ready for an entirely different experience.

Jazza Darvaza Gas Crater Camping At The Door To Hell Turkmenistan
Jazza staring into the Door to Hell.
Darvaza Gas Crater Camping At The Door To Hell Turkmenistan
Part of our awesome Dragoman group.

We’ve pitched our tent in some sensational locations – on the beaches of Hong Kong, in a Tibetan Monastery, on the Great Wall of China and on the edges of lakes in Mongolia – but camping at the Door to Hell has made its way into one of our all-time favourite campsites. Rumours are abound that the new Turkmen president has plans to plug the Darvaza Gas Crater to continue resource extraction. If this is true, then the Door to Hell won’t remain around much longer. But for now, it still burns furiously in all its might. And having travelled there before the attraction is gone, sleeping on its edge and watching its flames dance will live on as a memory we will never forget.

We partnered with Dragoman during our tour across Central Asia. All thoughts and opinions are our own.

Darvaza Gas Crater Camping At The Door To Hell Turkmenistan
Sunrise over the crater.

Darvaza Gas Crater Camping At The Door To Hell Turkmenistan

About the author

Alesha and Jarryd

Hey! We are Alesha and Jarryd, the award winning writers and photographers behind this blog, and we have been travelling the world together since 2008. Adventure travel is our passion, and through our stories and images we promote exciting off-the-beaten-path destinations and fascinating cultures as we go. Follow our journey in real time on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

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27 COMMENTS

  1. david

    Looks like an incredible and must visited place! I have add to my bucket list! Thanks for sharing such an beautiful and unique article.

      Alesha And Jarryd

      Glad you liked the article David. Hope you get there. Check out Dragoman if you want to go on a tour. 🙂

    Agness of Etramping

    This is the first time I am hearing about Darvaza and it definitely deserves a place on my bucket list, Alesha and Jarryd! Plus, camping there seems like an ultimate experience. How many days would you recommend staying there?

      Alesha And Jarryd

      It is a very unique place. Usually tours are only an hour and then return back to the capital. As we were on a tour with Dragoman, we stayed the night in our tents. It was great seeing the area in the golden and blue hours of lighting.

    Rhonda Albom

    What an awesome sight. I would love to see this burning crater but the visa sounds daunting. Much worse than getting a Russian visa.

      Alesha And Jarryd

      Hi Rhonda, The visa is difficult if you are not on a tour. We highly recommend visiting on a tour. It is way less stressful. We went with Dragoman and they were amazing. Happy travels

    Apeksha Harihar

    Never heard of this place. Looks like an amazing destination!

      Alesha And Jarryd

      It’s really epic, that’s for sure 😀

    Mark @TravelnPleasure

    It must be an exciting and adventurous experience….I heard about this place but never had it in my bucket list .but now I have it….loving to read your posts very much..:)

      Alesha And Jarryd

      Thank you so much for reading Mark. It was a very interesting place.

    David

    Looks like a killer place! It’s now on my list to hit! Travel On!

      Alesha And Jarryd

      Cheers David. Happy travels

    Alice Teacake

    Immense guys! It’s on my itinerary for The Mongol Rally 2016: can’t wait to crawl my way there in that haphazard sand and see this truly unique spectacle with my own eyes! Bring it on!

    Cameron

    Had no idea about the Visa issue :/. Always wanted to see The Door to Hell. May have to start looking into tour operators when we do.

    Aileen Adalid

    WOW. This is amazing, you guys! A friend of mine have visited this during one of their crazy roadtrips (a dare wherein they had to drive one vehicle from russia to china for a charity) but anyway that’s another story fr later.

    Anyhow, again: just wow! I hope to see this too someday!

    Claudia

    darvaza is absolutely in my bucket list..Reaching Mongolia with our motorbike is a dream, we hope someday we’ll have more then 15 days of freedom in a year your photos make me dream!

    Rachel

    Wow, this is crazy! What an experience to have! I’d be a bit nervous that the rest of the ground would open up around me, but if it’s been like that for 40 years, I guess it’s pretty unlikely at this point!

    Angela

    What a unique experience! I think I’ve heard of it before, but never read about the logistics of getting there. There are so many crazy brilliant things in the world.. how are we going to get to them all?!

    Laura @ Sometime Traveller

    Wow, that looks incredible! What an amazing place, and to be able to camp right next to it too! I was going to say I’d love to visit one day, but I’ve just read a comment further up about giant spiders being attracted to it… all of a sudden, I’m not so sure!

    Rachel Taylor

    I have always wanted to go here and your post has already sent me searching for the best way for me to get there!

    Hannah @GettingStamped

    This is at the TOP of Adam’s bucket list!

    Robin

    Hey guys,
    First of, I’m envious of that spot! Would love to sleep there, once 😀

    Secondly: You might want to remove the @ from your Twitter handle in the settings of your website sharing tool. There are two @@ in front of it right now and it might not work 🙂

    Best Wishes and Rock on!
    Robin

    jennifer

    I will be doing this trip this year. I recently read about how spiders are drawn to the flames and you can see insanely huge spiders there. Please tell me this is just a myth and I will not wake up covered in spiders bigger than my head. I am actually extremely anxious about this.

    Anna Kernohan

    I have never even heard of this place before but it’s definitely on my hit list to visit now. Looks awesome!

    Stephen Garone

    Nice post! That’s truly a unique experience. Although doesn’t exactly sound like a good thing for the environment…

    Jane

    I had never heard of the place before. Dragoman look like an incredible company to travel with. I noticed from your link, that they have family orientated itineraries too. Great article, as always!

    The Jamerican Traveler

    That’s one experience I would love to have. Looks amazing to be that close. Hope I get to visit oneday

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