Nicknamed the door to hell or the gates of hell, Darvaza gas crater has been my favourite travel experience so far. It was the first thing I saw that made me want to visit Turkmenistan, I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to expectations… but it exceeded them.
We left from Ashgabat at 14:00 and it took about 4 hours to reach the Darvaza gas crater. Along the way we stopped quickly to see the see the water crater first and then the mud crater which contained bubbling mud and a small amount of fire. Both of these were on the side of the road and easy to access.
On the drive we saw lots of warning signs about camels and at one point we had to stop the car to wait for them to cross the road (at least it was a great photo opportunity). They seemed like wild camels but our guide informed us that they belong to local farmers and are able to walk around where ever they want (#freerangecamels). The owners know which ones are theirs and ride around on motorbikes to check on them.
After that we went off road and into the middle of the Karakum desert. The remainder of the journey was through sand dunes and was quite bumpy. But it was worth it when we first laid eyes on the giant desert bonfire.
The Crater during the day
We arrived at 18:00 when it was still light. Immediately it was very impressive and we were amazed by how big it is (photo’s almost can’t do it justice). There is a railing all the way around the crater, which isn’t visible once it gets dark. Everybody goes over the railings and we attached our tripod to it for photos (it’s there more to stop out of control cars from falling into the crater).
Camping in a yurt
We took a few photos then went to our yurt to eat dinner. Our guide made a fire which he used to make tea and barbecue vegetables and potatoes to go with bread and cheese. We decided to eat inside the yurt because it was so windy and cold which added to the uniqueness of the experience. I underestimated how cold it would be, my thick jumper was not enough to keep me warm even when we were stood right next to the crater. Luckily our guide had a spare coat that he lent to me.
There are lots of yurts dotted around the area, our one was only a 10 minute walk from the crater and made the nights sleep much better as it kept the wind out. Our guide put down lots of bedding which we slept on with our sleeping bags and it was surprisingly comfortable. The guides tend to sleep in their car.
The Darvaza gas crater at night
After eating dinner we walked back to the crater, by this point it was dark. I would definitely recommend camping because at night the crater becomes even more impressive and surreal.
[It is possible to go as a day trip from Ashgabat but because of the driving conditions you would have to leave before it gets dark].
There were about 20 other people there but it never felt crowded, it was so relaxing that 2 hours of taking photos and being mesmerised by the flames went by really quickly.
There was a small flock of white birds flying and swooping around the crater, dancing in heat from the flames.
We brought a packet giant marshmallows with us from England, even though we couldn’t find a stick long enough to reach the flames they were fun to take photos with and eat beside the crater.
We woke up at 05:30 to watch the sunrise which was my favourite time at the crater.
It’s best to get up early as it allows time for photos from further away and on the nearby hill, where you can have fun photographing the crater as a halo, or as though you are trying to step into it.
Creation of the Crater
There are no official records on the exact details so there is still a certain amount of mystery behind the timeline. The Darvaza gas crater was born in 1971 when Turkmenistan was part of the soviet union. It is said that they were drilling for oil, unaware that it was over a pocket of natural gas. The area collapsed into an underground cavern and the drilling rig was buried, fortunately no one was hurt. Worried about the risk of gas poisoning to nearby villages it was lit on fire with the expectation that it would burn itself out within a few weeks… Decades later it is still on fire.
Darvaza gas crater truly is a magical place! See my posts on: Things you need to know about travel in Turkmenistan
and Ashgabat the most unusual capital city for more information on Turkmenistan.