Camping at Darvaza Gas Crater | Turkmenistan’s Door to Hell

by Vanessa Wanders Miles

Darvaza Gas Crater or the “Door to Hell” is one of Central Asia’s most man-made extraordinary phenomena hidden behind a sand dune in the Karakum desert. The site is around 260km from Ashgabat and is well worth the journey. Camping at Darvaza Gas Crater is a must-do on a trip to Turkmenistan.


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Camping at the ‘Doors To Hell’

What is the Darvaza Gas Crater?

The whole Karakum desert, the world’s 13th largest, is rich in natural gas and oil, so research and digging are no rare occurrences in the vast and arid area. In 1971, Soviet engineers were drilling on the location of the crater, searching for black gold, but instead of an oil basin, they stumbled on a natural gas pocket.

The ground beneath the drilling equipment collapsed and a large sinkhole was formed. The poisonous methane gas being emitted was destroying local wildlife and presented the danger of flammability and possible explosion, a decision was made by scientists to burn off the gas to stop the leakage. A quick fix they thought. That was 47 years ago!

Driving to Darvaza Gas Crater

About 18km before reaching the huge fiery hole, our 4×4 stopped off on the west side of the road to see a smaller crater surrounded by a metal barrier, there is no fire but there is a strong smell of gas. A little further along was another crater filled with water and bubbles away slightly. The best was yet to come!

The drive to the main Darvaza gas crater was a bumpy one and super dusty as they are currently working on a road and electrics for the upcoming rally in which President Berdimuhamedow will be participating.


Camping at Darvaza Gas Crater

The tents and camping were set up before the sun went down, and we couldn’t wait to run down to the crater to explore and see what all the fuss is about. You really feel the heat of the burning gas crater going in waves from the dancing fire-making photos a little difficult at times. The hole is the size of a football pitch and is around 30m deep, you can see the enormity of it if you sit on the huge sand dune, a perfect viewing platform.

As the sky became completely pitch black, you could see why the crater is aptly named by local people as “The Door to Hell.” (Darvaza means Gate in the Turkmen language), the flaming, red and orange crater is like nothing I’d seen before, it’s crazy!

Waking up before sunrise, you have to see this spectacular attraction in this soft light, it was back up the hill to watch the sunrise from across the desert. After breakfast, we packed up our camp, watched the Giant Gerbil hop in and out of holes in the sand, and headed back to Ashgabat where the marble city is a stark contrast to the rugged surroundings of the Karakum Desert. Camping at Darvaza Gas Crater really was an unforgettable experience!


Visa to Turkmenistan

To obtain a tourist visa, you must be booking a tour no matter which country you are from. You will need to supply an LOI (letter of invitation) issued by a travel agency licensed in Turkmenistan. If you are on a transit visa that allows you to visit for up to 5 days, you are not required to obtain the visa and LOI. There has been a high rejection rate of Turkmenistan visas in the past but 2018 seems to be more positive.

Getting to Turkmenistan

Our flight left from Dubai to Ashgabat via Turkmenistan Airlines, however, other airlines fly to this destination including Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, and Emirates.

Getting to Darvaza Gas Crater

Our trip was with Trekkup Dubai who organised the trip with a local travel agency including the 4x4s to take us from Ashgabat and back. There are other options for getting to the ‘Door to Hell’ by using local tour companies or by getting a transit visa and using local buses, trains, cars, motorbikes, and hitch-hiking. There are no permits required to go camping at Darvaza Gas Crater.

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Arunima Dey 29th September 2018 - 2:53 pm

Given that very few people write about Turkmenistan (I even had to look up the spelling), I am thrilled to have found and read this post! I would love to visit someday, meanwhile will enjoy your posts! The visa sounds very complicated but it looks like it was worth it!

Vanessa 30th September 2018 - 4:02 pm

It is definitely worth the effort, it sounds more complicated than it is but because of this Turkmenistan hasn’t been a big tourist hot spot espcially as it has been difficult to get approval in the past. The Darvaza gas crater was totally worth it!

Sydney | A World in Reach 30th September 2018 - 11:50 pm

I’d love to visit Turkmenistan someday, mostly to see this! I’ve been intrigued by it ever since I first heard about it. Thanks for sharing these tips!

Vanessa 5th October 2018 - 1:36 pm

You’re welcome. It’s certainly an intriguiing country!

Ee Sing Ng 1st October 2018 - 12:08 am

This is a really interesting read. I never knew about this place. Its nice that you’ve share this to all of us.

wohlnoagmailcom 1st October 2018 - 2:34 am

Great information. We thoght about travling to Turkmenistan this September but i was a bit affried to deal with the visa. Your post made me re-think about that. I’m follwoing for more:)

Vanessa 11th October 2018 - 10:31 pm

I’d definitely give it a go, Turkmenistan is a country I’m glad I visited.

Zenja | Bearly Here 1st October 2018 - 8:05 am

Wow, this is incredible! I never knew such place existed, so thanks for the article! If I understood correctly, you don’t have to use a tour to get there, right? Or would you recommend to anyway?

Vanessa 5th October 2018 - 1:35 pm

You need to be part of a tour to get a LOI for the visa but you don’t if you get a transit visa. We were on a tour but we met others that got a local guide whilst there to take them.

mohanaandaninda 1st October 2018 - 11:38 am

Good God! A fire that has been burning for nearly 50 years! I would look to visit Turkmenistan and the countries in Central Asia <3

The Passport Symphony 1st October 2018 - 12:28 pm

Glad to see another person writing about Turkmenistan! It’s a quirky country but this crater is one of the most interesting places on our planet. I loved your article, Keep up the good work

Navita 1st October 2018 - 5:43 pm

Totally wow! The “Door to Hell” experience sounds unlike any other. Just visualizing the scene of a pitch dark night with the glowing opening in the earth is fascinating. What an adventure! Thanks for introducing a new place to us and we hope to get this experience too!

Claire 2nd October 2018 - 1:19 pm

This is amazing! It gave me all the Lord of the Ring vibes! What an adventure it must have been to get there!

wayfaringindianmom 2nd October 2018 - 8:33 pm

This is such a fascinating article. I could have never imagined a place like this. Definetly put on my bucket list.

Vanessa 11th October 2018 - 10:30 pm

The Darvaza gas crater is a brilliant place to go.

Ozzy CG 5th October 2018 - 6:24 pm

Thia is incredible experience. I had no idea of this place. I was though thinking to go to the Turkmenistan since it’s one of the destination point for us (Turkish people). I’m curious that you went to Turkmenistan only to see this creater?

WanderlustBeautyDreams 8th October 2018 - 1:14 am

Never heard of this place before but thanks for sharing, very informative post!

Shishira and Navneeth 26th May 2020 - 8:05 am

Oh My! Camping at Darvaza Gas Crater looks amazing! 😍

Vanessa Wanders Miles 22nd February 2023 - 4:02 pm

Camping at Darvaza Gas Crater was a unique adventure for sure, especially as Turkmenistan is rarely visited.

John Quinn 28th May 2020 - 3:23 am

Awesome. you are the first person who I’ve come across who has visited this. I’ve been so intrigued since I read of it first. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Vanessa 28th May 2020 - 1:18 pm

It was such a great experience and camping by Darvaza Gas Crater is a big contrast to the city of Ashgabat. I’d highly recommend it!

Cass 20th September 2020 - 1:39 am

This blog about Turkmenistan is incredible, Definitely giving me future travel inspiration – I’m enjoying your posts.

Vanessa 20th September 2020 - 9:20 am

Happy to hear you are being inspired for future travels, Central Asia is one of my favourite parts of the world!


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