Darvaza Crater, or “The Gates of Hell,” is a large sinkhole in the Karakum Desert that has been on fire for over 40 years. The gas crater is located near the village of Darvaza, about 160 miles north of Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan.
The crater is 230 ft wide, and its depth is 30 m (98 ft). It was created in 1971 during a drilling accident.
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The drilling rig punctured through a natural underground cavern which caused the collapse of the cavern, which in return caused the drilling rig to come crashing down.
If you look into the fiery hole, you can still see parts of the rig at the bottom.
After the collapse, methane gas started leaking, and the Soviet engineers thought it was a good idea to light it on fire to burn the gas out.
It was a commendable attempt to prevent the spread of the gas, which would lead to an environmental disaster. Nobody expected the gas to last as long as it did. 40 years later, it’s still on fire.
The Gates of Hell is Turkmenistan’s most popular tourist destination.
Unfortunately, Turkmenistan isn’t the easiest country to visit. Getting a tourist visa requires joining a tour through a licensed agency.
Many independent travelers decide to visit the country by taking advantage of its 5 days transit visa on their way into and out of neighboring “-stan” countries.
Independent travel outside Ashgabat, the capital city, is also not allowed in Turkmenistan. Because of that arranging a guided overnight trip to see Darvaza Crater through an authorized tour company is required.
The visit usually involves overnight camping close to the crater and a visit to other sinkholes in the area. I highly recommend the overnight tour since the crater is especially spectacular at night.
The agency will provide tents and basic sleeping bags and cook dinner at a safe distance from the crater. It gets chilly in the desert, so extra layers of clothing would come in handy.
What’s surprising about the crater is how undeveloped it is, considering its popularity. There were no signs off the main highway, and there were no roads.
That’s why a 4×4 vehicle is required since you’ll be driving off-road on faint tracks, over sand dunes, to reach the site.
It’s quite another-worldly sight to behold a 230 feet wide gaping hole in the middle of a flat, desert landscape. Depending on the direction of the wind, it could be too hot to stand near the edge.
Be careful of your steps around the edge since the ground is crumbly, and falling in is possible.
When there’s still daylight, the ever-present flames are only visible when you peer into the hole. In the blue light of dusk, the orange glow from the hole was eery and beautiful. It makes for a great photography opportunity.
Turning an environmental disaster into a tourist attraction is admittedly unusual, but it’s only one of the many unusual things about Turkmenistan.
Written by Jill from Jack and Jill Travel The World