Camp out in the desert for Turkmenistan’s most famous sight, the Darwaza gas crater, aka “the Door to Hell”. Although Buzzfeed-style blogs aimed at viral success have drenched the flaming crater with hyperbole, fact is, it’s still an amazing place to be.
At night, in an empty desert with only the stars for company, red light emanates from the ground in the distance, and a distant rumble presages the crater. Shooting flames and fireballs across its undeep hole, like a volcano, the crater must be viewed at night for full effect. In the morning, wake up to a desert sunrise.
How to get there
Note: If you got here straight from BoredPanda or the Daily Mail and know absolutely nothing about Turkmenistan yet, check the visa section first before trying to book a flight.
Darwaza, the former village (it got razed in 2004) close to the crater, is located halfway between Ashgabat and Dashoguz, and fits nicely in a transit visa itinerary between Iran and Uzbekistan. It’s a 4-hour drive from Ashgabat, and a 6-hour drive from Dashoguz.
On a tour
If you are on a tour, things will obviously be neatly arranged for you; there is no need to read the rest of the article.
The standard itinerary taking in the Darwaza crater is the transit itinerary linked above. Another option is to loop around Turkmenistan as part of a tour of Uzbekistan, starting with Tashkent – Samarkand – Khiva, then crossing the border southward to Konye-Urgench – Darwaza – Ashgabat. From Ashgabat, you go back up to Merv – Turkmenabat – Bukhara – Tashkent. Really nice route that works well both in terms of variation and logistics for the folks with 2 weeks to spare.
True explorers with a decent budget can ask to cross the Karakum from east to west. A great adventure rarely taken.
You can check our tours to Turkmenistan or custom tours if you would like to go on a tour. Backpackers beware, you need a minimum budget of 150$/day. If that’s too expensive: Kyrgyzstan has great options for budget travelers.
On a transit visa
If you are not on a tour and don’t have your own transport: buses and shared taxis are plentiful between Dashoguz and Ashgabat. Even though you are only going halfway, you will have to pay the full price for Dashoguz-Ashgabat (~20$/seat). From Dashoguz, you can also charter a taxi to take in Konye-Urgench for a few dollars more.
Although trains between Ashgabat and Dashoguz stop in Darwaza, the timing is bad for most people.
Late afternoon is a good time to leave for Darwaza. Decide if you’d prefer to see the sun set or rise over the crater, or both, if you are a crater-fanatic. If you have your own transport, you can also choose to leave in the middle of the night to Darwaza and arrive early morning for the sunrise.
Where to stay
Darwaza is really small nowadays, so you should have no trouble finding any of the following.
Option A: There are a bunch of chaikhanas in Darvaza you can stay at for a painful 10$. They don’t have proper bedding and only provide a thin mattress and no blanket. In winter, it gets cold, and there may or may not be heating. Most popular option, although not the best in my opinion.
Option B: 2 small yurts at 150 meters from the crater. They can also set up a tent for you and even fry you up some shashlik. Count around 10$.
Option C: Camping with your own gear is the best way to go. Some people stay near the crater, others sleep at the train station parking. If you are on a tour, you will also camp near the crater, or perhaps just come early in the morning. Tour company camping gear is comfortable and warm.
From Darwaza to the crater
- GPS location of the Door to Hell: 40.252611, 58.439389
- GPS location of the start of the trail: 40.194647, 58.413660
It’s about 7 km from Darwaza to the crater. You can drive there yourself if you have a 4×4 or off-road motorbike. If you don’t, you can catch a ride from the start of the trail to the crater, about 1km from the train station; drivers assemble there from around 5pm. A return ride by jeep costs 50$ for the whole car (you should be able to bargain on that), on the back of a motorcycle a return ride costs 10$. Arrange a pick-up time for the ride back from the Door to Hell, and only pay when you have been dropped off back on the road.
If you decide to walk, understand that in summer, it’s really hot as long as the sun is out, and that hiking in sand dunes is tough. Count 2 hours for the journey, and take plenty of water. An early-morning hike before the sun rises will be easiest on your body. Also, note the location of Darwaza on your phone or compass; it’s easy to get disoriented in the wide-open space of the Karakum desert. In winter, the sand dunes are frozen and you can do it in 1,5 hours. Expect low temperatures.
Getting out and food
Shared taxis and buses heading for Ashgabat and Dashoguz will mostly be full when passing by Darwaza, leaving passing trucks as the most likely option to take you along. They are slow, will stop somewhere at the outskirts of the city, and might still ask for a bit more money than it’s worth to take you along.
There may or may not be food and water available in Darwaza. Be self-sufficient.
If all of the above sounds like too much hassle, or if you want to visit the Door to Hell as part of a larger tour around Turkmenistan (or Central Asia), see our tours to Turkmenistan or custom tours to check out options for a more comfortable, organized trip.
Updates and questions are welcomed in this forum thread.