Camping by the Darvaza Crater on a transit visa in Turkmenistan.
Driven by a taxi from Konye-Urgench to Ashgabat. We crossed to border at Nukus – Uzbekistan.
We woke up all excited since today we were going to Turkmenistan. It almost felt like we were going on a trip. Since we have been traveling in the same region for 2-3 months it felt familiar but now we were going to a new country that is notorious for being different and interesting. We had also heard stories of people not being let into the country even though they had a visa. Exciting!
The plan is to cross into Turkmenistan from Uzbekistan (Nukus), make our way to Konye-Urgench and find a taxi driver that is willing to take us into the desert for the Darvaza Crater and bring us to Ashgabat the day after!
Border crossing Uzbekistan (Nukus) – Turkmenistan (Konye Urgench):
We arrived at the Uzbek border at 09:00 and were just behind a group of 10 older Americans. Not something we expected. Luckily we overtook them between the border of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan since they all had to take a pee break! (Perks of having young bladders).
Arriving at the Turkmenistan border we felt the excitement growing. We walked in, finding out we were the first people crossing that day. A friendly guard that spoke a bit of English guided us through all the steps that we had to follow in order to cross the border:
- Visit the doctor, to check our temperature. (not sure what happens if you have a fever??)
- Fill in a customs form.
- Go to the bank and pay a 14 dollar entry fee.
- Go to the immigration’s office:
- Provide them our itinerary for the 5 day transit through Turkmenistan
- Show them the bank receipt
- Show them our visa’s for onward travels.
- Fingerprints taken
- Several pictures taken
- Got the stamp!!!!!
- Put our bag through the scanner.
- Talk to the customs explaining our customs form.
- Rip all of our belongings out of our bags and answering stupid questions in the middle of the border hall. Luckily we just did laundry a few days earlier.
- Take a shuttle service to the actual border (800 meter).
- Welcome to Turkmenistan.
A bit of a weird experience, definitely the most bureaucratic border crossing so far. But all of the border guards were very friendly and helped us throughout the whole process. 1 hour later we where in Turkmenistan.
Step 1 was complete, now we had to figure out how to get to Darvaza (also known as the Door to Hell or Gates to Hell).and arrange transport for the next day to Ashgabat. To give you an idea, the drive to Ashgabat is about 550kms and somewhere in the middle in the Karakum desert is the gas crater where we wanted to spend the night camping. The easiest way to do it is to get a taxi driver that is taking us to Ashgabat and is willing to spend the night in the desert.
We made our way to the center of Konye-Urgench the first town after the border. As soon as we pulled up about 10-20 taxi drivers spotted us and all surrounded us.
After a bit of haggling, pushing and pulling (Turkmen taxi drivers like to grab your arm and take you with them). We found a taxi driver that was willing to take us to Darvaza, spend the night in the desert and take us to Ashgabat in the morning. We agreed on a price of $40 dollars and we were good to go.
Before starting the trip to Darvaza we stopped at a few places in Konye-Urgench to see the Sultan Tekesh mausoleum and the Pir Alow.
After this the taxi driver started racing to get to Darvaza, why we didn’t really understand since we where spending the night there anyway. The 300km trip to Darvaza took us less then 2,5 hours. Doesn’t sound that spectacular, but in Turkmenistan the roads are bad. Really bad, so they guy was flying and racing like he was a rally driver. After a bit of off roading from the main road into the desert we made it to the crater.
What is the Darvaza Crater?
The gas crater was created in the 1970s during Soviet gas explorations. During excavation works they stumbled on a big gas pocket. Which collapsed and the crater was created. The problem was however that gas was now leaking out of this crater. Afraid that this leaking gas was going to pollute the air, they found that the most logical thing to do is to set it on fire. The gas would eventually run out stopping the fire and gas. However they didn’t really think this through since 50 years later the crater is still burning, and the door to hell was created. At night this crater looks extremely cool and indeed resembles an opening into hell.
At the crater.
Since our racing taxi driver got us there at 14:00 we had plenty of time. The crater looks cool, but it really comes alive during sunset and night time. So the rest of the day we walked around the area, walked up a big dune so we had a view over the Karakum desert and Elisa had a nice conversation with a camel.
When we came back from our little walk, our taxi driver tried to sell us numerous times to other drivers since he didn’t really felt like sleeping in the desert. But since no one spoke English we just played stupid and took our tent out of the car confirming we were gonna camp. Trying to figure out where to put our tent, some locals sleeping in the yurts nearby tried to help us. But without any means of communication, it went nowhere. We took our tent and found a nice spot overlooking the crater.
A few people nearby were setting up a BBQ and noticed us setting up our tent and invited us over to join them for a BBQ. They were all doctors, two surgeons from Turkmenistan and two from South-Korea. They were extremely friendly and we had the best evening sharing stories, drinking beers, enjoying the best BBQ meat in Central Asia and all of that while overlooking the burning crater. What a feast, since the only food we brought was bread and canned tuna.
As the sun dropped the view of the crater got more and more amazing.
The group of surgeons were gonna drive back to Ashgabat. A bit concerned about us freezing in our tent in the middle of the desert they left us a lots of food, and even asked some of the locals to make a campfire next to our tent. The extreme hospitality in Central Asia really has no end.
After they left we sat by the campfire until all the groups of tourists disappeared. We walked up to the crater to soak up some of the heat before crawling into the tent. We set an early alarm so we could watch the sunrise. The contrast between the flaming crater and the early morning desert was one of the most beautiful views we had seen in the morning.
The night was indeed very cold so we made our way to the crater to heat up. Our taxi driver was waiting there as well and after we heated up we packed up our tent and started to drive to Ashgabat.
We are a bit behind on our travel stories. Check out my instagram to see some more recent pictures.