Spectacular but woefully underappreciated natural wonders are tucked away all over the planet. Granted, visiting some of them might leave you sweaty, faint, and gasping for breath.
Hardly anyone goes to see Turkmenistan’s Door to Hell, for instance, even though it offers the rare chance to see a giant fire-filled pit in the middle of a barren desert. The origins of the crater are a bit mysterious, but the most-told version has Soviet geologists igniting a natural gas seep in 1971 after an oil rig collapsed into the ground. The pit has been burning ever since.
During a 2013 expedition funded in part by the National Geographic Society, George Kourounis became the first—and, so far, only—person to don a silvery flame-resistant suit and lower himself into the inferno like a baked potato.
“When it comes to hellish places that want to kill you, I’m kind of an expert,” says Kourounis, an explorer and storm chaser who puts the Door to Hell on the top of his personal awful-places list.
“The very first time I walked up to the edge and felt the heat, my first reaction was, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this,” he says. “I’ve been inside a lot of volcanoes, and I’ve been around a lot of lava. And this was very intimidating.”
Did I mention there’s no fence around the Door to Hell? If you’re feeling lucky, you can just walk right up to the edge and sense the soil crumbling under your feet.
For those feeling less adventurous, let’s take a virtual world tour of the most gloriously awful destinations, no gas masks or special suits required.
Read More: National Geographic