Kow Ata, Turkmenistan
| Turkmenistan Travel

A rare chance to visit an underground lake! Turkmenistan's Kow Ata Underground Lake is open to visitors.

Kow Ata Underground Lake,

The following is a guide to Turkmenistan's Kow Ata Underground Lake. All you need to know about visiting as well as an introduction to Kow Ata. 

Feel free to skip to the relevant chapter below! 

Introduction to Kow Ata
How to Visit Kow Ata
Kow Ata Post-Swim

Updated March 2024. 


Introduction to Kow Ata

Just over an hour’s drive from the Turkmenistan Capital City, Ashgabat, lies a very unusual and fascinating spot. 

Almost invisible from the road, it is not sign-posted at all. Kow Ata is equipped with almost no facilities at all. Yet this spot is nevertheless one of the most interesting places to visit in all of Turkmenistan.

The Kow Ata Underground Lake.

Turkmenistan is almost entirely made up of desert. For those who want a swim, you can try out a hotel pool (boring!) or the Caspian Sea (freezing!)...

But this spot is different.

A sulphur-heated underground lake around 80 metres below the ground at the foot of the Kopet-Dag mountain range. This range separates Iran from Turkmenistan. 

How to Visit Kow Ata

Upon arriving in the modest car park of Kow Ata, you should first read the safety board.

This is important partly because of the idiosyncratic use of English. And mostly because it is best to know what you’re getting into at this place.

Note: Don't go in if you have heart problems, can’t climb several dozen steps, or are afraid of the dark or bats, are drunk, etc...

Visiting Kow Ata Underground Lake

Start your descent. At this point you’ll be thinking two things.

1. It’s very dark (although dim lights are illuminating the path).

2. It stinks!

That is the pungent smell of Sulphur. It rises through the earth and heats the water. 

It reeks of rotten eggs and this smell will cling to you after a dip. Sso be prepared to carry a whiff of hades around for the rest of the day!

There is a level platform and a couple of ad hoc changing cubicles about 80% of the way to the lake.

There is not much privacy here so if you’re shy then consider changing in your vehicle before going down to the lake. 

After getting kitted out in whatever you swim in, you can climb into the water.

Note: Many locals simply bathe in something more like normal clothes than proper swimming gear.

Things to Note when Swimming in Kow Ata
  • It's hot. The temperature and height of the water do vary a lot. You can look at the marks on the wall for evidence of various levels.
  • There are the remains of an artificial platform for the first few metres so that non-swimmers can wallow happily. 
  • There is usually a line of tape stretched across the cave a few metres from the start of the water. This tells people not to swim past this. But the ‘lifeguard’ who is seldom there doesn’t seem to care if stronger swimmers set out past it.
  • The cave itself is claimed to be around 100m long. But it is more like 75m we would say. 
  • If you set out to the end then don’t take a flashlight. Your eyes will adjust a little bit, even in winter when steam can rise off the water. 
  • This cave is also home to a bat colony and they whirl above you as you swim from one end to the other. It is said that this is the largest in Central Asia. Although there don’t seem to be all that many of them.
  • It’s a great fun experience and really should be tried.
  • Be warned there are no safety features here at all.  This should not be the first swim you ever attempt.


Kow Ata Post-Swim

It is recommended to only stay for 20 minutes. 

After that, it is bad for you. Or so the warning sign claims anyway.

After the dip, dry off, then start the climb back out into the sunlight. 

Around the car park are a handful of shashlik stands that do a great simple meal, cold beers, soft drinks and so on. 

There are some of the vilest public toilets too. Consider simply walking away for a bit if you need to take a comfort break. 

All-in, a trip to the lake should take around 4 hours as a side trip from Ashgabat. 

Consider combining it with a trip to the amazing mosques of Geok Deppe and Gypjak, the Geok Deppe fortress, or a local stud farm to see the beautiful Ahal-Take Horses. 

A trip to Know Ata should be on the itinerary for anyone visiting Ashgabat.

Taking a dip in the pool may be a less-than-pleasant olfactory event, but the memory will linger longer than the smell.

So get yourself there! 

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