Turkmenistan wants to close the ‘Gates of Hell’

Visitors line the edge of the Darvaza 'Gates Of Hell' gas crater in Karakum Desert, Turkmenistan, in May, 2017.

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This week in travel, the United States declared Canada a “very high” risk destination, the world’s most powerful passports for 2022 were revealed and Turkmenistan’s president called for the country’s “Gates of Hell” to close.

Here are the biggest new stories from CNN Travel.

Canada deemed ‘very high’ risk

Say it ain’t so! After very low Covid numbers throughout the pandemic, the world’s second-largest country in terms of total area has recently seen a very steep rise in cases.

So on Monday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moved Canada to its highest-risk category for travel: Level 4.

A Middle Eastern favorite jumped two CDC rankings from Level 1 to Level 3, and an Asian city-state moved into Level 3, having previously been rated Unknown.

More US cities are adding indoor vaccine mandates, while health oversight is set to ease on cruise ships.

France lifted its weeks-long travel ban on arrivals from the United Kingdom on January 14, while in China, a snap lockdown forced a woman to stay at her blind date’s house for days on end.

Spirit Island in Canada's Jasper National Park.

Passport envy

Travelers have never had it so good.

No, seriously. Pandemic restrictions aside, passport holders worldwide now enjoy visa-free entry to 107 countries, on average – nearly twice as many as in 2006.

Problem is, there’s no such thing as an average passport. A new report says two Asian nations hold the title of world’s most powerful passports in 2022, and the gap between the highest-ranking countries and those at the bottom has never been wider.

Then there are those extra-special VIP passports – diplomatic, investigative, even presidential – with rights the rest of us can only dream about. Here’s our explainer on the passports that open all doors.

The world’s shortest flight

In Scotland’s Orkney Islands, there’s a regular scheduled flight that takes less time than it does to take off your belt and shoes for the airport security tray.

Loganair flight LM711, between the islands of Westray and Papa Westray, covers a 1.7-mile route and takes just 53 seconds on a good day. Here’s what it’s like on the world’s shortest passenger flight.

And if you’re interested in economizing in the world of aviation, check out our story on why commercial airliners might soon be flying with just one pilot.

2021: Year of the Unruly Airline Passenger

Assaults on crew members. Public intoxication. Verbal abuse. 2021 was the worst on record for unruly passenger behavior on US planes, according to data from the Federal Aviation Administration.

And this year’s not looking much better – already American Airlines is saying a man’s been apprehended after damaging a plane during the boarding process.

Here’s what’s been going on in the unfriendly skies.

‘Gates of Hell’ may soon shut

Turkmenistan’s Darvaza gas crater is celebrated around the world as the closest thing on Earth to an honest-to-goodness portal to the Underworld.

However, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has now ordered the closure of the site popularly known as the “Gates of Hell.”

The crater was formed in the early 1970s, when the ground collapsed during a Soviet gas drilling expedition, and it’s been burning off natural gas ever since.

In the world of international tourist attractions, if the Darvaza Crater is Hell, London’s much-mocked Marble Arch Mound is a sort of underwhelming Purgatory. The $8 million lumpy hillock closed January 9, just six months after opening.

Precious family letters arrive home

A family’s irreplaceable collection of letters from the 1940s to 1970s were accidentally left on a Southwest Airlines flight to Chicago. Against all the odds, they were reunited with their owner.

In case you missed it

The Soviet Union built one of the world’s most incredible flying machines.

Now the “Caspian Sea Monster” has risen from the grave.

Here’s what it’s like to buy and restore a century-old home in Japan.

This “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” Tokyo podcast might help get you in the mood.

Is there anything more curvaceously carbalicious than the humble potato?

Check out our guide to the world’s greatest potato dishes.

Top image: Visitors line the edge of the Darvaza ‘Gates Of Hell’ gas crater in Karakum Desert, Turkmenistan, in May, 2017. (Photo by Alec Connah/Solent News/Shutterstock)

CNN’s Julia Buckley, Marnie Hunter and Lilit Marcus contributed to this report.