Most travelers cringe at the idea of yet another volcano messing up their vacation plans and grounding planes. And then, there are the other travelers who love adventure and would do anything to hike an active volcano, take photos of the lava flow and live dangerously, at least for a while.
Volcanoes are shrouded in mystery and in ancient times have been connected with mythology, with gods and goddesses who controlled their fire and ash. For thousands of years they have created and destroyed land, cities and reshaped the face of the planet. Though there are thousands of volcanoes on the planet, only about 500 are currently active, and as many as 500 million people live near an active volcano. Here are some the most active volcanoes on earth.
Kilauea, located in the southeastern part of the Big Island, is one of the three volcanoes which sit over the Hawaiian Hot Spot. The first recorded eruption was in 1790. The current eruption began in 1983, and has been active on the east side of the volcano since 1995. There is lava flow every day, with recent casualties of lava damage being the Visitor Center at Volcanoes National Park , an ancient Hawaiian temple, the towns of Kalapana and Kaimu, the Kalapana Black Sand Beach , Kaimu Bay and a part of the State Route 130.
For the best and most spectacular views of the volcano, plan your visit an hour or two before sunset. You can see the lava flow just a few miles from the end of Chain of Craters Road. You can drive there, park the car and go to the safe viewing location with the full panorama of Kilauea’s lava flow where the dramatic scenery is created by the two kinds of lava (slow and fast) leaping into the sea.
Visitors to the flow site are advised to bring boots, a flashlight, plenty of water and sunscreen. It is possible to hike beyond the recommended viewing area but you should check with the ranger to ask about the eruptions and weather conditions, as well as what necessities to bring.
Mount Etna is located on the island of Sicily, in Italy. Ancient Greeks believed it was the home of Vulcan, the god of the fire. When the volcano erupted it meant Vulcan was forging weapons for Mars, the god of war. It is the largest active volcano in Europe and has been active since 1500 B.C. There are about 200 eruptions recorded; during the latest in 2002, the lava flow reached the nearby town of Nicolosi.
The volcano has killed thousands of people during all these years, but because the volcanic soil is excellent for growing grapes and olives, people have always settled here.
The easiest way to reach Etna is by way of Catania (which is served by an airport). From here you can go either to Nicolosi, from where you can reach Sapienza Refuge, at 1980 m, or to Linguaglossa, from where you can reach Piano Provenzana, at 1800 m. It is also possible to go on hikes , where you choose to explore the pine forest or hike up to the crater. It is recommended to book a tour. Some hikes are suitable for fit persons, while easier ones can be done by anyone (just remember to bring your boots, a flashlight and plenty of water).
Piton de la Fournaise, Reunion
Piton de la Fournaise (“Peak of the Furnace”) is a shield volcano located on the eastern side of Réunion island in the Indian Ocean. More than 150 eruptions occurred since the 17th century with the latest eruption on December 9, 2010 ( lasting for two days). But the volcano has been active for over 530,000 years.
The volcano is a major tourist attraction on the island. You can drive to Bellcombe Pass, located just over the caldera rim cliffs, for spectacular views of the caldera. It is possible to hike a pathway to the caldera floor, but you need to be fit. Remember to bring your boots and lots of water. If you want to see the lava flow, take the N2 highway and follow the signs.
The island of Stromboli, part of the Aeolian Islands, is located off the coast of Sicily, in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Ancient Greeks believed that these islands were home of Aeolus, god of the winds. He lived in a cave on Vulcano (one of the islands) and from time to time opened the bag which contained all the winds of the world.
The island formed from the sea bed millions of years ago and for the past 2000 years has been erupting continuously. The latest big eruption was in August 2008 when all the residents of the island were forced to flee. It continued to erupt until June 2009.
The “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean” can be visited and there are various things to do here. Just take a boat to Stromboli, as there is frequent service from mainland Sicily, and in the port you’ll find a tour operator which will gladly help. It is only possible to climb the volcano if you join a guided tour. If you want to avoid the heat of summer, choose an evening climb.. After the 2002 eruption, hiking is only permitted 400m, to the observatory (a flatter portion where you can see the lava flow).
>> See videos of Stromboli erupting
Yasur is located on Tanna Island, part of the archipelago of Vanuatu, in the South Pacific. It is located along the Pacific Ring of Fire. and has been erupting nearly continuously for over 800 years, with eruptions occurring several times an hour. It is said that the glow of the volcano, known as the “Lighthouse of the Pacific,” attracted Captain James Cook to the island in 1774.
Although it’s considered dangerous, Mt Yasur is a popular travel destination. There are five levels of activity which determine the access rules. Level 0 is the least dangerous and access to the crater is allowed, while Level 4 means all access is closed. You can visit the mountain only as part of a guided tour. The best views are at dusk; at night the volcano looks like a firework display.
>> Book a Pacific Islands adventure trip
A composite volcano on the former island with the same name in Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan, the summit of Sakura-jima is split into three peaks, out of which Minamidake (the southern peak) is active now. The volcano was formed by later activity within the caldera, beginning about 13,000 years ago. Its first recorded eruption occurred in 963 AD. The 1914 eruption was the most powerful in 20th century Japan, when the island became a peninsula. Since 1955 the volcano has erupted almost constantly.
The volcano is a major travel destination and the area around it contains several hot spring resorts. The easiest way to get here is from Kagoshima City, by ferry. Once you get here, make sure to check out the Sakurajima Visitor Center to learn about the volcano and the island. Then, take the Lava Road and walk along the footpath which wind through lava plains. Go to the Observatory (which is about half way up the mountain) for some superb views of the active peak.
Santa Maria, Guatemala
This volcano towers over Guatemala’s Pacific coastal plain, at an impressive 3,772 meters. Eruptions at Santa Maria are estimated to have begun about 30,000 years ago. For several thousand years the eruptions were small and frequent, then in 1902 a strong eruption caused severe damage throughout southwestern Guatemala and carved a crater on the volcano’s flank. Since 1922 a lava dome complex has been forming over the crater.
The town of El Palmar, located just 10 km from the volcano, has been destroyed twice so far by lahars, volcanic mudflows that are solid when moving but harden to a concrete density when they stop. It is possible to hike here, but it’s advisable to do it as part of a tour.
Chaiten is a caldera 3 km in diameter, located 10 km northeast of the town of Chaitén, near the Gulf of Corcovado in southern Chile. The most recent eruptive phase started in May 2008., but the volcano has been active since 7420 BC.
Chaiten is a transportation hub for the entire Palena region, so it’s not hard to get here. Once in the city, you need to get to the volcano (by car for about 25 km and the hike begins). You do need permission to climb (which can be obtained from Parque Pumalin administration). You cannot camp in the park, but it’s possibly to camp by the beach in Santa Barbara (about 12 km from the volcano).
Mayon is an active stratovolcano in the province of Albay, in the Philippines. It is the most active volcano in Philippines, erupting 49 times in the past 400 years. It is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. The first recorded major eruption was in 1616. Starting with January 2011 the volcano is weakly erupting which could be a sign of a major eruption in the future. It is known as the volcano with the perfectly formed cone.
It is possible to climb the volcano. The safest approach is from the northwestern slope, from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (which is linked to the highway by an 8 km paved road). At 1,921 m there is a perfect spot for camping close enough to the summit and far enough from the fumes. It’s best to plan this hike as a 4-day itinerary (out of which 3 days will be on the mountain) between March and May.
>> Book a flight to the Philippines
Whakaari / White Island, New Zealand
White Island is an active volcano located 48 km from the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand, in the Bay of Plenty. It is close to the towns of Whakatane and Tauranga.
The circular island rises 321 m above sea level and is unique in the world as it offers the possibility to walk right inside its main crater without any physical effort. It is just the peak of a submarine mountain which rises 1,600 m from the sea bed.
All visitors to the island must be accompanied by an experienced guide. There are no walkways, boardwalks, barriers or safety ropes, so use common sense at all times. The private island can only reached by boat or helicopter. and there are only four tour agencies allowed to organize tours on the island.
Soufrière Hills, Montserrat, Caribbean
Soufriere Hills is an active stratovolcano, located on the island Caribbean island of Montserrat. It has been dormant (since the 19th century) until 1995 and has been erupting ever since. Past eruptions destroyed the capital city, Plymouth, and made half of the island uninhabitable.
Start your climb at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory where you can see a video of the recent history of the volcano. You can see the volcano from Jack Boy Hill. From here you can also see the ruined W.H. Bamble Airport. If you want to see the damage the lahars did, hire a driver and explore the Belham Valley. What’s left of the Plymouth city can be visited but it depends on the alert level where you can go. At low levels of alert you can hire a guide to take you on the streets of the former capital. If you are not a strict budget, book a helicopter tour; it lasts 45 minutes and you can see the dome, the windmills, the abandoned airport and the destroyed city.
Popocatepetl is an active volcano and the second highest peak in Mexico. The volcano is linked to the Iztaccihuatl volcano to the north by the high saddle known as the Paso de Cortés. It is located 70 km southeast of Mexico City and just 40 km from Puebla. The last large eruption was in 1947, although in 1994 it awakened spewing gas and ash.
Once you get to Mexico City or Puebla, take a bus to Amecameca, where you can find accommodation. You need to get to Tlamacas, where the trail starts. Currently, climbing is not permitted on the mountain as the volcano has been active for years.
Read more about hiking, climbing and volcanoes around the world:
- Volcanoes in Iceland
- The Best Places to Hike in the US
- 10 Awesome Treks that Almost Anyone Can Do
- Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro
- 11 Famous Volcanoes in the Americas that You Can Climb