There’s a certain breed of traveler that likes a little risk in their pursuit of global adventure. Holidaying in the shadow of a volcano might not be for everyone, but there is something alluring about the potential peril of an unexpected eruption, like playing Russian roulette with Mother Nature. Beyond the danger factor, however, most volcanoes are set in stunning, exotic locations surrounded by mountains, forests, glaciers, jungles, deserts, hot springs or geysers, making for captivating travel destinations. Here are a handful of active volcanoes around the world to put on your travel wish list – if you dare.
1. Mount Arenal, Costa Rica
Mighty Mt. Arenal has been one of Costa Rica’s biggest attractions, treating visitors to regular spews of molten lava, ash and gas for decades. Since 2010 it seems to have simmered down, but the nature and wildlife in the area is still worthy of exploration. Lush rainforests, rapid rivers, dramatic waterfalls, subterranean caves, breathtaking canyons, dangling bridges and effervescent hot springs are all situated under the watchful eye of this scenic symmetrical cone. Hiking, horseback, rappelling, rafting and geothermal soaking are just some of the adventures on offer here, and you might even spot some sloths, toucans and howler monkeys too.
2. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
The Galapagos are known for the endemic bird, reptile and plant life, but the dynamic volcanic topography is an equal drawing card. Over 70 eruptions from nine active volcanoes have occurred in the last 200 years alone, creating fresh new rippling landscapes and resulting flora/fauna variations that make this young island chain a living laboratory of evolution. La Cumbre on Isla Fernandina is the most active volcano in the archipelago, last spreading some lava love in 2009. Most accessible to visitors is Isabela’s Sierra Negra, which boasts the second largest volcanic caldera in the world. You might not see flowing lava (although it last erupted in 2005 so you never know) but you can hike around its lunar-like lava fields and see – and smell – it’s billowing thermal vents.
3. Eyjafallajökull, Iceland
We all got a humbling lesson in the disruptive power of volcanoes when this Icelandic beast blew its top causing widespread airline chaos in April 2010. Now sleeping peacefully again (at least for the time being), all that PR has put Eyjafallajökull firmly on the tourist radar – even if you can’t pronounce it. Adventure junkies can explore the glacier and area by jeep, helicopter, horseback or foot, and you can even hike to the smouldering summit if you dare. The landscapes around this dramatic area of fire and ice are truly one of a kind.
4. Mount Fuji, Japan
Mount Fuji is the highest and most scenic mountain in Japan, immortalized in countless paintings, photos and haiku poems throughout time. Although it hasn’t erupted since 1708, it is a classified active volcano. Wafts of steam and sulphur can be seen escaping from its crater and vents to remind you that its simmering under the surface. That doesn’t stop hordes of climbers from scaling its slopes each summer. Most visitors ascend from the 5th station under the dark of night hoping to reach the summit in time for sunrise. While most consider the risk of explosion to be low, some seismologists believe Fuji-san is long overdue for a big blow-out. Considering the population density in the vicinity, it’s no wonder this is the world’s most closely monitored volcano.
5. Mount Kilauea, Hawaii
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island is a hotspot for volcano thrill seekers. In Hawaiian myth, Mount Kilauea is home to Pele, the goddess of fire, and she’s been fuming mad since January 3, 1983. She’s been putting on a spectacular show of ashy plumes and day-glow lava flows ever since, simultaneously destroying and creating the landscape. The National Park has a museum, visitors center and viewing platforms over the caldera. Kilauea seems to be calming down of late and no live lava flow is currently visible from the lookouts. However, you can still explore lava tubes, craters, lava fields, a bubbling lava lake, scalded deserts and rainforests on 150 miles of park trails, taking in the barren beauty of some of the youngest property on the planet. The island’s helicopter tours offer a bird’s eye perspective of the area as well.
6. Tongariro National Park, New Zealand
Much of the central North Island of New Zealand lies in the Taupo Volcanic Zone, considered to be the southern tip of the Pacific Ring of Fire. It’s a stunning area of impressive mountains, emerald lakes and geothermal features including several active volcanoes. Ruapehu (which was cast as Mordor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy) reared its head in 2007 and Tongariro grumbled as recently as 2012. Kiwi’s don’t let a continuous volcanic threat stop them from embracing the region though. They’ve developed ski resorts, hiking trails and eco-tourism opportunities right there in its wake. Constant seismic monitoring and warning systems help minimize the risk.
7. Mount Vesuvius, Italy
If there ever was a cautionary tale to illustrate the risks of living under a volcano it’s that of Mount Vesuvius. Its infamous eruption in 79AD destroyed and buried the Roman cities of Pompei and Herculaneum in an explosion a hundred thousand times the thermal energy of the Hiroshima A-bomb. The cover of ash effectively preserved these two towns throughout the centuries, and when they were rediscovered and excavated it was like opening a time capsule of life in that time. Both make fascinating sightseeing destinations today, as does a climb of the volcanic culprit herself. Vesuvius continues to huff and puff today, menacing the densely populated area around Naples.