Volcanic tourism, which combines the power of Mother Nature with a taste for adventure, is booming. Of the 1,500 active volcanoes around the world, here are a few to put on your bucket list.
Parc national de Yellowstone, Wyoming
Yellowstone, arguably the most impressive of all US national parks, is located on an active super-volcano.
Created by a massive volcanic eruption around 640,000 years ago, the Yellowstone Caldera measures 45 kilometers wide by 85 kilometers long. The lava that sits beneath this area and heats it up explains the park’s many fascinating hydrothermal phenomena: geysers, including the famous Old Faithful, fumaroles, hot springs and bubbling mud pots are all of great tourist interest.
Underground earthquakes, which the University of Utah Seismic Station tracks closely, occur constantly – 1,000 to 3,000 a year!
Arenal, Costa Rica
Home to Costa Rica’s most active volcano and spanning 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres), Volcan Arenal National Park is one of the country’s top tourist attractions. Lava has flowed steadily since Arenal’s last eruption in 1968, which wiped out two villages. By day, you can see smoke and ash billowing from the top of Arenal. As night falls, you will observe the fiery red lava flow on the western slope.
You can take a guided hike to the base of the volcano; park rangers monitor Arenal activity and close trails when safety is compromised.
History buffs know that an eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried the ancient Roman city of Pompeii under a thick carpet of volcanic ash in 79 AD. Today, Vesuvius remains one of the most active volcanoes in the world, with an eruption every 20 years on average. Vesuvius, however, has not erupted since 1944, and scientists are closely monitoring its activity.
To get to the banks of Vesuvius, take the suburban train from Naples or Sorrento and get off at Pompeii station; a shuttle will bring you closer to the summit. But be careful, you will still have to climb 30 minutes steeply to reach the top of the volcano.
Volcano tourism is one of the main reasons why Iceland is such a popular destination these days. Situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a tectonic plate, Iceland has 30 active volcanic systems. About two hours from Reykjavik, Hekla (called in the Middle Ages “Gateway to Hell”) is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, accessible by numerous hiking trails or by circuits taken by all-terrain vehicles.
But you can also discover the volcanoes of this country in many ways, whether by exploring the lava fields in Goðahraun or Leirhnjúkur, bathing in the crater lake of Krafta Viti or taking a mud bath in Hveragerði.
Of the 37 volcanoes in Guatemala, three are active. The most visited is Pacaya, one of the youngest volcanoes in the country and also one of the most popular hiking spots for active travelers.
You can explore lava fields criss-crossed with fumaroles and hotspots, all crowned by the smoking crater. About 30 kilometers away, you can see the Fuego volcano in the distance, the eruption of which in early June 2018 almost wiped out a village and killed more than 90 people.
Guatemala is one of those low budget destinations !
Mount Sakura, or Sakurajima, is one of Japan‘s most active volcanoes. The volcanic soil and natural hot springs attract many visitors to the area. Although the last major eruption was in 1914, smoke billows from the mountaintop almost continuously, and minor eruptions occur several times a day.
People are not allowed to approach within 2 km of the volcano, but there are many scenic viewpoints from which to view Sakurajima.
Colima – also known as Volcan de Fuego, or “Volcano of Fire” – is one of the 14 most active volcanoes in Mexico. It erupted in 2017, sending a huge column of smoke and ash into the sky, but luckily caused no deaths.
It is located about a hundred kilometers south of Guadalajara and you will find a bunch of organized excursions that will take you about 5 kilometers from this volcano. But to see it even better, you can hike to the Volcan de Nieve, or “snow volcano”, or go and admire the Colima well installed in the basket of a hot air balloon.
Peak of Teide, Spain
Located in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, Teide is the highest volcanic peak in Spain at 3,715 meters (12,000 feet). Teide last erupted in 1909 and scientists continuously monitor its seismic activity. The volcano can be explored from a cable car and from various hiking trails.
Mont Saint Helens, Washington
The Cascade Range is a 1,100 kilometer (800 mile) volcanic chain stretching from British Columbia to northern California. Mount St. Helens, Washington killed 37 people in a catastrophic eruption in 1980 and experienced a small lava eruption in 2004. Climbers from beginners to experts can make the trek to the edge of the crater provided you obtain a permit. Helicopter tours over the mountain are also very popular.
At over 3,300 meters (11,000 feet), Mount Etna on the east coast of Sicily is one of the continent’s highest and most active volcanoes. Mount Etna was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2013 for its “exceptional level of volcanic activity”.
Despite this, it is one of the most accessible. When conditions permit, you can walk or take a cable car or shuttle to the top.
The stratovolcano (a volcano made up of alternating layers of lava and ash) Cotopaxi rises against the backdrop of the Ecuadorian capital of Quito. It has shown signs of unrest in recent years, but no major eruption has occurred since 1903. If it did erupt, the main concern would not be ash or magma, but the giant glacier that sits at the top of the volcano. This one would probably melt and cause massive mudslides.
Most travelers visit Cotopaxi National Park with a guide; hardened hikers can scale the 5,897m (19,000ft) volcano, but must be able to handle the high altitude.
There are more than 120 active volcanoes in Indonesia, and Merapi, which rises to 2,900 meters (9,500 feet), is the most active. Merapi experienced a minor eruption in May 2018, spewing out a column of ash 5,000 meters (18,000 ft) high. The last major eruption, in 2010, killed dozens of people.
Visitors can get to the top of the volcano from the village of Selo.
The still very active Stromboli is one of the eight Aeolian Islands of Sicily. The volcano’s frequent minor eruptions have earned it the nickname “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean”. The best way to observe these eruptions is to take a night cruise among the Aeolian Islands.