20 amazing volcanoes
Mount Fuji, Japan
A perfectly shaped volcano with a conical form and pretty snow-capped peak, Mount Fuji is Japan’s most popular and visited tourist attraction. It’s active, though last erupted in 1708, so should be safe enough to scale – as many do in summer months – or if you’re feeling nervous check it out from the security of a bullet train between Tokyo and Yokohama.
In April 2010, Eyjafjallajökull, one of Iceland’s many volcanoes, caused merry hell for the aviation industry, with hundreds of flights cancelled and thousands of travellers stranded due to ash clouds. By October, the eruption was officially declared over, though there’s no saying when it’ll start again; in May 2011, a nearby volcano called Grímsvötn followed suit…watch this space.
Mauna Loa and Kilauea, Hawaii
Situated in the appropriately named Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Mauna Loa is the planet’s largest volcano. It’s outrageously active, chalking up 33 eruptions since 1843, when it had a big blow out. Neighbouring Kilauea is smaller but just as energetic – it’s a great road trip round the summit, that is if it’s lava-free enough.
Mount Etna, Italy
The eastern side of the Italian island of Sicily harbours Europe’s tallest active volcano, Etna. Tour guides steer visitors onto the steaming, smoking summit with its barren, crater-pocked landscape. Be warned that the temperature at the top drops considerably, so take a few layers with you.
Pico de Fogo, Cape Verde
“Fogo” in Portuguese means fire – an apt description of an active volcano spewing sulphuric vapours, if ever there was one. Brave individuals inhabit the small village of Cha das Calderas, which sits within the 9km-wide caldera itself, and it must be evacuated whenever the mountain threatens to blow its top.
It may attract the touristy hordes but on Pacaya, the smoking volcano standing sentinel above Guatemala’s major city Antigua, you’re almost guaranteed some lava-spotting. The climb to the top is moderately strenuous but the views from the top are simply magnificent.
Mount Vesuvius, Italy
Universally acknowledged to be an extremely dangerous volcano, Vesuvius in southern Italy has had a colourful past. In 79AD the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum were completely taken out, while in 1906 lava flows opened up, resulting in the deaths of 218 people. 1944 marked another eruption and the destruction of nearby towns. Visitors today can hike to the top and peer into the serene-looking caldera. Appearances, evidently, can be deceiving.
A place for skiing in winter and climbing in summer, Villarica is one of Chile’s most active volcanoes. It’s tough going to reach the summit, but to see the sparkling lakes of Calafquen, Panguipulli and Pelleufa from the top is an unforgettable experience.
An ice- and snow-clad behemoth, Shishaldin is an absolute beauty, dominating the remote Alaskan landscape around it. It’s not especially active, and attracts local climbers (rather than tourists) who have a decidedly more amusing descent, aboard a pair of skis.
Mount Bromo, Indonesia
The ancient Indonesian deities here in East Java were once appeased with live sacrificial victims being thrown into the crater. Now, the offerings still continue, but they are likely not to be alive. Mount Bromo is a spectacular volcano looming over the desolate Sea of Sand, and at sunrise or sunset you might see the incredible red smoke phenomenon – when sunlight hits the smoke directly and turns it blood-red.
It’s a small Aeolian island, but Stromboli is big enough to house an active volcano. And to say it’s “active” is an understatement: it’s been spewing molten lava for the past 2000 years, earning its nickname of the “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean”. Night is a particularly wonderful time to witness its fiery explosions.
Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand
Ruapehu is the highest peak on New Zealand’s North Island, and provided a picturesque and atmospheric film setting for Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings movies. Not only home to a rabble of Middle-earth orcs, hobbits and goblins, the volcano has two ski fields.
South of Quito and nestling in the Andes range, Cotopaxi is Ecuador’s premier volcano. Its cone shape attracts technical climbers, armed with ice axes, crampons and ropes – as well as a strong stomach for high altitude. Along with those intrepid souls, you might come across the lovely high altitude hummingbird all the way up here.
Isabela Island, Galapagos
Isabela is actually the name of the Galapalgos island that has not one but six volcanoes in residence – Sierra Negra, Alcedo (pictured), Cerro Azul, Wolf, Darwin and Ecuador (Ecuador is not active). Their calderas are studded with wild tortoises – let’s hope they can flee the lava flows fast enough…
Mount Mayon, Philippines
The picture-postcard shot of the classic conical volcano. Mayon, on the Philippine island of Luzon, has been exhibiting “unusual” behaviour of late – puffing out fumes and showing off a glowing crater. Locals are on high alert, which is sensible, as on May 7 this year, 7 people (4 of them foreign visitors) were killed while climbing up.
Had you been in Perth, Western Australia, on August 26–27 1883, you would’ve heard the cataclysmic explosion of Gunung Krakatoa – it was that powerful, and that loud, reputedly the most violent volcanic explosion in modern history. Krakatoa Island is also home to smaller Anak Krakatoa, which started erupting in 2008 and continues its steaming trajectory today.
The crater belonging to Bali's Gunung Agung is very deep and very large, which is surprising as from a distance the summit looks like quite neat and cone-like. 1963–1964 marks its last eruption, which tragically wiped out villages and over 1500 people. The mountain today makes a challenging and beautiful trek skywards, potentially involving an overnight camping trip.
Poás, Costa Rica
A bubbling sulphuric pool, exploding geysers and a beautiful blue-green lake around the main crater combine to make Poás one of the most visually stunning volcanoes in the world. It’s a great day trip from San José, for visitors keen to experience the surrounding forests and exciting wildlife, as well as to sniff the atmosphere's pongy fumes.
Mount St Helens, Washington
Mount St Helens is responsible for the most catastrophic eruption in the US: in 1980, a side of the mountain blasted out over miles and miles of expensive timberland, destroying towns, highways and bridges and killing over 50 people. Steam rises from the ice-laden crater rim, a nervy reminder of its potential force and continuing activity.
Mount Yasur, Vanuatu
You can get very, very close to the furnace-like insides of Mount Yasur on Tanna Island. Seeing the magma bubble and pop deep within the bowels of the earth is an exhilarating though frightening experience. Getting that close can be dangerous, as tourists have found to their cost over the years: projectile debris and scorching temperatures are lethal.
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