There are some 1,500 volcanoes around the world – but not all are created equal. Here, we’ve rounded up some of the most interesting volcanoes of all. Famous for their sheer size, breathtaking views or hiking trails, all our top 20 volcanoes offer a fascinating insight into the power of mother nature.
1. 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 currently active, though last erupted in 1708, so should be safe enough to scale – as many do in summer months. If you’re feeling nervous check it out from the security of a bullet train between Tokyo and Yokohama.
2. Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland
In April 2010, Eyjafjallajökull, one of Iceland’s many volcanoes, caused merry hell for the aviation industry. Hundreds of flights were 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 might happen again. In May 2011, a nearby volcano called Grímsvötn followed suit…watch this space.
3. Mauna Loa and Kilauea, Hawaii
Situated in the appropriately named Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Mauna Loa is the world’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. You can drive around the summit, as long as there are no active lava flows.
4. Mount Etna, Italy
Sicily harbours Europe’s tallest active volcano, Etna, just outside the city of Catania. Visitors can make their way to the steaming, smoking summit (in the company of a guide). Be warned that the temperature at the top drops considerably, so take a few layers with you. To experience this for yourself, visit Italy with our Tailor-Made Trips service.
5. Pico de Fogo, Cape Verde
“Fogo” in Portuguese means fire – an apt description of an active volcano if ever there was one. Local residents still live in the small village of Cha das Calderas, which sits within the 9km-wide caldera itself. It must be evacuated whenever the mountain threatens to blow its top.
6. Pacaya, Guatemala
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 are simply magnificent, which is why it’s one of our top 20 volcanoes. To see this breathtaking sight for yourself, plan a trip to Guatemala with our tailor-made trip service.
7. Mount Vesuvius, Italy
Universally acknowledged to be an extremely dangerous volcano, Vesuvius in southern Italy has had a colourful past. In 79 AD the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum were completely destroyed, while in 1906 new lava flows resulted 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 now serene-looking caldera. Appearances, evidently, can be deceiving.
Learn more about Naples, one of our best places to travel to in 2020.
Naples with Mount Vesuvius in the distance © Canadastock/Shutterstock
8. Villarica, Chile
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. If you’re thinking of planning a trip to Chile, do get in touch with our local experts.
9. Shishaldin, Alaska
An ice- and snow-clad behemoth, Shishaldin is an absolute beauty, dominating the remote Alaskan landscape. It’s not especially active and attracts local climbers (rather than tourists) who have normally head back down again atop a pair of skis.
10. 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 it turns blood-red.
11. Stromboli, Sicily
It’s a small Aeolian island off the coast of Italy, 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. This activity has earned it the nickname of the “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean.” The night is a particularly wonderful time to witness its fiery explosions.
12. 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, but the volcano also has two ski hills.
13. Cotopaxi, Ecuador
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.
14. Isabela Island, Galapagos
Isabela is actually the name of the Galapagos Island that has not one but six interesting 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…
Discover why the Galapagos islands made our list of the Best Places to Travel in 2020
15. 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 2013, seven people (four of them foreign visitors) were killed while climbing up.
Discover why Luzon made our list of the Best Places to Travel in 2020.
16. Krakatoa, Indonesia
Had you been in Perth, Western Australia, on August 26–27 1883, you would’ve heard the cataclysmic explosion of Gunung Krakatoa. It was so powerful that the noise travelled all the way from Indonesia. It is recorded as the most violent volcanic explosion in modern history. Krakatoa Island is also home to smaller Anak Krakatoa, which started erupting in 2008. The latest eruption was in 2018 which was massive, triggering a tsunami that killed at least 426 people – the deadliest volcanic eruption in the 21st century.
17. Agung, Indonesia
The crater belonging to Bali‘s Gunung Agung is very deep and very large, even though from a distance the summit looks like quite neat and cone-like. An eruption occurred during 1963–1964, which wiped out over 1,500 people. More recently, towards the end of 2017, Agung erupted five times causing mass evacuation and significant disruption to air travel. The mountain today makes a challenging and beautiful trek. To see Agung for yourself, contact our Indonesian local experts to help you plan the ultimate trip.
18. Poás, Costa Rica
A bubbling sulphuric pool, exploding geysers and a beautiful blue-green lake around the main crater at Poás, making one of the most visually interesting 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 pongy sulphuric fumes. Discover Poás for yourself with our tailor-made trips to Costa Rica.
19. Mount St Helens, Washington
Mount St Helens is responsible for the most catastrophic eruption in the US: in 1980, the side of the mountain blasted out over miles and miles of expensive timberland, destroying towns, highways and bridges and killing over 50 people. Steam still rises from the ice-laden crater rim, a nervy reminder of its potential force and continuing activity.
20. Mount Yasur, Vanuatu
The last entry in our list of the top 20 volcanoes is Mount Yasur on Tanna Island. Here, you can get very, very close to the furnace-like insides. 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 can be lethal.
Top image: Mount Bromo volcanoes taken in East Java, Indonesia © szefei/Shutterstock