You probably don't have a running list of all the volcanoes you've always wanted to visit, but let's face it: Beaches get boring, monuments just sit there and big cities are cluttered and busy. Volcanoes are where it's at — sure, they might have to rebuild the gift shop on a regular basis, but at least you can always count on excitement.
Okay, so volcanoes can be deadly, destructive and immensely powerful, but they're also awesome and mesmerising. They might not have crossed your mind as a destination before, but a lot of the world's volcanoes are relatively easy to explore.
“Volcanic activity is maybe the most fascinating force of the planet,” says volcanologist and volcano tour guide Tom Pfeiffer. “Every volcano has a distinct character, and witnessing an eruption — from a safe point, of course — is an experience that compares to no other.”
Sold? If so, here's a good start for your molten mountain itinerary.
1. Best for eruptions: Yasur (pictured at top)
Location: Tanna Island, Vanuatu
Activity: High. Constant eruptions have been occurring since records began.
Danger: Medium. The crater is constantly monitored and tourist operators will only go in when safe.
Access: Challenging. It takes a three-day trip to reach the active crater.
Vanuatu, in the South Pacific Ocean, has six volcanoes that have erupted in this century, but Yasur is the most spectacular, splurging out lava several times an hour. It is famous for spectacular eruptions that spit molten rock over 1,000 feet high and for having a well-monitored crater that allows visitors to get up close.
2. Best for geysers: Landmannalaugar
Location: Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Iceland
Activity: Last erupted around 1477.
Danger: Low. No recent eruptive activity, but Iceland’s volcanic regions are active and regularly monitored.
Access: Easy. Several roads run to the area, but 4x4 vehicles are advised.
Landmannalaugar is one of the best places to see what’s left behind after an eruption, with colorful mountains, a rhyolite lava field, crater lakes, powerful geysers and hot and cold springs.
3. Best for hot stinking gases: White Island
Location: North Island, New Zealand
Activity: Medium. The most recent explosive eruption occurred in 2013, but unrest continues.
Danger: Medium. Toxic gases and sulphurous fumes make this a hazardous environment and visitors are advised to wear gas masks.
Access: Easy. Boats from the mainland take six hours to reach the island.
Sitting 30 miles off the coast of the Bay of Plenty, this unique smoking island, measuring about 1.25 miles in diameter, lets visitors walk straight into an active crater. Inside, there are bubbling mud pits, hot volcanic streams, a lake of steaming acid and fumaroles that spit out acidic white gas. And you wanted to go to Disneyland?
4. Best for bubbling lava lake: Kilauea
Location: Big island, Hawaii
Activity: High. Live activity is currently creating a giant new lava lake.
Danger: Low. Despite the high activity, the area is well monitored and viewing points are kept distant.
Access: Easy. Paved roads now lead to the best lookout.
Boat tours used to give dramatic access to lava meeting the ocean (as above) until that flow was cut off in 2014. Now the action is at the Halemaʻumaʻu Overlook crater, where lava recently overflowed to create a bubbling lava lake.
5. Best for the adventure: Erta Ale
Location: Afar Depression, Ethiopia
Activity: High. Constant eruption seeps lava into a lava lake.
Danger: High. The volcano is relatively stable, but the region is not. The Afar people are not always welcoming to visitors.
Access: Challenging. It takes a two-day 4x4 drive, then a hike to reach, with few operators offering organized tours.
In the crater of this shallow volcano sits the world’s oldest lava lake, with lava now just 15-30 feet below the rim. To reach, visitors must cross the inhospitable terrain of the Danakil depression, which includes surreal color landscapes, salt flats, geysers, hot springs and certain death if you get lost.
6. Best for the crater’s edge: Nyiragongo
Location: Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Activity: High. The volcano constantly feeds into a bubbling lava lake.
Danger: Medium. The area was closed for two years, but it re-opened in 2014. The volcano itself is relatively stable.
Access: Challenging. Over 300 miles of off-road driving and a hike up to 4,600 feet of altitude is required to reach the crater’s edge.
Accessed through a jungle filled with chimpanzees, monkeys and bushbuck, this desolate .75-mile diameter summit rim offers the chance to stare directly into a mosaic of extremely fluid lava. Hot gases explode beneath the crusted surface to create spectacular red-hot fountains.
7. Best for easy access: Stromboli
Location: Aeolian Islands, Italy
Activity: High. After a winter of relative quiet, there are now up to four explosions per hour in the crater.
Danger: Low. The area is well monitored and active sites can only be visited with experienced guides.
Access: Easy. The island is accessed by boat on organized tours.
The volcano that gave its name to its specific type of explosive eruptions, Stromboli is constantly active and offers spectacular natural fireworks. When activity levels allow, visitors can reach a natural viewpoint 3,000 feet up to look right into the mountain at the spitting lava.
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