Volcanoes are both magnetic and dangerous. On the one hand there are no other phenomena in the world which combine magma, ash, and thunder so beautifully, but on the other hand, only the brave hearted have the courage to approach it.
A volcano is usually defined as the rupture or opening in the planet's surface which gives way to gases, volcanic ash, and magma to escape from the depth of the Earth. Volcanoes are usually formed where there is thinning and stretching in the interiors of the Earth's crust plates and where tectonic plates are converging and diverging.
It's an interesting fact that there are different types of volcanoes, namely active, dormant an extinct. While definitions of each type are not set in stone, the simplest way to define them is this:
- an active volcano is the one that has erupted at least once since the past 1,500 years
- a dormant volcano is the one that hasn't erupted in the past 1,500 - 10,000 years but is expected to erupt in the future
- an extinct volcano is the one that hasn't erupted for hundreds of thousands of years and isn't expected to erupt ever again
To put it even simpler, if a volcano is making noise - it's active if a volcano made noise a long long time ago but is now silent, it's dormant, and if it wasn't making noise for more than a million years or so, then you have yourself an ex-volcano.
However, volcanoes don't cease to surprise us because there have been a number of eruptions from 'extinct' volcanoes. The problem is that we don't understand all the mechanisms and nuances of a volcano's eruption and not all existing volcanoes are well studied. For this reason, sometimes volcanoes act in an unpredictable way.
In this article, we'll take a look at both active and extinct volcanoes because both of them are beautiful in their own way.
21 Active: Mount Aso, Kyushu, Japan
The southern island of Kyushu hosts the most active volcano in Japan which is Mount Aso. Its caldera (crater located at the sites of volcanic eruptions) has a diameter up to 25 kilometers and is one of the largest on the world. The crater area is sometimes completely closed because of the risk of volcanic activity and poisonous volcanic gases. So, before you decide to travel to Mount Aso, you need to check if it's accessible first.
If gases are intense, people who have respiratory problems should avoid visiting the crater. However, if the conditions are welcoming, you can easily reach the Aso town where the volcano is situated. It will take you an hour by train to go there from Kumamoto and once you get there you can use two ropeways to explore the crater.
20 Extinct: Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa
The highest peak of Africa is also the extinct volcano. Standing at 5,895 meters above the sea level it's attracting hikers and mountain climbers from all over the world. It's so attractive to climbers for two reasons. The first one is that it's one of the Seven Summit mountains. Seven Summits are the seven highest mountains on each continent and the one who is able to climb all of them gets both the inner sense of self-worth and the appreciation of fellow climbers. The second reason is that it's extremely beautiful and has awe-inspiring surroundings. You start your climb in hot African climate and end it with a snowy crater summit of Kilimanjaro.
It's one of the few peaks that can be reached without special mountaineering gear and you can even spend a night on the top. Those who have altitude sickness can still enjoy the view from Mount Kilimanjaro National Park.
19 Active: Mount Vesuvius, Italy
Even though this volcano hasn't erupted since 1944, it's definitely the most famous active volcano in the world. And the one that attracts the most tourists as well. In fact, the crowds that ascend Vesuvius are sometimes so huge that one can hardly observe the beautiful nature around. If you decide to climb on a less crowded day, you will enjoy the spectacular view and sense the profound history of this place.
As you ascend you will also sense the strong smell of sulfur and quite possibly observe the rising steam from the parts of the crater. Ercolano Scavi is the nearest railway station and it will take you only 25 minutes on a minibus to get to Vesuvius from there.
18 Dormant: Chimborazo, Ecuador
Few people know that Chimborazo and not Everest in the highest mountain on Earth. The reason why Everest is considered the highest peak in the world is that it's being measured by elevation above the sea level. From the standpoint of Earth's center this summit it's the highest point on the planet. It also makes it the closest point on Earth to outer space.
In addition to this Chimborazo is an inactive stratovolcano in the range of Andes. Scientist supposes that its last eruption happened 550 C.E.
In comparison with Everest, Chimborazo is a much more possible climbing option both in terms of finance and physical training. In contrast with Everest, you don't have to pay $50,000 to get to the top.
17 Active: Cotopaxi, Ecuador
At Cotopaxi, things can get dangerous, because it's the third most active volcano in the world. It's also the second highest mountain in Ecuador and a delight to see.
You have two options to enjoy Cotopaxi. The first is for the adventurous people, who would like to get to the top. In this case, it is advised that people hire an accredited mountain climber. If you don't want to do the climb, you can still enjoy the volcano from the Cotopaxi National Park. It is also possible to bike down the mountain as there are several companies which offer biking tour in the park.
16 Extinct: Waw an-Namus, Lybia
This exotic volcano is located deep in the sand dunes of Libya. As you can see from the photo, it's a place of incredible beauty. A mysterious 10-kilometer wide dark ash oval in the middle of nowhere surrounded by the yellow sands of the Sahara. Angelo Pesce, an Italian comments it the following way:
"...a scene of rare beauty....Inside, the only thing one wishes is to be alone and wander in admiration from one end to the other."
No historical eruptions of this volcano are known, which makes scientists think that the last eruption happened a long time ago.
15 Active: Kīlauea, Hawaii, USA
A rock-star in the world of active volcanoes, Kīlauea receives about three million visitors every year. It's not the only volcano on Hawaii, but it became a popular destination because it breaches the slow-moving lava and deep crimson almost nonstop since 1983. There are no national parks around the volcano so if you want to get there, you'll need to get a private excursion or a driver. People who've been there say that the lava lake with glowing magma illuminates the landscape and skies.
If you're interested in visiting other volcanoes in Hawaii, I would recommend going to Mauna Loa, which is the tallest volcano in the region. It is remarkable that from the standpoint of volume and area covered Mauna Loa is the largest volcano on Earth.
14 Dormant: Saba, Caribbean Island in the Netherlands
Sometimes things change quite radically. What was once known as a powerful volcano has now become the friendliest island in the Caribbean's Saba island was entirely formed by the volcanic activity. But you don't have to worry because the last eruption happened 5,000 years ago.
Now there are no traces of lava and all you can see is a beautiful and welcoming green island. Unfortunately, it isn't fit for beach lovers because of the cliff-like, rocky shores. But it's a great place for divers and hikers who like wilderness. Only 15-minute from St. Maarten on a plane and you're in heaven.
13 Active: Arenal, Costa Rica
Arenal is a place of brutal beauty. It was dormant for centuries but after the eruption in 1968 it has completely destroyed the town of Tabacón and made people who live around very cautious and attentive. Just imagine for a moment the life of people who live beside a huge magma bomb which can explode at any given moment, making them lose everything they have.
Like many other volcanoes, Arenal has its own national park which is full of local flora and fauna. There are trails across the lava which take the visitors through beautiful rainforests. Observatory Lodge and Spa is the best nearby accommodation which is located only a couple of miles away from the volcano.
12 Extinct: Mount Eden, New Zealand
It's no wonder that this extinct volcano was called Mount Eden. Just look at how picturesque and beautiful it is! It's lush greenery and scenic views attract tourists from all over New Zealand.
Located in Auckland it's the highest of more than fifty volcanic peaks situated in the area. If you get to the top you will get a 360-degree panorama of the city and harbor which you can enjoy both during the day and night. In addition to the views and well-preserved crater, you can also take a look at the ruins of a Maori settlement. It might be an unforgettable experience for those who see it for the first time but for the locals, it's just a fitness trail for jogging.
11 Active: Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland
Nothing remains us of the lush greenery of Mount Eden when we look at Eyjafjallajökull. Although pronouncing its name may sound like an ancient Nordic spell and its photos look frightening, it's one of the smaller ice caps of Iceland.
While being small it's also a furious one. The last eruption of the volcano happened in 2010 causing serious disruptions in air travel in northern and western Europe. It affected more than 100,000 travelers and more than 20 countries were forced to close its airspace.
No eruption happened ever since, but who knows what we can expect from this furious lava chest in future.
10 Extinct: Cuillin Hills, Isle of Skye, Scotland
A lot of people consider The Cuillin Hills the most magnificent mountains in the United Kingdom. If you don't know that it's an extinct volcano, by looking at its photos you can think that's it's an active one. If it looks like this right now, just imagine how fearsome it looked in the early Paleogene era 65 million years ago.
There are two hills which are called the Red Cuillin and the Black Cuillin. They dominate Skye's landscape and are separated by Glen Sligachan. Stretching over 11 kilometers and having 11 summits it's the most challenging mountain range in the United Kingdom.
9 Active: Mount Nyiragongo, D.R of Congo
The caldera which looks like a doorway to hell is a part of Mount Nyiragongo, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The main crater is 2 kilometers in diameter and most of the time it is filled with lava. Many times in recent history it has become the biggest lava lake in the world.
Mount Nyiragongo is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, because of the super-fast lava and inability to predict the behavior and study the volcano.
It is remarkable that Nyamuragira and Nyiragongo are responsible for almost the half of historical volcanic eruptions in Africa.
8 Dormant: Thrihnukagigur, Iceland
Now let's take a look at another volcanic formation in Iceland, but this time at a silent one. It's located between the Golden Circle area and Reykjavik. Thrihnukagigur hasn't erupted since the 2nd century BC and it's a very remarkable volcano because you can actually get inside and study its empty magma chambers.
"Inside the Volcano" tour, which was launched in 2012, allows you to comfortably get inside via opened elevator and study the natural painting of the dried lava. It's the only volcano in the world where you can safely walk inside.
And don't worry, I can't spell the name of this volcano too!
7 Active: Piton de la Fournaise, Reunion Island, France
Wow, just look at this photo! Can you imagine yourself sitting near this couple above the sky and watching the magma dance merging with a cloudy horizon? I believe they will never forget this magnificent view.
This volcano, the name of which literally means “Peak of the Furnace” is a shield volcano located on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. It's a very productive volcano because it has produced a staggering amount of 150 eruptions since the 17th century.
It's quite easy to get to the volcano. You can either take a hike if you're in a good physical shape or take the N2 highway if you want to see the lava flow.
6 Extinct: Ben Nevis, Scotland
Another beautiful extinct volcano in Scotland is Ben Nevis. It's a place for those who are free in spirit, wild at heart and love high peaks because it's the highest place you can get in Scotland. It's a part of part of the Grampian Mountain range and is located near the town of Fort William. It was once a giant active volcano which erupted millions of years ago and now serves as a vibrant touristic destination.
There is two translation of the volcano's name. One means 'venomous mountain' and the other 'mountain with its head in the clouds'. You can decide for yourself whichever you like more.
5 Active: Mayon, Philippines
Mayon is the most active volcano in the Philippines. During the last 400 years, it has erupted almost 50 times! Its first recorded eruption was documented in 1616 and its last eruption happened in January of 2018 and caused more than 34,000 evacuations.
One remarkable thing about the last eruption is the phenomenon captured in the photo above, taken by Ciriaco Santiago III. On this photo, the clouds of ashes resemble the pair of lovers. According to the local legend, volcano grew from the bodies of two star-crossed lovers who died in this location. You can read more about this legend here.
As you can see the pose of the couple from the legend perfectly resembles the shape of volcanic dust captured in the photo. Is it a plain coincidence a miracle or the manifestation of the spirits of two lovers? Decide for yourself.
4 Extinct: Huascarán, Peru
Huascarán situated in the western Andes rises 6,768 meters above the sea level which makes it the highest point of Peru and in all of the Earth's tropics. It's also Western Hemisphere's fourth highest mountain and one of the beauties which Peru is famous for. There are 300 lagoons and 660 glaciers in the Huascarán National Park which surrounds the mountain and it's also an excellent place for hiking and trekking.
Even though it's an extinct volcano, this area is a dangerous one barbecue of avalanches (in 1962 an avalanche destroyed several villages) and earthquakes (in 1970 an earthquake buried 10 villages which made it one of the direst natural disasters in the 20th century).
3 Active: Mount Rinjani, Indonesia
Gunung Rinjani National Park hosts the second highest volcano in Indonesia. A two-day trip to reach the crater may be difficult, but you'll understand that all efforts were worth it when you see Segara Anak and the awe-inspiring sacred crater lake. This active "baby" volcano has all chances to steal your heart. I don't know if the word "cute" is appropriate here, but it comes to mind when I look at this impressive volcano.
Being an active volcano it combines "cuteness" with destruction. Its last eruption occurred in 2016. In case the beauty of this place charmed you, take into consideration that climbing this mountain is recommended only with help of an experienced guide.
2 Extinct: Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA
Another mountain which can also compete for the title of the tallest mountain in the world is Mauna Kea in Hawaii. If Mount Everest is considered the highest peak in the world if measured by elevation above the sea level, Chimborazo is the tallest peak on the planet from the standpoint of the Earth's center, then Mauna Kea can win the contest of the tallest mountains if measured from its base beneath the ocean's surface.
We can't see the underwater part of the mountain, but the above-water peak is quite impressive for sure and it rises up to 4,207 meters above the sea level. Mount Kea is an outstanding stargazing spot, because its close to the equator and there's little cloud cover or pollution there.
For this reason, it has become a hub for observatories and astronomers.
1 Dormant: Yellowstone, USA
Yellowstone is incredibly beautiful, but it is also extremely dangerous. To the point that it can cause our extinction if it erupts. Yellowstone is known as a supervolcano it is responsible for three most devastating eruptions whichever happened on Earth.
The last eruption of Yellowstone happened 640,000 years ago forming an otherworldly caldera as we know it today. According to scientists, the next Yellowstone eruption is long overdue and it can happen within this century. It is one of the most dangerous and unpredictable threats to humanity right now.
Let's hope that Yellowstone won't erupt anytime soon giving us a chance to enjoy the life in the material world for another millennium.