When faced with an active volcano, many would run in the opposite direction. But there are some people out there who are drawn to volcanic activity like... well, like moths to a flame. (Too on the nose?)
Between their unique geography and the prospect of seeing spouting lava firsthand, there are many appeals to visiting active volcanoes. Although the potential danger should not be ignored, there are volcanic sites you can go to around the world that are unlikely to cause you any harm. Of course, there's always a slim chance you'll be there on that fateful day—but isn't the inherent risk of volcanoes part of what draws us to them? Here are 10 active volcanoes to visit around the world.
10 Hawaii: Kīlauea
The most active of the five volcanoes that make up the Big Island of Hawaii, Kīlauea is located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It produced the longest observed volcanic eruption in history, spurting activity nearly constantly from 1983 to 2018. Due to the recency of these eruptions, many sections of the national park are still closed to the public.
However, the steam vents and sulfur banks are open, looking like fixtures from another world, and visitors are still able to hike many of the trails in the park, including part of a path around Kīlauea. Scenic drives showcase the wondrous geography of the park, and depending on conditions, visitors may even be able to observe lava flows.
9 Iceland: Eyjafjallajokull
In 2010, Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull famously erupted, grounding flights across Europe and confusing many a newscaster with its difficult-to-pronounce name. Covered by an ice cap, it doesn't look like your typical volcano, but don't let its snow-covered exterior fool you. It's a volcano... and an active one.
Eyjafjallajokull itself is too dangerous to hike (because of glacial crevasses rather than the whole it's-a-volcano thing), but keen adventurers can try the 25-kilometer-long Fimmvörðuháls ridge hike, which lies between Eyjafjallajokull and another volcano in the area, Katla. If you aren't a big hiker, you can also just park your car on the road and look at the volcano from afar. Either way, if you want to impress friends and family back home, be sure to do what 2010 newscasters did not and look up how to properly pronounce its name.
8 Guatemala: Pacaya
At Pacaya in Guatemala, you can finally live out that dream you didn't know you had of roasting marshmallows on a volcano. Since 1961, Pacaya has been erupting quite frequently and it showered ash on surrounding areas as recently as 2014. Although it is no longer possible to visit the volcano's crater, hiking Pacaya will take visitors through lush vegetation, across a plain of solidified lava and up-close with steaming fumaroles (which is where the guide will offer you marshmallows).
It's even possible for hikers to see the volcano fuming on clear days. Located about an hour's drive from Antigua, trips to Pacaya must be booked through a tour company.
7 New Zealand: Mount Ngauruhoe
You don't have to be a hobbit to climb Mount Doom. During filming for The Lord of the Rings, New Zealand's gorgeous landscapes doubled as Tolkien's Middle Earth and the North Island's Mount Ngauruhoe became a stand-in for Mordor's infamous volcano. Having first erupted 2,500 years ago, Mount Ngauruhoe is the youngest volcano in the Tongariro volcanic complex, and visitors flock to its scraggly slopes every year to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
This famous trek takes hikers past some of New Zealand's most unique volcanic wonders, from glistening emerald lakes to steaming vents in the ground. Although most people elect to walk past Mount Doom rather than up it, it's possible to follow in the footsteps of Frodo and Sam and ascend the volcano. However, the climb is known to be quite challenging and adds significant time to the Tongariro Crossing, which is already a lengthy journey (plus, there are no eagles to rescue you if you tire). If you're a seasoned hiker, though, then it may be difficult to pass up an opportunity to summit Mount Doom itself. Just watch out for orcs.
6 Ecuador: Cotopaxi
Cotopaxi is one of the highest volcanoes in the world and has erupted over 50 times since 1738, with the most recent activity beginning in August of 2015 and lasting for six months. Popular as a day-trip outside of Quito, visitors typically hike to Refuge Jose Ribas and then continue on to Cotopaxi glacier.
Interestingly, hiking up Cotopaxi actually puts you further from the Earth's centre (and closer to the moon) than ascending Everest, as Ecuador's mountains are nearer to the equator. If you feel like commemorating your proximity to outer space, you can get your passport stamped by the owner of Refuge Jose Ribas.
5 Japan: Mount Fuji
On clear days, the distinct cone of Mount Fuji is visible from Tokyo. It is capped by snow for half the year, and although it is active, it hasn't erupted since the early 1700s. From July to September, visitors can hike to its summit, with many climbers opting to ascend its slopes overnight so they can watch the sunrise from its peak.
The volcano is astoundingly symmetrical in shape—lightly curved slopes taper into a blunt point, as if it were created by a meticulous sculptor rather than chaotic eruptions from eras past.
4 Italy: Mount Etna
Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes on Earth... and it looms directly over the Sicilian town of Catania. In can be summited on a day-trip, with the hike offering incredible views of the mountain's craters. Vast pillars of smoke and gas pour forth from holes in the ground, with the heat (and smell) palpable in the air.
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Between the sulfurous fumes and the deep rumbling of the magma bubbling beneath your feet, it's easy to feel like you've stepped from the bustling streets of Italy onto a different planet entirely. Given its ethereal atmosphere, it's unsurprising that Mount Etna features in Greek Mythology, with monsters and forges said to be hidden beneath it.
3 Costa Rica: Mount Arenal
Mount Arenal has become one of Costa Rica's most famous tourist destinations, despite the fact that you can't hike up the volcano itself. The area is known as an adventure capital, offering everything from white water rafting to caving tours. Excursions and hikes will keep visitors busy during the day, and natural hot springs allow for a relaxing end to a long day of activity.
Don't worry, though: you clicked on this article for volcanoes, and you'll get your volcanoes. You may not be able to summit the mountain, but hiking trails wind along lava fields and observation points allow for panoramic views of the cone. If you squint and let your imagination take the reigns, you might even be able to picture the craters and smoking fumaroles that are hidden beyond eyesight at its peak.
2 Indonesia: Mount Merapi
Merapi is Indonesian for "Mountain of Fire," and this volcano certainly earns its name. Since 1548, it has been continuously erupting, killing many and displacing countless more. Its destructive nature has rocketed it to worldwide fame, and people travel to Indonesia every year to visit its ominous slopes.
Many tourists simply travel around its base, but it is possible to summit its peak as well. Given the strength of the Indonesian sun, agencies suggest climbing the volcano at night to avoid baking in the heat. Don't forget your gloves and sweaters for your ascent, though—even volcanoes can be cold when the wind picks up!
1 Vanuatu: Mount Yasur
In 1774, the warm glow of Mount Yasur on the horizon drew Captian James Cook to Tanna Island, and to this day, the activity of this volcano still lures people to Vanuatu. With a car park located just below the rim of the Mount Yasur's crater, it's probably the easiest volcano to climb in the world, with a mere 30 steps standing between visitors and stunning views of its lava lake.
The volcano erupts several times an hour, and a guide is required to visit given that the lava can explode up above the crater (and onto tourists). While standing on the edge of the crater, visitors should move with the wind in order to avoid any nasty surprises.