Planning a trip to an active volcano may sound like buying a one-way ticket to hell on Earth. The perfect combination of foreboding danger and desolate beauty certainly ignites the imagination.
This fiery adventure is not reserved for the pages of Jules Verne. Some of the planet’s 1,500 active volcanoes prove accessible to tourists, no training regime required.
Here’s where to visit active volcanoes around the world and experience firsthand the raw power of nature.
This volcano exploded across the headlines in 2010 after sending ash miles into the sky and disrupting flight traffic all across Europe. A two-and-a-half-hour drive from Reykjavik, Eyjafjallajökull is actually the difficult-to-pronounce name of the glacier that covers the volcano, not the volcano itself. Hikers cross glaciers and remarkable lava formations on a steep ascent to the 5,500-foot summit. If crampons and a guide sound a bit too extreme, enjoy the area views from the comfort of a super jeep tour.
At a little over 4,000 feet, Kilauea might not be the tallest volcano in Hawaii, but it’s probably the most magnificent. In Hawaiian, Kilauea means "spewing" or "much spreading,” and this appropriately-named shield volcano has been faithfully belching crimson lava since 1983. Inside the Kilauea caldera hides the rim of Halemaumau crater with a volatile, bubbling lava lake. Soak up the rare sight from a helicopter tour or see the landscape up close by exploring the 155 miles of hiking trails in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Pro tip: Visit after dark to see glowing magma add drama to the night sky.
Before a mighty eruption in 1914, Sakurajima used to be an island, but the massive lava flow managed to connect the volcano and the Osumi Peninsula in southern Japan. Scientists warn that the constantly smoking composite volcano is due for another major explosion in the next few decades, which could prove devastating for nearby Kagoshima. Locals there already use umbrellas as shields on particularly ashy days. No one can get too close to the force of nature, but travelers should take a ferry ride from Kagoshima and walk the Lava Road on Sakurajima for stellar views.
Pacaya may not be the tallest of the 37 volcanoes dotting Guatemala, but it’s the most active. This 8,373-foot giant, named after the flower of the date palm growing in the surrounding lowlands and frequently used in Guatemalan cooking, is an easy side trip from Guatemala City or the former colonial capital of Antigua. A steep but doable two-hour ascent through a lunar-like landscape rewards hikers with views of active steam vents, recent lava flows, and three neighboring volcanoes.
Europe's tallest and most active volcano towers above the city of Catania on the island of Sicily. A picture-perfect but explosive stratovolcano, Mount Etna rises sharply like a pyramid from a base circumference of 93 miles to a rather small center. Visitors can make it to the highest point allowed in half a day and, if skies are clear, be rewarded with sparkling sights of the Ionian, Adriatic, and Mediterranean seas. A scenic train also circles the base of the volcano in three hours, passing through barren black lava. Afterwards, don’t miss sipping wine produced from the vineyards that flourish in mineral-rich volcanic soil.
Mount Bromo in East Java is not only stunning, it’s also considered a sacred place. Every year during the Kasada festival, the Tenggerese people climb the steep slopes to throw vegetables, flowers, and livestock into the volcano's deep caldera as an offering to the mountain gods. Tourists can visit the soaring 7,641-foot volcano anytime by passing through an ash desert. It’s worth getting up early to view the sun rise over this otherworldly landscape from the rim of the crater.
Whakaari, New Zealand
Whakaari (White Island) mysteriously hides its girth under the immaculate waters of the Bay of Plenty in the Pacific Ocean. Thirty miles off the coast of the North Island, this active marine volcano welcomes visitors by hissing steam and blowing hot water from most of its crater floor. Cruise with one of the licensed tour operators right up to the volcano’s walls, then get up close to bubbling mud, volcanic streams, and arresting yellow and orange streaks of sulfur.