Awesome, volatile and frightening – volcanoes are nature at its most fundamental and humbling best. Right now these are the active volcanoes putting on the most spectacular sound and light shows
The Aeolian Islands are a string of pretty volcanic island scattered across the Tyrrhenian Sea between Sicily and Naples. Two of the islands have active volcanoes. Vulcano is smouldering and sulphurous, famous for its therapeutic mud baths. Stromboli is conical and volatile, home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world, with regular explosions and glowing lava flows.
The eruptions on Stromboli are so regular that sailors throughout the ages have nicknamed it the ‘lighthouse of the Mediterranean’. Visitors come for the jet-black beaches or to hike to the summit to watch the sunset over the fiery cauldron. Or to eat delicious seafood in restaurants in the two villages that perch in the volcano’s shadow.
Erta Ale is a large basaltic shield volcano in Ethiopia’s inhospitable Danakil depression. It is famous for its lava lake which has been active ever since it was first discovered in the 1960s.
Erta Ale is one of the main tourist attractions of the Danakil, with travellers camping on the crater rim. Political unrest has made the area dangerous to visit at the moment. But rest assured, when it is safe again, the lava lake of Erta Ale with be bubbling and hissing and spitting as it always has.
In the world of active volcanoes, Fagradalsfjall mountain on the Reykjanes Peninsula is the new kid on the block. It erupted for the first time ever in March 2021 and has been putting on a spectacular show ever since.
Literally just down the road from Keflavik Airport and the famous Blue Lagoon, Fagradalsfjall's proximity to Reykjavik has made it an instant must-see attraction for visitors and locals alike. Over 260,000 people have visited the volcano so far, marvelling at the lava oozing from the six-hundred-and-fifty-foot-long fissure.
Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala is one of Central America's most active volcanoes and definitely puts on a show. A typical eruption here features spectacular intense lava fountains and tall, voluminous ash plumes.
Fuego sits about 16 kilometres west of Antigua and provides a moody backdrop to this already picturesque colonial town. Antigua is also the best place to organise a day trip to Fuego. If you’re fit enough, consider combining it with a trek to Fuego’s neighbour, Volcan Acatenango, as well.
Mt Etna on Sicily is Europe's largest and most active volcano. There are frequent eruptions, including large lava flows, but thankfully they rarely pose a danger to inhabited areas. Indeed, the locals learned to live with their fiery neighbour, accepting Etna’s intermittent belching in return for fertile fields that grow some of Italy’s most sort after produce.
Etna last erupted in February 2021 with the resultant ash and lava making Europe’s highest volcano even taller. One of the most exciting and interesting ways to witness Etna is to take the Ferrovia Circumetnea – Round Etna Railway – that rattles its way through beds of lava and offers unmatched views of Mount Etna.
Overlooking Lake Kivu on the DRC’s eastern border with Rwanda, Nyiragongo is one of the most beautiful volcanoes in the world. It is also one of the most active, with lava flows threatening parts of Goma in March 2021.
Nyiragongo features the world’s largest lava lake, making it a popular destination for hikers. The climb to the crater takes 4-6 hours. Coming down is quicker. And the lower forested slopes are home to a variety of animals, including chimpanzees, three-horned chameleons, bushbucks and a myriad of bird species.
Climbing majestic Mount Merapi, smack bang in the middle of Java, is probably not a great idea. Its name literally means ‘Mountain of Fire’ and of all the 130 or so active volcanoes in the world right now, it is regarded as the most active.
Standing at 2,911m tall, Mount Merapi is best admired from afar. Especially from the ancient Buddhist temple of Borobudur. Seeing Merapi’s smouldering cone, framed by the temple’s beautiful stone bells, is a sight you’ll never forget.
The Canary Islands are a chain of volcanic islands scattered off the west coast off Africa that have long been popular with visitors looking for an active holiday in the sun. The volcanoes here have always been fairly benign. Then, in September, 2021, Cumbre Vieja awoke from its slumber, with molten lava erupting from newly formed fissures.
The resulting lava flow is a kilometre wide and has destroyed hundreds of homes, decimated farmland and cut off the main coastal highway. It has also formed a new peninsula where the lava hits the sea. Local authorities are confident that the area affected is confined to the south of the island, but definitely check before you go.
Don’t be fooled by the benign-looking whiff of smoke curling its way up into the sky from Popocatépetl's peak. Popocatépetl is one of Mexico's most active volcanoes. In the past large eruptions have buried Atzteque settlements, maybe even entire pyramids according to historians.
‘Popo’, as the locals affectionately call the mountain, came back to life in 1994. It has been producing powerful explosions at irregular intervals ever since. Local operators offer trekking tours to the volcano. It is best to choose one led by a vulcanologist.
Situated on the south-east tip of Tanna island in Vanuatu, Yasur has been erupting continuously since Captain Cook observed ash eruptions here in 1774. Scientists have speculated that it could have been erupting for over 800 years.
The bare, dry cone stands in stark contrast to the lush jungle that surrounds it. It is regarded as one of the most accessible volcanoes in the world because you can stand on the rim and look in. You can also post a letter from the only post box in the world on a live volcano. But it is probably best to follow the lead of the locals who tend to keep a respectful distance.
Kilauea on Hawaii’s Big Island has been erupting since 1983, making it the most active volcano in the world. Locals have learned to live with the volcano disrupting their lives, re-routing their daily journeys when an errant lava flow cuts off a highway.
Generally speaking, though, the lava from Kilauea follows a fairly standard path down to the sea. Here tour boats gather to give visitors the unique opportunity to watch red hot lava flow into the sea, turning the waters into a steaming, boiling cauldron.
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