Over the course of millions of years, our planet has been shaped and sculpted by the movement of tectonic plates, the power of the seas and oceans, the force of wind and rain and of course, the heating and cooling of molten lava. New landmasses are regularly forming in our constantly changing world, as mother nature tirelessly flexes and stretches her muscles down through the centuries. It can be a sobering reminder that we’ve merely inherited the earth and only here for a relatively short time.
As destructive and as deadly as these forces can be, they hold an inextricable pull over us, perhaps none more so than volcanoes. We’ve recently seen their unstoppable power in Hawaii and Guatemala, but they’ve been equally enthralling and dangerous to humankind since we first evolved. We’ve climbed, studied, feared and worshipped these fascinating geological features, and we always will.
In today’s blog post we are going to examine some of the most volatile volcanoes on earth – and how you can visit them.
Holding the title of the most active volcano in Europe – and one of the most active in the world – Mount Etna is also a massive tourist draw, located on the island of Sicily. In spite of there being many decades between major eruptions, Etna is always threatening something, and many experts believe she is simply “clearing her throat.” The last time she destroyed a population center was in 1928, but sandwiched between the neighboring towns of Catania and Messina, if she were to blow, the results would be catastrophic.
Regardless, Mount Etna still attracts millions of tourists every year, because she regularly puts on a good show. Visitors can expect to see lava flows, ash, and pyrotechnics from her crater, and there’s plenty of hiking and biking in the region for outdoor enthusiasts. Many companies offering tours to the volcano, as well as a railway excursion around the base. There’s even a cable car option for those who want to get as close as possible to the spectacle.
Of all the volcanoes on our list, Mauna Loa is one of the most famous and photographed in the world. It’s been constantly active for some 700,000 years, with 33 eruptions in the last 200. It’s also the largest volcano on earth (above sea level) and it makes up more than 50% of Hawaii’s Big Island. Its last major eruption occurred in 1984, and as it’s regularly displaying some jaw-dropping action of brilliant orange lava flows into the sea, it’s probably due to another one.
As a result of such an incredible and regular show, Mauna Loa (translated as “long mountain”) attracts many visitors to witness her dramatic display of power. It’s around a 45-minute drive from the town of Hilo, but there are tour options if you don’t fancy making the journey yourself. There’s a visitor center providing information and maps, but a trek to the summit is only advised if you’re an experienced hiker or climber. Guided tours are often highly recommended due to the instability of the region.
Another volcano that is always a hive of activity is Mount Merapi (translated as fire mountain) which has been causing concerns at the time of writing in 2018. It’s the largest and most active volcano in an island country that has 127 active volcanoes – known as the ring of fire. Around 5 million people live in the shadow of these potentially devastating features. Mount Merapi has been erupting regularly since 1548 and like Mauna Loa and Etna, it’s one of the 16 Decade Volcanoes on earth.
You might think that would stop people visiting, but for some reason, it has the opposite effect! Located on the island of Java, access is from the village of Selo, but the summit has been closed for a number of years. Regardless, this still doesn’t stop people from climbing, but we’d highly recommend admiring it from a distance.
The city of Kagoshima sits in the shadow of Japan’s most active volcano, the mighty Sakurajima, which has rarely been quiet for 22,000 years when it was first formed. It used to be separate from mainland Japan, but the enormous 1914 eruption created a bridge with the resulting spewing lava flow, the sheer amount of which has never been equaled throughout history.
Sakurajima is the iconic image of Kagoshima, and millions of tourists visit each year to see the volcano’s continuous activity. It smokes regularly, and adventurous types can visit an observatory with a summit view halfway up. Although it is no longer an island, getting to the volcano by ferry is the easiest way, and you might even have seen several videos of Sakurajima erupting from the water.
Anyone who happened to be traveling in Europe during the summer of 2010 (and in subsequent years thanks to smaller eruptions) will have heard of this region of Iceland, which actually consists of a massive glacier over the top of the volcano. When it last erupted, it spewed ash and dust 30,000 ft into the air and shut down most European flights. It is estimated that airlines lost nearly $2 billion in the canceled revenue.
However, it wasn’t all that bad for Iceland’s booming volcanic tourist industry. In the wake of the eruption, millions of people started to pour into the country to explore this land of ice and fire, with visits to Eyjafjallajökull proving particularly popular. However, a visitor center has since closed down and hiking to the summit is only recommended if you have the experience. 4X4 tours run year-round and are probably safer if the more expensive option.
Visiting the volcanoes of the world can be an exciting and adventurous holiday experience, but just remember that safety comes first. Use your common sense at all times, and make sure you check with the local authorities if you have the all-clear to get up close. If and when these babies blow – you’ll want to be as far away as possible!
Have you done any volcano hiking? Let us know where you’ve been!