15 Active Volcanoes Worth Visiting Around the World
You probably remember geeking out while learning about molten hot lava in elementary or middle school, and may even have created your own DIY erupting “volcano” as a science project using food coloring, vinegar and baking soda in the backyard. But have you ever considered what it would be like to visit an active volcano in real life? It’s not as crazy as it sounds.
All over the world, active volcanoes are doubling as travelers’ playgrounds. Believe it or not, you can ski, hike, climb, Jeep and take in some amazing views from a helicopter or small plane at many active volcanoes. All told, there are approximately 1,500 active volcanoes around the world, including more than 150 in the United States, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (though you can’t necessarily visit all of them).
Despite the fact that they’re active volcanoes, many are completely safe to visit, though you should always be aware of the risks associated with visiting a living, breathing volcano, which is essentially a vent for the hot gases and rocks located deep inside the Earth. Though accidents don’t happen often, they do sometimes happen, since Mother Nature is unpredictable — and, of course, crazy powerful. Many of these volcanoes are located inside national parks, which means you can check the park’s website for safety and status updates before you plan your visit.
Looking for some new adventure travel destinations? Look no further than these 15 active volcanoes around the world that are worth a trip.
Cotopaxi — Ecuador
Cotopaxi has been quite a busy volcano, erupting more than 50 times in the last 300 years. It’s located within Ecuador’s famous “Avenue of Volcanoes,” a 200-mile stretch with a handful of tall peaks and volcanoes.
Cotopaxi is unique because of its almost perfectly symmetrical cone shape that stretches more than 19,000 feet into the sky. Many people visit Cotopaxi National Park during their travels through Quito, Ecuador, which is just a 70-mile drive away.
While at the park, you can mountain bike, hike, camp and climb. Cotopaxi is definitely the main attraction of the park, but you can also check out the smaller Rumiñahui volcano and Lake Limpiopungo, a lagoon situated at more than 12,000 feet in elevation.
You can also explore the park’s Enchanted Valley, which features the stones and mudflow remnants from one of Cotopaxi’s eruptions.
Stromboli — Italy
You can get up close and personal with fire and lava when you visit Stromboli, a volcanic island off the western coast of Italy.
Because it produces small eruptions almost every hour, you’re almost guaranteed to see some action, no matter when you visit this volcano. There are a number of ways to visit Stromboli, starting with an aerial tour by helicopter. You can also take a ferry over to the island, then hike up the peak. You can hike some of the volcano on your own, but you’ll need a guide to get higher on the mountain or you risk being charged a fine.
Most travelers report that the hike takes more than three hours and is doable for people of all fitness levels. You can also hike the volcano at night, which allows for some spectacular views of the eruptions. And don’t worry about a violent eruption — they’re fairly rare for Stromboli, with the last major eruption occurring in 1930.
White Island — New Zealand
White Island, also known as Whakaari, is one of New Zealand’s most active volcanoes. Though the majority of the volcano is underwater (approximately 70 percent), you can still see and explore the roughly 1,000 feet that poke out above the Bay of Plenty.
White Island produces acidic white steam and gas, which is why you’ll need to wear a gas mask on your guided tour of the volcano’s crater floor. Each your lasts approximately six hours and starts with a boat ride over to the island from Whakatane.
Once you step onto the volcano, you’ll be able to explore gurgling mud pits and volcanic streams, as well as the remains of a historic sulphur factory where 10 miners were unfortunately killed in a landslide in 1914. If you don’t want to get that close to the volcano, you can also see it by helicopter, by plane or by boat.
Arenal — Costa Rica
This breathtaking volcano in northern Costa Rica stands tall above the country’s lush green landscape and the blue waters of Lake Arenal.
As far as volcanoes go, Arenal is relatively young — researchers believe the volcano’s first eruption occurred 7,000 years ago. The volcano hasn’t had any violent eruptions since 1968, when the entire west side of the volcano exploded, tragically killing 78 people and destroying two nearby villages. If you travel to see Arenal, you’ll actually be able to visit two volcanoes — Chato volcano is just to the southeast of Arenal.
You can visit Arenal National Park on your own (you’ll get a map when you pay the admission fee) or you can go on a guided tour. There are also many hot springs and thermal resorts nearby if you’re looking for a place to relax and enjoy the Costa Rican scenery.
Sakurajima — Japan
Sakurajima is considered one of the most active volcanoes on the planet, with researchers tracing its first recorded eruption back to A.D. 708. One of the most significant eruptions occurred in 1914, when a large lava flow connected what had been the island of Sakurajima to the Osumi Peninsula of southern Japan.
To get to the volcano, you’ll want to take a ferry over from Kagoshima, a seaside city that is often compared to Naples, Italy. Once you arrive, you can stroll along the Lava Nagisa Promenade, a roughly two-mile walking path that lets visitors get up close to the various lava formations created by the volcano.
The visitor center has information about the history of the volcano, as well as a relaxing foot bath for soaking your tired feet after a day of sightseeing.
Mount Etna — Italy
Many travelers say that a visit to Catania is not complete with a trip to see Mount Etna, the 10,990-foot-tall active volcano on the eastern coast of Sicily.
Etna has a long history that dates back to the first reported eruption in 1,500 BC — in fact, this volcano has the longest history of recorded eruptions out of all the volcanoes in the world. In 2013, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its “notoriety, scientific importance and cultural and educational value.”
For a fee, you can take a cable car or an off-road bus to the top (if the weather allows). You can also book a Jeep tour of the volcano or join a guided hiking tour, where you’ll hear geological and historical information about Etna. Or, stop by the Parco dell’Etna visitor center for historical information and a list of hiking trails.
Fun fact: You can also ski on Mount Etna during the winter months.
Mount Aso — Japan
Mount Aso is unique because of its massive caldera, which is basically a larger-than-normal crater. Mount Aso’s caldera measures 10 miles by 15 miles, which make it one of the largest in the world.
Researchers believe the shape of Aso was formed by four big eruptions, with the first dating back to 270,000 years ago. Though you can typically take a cable car to the top of the volcano, which is located on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, that service has been suspended because of damage caused by an April 2016 earthquake.
In the meantime, however, you can take a 40-person shuttle bus to see the crater or drive your own car. Since Mt. Aso emits volcanic gases, officials with the Aso Volcano Disaster Prevention Council recommend that people with asthma, bronchitis or heart problems steer clear of the crater.
Mount Merapi — Indonesia
Mount Merapi looms large in the center of the island of Java, Indonesia, and is widely considered the country’s most active volcano.
What sets Mount Merapi apart (in a bad way) is its propensity to produce nuée ardentes, which are clouds of heated ash and gas that erupt from the volcano and move at very high speeds — up to 400 miles per hour.
Because the volcano is located less than 20 miles away from the city of Yogyakarta, these nuée ardentes can often lead to injury and even death. Even so, you can visit Mount Merapi and even hike to the top of this 9,551-foot peak (it’s best to leave in the very early morning hours) or take a fun Jeep tour.
Mount Pinatubo — Philippines
You may remember the last time Mount Pinatubo made headlines for producing the second largest eruption of the 20th century.
In June 1991, the volcano sent a giant ash cloud 22 miles into the air and produced more than 1.2 cubic miles of lava, killing at least 250 people and doing serious damage to crops and infrastructure. But that was more than 25 years ago, and today Mount Pinatubo is a playground for visitors from all over the world.
Most travelers take a Jeep tour to the top of the volcano, then hike the rest of the way to Lake Pinatubo, a stunning crater lake with turquoise waters (you can take pictures to your heart’s content, but swimming is prohibited).
Mount Fuji — Japan
Mount Fuji is one of the most easily recognizable volcanoes on the planet — but that shouldn’t stop you from wanting to see this majestic mountain up close.
Standing more than 12,000 feet above sea level, Mount Fuji has a gorgeous snow-covered peak and is the tallest mountain in Japan. You can hike to the top on one of four ascending trails, but you should know that climbing season is very short for Mount Fuji — it starts in July and ends in September.
There are mountain huts with restrooms along many of the routes, some of which you can even stay overnight in with a reservation. If you can’t plan a trip to Japan just yet, you can always daydream about Mount Fuji by watching several livestream video feeds online.
Iztaccihuatl — Mexico
Iztaccihuatl is part of the Trans-Mexico Volcanic Belt, an east-west swath of volcanoes in south central Mexico.
It’s also just 50 miles southeast of Mexico City, which makes it an easy day trip if you’re visiting Mexico’s capital. Iztaccihuatl translates to “sleeping woman,” and when you look at the volcano from the west or the east, you can actually make out the shape of a woman lying on her back. When you visit Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl National Park, you’re really getting two volcanoes for the price of one, since you can also check out Popocatepetl, which people affectionately refer to by its nickname “Popo.”
Depending on your style, you can do a Jeep tour, a guided hiking tour or simply hike on your own within the national park.
Villarica — Chile
This impressive volcano technically goes by two names: Villarica and Rucapillán, which means “house of the devil.” Whatever you call it, this volcano is one of the most active in Chile.
Located about 500 miles south of Santiago, Villarica stands 9,340 feet tall and overlooks a lake and a town by the same name. The volcano has been deadly in the past — but for a unique reason. Since it’s covered in snow and ice most of the time, its eruptions have resulted in lava flows that melt the ice, which has caused a few deadly mudslides in the past.
For now, though, you can visit Villarrica National Park on your own, book a guided trekking trip or go skiing at the Villarrica Pucon ski resort.
Sangay — Ecuador
When you visit Sangay National Park in central Ecuador, you’ll get to experience all of the many incredible ecosystems that exist within the country’s borders, not to mention see two active volcanoes and one extinct volcano.
The 1,000-square-mile park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, consists of wetlands, grasslands, Amazonian rainforests, cloud forests, lakes and the ecosystems created by the volcanoes themselves.
Sangay volcano is massive at 17,000 feet above sea level and has been erupting continuously since 1934, with its first recorded eruption occurring in 1628. Nearby, there’s Tungurahua, a 16,400-foot-tall active volcano that also goes by the name “Black Giant,” and El Altar, an extinct volcano.
Mount Rainier — United States
As far as active volcanoes go, Mount Rainier is one of the most popular and well-known of the bunch. Researchers believe the volcano formed sometime between 500,000 and 1 million years ago, with lava and debris from its eruptions creating the 14,410-foot-tall peak we see today.
The volcano is located in Washington’s Cascade Range in Mount Rainier National Park, which means it’s easy to visit and explore. There are tons of things to do inside the park, including hiking, climbing, bicycling, camping, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and even some skiing and snowboarding, weather permitting.
You can climb all the way to the top of the volcano, but it’s a very challenging trek that requires lots of climbing and mountaineering experience (Mount Rainier is covered in glaciers and the weather can get nasty, even during peak climbing season).
Mount Yasur — Vanuatu
Vanuatu is a tiny island nation located in the South Pacific. One of the country’s many islands, Tanna Island, is home to Mount Yasur, an impressive active volcano that regularly produces small eruptions (often multiple per hour!).
It’s particularly beautiful to watch Mount Yasur after the sun sets, when the magma and volcanic gases glow against the night sky. Most people go on guided tours of the volcano because the island is relatively small and somewhat hard to travel around on your own. You can drive, then hike up to the top of the crater, or see the volcano overhead from an airplane tour.
Visitors rave about their time at Mount Yasur, saying the volcano is a multi-sensory experience that highlights nature’s amazing power.