Volcanoes are some of the most awesome and intense geologic features on Earth. There are thousands of them around the world, from the steep symmetrical cones of stratovolcanoes such as the iconic Mount Fuji in Japan or Mount Rainier in Washington to the glowing calderas flowing with lava, such as Mauna Loa in Hawaii, the largest shield volcano and the largest active volcano, in the world.
For geology-buffs and adrenalin-junkies, planning a trip to hike a volcano begins with deciding how to get there. Backpacking is one of the best ways to see these impressive giants and many of the most beautiful and dangerous volcanoes are all within relatively easy reach, thanks to the range of cheap flights available online and through airlines and travel agencies.
The most famous active volcanoes in the world
Only around 500 volcanoes are currently active out of the thousands dotted around the planet. Of those, some, such as Mt. St. Helens and Mount Vesuvius, while impressive time-bombs waiting to explode, are not currently erupting. There are several volcanoes, however, which are in various states of eruption and remain open for visitors who dare to tread their lava fields and smoking domes.
Mount Kilauea, on the â€œBig Islandâ€ of Hawaii, has been in a constant state of eruption since 1983. Here, lava flows from some part of the volcano every day, with roads, temples and occasionally, even whole towns falling victim to molten lava flows. There are recommended viewing areas, but hiking past these areas is possible. Consult with a Volcanoes National Park ranger before attempting a trek; they will advise what to bring and whether conditions are safe. Sunset is one of the best times to go, as this is when the view from the volcano is at its most spectacular.
In addition to Vesuvius, Italy is home to two more impressive volcanoes, both of which are well worth visiting. The first, Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe, is located on the island of Sicily and most recently erupted in 2002. Catania is the closest airport to Etna and from there it is possible to drive or hike to the towns of Nicolosi or Linguaglossa. Backpackers can explore the forest of pine trees that grows on the slopes or hike all the way up to the crater. A variety of tours, ranging from novice to experienced, may also be booked.
Off the northern coast of Sicily, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, is the island of Stromboli. Part of the Aeolian Islands, Stromboli has been dubbed the â€œLighthouse of the Mediterraneanâ€ and may be reached by boat from Sicily. The volcano can be climbed as part of a guided tour, but the most recent eruption from 2002-2009, has limited the height that may be scaled to 400m.
The archipelago of Vanuatu is perched over the Pacific Ring of Fire and is home to Mount Yasur, which has been erupting continuously for more than 800 years. This â€œLighthouse of the Pacific,â€ erupts several times an hour and while extremely dangerous, is also a very popular tourist destination. The mountain may only be visited by guided tour and there are strict access rules for hiking into the crater. Night is the best viewing time, with the lava lighting up the sky like a fireworks display.