5 Active Volcanoes You Can Actually Visit

We know there are questions around travel amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Read our note here.

With glowing lava and belching smoke, volcanoes are exciting, powerful, and able to sculpt and change the landscape in dramatic ways. Of course, an erupting volcano — or an unpredictable volcano — can also be incredibly dangerous. That said, there are plenty of volcanoes around the world that are considered dormant, have predictable lava flow, or have centuries pass between eruptions. We’ve put together a list of five incredible volcanic destinations that are open to visitors — just remember to be cautious and follow all safety protocols.

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

Dawn at the Kīlauea Lava Lake at Halema'uma'u in Hawaii.
Credit: Jim Wiltschko/ iStock

Located on the Big Island of Hawaii, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park covers over 320,000 acres and encompasses the active volcanoes of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa as well as a series of volcanic craters. Mauna Loa is the tallest volcano on the island at over 13,600 feet. But Kīlauea, at a mere 4,100 feet, is especially famous for its activity. Its Hawaiian name  translates to “spewing” and in fact, Kīlauea has been spewing lava continuously since 1983.

Unlike the recognizable dome-shaped or conical volcanoes, Kīlauea is a shield volcano. Shield volcanoes feature lava that is runnier and more free-flowing, which creates a softer sloping volcano. As a result, the park offers a series of gentle trails and broad overlooks along various crater rims including the Devastation Trail, the Sulphur Banks Trail, and Kīlauea Iki Overlook.

This region has been a popular tourist destination for 200 years and today, about 3 million visitors a year view these iconic volcanoes and craters. While many of these visitors hike the park, helicopter and boat tours also offer incredible, tropical vistas. Some of the best views are from the Kīlauea Visitor Center, where onlookers can take in the extraordinary lava lake within the Halema’uma’u Crater. Stick around until dark as the glowing magma casts an otherworldly illumination on this dramatic landscape.

Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland

A volcano eruption in Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland.
Credit: klikk/ iStock

You likely remember when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010. A massive, far-reaching cloud of ash grounded flights for nearly a week and affected air quality around the world. What you don’t know is that this glacier-topped mountain, which stands over 5,400 feet tall, is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and a popular destination for experienced hikers and adventurers along with visitors willing to rent four-wheel-drive vehicles or book a helicopter tour.

The four-mile direct trek to the mouth of the volcano is treacherous — guided tours are the way to go. That said, the Fimmvörðuháls Trail — a 15-mile, round-trip trek — offers a gentler on-foot option that passes through otherworldly lava fields and waterfalls, as well as stunning views of Mýrdalsjökull glacier. While visitors are near the peak it’s possible to enjoy snowmobiling and horseback riding without much worry — Eyjafjallajökull’s eruptions are often centuries apart. Before 2010, the volcano last erupted in 1821!

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

Arenal volcano in Costa Rica with a plume of smoke.
Credit: Tony Northrup/ Shutterstock

Just three hours from the Costa Rican capital of San José is one of the country’s best reasons to leave its iconic coastline: the Arenal Volcano. Located in its own wildlife-packed, 30,000-acre national park, the stratovolcano rises nearly 5,400 feet over lush rainforest. In addition to its stunning height, the Arenal is admired for its classic conical shape — in other words, it really looks like a volcano!

The volcano last erupted in 2010, but now the Arenal is considered dormant, its seismic activity decreasing dramatically since 2010. Neighboring town Tabacón (which had been decimated by a 1968 eruption) has been reinvented as a spa destination featuring healing, volcanically-heated waters. Paired with stunning vistas and a plethora of outdoor activities, including hiking through lava fields and jungle, swimming in pristine waters, and butterfly and birdwatching, the area has become a popular tourist destination. Aside from climbing the Arenal itself, visitors should consider the view from the neighboring Mount Chato. The climb is strenuous but adventurers will be greeted with the most magnificent views of the Arenal along with the opportunity to swim a crater lake in the shadows of the volcano’s peak.

Mount Etna, Italy

Overview of the Etna volcano during the eruption on February 16, 2020.
Credit: Alanstix64/ Shutterstock

Mount Etna is located on the eastern coast of Sicily and dominates the city of Catania. Towering 11,000 feet tall, the peak is actually the highest active volcano in Europe. Though Mount Etna erupted as recently as 2017, its first reported eruption was in 1500 BCE. In fact, the crater has the longest history of recorded eruptions of any volcano in the world — one of the reasons it was granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2013.

This rich legacy expands to ancient mythology — the volcano was where the ancient Greek god Hephaestus forged and stored his weapons. Whether or not you’re a history or mythology buff, Mount Etna offers plenty of activities for tourists including in-season skiing, hiking, biking, and any number of tours whether you prefer buses, SUVs, or helicopters. There’s even a cable car — a fun way to reach the highest accessible points of this towering summit. No matter how you view majestic Mount Etna, look out for centuries-old solidified lava flows and rare but captivating volcanic smoke rings. Despite its active status and long history of eruptions, Mount Etna is considered a very low risk volcano.

Mount Yasur, Vanuatu

The active Mount Yasur volcano, erupting at sunrise.
Credit: PietroPazzi/ iStock

Mount Yasur can be found on Tanna Island in the archipelago nation of Vanuatu in the South Pacific. The stratovolcano is only about 1,200 feet tall — but don’t let its lack of height fool you. It’s a powerful force of nature that’s been continuously active since before 1774.

Tanna Island is one of more than 80 islands that comprise Vanuatu; the captivating Mount Yasur is the island nation’s most popular tourist attraction. It even has a nickname: the “Lighthouse of the Pacific.” Mount Yasur spews glowing lava almost constantly and at least several times an hour. At night, these minor eruptions act as a beacon.

Visitors do need to take caution, though. The frequency and size of the eruptions has increased in recent years and on some high activity days, the area is closed. Nonetheless, volcano-lovers can very easily drive or hike up to the peak and peer into the belly of the beast. The view overlooking the crater is famously beautiful — especially in the evening when the glowing lava illuminates the terrain. It’s also a multi-sensory experience complete with the ground rumbling beneath, the heat of the lava, and all the smells of ash and gas. Of course, less-daring travelers can book a flyover tour for safer but still spectacular views.

Share this article:

More from the Blog

Related article image

What (and Where) Are the Great Capes?

Related article image

Eco-Friendly Safari Tours Around the World

Related article image

5 Famous "Blue Towns" Around the World