Discover the best places to witness the wonder of volcanoes

A National Geographic explorer gives tips on how to see some of the planet’s most dynamic destinations.

By Katie Knorovsky
Published 24 Apr 2019, 08:21 BST
A helicopter soars above Piton de la Fournaise volcano on Réunion island in the Indian Ocean.
A helicopter soars above Piton de la Fournaise volcano on Réunion island in the Indian Ocean.
Photograph by Richard Bouhet, AFP/Getty Images

“To me, volcanoes are the most tangible phenomena showing that our planet is alive,” says volcanologist Arianna Soldati, a National Geographic explorer. Worldwide, there are about 1,500 active volcanoes, most situated at meeting points of tectonic plates.

“Some are sacred to the local population,” Soldati says. Before you visit one, be sure to learn about beliefs surrounding the peak. Also follow local rules and get an update on the volcanic activity. Once you’re there, allow plenty of time for wonder. “Volcanoes are an overwhelming force of nature, and it takes a while for it all to sink in,” she says. Here are four of Soldati’s picks for Earth’s most dynamic destinations.

Stromboli, Italy

This Italian island north of Sicily is known as the “lighthouse of the Mediterranean” due to its frequent volcanic activity—and the way its incandescent explosions illuminate the night sky.

The frequent volcanic activity on Italy’s Stromboli Island means that travellers are practically guaranteed a good show.
Photograph by Stocktrek Images, Getty Images

With a mild eruption at least every 20 minutes, the lava fountain is a sure bet for travellers, says Soldati. Join a three-hour guided hike to reach the summit by sunset, and from a safe platform, peer down at the glowing, bursting spectacle.

Erta Ale, Ethiopia

In the scorched Afar desert of northeastern Ethiopia, Erta Ale is the site of what Soldati calls the “only somewhat accessible lava lake.”

A guide is a must, but adventure seekers can gaze at the mesmerising lava lake on Ethiopia’s Erta Ale shield volcano.
Photograph by Mike Korostelev, Getty Images

The southernmost pit of this constantly active, low-profile structure—an example of a shield volcano—has been dubbed the “gateway to hell.” Intrepid travelers can hire an adventure guide who’ll lead them to hot glimpses of the smoldering scene.

Mount Fuji, Japan

Few summits on Earth embody the soul of a place quite like Japan’s Mount Fuji. Dormant since last erupting in 1707, Mount Fuji is a UNESCO World Heritage site—noted by UNESCO as a “sacred place and source of artistic inspiration.”

Soldati calls it “the perfect volcano for its shape,” a remarkably symmetrical cone. Around 60 miles from Tokyo, this iconic stratovolcano rises 12,388 feet and offers a revered sunrise view.

Réunion, France

Located in the Indian Ocean some 420 miles east of Madagascar, this French island features a stunning range of volcanic landscapes, Soldati says. Visitors can explore the cinder cones, caldera, and lava flows on foot and by car or helicopter.

Every nine months, on average, Réunion’s shield volcano, Piton de la Fournaise, puts on an amazing show of pyrotechnics.

Writer Katie Knorovsky is a former editor at National Geographic Traveller (US) magazine and currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina. Follow her travels on Twitter @TravKatieK.

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