Are you looking to combine the admiration for the beauty and power of nature with a shiver of emotion and a pinch of fear? Then you need to observe active volcanoes: from the rim of a crater, from a neighbouring summit, from the water or from the air.
Volcanoes are present on all continents – from Europe all the way to Antarctica. They fascinate and frighten at the same time. They bring life (volcanic soil can be exceptionally fertile) as well as death. They make us aware of the destructive power of nature. For many religions, volcanoes are dwellings of the gods, and any eruptions are evidence of their wrath.
Based on the presence of magma in the volcanic chamber, scientists currently note 1500 potentially active volcanoes. After an eruption, the hot magma makes it to the Earth’s surface, creating lava, which is a mix of melted silicon oxides, calcium, potassium, sodium, iron, and other metals. The less silicon dioxide there is in the mix, the more liquid the lava is.
Not every active volcano poses a threat. Some of the them haven’t shown any sign of activity for thousands of years. On the other hand, there are some that show activity all the time, rumbling ominously and spitting out clouds of smoke. So theoretically, we should keep our distance from them. Yet despite all of that, many people dream of seeing glowing lava pouring down the slopes of a volcanic cone. Luckily, there are a few spots where they can safely make that dream come true.
I. Mount Yasur, Vanuatu
Thanks to its altitude, at 361m above sea level, Mount Yasur is referred to as the most accessible volcano in the world. It is located on the small island of Tanna in Vanuatu in the South Pacific, between Australia and Fiji. From the European perspective, it was discovered by James Cook in 1774. The volcano has been exhibiting regular activity for the past few centuries. Sometimes you have several eruptions within the course of one hour, which you can usually safely observe from the edge of the crater.
II. Masaya, Nicaragua
Masaya in Nicaragua, one of the many active volcanoes in Central America, is a place that is easily accessible for everybody. You don’t need to climb up anywhere; by car, you can nearly reach the very edge of the crater, which holds an enormous bubbling and rippling lake of lava. Seeing such a demonstration of nature’s power definitely makes you more humble. It’s no surprise that the volcano was once regarded as a god, so during the dry season children and virgins were offered as sacrifice to expedite the highly-desired rainfall. Most likely, these were not the only human bodies swallowed by the volcano. Rumour has it that towards the end of his brutal dictatorship, Somoza had political prisoners tossed into the lake of lava from helicopters.
The volcano is located in a national park. Entry costs only $3 if you go in before 4.30pm. However, most tourists opt for the significantly more expensive ($10) afternoon-evening tour to witness the incredible spectacle in its full glory. Access to the crater is strictly controlled at this time of day; you can spend only 15 minutes on the viewing platform.
III. Fuego, Guatemala
The Fuego Volcano (meaning ‘fire’ in Spanish) in Guatemala is currently one of the most active volcanoes in the world. News about it began to spread in June of last year. An enormous eruption occurred then, causing a great deal of damage, along with the deaths of nearly 200 people. The best place to safely observe the raging Fuego is from the neighbouring summit Acatenango, which reaches an altitude of 3976m above sea level, over 200 metres higher than the volcano itself. The hike up is challenging, but the view rewards all the hardships. Even several eruptions can occur within the course of one hour. Every 15 minutes or so, the silence is shattered by a loud rumble, accompanied by clouds of smoke and a fountain of glowing lava. And then, for a few minutes, you hear the rumble of falling rocks.
Fuego is not the only active volcano in Guatemala. Pacaya is also very popular, yet its eruptions are not that spectacular.
IV. Stromboli, Italy
Stromboli is the volcano that’s easiest to get to from Poland. It’s not as well-known as Sicily’s Mount Etna, but it’s much easier to observe lava here. It forms an island of the same name that is a part of the Aeolian Islands. The name of the volcano is also used to define a type of volcanic eruption. A Strombolian eruption is characterized by abrupt eruptions of glowing lava. The volcano has been constantly active for the past 2000 years. As a result, the island is often referred to as the “lighthouse of the Mediterranean Sea”. Every 15 minutes or so, tourists have the opportunity to enjoy natural fireworks here. Of course, they are best observed at night, when the lava lights up the darkness with intense red colour.
Organized groups under the care of a guide move out to the summit in the late afternoon. The 900-metre climb up is rather steep and takes three hours. Those who are less agile can observe this explosive demonstration of nature from small boats.
V. Erta Ale, Ethiopia
Erta Ale is located in northern Ethiopia and rises up to a height of 613m above sea level. It is situated in the Danakil Desert, one of the hottest and least human-friendly regions in the world. The name of the volcano in the Afar language means ‘Mountain of Smoke’. It is known by the fact that its crater holds the oldest ever lake of lava in the world. The trip up to the summit is time-consuming and exhausting, while the local inhabitants, the Afars, are not the friendliest of people, so tourists need to travel not only with a guide, but also a military escort. In 2012, a group of European tourists was attacked there. Five people died, the rest were kidnapped or injured.
VI. Kawah Ijen, Indonesia
Kawah Ijen in the eastern part of Java in Indonesia is an exceptional volcano. You can observe characteristic blue flames here. This uncommon phenomenon occurs thanks to sulphuric gas that emerges from cracks in the volcano and ignites after coming into contact with oxygen. The sulphur, which burns with a blue flame, flows down the edges and looks like lava. The effect is only visible at night. The Ijen volcano is also an active sulphur mine. Working there in difficult and health-endangering conditions are miners who extract sulphur and transport it from the bottom of the crater in bamboo baskets, which can even weigh over 100 kilograms each.
VII. Kilauea, Hawaii
Up until recently, Kilauea on Hawaii’s Big Island was one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Its last eruption started in January 1983. Since that time, thousands of tourists have visited the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park to see the streams of lava flowing straight into the ocean. Spectacular sightseeing flights by helicopter were also very popular.
Quite unexpectedly though, in May 2018 several stronger eruptions occurred there, preceded by a series of earthquakes. Not too long after that, all went silent and today you don’t see liquid lava there anymore. But scientists are sure: it’s only a matter of time before it will reappear. When exactly? Nobody is able to foresee that.
Translated by Mark Ordon
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