We tend to think of volcanoes as angry monsters that blow their tops in violent bursts of lava and ash. But volcanoes aren’t always scary; on the contrary, they’re some of our favorite destinations! Join us as we take a quick tour of seven of our world’s most amazing volcanoes.
Mt. Etna, Sicily
The Sicilians who live in its shadow call Mt. Etna Muncibeddu, or “Beautiful Mountain,” while the ancient Greeks were convinced that Zeus used the mountain as a prison for Typhon, the father of all monsters. What’s beyond dispute is that Etna is among the most active volcanoes on Earth. Here again, vulcanism leaves a mixed legacy, for while Etna’s lava has scorched and singed countless villages, it has also created the nutrient-rich soil that supports the nearby vineyards and olive groves. Though humans have studied it since time immemorial, Etna remains famously unpredictable—to know this volcano, you need to see it for yourself.
The Andes were formed eons ago by the collision of two tectonic plates, and today, they boast the world’s tallest volcanoes. Among these ice-capped giants is Antisana, located a short drive southeast of Quito, Ecuador. At nearly 19,000 feet tall, Antisana’s peak is covered in snow year-round, but the frigid winds whipping around its summit belie the molten rock churning miles below. The snowcap makes it difficult to study Antisana, and the last confirmed eruption was in the early 1800s. Still, this giant shows signs of younger rock overtopping older lava floes and calderas combining with one another in the (geologically) recent past, which suggests that Antisana is sleeping rather than dead.
Poás, Costa Rica
The two lakes near the summit of Costa Rica‘s Poás volcano offer a study in contrasts. One lake, Laguna Caliente, sits in an active volcanic crater and is among the most acidic bodies of water on Earth. The waters of this lake sometimes reach a pH level of zero, and as a result, the lake is nearly completely devoid of life. The bottom of Laguna Caliente is covered in a thick sludge of liquid sulfur, and noxious gases intermingle with the surrounding atmosphere to occasionally create caustic downpours of acid rain. The other lake, Lake Botos, sits in a crater that hasn’t erupted in nearly 10,000 years. Here, lush canopy jungle creeps right up to the edge of the tranquil waters. The waters are cold and clear, and the surrounding cloud forest supports an incredible diversity of life. The two lakes aren’t far apart, but the vagaries of vulcanism allow one to provide shelter for all kinds of wildlife, while the other proves to toxic to all but the hardiest organisms. You can visit both of Poás’ lakes on our Costa Rica: Sarapiquí, Arenal & Guanacaste tour.
Mt. Kilauea, Hawaii
The state of Hawaii is composed of volcanoes, but perhaps none is more famous than Kilauea. The word Kilauea comes from the Hawaiian language and means “spewing” or “much spreading,” a testament to this volcano’s long and exceptionally active history. Kilauea has erupted no fewer than 34 times since the 1950s—indeed, it’s erupting as you read this. Paradoxically, that means that most of the rock atop Kilauea is less than 1,000 years old, making it among the youngest volcanoes on Earth. For the ancient Hawaiians, Kilauea was actually the body of Pele, their fearsome volcano goddess who was both creator and destroyer. To modern vulcanologists, Kilauea is the world’s best, most easily studied example of how volcanoes shape our world.
Visitors to the Greek island of Santorini get swept away by steep sea cliffs and fiery sunsets. It’s peaceful here, hundreds of feet above the Aegean—but it wasn’t always this way. Today, the cliffs dive straight down into the sea, but they used to form the sides of a massive caldera. That all changed sometime in the mid-second millennium B.C. when Santorini witnessed one of the most violent events in our planet’s history. Known as the Minoan eruption, this event was the culmination of a sequence of episodes that fundamentally changed the island. Small eruptions built up into islands in Santorini’s lagoon until so much rock had been piled atop Santorini’s volcanic vents that the volcano lost its pressure release valve; eventually, with more magma always pushing toward the surface, Santorini blew its top in an event recorded across the ancient world. A similar sequence led to the obliteration of the island of Krakatoa (which, as best we can tell, was the single most violent eruption in recorded history), but thankfully for us, the uppermost ring of Santorini’s caldera remains.
Three volcanic cones form Kilimanjaro, and the tallest of these, Kibo, rises more than 19,000 feet above the Tanzanian plains. We know Kilimanjaro is a volcano because there’s no other explanation for such an enormous and tall mass of rock here, but we have yet to record an eruption from any of the three cones. Because of this and the mountain’s gentle slopes, Kilimanjaro greets thousands of visitors every year. Still, recent surveys lead scientists to believe that an active magma chamber lies just 1,200 feet below the summit, and one of the most popular climbing routes traverses the Western Breach, a mass of scree created by a volcanic landslide. Atop Kilimanjaro, a unique ecosystem thrives in what biologists call a sky island.
Rotorua, New Zealand
The city of Rotorua sits on the shores of a lake that shares its name. The lake is among the shallowest in New Zealand, but it wasn’t always filled with water. Rotorua is in fact at the center of a large caldera which collapsed after its last eruption more than 240,000 years ago. While you won’t encounter the fireworks you might see at Kilauea, Rotorua is home to hot springs, geysers and bubbling mud pools. The most famous geyser, Pohutu, erupts dozens of times a day and shoots scalding hot water almost a hundred feet into the air. While Rotorua has been relatively quiet over the recent geological past, its nearby neighbors have not: the village of Te Wairoa, located fewer than ten miles to the southeast, is now known as the Buried Village after it succumbed to the floes of Mt. Tarawera in 1886.
Do you have a favorite volcano you’d like to visit? Let us know in the comments!