To the Centre of the Earth: Volcano Viewing

View on Isabela Island, Galapagos, an island formed from 6 volcanoes, making it one of the volcano viewing spots in the worldThis one is for my nephews and all those fascinated by fire, explosions, molten lava and the the raw power of Mother Nature. Volcanoes are dangerous and alluring at the same time, a combination many of us can’t resist. I’ve seen four of them on my travels so far, and  I hope to see more.

Volcano visits

Isabela Island, Galapagos

During a week-long boat trip in the Galapagos, I had the surreal experience of stepping onto an island completely made out of volcanoes. Isabela Island was formed a million years ago when six volcanoes merged together. Five of them are still active, and one erupted as recently as 2015.

Isabela’s landscape varied from black lava tubes to warm sandy soils and even some patches of green. From one of the highest vantage points, I could see five conical peaks clustered nearby. Wherever the ocean met the rock, I saw  pretty curved coves. There’s no other place on earth where you can capture so many volcanic peaks in one photo.

Haleakala, Hawaii

The sunset at the rim of Maui’s Haleakala Volcano was so darkly dramatic, I’ll remember it always. As if the twisting turning drive up through tropical foliage and cloud wasn’t mystical enough, here’s what we saw at the top.

dramatic sunset at the rim of Haleakala volcano in Maui

As you can see, this 10,000-foot crater rim is a stunner, well worth the trek inland from Maui’s lovely beaches. The drive to the summit is about three hours from the major beach areas, so it’s doable as a day trip. But spending a night in nearby Kula makes for a more relaxed visit, especially if you want to catch those sunrise and sunset views. We enjoyed a night at the rustic Kula Lodge and drove up to the rim of the volcano twice.

Mount Vesuvius, Italy

The region around Mount Vesuvius overlooking the Bay of Naples is the most densely populated volcanic area of world. That’s why the eruption that engulfed Pompei and Herculaneum almost 2000 years ago was so tragic. In this case, seeing the ruins of Pompei was just as fascinating as climbing to the crater rim. The views of the bay from the top were amazing too. A highly recommended stop on any trip to Southern Italy.

forum area of pompeii with Mount Vesuvius in the background

Arenal, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is full of volcanoes, and in fact it’s part of the earth’s Ring of Fire. Yes, that’s a crazy, very real thing. The stunning Arenal Volcano dominates the landscape for miles around the La Fortuna area. Since it’s still active (and spews smoke once in a while to prove it), climbing is forbidden. I had to settle for  floating and ziplining nearby  and admiring it from a respectable distance while soaking in the hot springs.

Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica with lush vegetation in foreground

Sao Miguel Island, Azores

Possibly the largest concentration of volcanoes in one place, the Azores archipelago sits at the junction of three major tectonic plates.  On the 65 km-long island of Sao Miguel, you can see three active volcanoes in one ambitious day if you really want to. When I visited Sao Miguel, I stretched it over two days:

  • Sete Cidades in the west has four lakes, at least two other calderas and an entire town inside it’s crater. The place is gorgeous, dressed in shades of green.
  • Agua de Pau (Lake of Fire) has a caldera within a caldera, with a lake filling the smaller crater. It often gets cloudy and windy at the top of the rim – it will literally take your breath away.
  • One the east side of the island lies Furnas volcano. It has two calderas, a town and a crater lake. It also features fumaroles, geysers and bubbling mud pools, giving the area a prehistoric feel.

Caldeira Seca, a volcanic crater within a larger volcano on Sao Miguel Island, Azores

Future viewing: volcano wish list

Here are some of the other volcanoes I’d like to see in future:

  • Iceland has over 100 volcanoes, but Mount Maelifell is said to be the most striking. It sits on the edge of a glacier, covered in lush green moss that contrasts dramatically with the surrounding black volcanic soil.
  • The perfect symmetry, snow-capped peak and mountaintop shrine of Mount Fuji make it a suitably zen-like icon of Japan.
  • The Big Island of Hawaii has Mauna Loa, the largest volcano in the world. When conditions are safe, it provides a unique opportunity to walk up close to glowing, flowing lava.
  • Possibly the most dramatic of all, Mount Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo has a huge fiery lava ‘lake’ brewing inside its vast crater that’s over a kilometer wide.

Fascination aside, I hope these volatile rocks keep their behaviour in check for the foreseeable future. Smoke and gurgles are fine, but no catastrophic eruptions please.

Travel safe,

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