No matter how dormant they look, volcanoes are an unpredictable threat to anyone in their vicinity. While they may lay slumbering for hundreds, thousands of years or even millions of years, these lava-filled giants can awaken at any time to devastate entire tracts of land and eradicate cities. But they can also be spectacular places to visit.
A trip to the most dangerous volcanoes in the world offers the kind of unique thrill few other destinations provide:
- Vesuvius, Italy
- Mount Merapi, Indonesia
- Mauna Loa, Hawaii
- Yellowstone National Park, US
If you are travelling to Italy, be sure to visit Naples on its south-eastern coast. Just six miles from its centre stands Vesuvius, the only active volcano on the European mainland. Famously, in 79 AD it destroyed the Roman city of Pompeii and anyone in it who hadn’t fled. Vesuvius last blew its top in 1944, since then the mountain has kept its cool.
But instead of spreading fear, the big V seems to attract people. The region is home to around three million people and, over the past 20 years, 50,000 illegally-built houses have sprung up in the so-called Red Zone, a 200-square kilometre area most at risk. To be fair, the spectacular view across the Gulf of Naples from the edge of the volcano is enough to make anyone forget about the danger.
Indonesia is profuse with beautiful islands and long sandy beaches. But you’ll need to exercise a little caution on the popular island of Java. At its heart lies Mount Merapi, which translates as ‘Fire Mountain’. It is only 22 miles north of the city of Yogyakarta, where the Hindu temple complex of Prambanan and the Buddhist temple complex Borobudur – both of which have UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status – are located.
Right at the base of the mountain is the village of Kaliurang, a popular destination for adventurers. A taste for adventure is what any visitor will require, given that Merapi tends to erupt every five or ten years. Its most recent outpouring of ash and steam occurred in 2013.
Mauna Loa, Hawaii
The Mauna Loa is in every sense the big daddy of fire-breathing mountains. With a height of 4,170 metres, a surface area of 5,270 square metres and a volume of 80,000 cubic metres, it measures up as the largest volcano on earth. If you count the 5,000 metres it extends down below sea level, Mauna Loa even overtakes Mount Everest as the highest mountain on the planet.
This monster last awoke in 1984. Until that happens again, you can drive almost to the summit, then walk the rest of the way for some breath-taking views. Take it slowly once on foot, though: the closer you get to the top, the thinner the air becomes.
Yellowstone National Park, US
The Yellowstone National Park is almost a must for any trip to the US. Its canyons, hot springs and gushing geysers are amongst nature’s most thrilling spectacles.
The reason why Yellowstone has such an abundance of these: the majority of it sits atop a huge super-volcano. Although it has already erupted three times, this last happened 640,000 years ago. That said, if it blows again, it could destroy much of America’s North West.
If you travel to Yellowstone hoping to see a typical cone-shaped mountain, you’ll be disappointed. The park’s super-volcano is a ‘caldera’ – a large cauldron-like depression that formed during the three super-eruptions over the past 2.1 million years. Until the next one, the hottest you’ll get is in Yellowstone’s Boiling River, a hot spring that can reach a scalding 60 degrees Celsius.