Volcanoes… they are one of the most fearful formations on Earth. They can be stunningly beautiful, but they can also bring unimaginable destruction. These giants of fire are the connection between the Earth’s surface and the deep hot interior of our planet. There are thousands of volcanoes that we know, but some of them are particularly famous and significant. Let’s get into geography, and make a journey to the 10 most famous volcanoes in the world, let’s learn more about them, and get some tips on how to explore them!
The nature of the volcanoes
First, let’s look at the interior of the Earth, as modern science describes it. In general, there is a super-hot core, surrounded by a hot mantle, and a super-thin crust. Yes, the cool crust of our planet, where all we live, with our politics, culture, daily life, wars, peace, love, and hate, is frighteningly thin (on average 20-40 miles, compared to around 3900 (!) miles to the center), just like the crust of a hot egg that is still liquid inside.
Not only that, but the Earth’s crust itself is composed of layers moved by the hot currents in the mantle and the core. And the hot material from the core and the mantle easily finds its way through the ruptures of the crust, caused by the moving of its plates. When it reaches the surface, it erupts like a volcano– the only formation where we can see what is deep below us.
Types of volcanoes
There are various types of volcanoes, depending on various criteria. Some of them are submarine (and in fact, most of the volcanoes are submarine, because the Earth’s crust is thinner under the oceans), while others are on land. They can be in various shapes- the most popular image of a volcano is an ideal cone with a crater on its top. But many volcanoes are in different shapes- some are in a shield shape, others are fissure vents or lava domes. Some are tall, while others are short.
There are also various types of eruptions. Again, the most popular eruption consists of magma that reaches the surface (and becomes lava)- a hot liquid of molten rock. But there are also various types of lava, depending on its chemical composition. And there is not only molten rock that goes out of a volcano, but there are gases- from water steam to sulfuric acid. It can be mixed with the lava, and when you add the pressure, it can quietly flow away, or it can explode devastating everything around.
Finally, some volcanoes are very active, erupting regularly. Others are quiet- some just temporary (they are called inactive), some- forever (called extinct). Today, there are thousands of volcanoes on our planet. Most of them are completely unknown, except for a few scientists. But other volcanoes are very popular- for their shape, their historic eruptions, and their role in the local culture. Let’s see the 10 most famous volcanoes in the world, what has made them famous, and how to explore them.
The 10 most famous volcanoes in the world
All of these volcanoes are on land and can be found on most of the continents. They are various in type and variety in the history of their eruptions. As a result, they have become famous, popular. And if you want to explore the volcanoes of the Earth, better start with these.
Krakatoa, Indonesia- the volcano with the loudest eruption
Krakatoa is known as one of the deadliest volcanoes during the whole human history. This is what makes it one of the most famous volcanoes in the world- the eruption in 1883. It was not just an ordinary eruption, but it was a series of explosions. The strongest of them was 4 times stronger than Tsar Bomba, the strongest nuclear weapon ever created by humans.
This volcano is located on one of the several small islands between the two largest Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java, in the Sunda Strait. And it happened on 27 August 1883. The chamber of magma and gases under the volcano has been pressed so intensively that the explosion completely changed the geography of the Sunda Strait.
It destroyed its own island, blew hundreds of cubic kilometers of rocks into space, reaching 85 km above the Earth. And it created a giant tsunami, one of which traveled around the planet three times. All of this killed at least 35 000 people. And the sound of the strongest explosion was heard in Australia, in Madagascar, and according to some sources, even in Istanbul!
How to explore Krakatoa Volcano
Today, Krakatoa looks completely different than before its 1883 eruption. It is still active, and its later eruptions gradually created a new island, called Anak Krakatoa (“The Child of Krakatoa”). Now it is turned into a national park and can be visited only by organized tour and permit for visiting.
You can reach Krakatoa by joining a tour from Anyer, Carita, Lampung, or Labuan. Or, if you are more adventurous, you can find a local fishing boat (but you have to bring your own food and your life vest) from Lampung. Normally, first, you will arrive at Rakata Island- this is the remnant of the old Krakatoa Island before 1883.
From there, a touring boat will bring you to the beach of Anak Krakatoa. And if there is no eruption, you can hike the island, and you can even camp at the night at the beach. If the volcano erupts, they will only guide you around the island, and you can enjoy the scary but beautiful view of the erupting volcano at night from Rakata.
Now, let’s go to Japan.
Fuji, Japan- the most iconic volcano
If you have seen more traditional Japanese pictures, you certainly have seen Fuji on some of them. There is no other volcano in the world that has been painted in traditional pictures such as Fuji. It has become an important symbol of the Japanese culture, and the whole country of Japan. As a result, it was proclaimed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Mount Fuji is 3776 m in height and is covered in snow throughout most of the year. It is considered active, although its last eruption was at the end of 1707. Since then, the volcano is sleeping, despite the recent earthquakes that happened not far from it. Its crater is more than 700 m wide, and there is nothing but barren rocks on its bottom.
How to explore Mount Fuji
It’s easy. If you want to explore Mount Fuji, you can decide whether you want to climb it to its top, or just enjoy it from aside. Every tourist can watch stunning views from every side of the volcano, and these views and particularly beautiful from one of the surrounding lakes- Kawaguchi, Yamanaka, Sai, Motosu, and Shoji.
But if you want to climb it, you have to prepare for challenging hiking. Four trails are reaching the summit and several other trails in the lower parts of the mountain. The starting points are easily reachable by car, and by bus in summer. Everything is well-arranged as Mount Fuji is a national park. There are huts, hotels, restaurants, and even some old traditional buildings like shrines and pavilions. Many climbers reach the crater at night, so they can enjoy the rising of the sun from the summit.
Let’s go to the next one- Pinatubo.
Pinatubo, Philippines- the volcano with the strongest eruption in the 20th century
Until 1991, it was just an ordinary mountain, like many other mountains on the northern part of Luzon Island, Philippines. Most of the people didn’t even imagine that it is a sleeping monster, despite some obscured historic evidence about an eruption 500 years before.
It started with a series of earthquakes until people saw smoke from its top. Then, the first eruption broke. It was spectacular, and people thought: “Wow, we have a volcano!”. But only several days later, the second eruption came. And it was not like a show, it was a horrible disaster like hell, an explosion like “the end of the world”. But that was not all, this eruption was combined with a passing typhoon at the same time, in the same area. Only the good job of the scientists and local authorities, organizing thousands of people’s evacuation prevented this disaster from killing tens of thousands of people.
After the eruption, Mount Pinatubo became several hundred meters lower, and gradually went asleep again, and a lake formed in its caldera. Its local inhabitants, the Aeta people back to the mountain, living in the young forests around the crater. It was turned into a natural park, and today it is a subject of tourism.
How to explore Mount Pinatubo
Unlike most of the famous volcanoes, Pinatubo is not a spectacular conical mountain, but an “unclear” mountainous area, as seen from aside. So, the only way to explore it is to join trekking to the caldera and its lake. The whole national park today is declared possession of the Aeta people, at the same time it is located within a local military zone. So, the only way to visit Pinatubo is to join a local tour company which will arrange the trekking and all the logistic details, as well as the necessary permit.
There are two starting points for Pinatubo trekking- Santa Juliana village at the northeast side of the mountain, and the other, alternative point at Botolan. From these points, you travel by 4×4 vehicles to certain spots, from where you proceed on a short hike to the crater lake. And during your journey, you can meet the local Aeta people, the hosts of the mountain.
Now, let’s go to Europe, Italy.
Vesuvius, Italy- the most dangerous volcano in the world
Why “most dangerous”? This volcano is active, but not the most active one. There were regular eruptions in the past, but not all of them were too strong. However, it is the most populated volcanic area in the world. There is a big city- Naples, with its suburbs, as well as many other towns and villages around the volcanic. And if it erupts like in 79 AD…
What happened in 79 AD? One of the strongest and most devastating eruptions in human history, buried the cities of Pompeii, Herculan, Oplontis, and Stabiae, and killed their citizens, with lava, pyroclastic flows, and falling rocks.
Since then, there were a lot of eruptions, which although not as strong as that in 79 AD, still have caused more or less destructions. Today, it is a mountain with a higher peak- the Vesuvius proper, grown on a lower and larger mountain, called Mount Soma. The volcano has been silent for more than 70 years, which is too much, causing fears of coming strong eruption.
How to explore Mount Vesuvius
It is maybe the easiest to access volcano in the world. The best starting point is the city of Naples. From there, you can travel by train, by bus, or by car to various points on and around the mountain. Then, you can follow the local mountain trails to the summit and the caldera of Vesuvius. From there, you can watch the unique volcanic formations around the caldera and on the mountain slopes, as well as stunning views of the Bay of Naples.
Let’s remain in Italy- the most volcanic country in Mainland Europe, and visit another Italian volcano- Etna.
Etna, Italy- the most active volcano in Europe
This is the highest volcano in Europe (Mount Teide on the Canary Islands is a bit higher, but these islands are not a part of Europe physically, only politically), currently reaching 3326 m altitude (it varies, depending on the eruptions). At the same time, this is the most active volcano in Europe, and one of the most active on the Earth, with eruptions, happen once almost every 2-3 years, sometimes lasting for more than a year. Some of them are explosive, while others just create flowing lava streams.
There were no such cataclysmic eruptions like the one that happened on Vesuvius at 79 AD, but there were still disasters causing death and destruction. You can see buildings almost buried in lava, as well as many other traces of lava flows. The summit of the volcano is covered by snow most of the year, unless during an eruption which melts some parts of the snow cover. Today, it is made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
How to explore Mount Etna
The whole mountain is a well-arranged tourist attraction. There are regular buses from Catania to Rifugio Sapienza, from where you can proceed by hiking, or by a cable car to 2500 m altitude (35 EUR per person in two directions). Then you can take a local 4×4 vehicle (49 EUR), or again on foot to Torre del Filosofo (2920 m). From here, you can hire a local guide (25 EUR per person) that will take you safely to the crater, sharing a lot of useful information about the volcano.
However, if you are more adventurous, you can do all of this without a guide, and without any vehicles or cable cars. Just you need to be a well-experienced hiker. There is no permit or other restrictions on Etna. But of course, if there is volcanic activity, the whole area can be closed. And if there is a spectacular eruption, you can watch it from a city or a village below the mountain.
Now- the next one- Mount St. Helens.
St. Helens, USA- the most devastating landslide
This volcano has been known as the “Fuji-san of America”. Quite similar-looking to Mount Fuji, it used to rise spectacularly to 2950 m (9677 ft), until 1980. Then, a terrible eruption with a series of earthquakes destroyed the northern face of the mountain, causing the largest and most devastating landslide in modern history. As a result, the mountain height dropped to 2549 m (8363 ft), and the crater became horseshoe-shaped.
This eruption devastated the nearby settlements and forests. Fortunately, since this area is sparsely populated, only 57 people died, including the volcanologist David Johnson, who died by a pyroclastic flow.
Mount St Helens is a quite active volcano, with a lot of eruptions or other minor activities. The last eruption happened in 2008, and new eruptions are expecting soon. Meanwhile, the changes of the terrain after 1980 created conditions for new glaciers, and the whole area has been changed significantly since then.
How to explore Mount St. Helens
Mount St. Helens is easily reachable by well-paved roads between Seattle and Portland. There are other paved roads to the area from the east too. But have in mind that there are no public buses to Mount St. Helens, so you can reach it only by car.
Once you arrive at the area, you have to obtain a Forest pass (for your vehicle- 5 USD for a daily pass, or 30 USD for an annual pass). Then, you have to pay 5 USD for an entry fee to the park (2,5 USD for children). And if you want to climb the mountain to the summit, you will need to pay another 15 USD Climbing fee per person per day. And have in mind that there can be closures due to volcanic activity, or even signs of it.
Now, let’s go to a totally different place, on the most challenging continent on Earth- Antarctica.
Erebus, Antarctica- the southernmost active volcano on the Earth
Now, this is wild and challenging, since this volcano is located on the wildest continent on Earth. Mount Erebus is a harsh place, covered by an eternal glacier. It is not exactly on the mainland of Antarctica, but on the nearby Ross Island, yet it is still technically a part of the continent. This is the same island, where McMurdo Station is established.
Mount Erebus is one of the few volcanoes with a constant lava lake on its top. Its height is 3794 m (12,448 ft), and it is the second-highest volcano in Antarctica (however, the first one is not active). Although Erebus is active, its activity is much lower than Etna or many other active volcanoes. Its last eruption was in 2001, and it was just a burst of ash. But there are traces of much more serious eruptions in the distant past.
How to explore Mount Erebus
Like everywhere in Antarctica, it is difficult and challenging. Normally, it is possible in summer. You can reach the summit and see the lava lake in the crater. But it requires serious equipment and experience.
So, to explore this volcano, first, you have to arrive at McMurdo Station. From there, you can join a mountaineering expedition to the summit, or try reaching it independently. But first, you have to obtain a permit for this. There are some huts, located in various spots on the route that you can use for spending the night. Finally, you reach the summit and the horrible lake of lava.
The lake of lava of Erebus is horrible, but it is relatively small. If you want to see the largest lava lake on Earth, you have to go to Africa, to Mount Nyiragongo.
Nyiragongo, D.R.Congo- the volcano with the largest lava lake
This volcano looks like the gate of hell, with its horrible lava lake. And the lava of the lake is not thick and slow, it is hotter and more fluid. Nyiragongo is a dangerous active volcano with regular eruptions. But there were not only eruptions. In 1977, the walls of the crater fractured, and the lava lake leaked on the slopes of the mountain with 60 km/h, killing more than 70 people. The lake drained but was quickly filled again.
Mount Nyiragongo is located on the Albertine Rift- a giant crack on the continent of Africa, which can be seen on the map as a chain of mountains and lakes. It is not far from the border of Rwanda, and there is a large city on its foot- Goma. The presence of such a city so close to the volcano makes it one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. And the city was seriously damaged by a lava flow in 2002. Can you climb such a horrible volcano?
How to explore Mount Nyiragongo
Today, Mount Erebus is included in the territory of the Virunga National Park, and since the summit of the volcano is relatively easy to climb, you can spend a long time exploring not only the volcano but also the wonderful natural landscapes and wildlife in the area. Among all of these, you can see the mountain gorillas, the Tongo chimpanzees, and make a trek to the summits of the Rwenzori Mountains.
Your starting point for Nyiragongo is the city of Goma. It is easier to reach from Rwanda than from the other parts of D.R.Congo (from D.R.Congo, you have to take a flight from the capital Kinshasa, unless you make a very adventurous on a land expedition through jungles, rivers, villages, and politically unstable territories). From Goma, you can make a 6 hours hike to the summit and spend the night at the crater, enjoying the eerie night glowing of the lava lake. There are several huts where you can sleep, just have to bring your sleeping bag.
Now, let’s back to the Philippines.
Mayon, Philippines- the most beautiful volcano in the world
Why is it called “the most beautiful volcano in the world”? Because there is no other volcano that fits so well in the “volcano image”, due to its most perfect cone shape on our planet. However, its beauty doesn’t mean that it can’t be deadly. It is the most active volcano in the Philippines, with eruptions happening every few years, and even between them, you can almost constantly see the smoke rising from its crater.
The deadliest recorded eruption of Mayon was in 1814, when it devastated the town of Cagsawa, killing most of its population. This volcano bursts gases, pyroclastic flows, lava flows, and lava bombs during its eruptions that can be seen spectacularly from the nearby modern city of Legazpi. Until now, there was no cataclysmic eruption endangering Legazpi, but the volcano is still under constant surveillance.
How to explore Mount Mayon
Unlike the other volcanoes above, Mount Erebus is very difficult to climb. And after an accident with five tourists, killed by a gas explosion at the summit in 2013, it is restricted for an independent hike. There is an area around the crater, determined as “Danger zone”, forbidden for entering. To enter it anyway, you can do it only with a special permit, usually with a guide, and you must check the current situation before such a hike.
And if you successfully arrange your hike, be ready for a challenging adventure. It is very steep near the summit, and unless you are an athlete, you have to prepare for a 2-days climb. But if you don’t climb it, you can explore Mayon from below. Go to the ruins of Cagsawa, and join an ATV tour (many local companies are offering ATV tours on several trails on the foot of the volcano), and enjoy the magnificent image of the mountain all the time.
Let’s go to the last volcano on our list- Mount Kilauea, in Hawaii.
Kilauea, Hawaii, USA- the constantly erupting volcano
Hawaii Island is one of the most volcanic islands on the Earth, being formed by five volcanoes. The highest one is Mauna Loa, and the others are Mauna Kea, Kohala, Hualalai, and Kilauea. From them, Kilauea is the most spectacular one, presenting the most interesting volcanic features. And the most attractive feature is its constant lava flows.
You can see the rivers of lava flowing in different ways, often changing their intensity. Some of them flow like raging streams, others crawl slowly. They are gradually creating new land. But the most attractive is the “lavafalls” into the ocean, where the lava pours into the water, creating thick clouds of steam on the ocean breaking waves.
But Kilauea is not always such an “innocent attraction”. It can erupt violently, as it happened in history, destroying settlements, killing people, and changing the landscape. It is still an active volcano, and the opportunity to explore it depends on its erupting activity.
How to explore Kilauea
Today, Kilauea is a part of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. You can go there by bus (but there is only one bus) to the entrance of the park, or better by car, from Hilo or Kailua-Kona. At the entrance, you have to pay 5 USD per person, and 10 USD per vehicle.
Once you enter the park, you can visit many attractions inside, such as the Volcano Art Center Gallery, Thurston Lava Tube, Pu’uloa Petroglyph Fields, and many others. But the most attractive place is the Lava Flow zone of Kilauea. This is the area where you can see the lava rivers, and even the lava falls into the ocean. But have in mind that the hike in this area is difficult, on rugged terrain, and requires good equipment and training.
These are the 10 most famous volcanoes in the world. Besides them, among many others, I would mention Cotopaxi, Rainier, Cameroon, Merapi, Kerinci, Taal, Klyuchevskaya Sopka, Teide, Santorini, Popocatepetl, Erta Ale, and the volcanoes of Iceland and New Zealand. Again, some of them are sleeping, while others are currently active monsters. All of them are capable to bring destruction, but at the same time, they can create new foundations. And their scary beauty is always attracting the explorers of the Earth.
Watch recent volcanic eruptions caught on camera!
Take a look at some books about volcanoes:
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