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8 Thrilling Volcano Hikes

There are a number of active volcanoes a traveller can visit — active in the sense of visible activity from steam or magma, not just the technical term applied to those that have erupted in the last 200 years. Here’s a roundup of the best volcano hikes in the world

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1. Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland

Why you should visit: Call this one Fire and Ice. Climb the mountain’s glacier to get a view of half the country and all the way to the sea. You can even ski back down. This makes an intense day trip out of Reykjavik.

When to go: April to September

Difficulty: 4/5 You’re hiking on a glacier, after all.

Things to know: You’ll be signing a waiver with your tour company. The climb up may take up to eight hours and you need to dress appropriately to stay dry and warm. Hiking boots are essential.

(Photo by Iceland-by-Bjarki-Sigursveinsson / Flickr Creative Commons)

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2. Pinatubo, Philippines

Why you should visit: Pinatubo blew its top in 1991, the worst eruption since Krakatoa’s performance in 1883. It is estimated that global temperatures dropped 0.5 degree Celsius after the ash cloud hit the stratosphere. Things are quiet at the moment, but the reward for your climb is a lovely green-blue crater lake-that didn’t exist 20 years ago-and some nice temperatures. Visit the hot springs as well as the Capas National Shrine, a memorial to victims of World War II.

When to go: January is when the temperatures are the coolest and the waters are at their best colours.

Difficulty: 2/5 You’ll go part of the way in a 4×4 and hike a moderate incline for a couple hours.

Things to know: Pack a bathing suit but the water can be chilly. Sturdy shoes are still a good idea due to the rocky terrain. There is a trail fee and toll for the 4×4 route, which is, however, often included in a package tour.

(Photo by Ed Januska / Flickr Creative Commons)

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3. Pacaya, Guatemala

Why you should visit: This is a 3-for-1 deal. You climb one active volcano and see a second one nearby, and a third that’s become a crater lake. Located right above the UNESCO World Heritage city of Antigua, the half-day Pacaya climb is a must-do activity. You aren’t allowed all the way to the top, but some travellers have roasted marshmallows over magma at the turnaround point.

When to go: November to January. Mornings offer the best visibility. Be aware that extreme volcanic activity may close Pacaya to hiking.

Difficulty: 3/5 Strenuous hiking, strong winds

Things to know: Proper footwear; be aware this means thick-soled. Thick enough that you have time to react should you step on something hot enough to melt it. If you go for the sunset, be sure you have a flashlight for the hike back down. Dress warm and expect cold winds. Use a guided tour as they will provide tourist police. Robberies used to happen before this practice became customary.

(Photo by Greg Willis / Flickr Creative Commons)

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4. Agung

Why you should visit: Agung has a magical nature about it and that’s not just flowery writing – the locals believe it is a spiritual place and they host ceremonies here from time to time. The hike itself starts at a very important Balinese temple: Besakih. Then it’s a tough climb up with frequent monkey sightings. The payoff is a Balinese sunrise from the top of the world.

When to go: April to October, the dry season

Difficulty: 5/5 Dark + steep incline + monkeys = a real challenge

Things to know: Take a guide, which you can hire at Besakih. You can hike it independently but trails are hard to follow. Pack a headlamp and warm clothes. Be prepared for very rough ankle-fighting terrain. Pack water and beware the snack-greedy monkeys!

(Photo by Sam Sherratt / Flickr Creative Commons)

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5. Cotopaxi, Ecuador

Why you should visit: This is the second-highest peak in Ecuador and visible all the way to Quito. Majestic and snow-covered, it’s a beauty for the photo album. With a violent past in the 18th and 19th centuries, Cotopaxi is now mostly just a plume of steam as it melts a bit of its glacier covering. Tours take climbers up to 4600 metres by 4×4 to the border of the national park for a 200-metre climb (measured vertically, not hiking distance) to a mountain hut. Stay the night and set out for the 5800-metre summit. If this climb isn’t enough adventure for you, sign on with a company that lets you mountain bike down from the hut.

When to go: December to April when the weather is a bit calmer

Difficulty: 5/5 This climb has an alpine F/PD grade, in other words easy to fair for mountain climbers. Others should view this volcano from a ranchero homestay in the highlands while sipping café con leche over breakfast.

Things to know: Pack for an alpine experience. There will be ice. Definitely use a guide service.

(Photo by Hosteria San Mateo / Flickr Creative Commons)

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6. Mount Etna, Sicily

Why you should visit: Etna is one of the world’s most active volcanoes and the largest in Europe. She soars into the sky often with a halo of mist and steam, and offers views to the sea and of Calabria on the mainland. The typical tour includes a funicular (cable car) ride just over halfway up, then some driving, and finally a hike to the very top where you can peer down into the steamy crater. Not into the climbing? Ride the local train that passes around its base. Or just walk around a bit at the end point of the 4×4 drive where most hikes start from. The views are still stellar there.

When to go: Keep up to date on Etna’s activity which can shut down hiking from time to time.

Difficulty: 3/5 Strenuous hiking with some strong winds.

Things to know: Pack warms clothes, sturdy footwear, water, and sun and wind protection. Altitude sickness can happen for some travellers. There are a number of trails that can be hiked independently.

(Photo by Hermes / Flickr Creative Commons)

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7. Poas, Costa Rica

Why you should visit: With three craters-one of which spans over a kilometre and is filled with bright, aquamarine water nearly 330 metres deep-Poas National Park is one of the most popular of Costa Rica’s parks. Three clearly marked trails include treks through the cloud forest and a paved wheelchair-accessible path to the crater overlook. Like in much of the rest of Costa Rica, the plant and animal life, especially birds, is quite rich.

When to go: The optimal time to visit is during the dry season from January to April. It’s also best to hike in the morning before the clouds form.

Difficulty: 1/5 Some of the trail is even paved. Other portions can be more challenging, but nothing too demanding.

Things to know: The park is open from 8 am to 3:30 pm and charges an entrance fee of $10 USD.

(Photo by Philippe Guillaume / Flickr Creative Commons)

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8. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Why you should visit: This UNESCO World Hertiage Site is a volcano lover’s Big Kahuna. Located on the Big Island, this national park is often has a number of craters to see, as the name suggests. But it is the potent Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, that holds the spotlight. The park has 150 miles of trails between two active volcanoes. The terrain includes craters, of course, but also rain forest and actual oozing magma rising up out of the earth abundantly and on a daily basis. See what happens when molten lava hits the sea.

When to go: Any time of year is good, but check with the park to be aware of areas closed due to volcanic activity.

Difficulty: 1/5 Much of it can be seen by simple strolls or even driving.

Things to know: Pack sunscreen of course and be very alert of park warnings, signage and where you put a foot down.

(Photo by Ken Lund / Flickr Creative Commons)