A good hike is enough to get most adventurous travelers out of bed. However, a brisk commune with nature just isn’t disco enough for some. Thankfully, for those brave — er, crazy — souls, the world offers plenty of active and semi-active volcanoes to hike. Here are five of the most beautiful and dangerous on earth.
The Democratic Republic of Congo
For as long as the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo can remember, the country has been ravaged by war and violent rebellion. To say they’re a “hardened” people is an understatement. However, they’ll be the first to tell you that Mount Nyiragongo scares the hell out of them. So-called “General Nyiragongo” is situated in Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga. The 11,382-foot mountain is often called “the most dangerous volcano in the world,” and is home to the world’s largest lava lake which flows all too freely and unpredictably. The lava here is unusually fluid, capable of flowing like water at speeds up to 60 miles per hour. As recently as 2002, a massive lava flow streamed off the side of the volcano, coating the city of Goma below in a thick layer of ash and rock.
The raw power of Mount Rinjani — Indonesia’s second highest volcano — attracts hundreds of hikers each day. Many are inexplicably drawn to its combination of beauty, danger, and challenge to hike. While it lacks the ongoing eruption activity of the country’s more active volcanoes like Semeru, the nearby Mount Barujari erupted violently in 2016, forcing an evacuation of almost 1,000 hikers. For those who do reach the summit, the views are breathtaking. The pitch black volcanic soil at the top gives way to a lush, rolling valley of stunning greens and purples. At the bottom of the crater lies Lake Segara Anak, an equally beautiful, almost neon, turquoise lake.
Mount Stromboli isn’t the highest or most technically difficult volcano on this list, but it is one of the most active and, therefore, deceptively dangerous. The summit climb requires approximately six hours, including three hours to the top, an hour or so of Instagramming the crater, and another 90 minutes back down. From the peak, hikers can appreciate the volcano’s near-constant explosive activity which occurs almost every half-hour. Most guided treks — obligatory above 400 meters — leave late in the day so visitors can summit around dusk when the volcano’s roman-candle-esque explosions are most visible.
Situated on the edge of La Fortuna, Costa Rica’s Arenal volcano is the country’s most famous, but least-active active volcano. It last erupted in 1968. But, when it did, it was brutal and unexpected, leveling the tiny town of Tabacón without warning. That Arenal is set within a beautiful national park of the same name adds to its tourism draw. The surrounding park is a worthy destination in its own right for hikers and nature-lovers who can readily spot rare birds, tropical butterflies, and all manner of rainforest critter. Those looking to summit the volcano proper would do well to opt for a full tour that covers the area’s famed hot springs, numerous waterfalls, and the scarred landscape of the last eruption.
There is beauty in symmetry. Mayon Volcano in the Philippines is often considered the world’s most symmetrical, perfectly formed, and therefore beautiful, stratovolcano. But, just beneath its perfectly formed crust lies the ever-present danger of mudslides, ash falls, “pyroclastic flows” (as scary as they sound), and ultimately eruption. It is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. A 2013 incident took the lives of five hikers without warning, even though the volcano showed no signs of activity the day before.
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