Hot pools of mud bubble beside my feet and voluminous clouds of steam bellow from the earth’s fissures as I take a deep breath, inhaling a pungent sulfur aroma. My boots crunch the sharp jumble of pitch-black rocks as I hike through this stark, lava-filled landscape and past a brilliant turquoise lake, quite inviting but for its scalding temperatures.
Sound a bit apocalyptic?Hardly. My lakefront hotel awaits nearby, with prime bird-watching and curious natural rock sculptures. Welcome to the volcano-shaped landscape of Iceland’s Myvatn area, near Krafla volcano.
What’s the appeal of a volcanic vacation?Start with the unique opportunity to bear witness to the power of the earth’s core: molten rocks glowing on parched earth, hissing gases loudly escaping from rocky cracks, and eye-watering odors assaulting your nose—all as heat radiates through your boot soles. Yet these hostile environs also make the perfect playground for cyclists, walkers, hikers, and horseback riders, as well as those looking for a natural hot spring or helicopter adventure.
What that adventure is, though, depends on the volcano. The more active ones—like Costa Rica’s Mt. Arenal and Italy’s Stromboli—are all fire and brimstone, spewing smoke, ash, boulders, and lava. And Volcano Villarrica, in Chile, provides enough of an adrenalin rush to satisfy die-hard thrill seekers who hike her snowy upper slopes, often using crampons to reach the smoking crater.
Others hot spots, like Furnas, in the Azores, have been tame for centuries and let you prowl along their surfaces. And New Zealand’s Mt. Ruapehu is deceptively tranquil—chair lifts run to a slopeside café with great views, making it perfect for the less testosterone-driven traveler.
Of course, an ever-present hint of danger adds to the rush of a volcanic vacation. Americans need not look farther than Washington State’s Mount St. Helens, which blew its stack in 1980 after 152 years of calm. And even Hawaii’s Kilauea, which has been churning out lava since 1983, is seeing new activity near a popular crater. Always check with local park services or tourist boards to see what volcanic activity they might expect and what areas are off-limits.
But don’t let fear deter you. Check out our list of the best volcanic vacations and get ready to tap into the earth’s pulse.