Top Volcanoes

Chris’ personal picks from places in the world that he has visited.

Volcan Santa Ana, El Salvador: Known as ‘The Mother Volcano’, this is the largest and highest volcano in El Salvador. I recently hiked the remote trail to the summit through jungle, scrub and finally lava fields to the crater edge. Here, amidst smoke and clouds, the outward views are secondary to the inward vista. Sheer thousand foot cliffs plunge to a deep green, fuming sulphur lake.

Arenal, Costa Rica: From 1968 to 2010, Arenal was Costa Rica’s most active volcano, producing a spectacular show of lava, explosions and smoke. Now it appears to have entered a quiet phase, but this impressive cone still provides an exotic backdrop to the steaming hot springs of Tabacon in the lush forests beneath its slopes.

Vesuvius, Italy: Perhaps the most famous volcano in the world, this is also one of the most dangerous due to the proximity of millions of people. Naples is just 9kms away and a new eruptive cycle is overdue. Two of the greatest ancient world sites are here: Pompeii and Herculaneum are preserved Roman towns buried in an AD 79 eruption

Hekla, Iceland: After the headline news of plane-stopping eruptions in Iceland from a few years ago, everyone knows that Iceland has volcanoes. But that one was just a tiddler compared to Hekla. I visited Hekla on a long hike – it’s a long ridge rather than a mountain, but when it blows (as it has 20 times in historic times) it really let’s go and the rest of the world knows about it!

Ruapehu, NZ: North Island’s highest mountain and one its most active volcanoes. The beauty of its often snow covered summit belies it dangerous nature: it releases volcanic mudflows called lahars which can hurtle down its flanks and once took out a passenger train and all aboard. But for now, it slumbers peacefully.

Kenya Rift Valley/Kilimanjaro: My highest summit to date at just under twenty thousand feet. It took me four days to trek to Uhuru Peak, the highest point on the huge crater wall…but what a sight! I reached the summit an hour before dawn and watched a new day spread over the face of Africa below. The first sunlight glanced off glaciers - Kilimanjaro is right at the Equator!

Cotopaxi, Ecuador: One of the world’s classic volcano images and the highest recently active volcano in the world. At 19,347 feet, this imposing summit rises from the highland plain in glorious isolation from Equador’s other peaks. My first sight was from Quito, the capital city, and as I approached more closely I could understand why it was called “Neck of the Moon” by the Incas.

Teidi, Tenerife: The highest mountain in Spain and the third largest volcanic structure on the planet, this mountain forms the core of the Canary Island of Tenerife off the northwest coast of Africa. It rises over 23,000 feet from the floor of the Atlantic and its summit is a weird moonscape of volcanic debris. It’s a new UNESCO World Heritage site.

São Miguel, Azores: The reason that the islands of the Azores are here in the middle of the Atlantic is that this is where three of the Earth’s tectonic plates come together in a jumble of volcanoes, caldera, rifts and crater lakes. It’s a fertile yet rugged wonderland of jagged peaks and coastal dramas that is one of the most scenic places I have ever experienced.

Nevado de Colima, Mexico: Another of my volcano climbs, this was a solo effort that began before dawn and ended after dusk. The reward for the snowy scrabble to the summit is a view over the Pacific Ocean to the west and mountains and plains of Central Mexico to the east. And in the foreground, with smoke constantly rising from its crater, is the very active sister peak: Volcan de Colima.