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Exploring Volcanoes - a brief introduction

So how dangerous can it be then!?

So exploring volcanoes has got be pretty dangerous, right? In fact, you'd have to mad to do it, right?


Like anything adventurous, exploring volcanoes has the potential to be extremely serious. Accidents do happen, and sadly, on rare occassions, fatalities do occur. But with care, and the correct guidance, visiting volcanoes is exciting, challenging, fascinating, fun and reasonably safe. And moreover, a volcano doesn't have to be active to be interesting – although I must confess, from a personal standpoint, it does add that little "something".

Choosing your volcano:

The first step is to do a bit of research, and to work out where you want to go! When you start looking, you'll be amazed at the number of worthwhile volcanoes there are dotted around the world. You'll need to consider several important factors:


How easy/hard is it to get to the volcano. Are there any language barriers?


What is the nature of the volcano. Are you likely to see an eruption? Are you bothered either way? Is it safe to visit when it is active? And what is there to see in times of repose?

Physical demands:

How difficult is the terrain once you get there? Are you, and your mountain-craft up to it?


In many of the more remote places, a reliable guide is a wise precaution.


Many volcanic areas have legal restrictions on visitor access, and you can only visit with an official guide. Self-guide to the summit of Stromboli and you could find youself with a hefty fine to pay – or worse!


Some places are wickedly expensive to visit, many have hidden costs, others are surprisingly affordable.

The following reources are excellent places to start your research:

Start watching early:

Many of the more popular volcanoes have a wealth of up-to-date information available over the web. Dig around, and you’ll find webcams, real-time seismology, activity reports, and much more. You’ll start to get the feel for the place you’re visiting, you'll almost certain get hooked and, more to the point, it's fun!

Our individual pages on the volcanoes we have visited contain links to the volcano webcams and other resources we have found.

Get a guide:

For the newcomer to visiting volcanoes, I would strongly advise getting a guide. Organisations such as can offer you either "off-the-peg" tours from their varied itinerary, or if you contact them, they can usually arrange a local guide for you if you’re visiting a volcano independently. Many of the "touristic" volcanoes have organisations ready and waiting to guide you around. If you’re hiring an independant guide, make sure you know what you’re going to get before you book. We once spent time in Sicily being guided to an old chestnut tree. It was a very nice (and old) chestnut tree, but not half as interesting as the big flank eruption that was kicking off at the time!! You may also find that the "personal " tour is exactly the same as the regular tourist trip – but you carry the can for the whole cost yourself!

That said, on the whole our experience of guides has been excellent – and sometimes they are the only safe and/or legal way to get sight of the action.

Once you’ve got your guide, make the most of them. Ask them questions, find out what the risks are, and work out if you’re happy on the terrain self-guided.

Be prepared:

Many volcanoes are in harsh climatic regions. Etna, for example, is over 3000m high, and as with any mountain, the weather can change quickly and dramatically. More people are caught out by weather in such regions as they are by volcanic activity! As well as clothing and equipment appropriate for the terrain and altitude, an industrial respirator is a lightweight and valuable addition to your kit. The proper "chemical" respirators are remarkably affective against inhalation of unpleasant sulphorous fumes - the simple paper masks are completely ineffective.

Best time to visit:

It would be very easy to simply state that the best time to visit is when there’s an eruption, but that would be a little short-sighted. The time of year plays a big part in the accessibility of many mountainous regions, and you should do your research before you book your flights.

Once you have found your perfect, erupting, volcano, it is almost without doubt that it will be at its most photogenic at either dawn, or dusk. Sadly, this may be incompatible with your guide’s working hours, so you may be on your own!