10 of the most photogenic volcanoes from Fuji to Etna

Story highlights

Kilauea is the world's most active volcano, erupting continuously since 1983

Kawah Ijen's pristine turquoise lake is composed of sulfuric acid

The peaks of the volcanic Virunga Mountain chain are often shrouded by strange formations called "cloud caps."

CNN  — 

It’s no surprise that dangerous destinations are also often the most photogenic. And that includes volcanoes.

No volcano should be tackled lightly – these are mountains, after all, and if active they can give climbers tougher challenges than a bit of altitude sickness or fatigue.

Those who prepare correctly and find a good spot, however, will be rewarded with some fantastic vistas. Here are 10 of the most photogenic volcanoes around the world:

1. Kilauea, Hawaii, United States

Forget sun-swept beaches, surfers and grass skirts, Hawaii is home to one of the most spectacular light shows on the planet. Located in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the southern coast of Big Island, Kilauea is the world’s most active volcano.

Standing proud at 4,200 feet (1,280 meters), it’s been erupting continuously since 1983. Adventure seekers may wish to hike over hardened lava fields to witness its power as lava hisses steaming into the sea.

“I’ve been a tour guide all over the world and there is nothing else quite like Kilauea,” says Eric Leifer, a National Geographic explorer who also guides for KapohoKine Adventures.

“Once you stand on the edge of creation staring into that glowing caldera, a few things become quite clear: that we are small, life is short, and this world is beautiful.”

Last major eruption: 1983

Best photo op: “A dramatic plume of gas and ash wafting out of the crater during the day,” says Jessica Ferracane, public affairs specialist at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

“After dark, the lava lake reflects its fiery colors onto the plume and into the night sky, creating an amazing glow show.”

If you go: Check out the many hikes and volcano viewing points available, no matter what your fitness level.

2. Kawah Ijen, East Java, Indonesia

A pristine turquoise lake crowns the crater of this spectacular 9,100-foot mountain in East Java. But while the tropical color of the water may look inviting, it contains sulfuric acid. Though Kawah Ijen is not currently erupting, its restlessness can be sensed from underfoot as steam hisses from unseen vents in the crater surface.

The volcano is also famous for “blue fire,” as the sulfur gas burns with an otherworldly hue at night. Liquid sulfur also cools into bright yellow blocks that local miners laboriously cart away to sell in nearby villages.

Those planning to go at night should carry a flashlight – when there’s a skin eating lake in the mix, it’s best to watch your step.

Last major eruption: 1817

Best photo op: The electric blue sulfur – if you’re lucky. Something this unusual doesn’t happen every day.

If you go: Start your trek in the town of Banyuwangi and consider hiring a local guide.

3. Villarrica, Chile

Villarrica is one of the few permanently active volcanoes in the world.

What could be more photogenic than a lake bubbling with fiery hot lava? At 9,300 feet, Villarrica is one of the few permanently active volcanoes in the world. The lively lava lake in its crater is one of the southern Andes’ hottest tourist attractions.

“The great thing about climbing Villarica is that it’s accessible to most people of average fitness,” says Steve Moore, adventurer and travel blogger on The Twenty First Century Nomad. “The views from the top on a clear day are what really makes it special. And you get to slide down on your bum, too.”

Add to Villarrica the pristine mountain lake and quaint little village of the same name at the mountain’s base and you have yourself one heck of a camera-ready volcano.

Last major eruption: 2008

Best photo op: Your friends sliding down the snow chutes on their backsides. “You flow down the mountainside using your ice pick as a brake,” says Olga Reimgen, co-founder of Epiclist.

“Some folks take it even bigger and carry their skis or snowboards to the top.”

If you go: Many tour outfitters offer guided day trips to the summit at very reasonable rates.

4. Fuji, Japan

The sacred form of Mount Fuji has been enchanting humankind for more than 2,000 years – in fact, it’s Japan’s number one tourist attraction and the mountain’s iconic image can be found plastered on everything from T-shirts to coffee mugs.

More than 200,000 people climb this cherished 12,300-foot national symbol every year. Because it’s so well traversed it’s well stocked for the tired trekker. Ten stations mark the rocky trail up the side of the mountain, allowing hikers to fuel up on Japanese staples like noodles and sake.

There are even no-frills mountain huts where the weary can crash for around 5,000 yen ($47), but things can get crowded very fast.

Last major eruption: 1707

Best photo op: Sunrise through the traditional Japanese Torii Gate at Fuji’s summit.

If you go: July and August are official climbing season. Most people begin the hike at night to reach the summit before sunrise.

Bring a headlamp and dress in layers if you want to make it to the top – it can get very cold, even in summer.

5. Virunga Mountains, East Africa

No, it’s not a UFO.

Those strange clouds that hover over the eight peaks of the volcanic Virunga Mountain chain on the boundaries of Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo are called “cloud caps,” and give these mountains a strange, otherworldly aura.

“The cloud formations form around the top of the Virungas when wind is forced upwards after coming into contact with the mountain,” says Praveen Moman, co-founder of Volcanoes Safaris and an Africa travel expert. “The air cools until it reaches the dew point, which forms droplets visible as the cloud formations.”

Last major eruption: Mount Nyamuragira in the Virunga Mountain Chain erupted in 2011.

Best photo op: The elusive endangered mountain gorillas that call these mountain slopes home.

If you go: It’s not inexpensive to get to this part of the world, but if you do, trekking through the dense jungle surrounded by primates will leave you feeling like gorilla expert Dian Fossey.

6. Licancabur, Bolivia

The turquoise lake sitting at the bottom of the 19,400-foot Licancabur Volcano looks like it belongs in another world. This part of Bolivia straddles the border with Chile and is home to one of the largest salt flats in South America.

The dusty terrain looks more like a moonscape than any place on Earth, and the brilliant-hued and aptly named Laguna Verde glows like a mirage in the arid heat.

According to Jacquie Whitt, co-founder of Adios Adventure Travel, the best way to reach Licancabur is by jeep. The trek starts at the Uyuni Salt Flats and passes bubbling mud pits and lagoons full of flamingos – both vying with the volcano for the title of “most photogenic.”

Last major eruption: Approximately 10,000 years ago.

Best photo op: In front of Laguna Verde with the conical Licancabur Volcano reflecting majestically on the glassy, aquamarine surface.

If you go: When booking a jeep trek, be aware that most operators combine groups to save costs. If you don’t want a shared tour with strangers, book a private tour and take your own guide.

7. Mount Etna, Italy

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Volcano in Italy erupts in fiery display
00:51 - Source: CNN

A 2013 addition to UNESCO’s World Heritage list, Etna is the second most active volcano in the world and the highest one in Europe. Looming above the picturesque town of Catania on the island of Sicily, Etna poses for curious tourists and also makes for an easy climb.

Italian scientist Luigi Vigliotti, a researcher at the Institute of Marine Sciences (ISMAR) in Bologna explains that although Etna erupts on a frequent basis, the eruptions are not characterized by explosive activity, making Etna a relatively safe volcano to scale.

Last major eruption: 2011

Best photo op: The ancient villages dotting the flank of the volcano, where hardy Italians have lived in the mountain’s shadow since historical times.

If you go: Why not gorge on pasta before setting out to climb the mountain? You’re in Italy after all, and you’ll need your strength for the ascent.

8. Arenal, Costa Rica

Arenal looks pretty good for being 7,000 years old. As the most active volcano in Central America and one of the 10 most active volcanoes in the world, Arenal is known for its continuous flows of lava and hot gas, and for containing some of the youngest rocks on the face of the Earth.

Ronald Calvo, geomorphologist, trip designer and tour leader for DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co., says the area surrounding Arenal is also a natural adventure park.

“Travelers can enjoy magnificent views of the cone shaped volcano while biking though the breathtaking landscape, zip lining over the forest’s canopy and paddling in Lake Arenal,” he says.

This area is also filled with wildlife; so expect to spot parrots, howler monkeys and deer as you make your way through this 29,692-acre national park.

Last major eruption: 1968

Best photo op: Arenal strikes a pretty magnificent pose as it is, but consider yourself lucky if you manage to capture a selfie with one of the hairy locals.

If you go: Rainy season is from May to January.

9. Mayon, Philippines

The last major eruption of Mount Mayon was in 1814.

On the Philippine island of Luzon, 206 miles (332 kilometers) southeast of Manila, stands one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Mount Mayon towers over the city of Legaspi, its imposing shadow a constant reminder of Mother Nature’s power.

Since 1616 this impressive stratovolcano has erupted 47 times, with many of the explosive blasts causing deadly mudflows and ash falls. In 2013, five climbers died when they were hit by falling rocks thrown up by a particularly violent blast.

Steeped in mythology, the mountain is named after the uncle of a mythical princess who was renowned for her beauty, according to local legend. The princess defied her uncle by running away with her lover and the mountain’s rumblings are said to be the wrath of this jealous and violent relative.

Last major eruption: 1814

Best photo op: Anywhere. This volcano is known for it’s perfect conical shape.

If you go: While Legaspi City may not offer a plethora of sightseeing activities, it does have a handful of hotels and amenities and is the best base for exploring this famous volcano.

10. Cotopaxi, Ecuador

Cotopaxi may be difficult to pronounce, but according to Jacquie Whitt, co-founder of Adios Adventure Travel, it’s not that difficult to climb.

“No experience is needed, but you must hire a licensed guide and rent crampons, an ice axe and harness if you want to summit,” she says.

Surprisingly, considering the significant elevation, it’s possible to reach the top of this particular portion of the Andes in just one day. For the less adventure minded, Chilcabamba Eco Lodge’s panoramic windows offer stunning views of Cotopaxi’s archetypal cone shape.

Rising to a stately 19,347 feet, this impressive mountain is a poster child for the natural beauty of Ecuador.

Last major eruption: 1904

Best photo op: The icy blue tones of the mountain’s glacier juxtaposed with the dramatic red earth beneath.

If you go: Keep in mind that as of 2012 all peaks in Ecuador over 16,000 feet must be climbed with a licensed guide.

Leslie Patrick is a travel writer who has written about everything from North Korean defectors to five star hotels. Her adventures have spanned 35 countries thus far and she blogs at Chic Adventurer.