There’s no greater sense of accomplishment than finishing a tough hike. Burning thighs, beautiful views and a long way down all add to the buzz when you can finally take it all in. Now, imagine all that set to a backdrop of smoking volcanoes, lava fields and dramatic peaks. Next time you’re thinking of planning a hike, let our editor’s picks of dramatic volcano hikes help create a memorable trip.
Guatemala - Popayán, Acatenango and Fuego
Located in the land of volcanoes, this mighty trio makes for a worthwhile hiking trip. Start your adventure in the beautiful, ancient city of Antigua, Guatemala and spend the first few days acclimatising to the altitude with a saunter up your first volcano: Popayan. The least challenging of the three, Popayan can easily be completed in a day and due to it’s manageable slope, is a great option for those with or recovering from injury. Bring a bag of marshmallows with you to make s’mores over one of the steaming mini craters for a memorable picnic along the way.
For a tougher challenge, the Acatenango summit should be your goal. Best completed over two days (although it can be accomplished in one very long day), the first two hours of the climb will see you scrambling up sheer, loose gravel so a solid pair of boots and walking sticks are a must. After around 5 hours, you can make base camp at a plateau offering front-row seats to the spectacular neighbouring Fuego volcano. As the name implies, this peak isn’t the silent type, so don’t expect to get too much sleep - you’ll be peering out of your tent all night watching the regular lava fireworks on show right next door. Wake up early to climb the last hour or so to the summit and catch the sunset above the clouds before scrambling and sliding all the way back down to picture-perfect Antigua. If you’re not completely worn out, there’s a route down from Acatenagua that allows you to pass onto Fuego for an unforgettable hike on an active volcano. Watch out for falling rocks and the thunderous rumbles of an eruption - as with all volcano hikes, a local guide is always advised.
Sicily - Etna
Europe may not be famous for its volcanoes but that doesn’t mean there’s no fun to be had. Hiding in plain sight is Sicily’s Etna volcano - the biggest in Europe and a gentle giant (for the most part). With regular eruptions, it’s not considered to be at high-risk and so makes for a variety of excellent hikes. Split roughly into a north and south side thanks to the two snaking roads leading up to it, visit the northern craters for a quieter experience away from the more crowded parks on the south side. Hire a local guide to drive you past the snow line in an off-road vehicle and then set off on foot on one of the many rocky trails.
Where the road cuts into the snow, you can often see up to 20 layers of volcanic soil and rock, segmenting each eruption and preserving it for the budding geologist. Etna can easily be scaled in half a day, making it an accessible peak and a must-visit as part of a bigger trip to Italy. Bring a scarf to cover your face if the wind changes, the intense sulphur belches from the volcano can make it impossible to breathe. Once at the top of the main crater, take in the view of the Mediterranean Sea and, on a clear day, the Calabrian coast of the mainland. Don’t forget to bring home a volcanic pumice stone as a souvenir for your bathroom, with millions of different shapes and sizes lining the sides of the mountain, you’ll have plenty to choose from. After a long day, relax in one of the mountain towns (we recommend Linguaglossa - literally translated to ‘bright tongue’) to watch any lava trails snake down towards you with a drink in hand.
Mexico - Itza-Popo
Only an hour and half from Mexico City, the Itza-Popo national park provides a welcome respite from the smog-choked city. Drive out to the town of Amecameca to pick up supplies for the day and then hail a taxi to drive you up the winding mountain roads (we recommend starting your trek from the small settlement of La Jolla to avoid doubling back on yourself later). Starting at an altitude of just over 11,000ft and climbing to 13,000ft, taking plenty of breaks is a must - although with all the stunning, wild scenery (think long grass, trees and cacti rather than barren rock), we can’t imagine this will be a problem.
Once you’ve started the 6.2 mile hike to Paso de Cortez, prepare yourself for views flanking two of the biggest volcanoes in Mexico: Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl (we can see why they shortened them to Itza-Popo). Don’t be surprised to see Popo erupting as you walk through the valley between the two giants, although be sure to make the journey as early in the morning as you can for the best visibility. Mexico City is no stranger to smog and poor visibility and unfortunately the same is true for this volcanic park. At this altitude, layers are essential so be sure to overpack as there’s little in the way of amenities once you’re on the road.
Indonesia - Mount Bromo
Undeniably one of Indonesia’s smallest volcanoes, Mount Bromo is certainly one of the most picturesque. Covered in lush, green vegetation, this diminutive peak makes for a gentle yet beautiful climb. Situated in the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, Bromo is a very active volcano and you’ll need to monitor it’s activity to ensure it’s safe before any attempt is made to climb. Start your adventure by taking a horse ride through the Ash desert to reach the park and begin the 2,300 metre climb.
The ascent should only take a couple of hours, so it’s easy to time for sunrise or sunset should you wish to make the most of the impressive views. Although short, the route can be treacherous so a local guide is a must to ensure a safe visit. If you plan your trip during August, make sure to coincide with the charming Kasada festival. Locals pay tribute to the ancient mountain gods by offering up sacrifices of chickens, money and valuable objects in the sacred crater.