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Volcanoes are one of those magnificent features of the mighty and active planet Earth. The word 'volcano' comes from one of the Gods of Fire in Roman Mythology, whose name was 'Vulcan'. A volcano is an opening, or rupture, in a planet's surface or crust, which allows hot magma, volcanic ash and gases to escape from below the surface. There are many forms or types of volcanoes, the most notable one being the stratovolcano, which often has a perfect cone. Others include shield volcanoes and the supervolcanoes, which are not really visible as such, but could cause massive damage on a continental scale with global climate change as a result. There are just several of those, like Yellowstone in the USA, Lake Taupo in New Zealand and Lake Toba on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
Along with earthquakes, subsequent tsunamis, tornadoes and hurricanes/typhoons/cyclones, volcanic eruptions are one of the most deadly forces of power on our planet. And although somehow better to predict than an earthquake, they still leave a trace of destruction along its path. Some volcanoes only erupt once every decade or in some case once every century; others erupt at least once a year, although some eruptions are not more than a gentle lava flow down the slopes of the mountain.
Some of the volcanoes below are also mentioned in the famous mountains article, but many more are included here because of their special attention they still somehow deserve. Let's not forget that many people also live of these volcanoes, because of the fertile soil which they bring. Thousands of people live on or beneath the slopes of the volcano and most people will never get hurt because of that same location of their house. Instead, some volcanoes are threated with mighty respect and gratefulness for life.
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Mount Nyiragongo is an active stratovolcano, located in the Virunga Mountains, just within the borders of the Virunga National Park of the Democratic Republic of Congo, famous for its population of mountain gorillas. It's just about 20 kilometres north of Lake Kivu and the populous city of Goma and therefore is one of the 16 potential deadliest volcanoes in the world, which are on the Decade Volcano List(see below). The top of the volcano lies at 3,470 metres above sea level and the main crater is about 2 kilometres wide. The crater lake is one of the most voluminous in the world and before the major eruption of 1977 the depth was around 600 metres, although it's considerably less now. The volcano has another major eruption in 2002 (lava flowed down to the Goma airport and even into Rwanda!) and again has been active continuously since 2010, but this activity is limited to the crater area. It's a popular daytrip for hikers and can even be undertaken from nearby Rwanda.
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Mount Bromo is probably one of the best known mountains/volcanoes in Indonesia among travellers. It is an active volcano in the Tengger Massif in the east of the island of Java. It's not the highest mountain in the chain, but at 2,329 metres it's one of the most famous and easiest to excess. It's a very popular hike and although usually without problems, it is not entirely safe. The usual way to visit Mount Bromo is from the nearby mountain village of Cemoro Lawang. From there it is possible to walk to the volcano in about 45 minutes, but it is also possible to take an organized jeep tour, which includes a stop at the viewpoint on Mount Penanjakan at 2,770 metres (this mountain can be reached on foot in about 2 hours if you fancy walking). The best views from Mount Bromo to the sandy areas below and the surrounding volcanoes are at sunrise.
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Although the last eruption has been more than 300 years ago, Mount Fuji is one of the best known volcanoes in Japan and is located west of the capital Tokyo. Mount Fuji has an exceptionally symmetrical cone which is a recognisable symbol of this East Asian country. Over 200,000 people climb the mountain yearly and most of them climb in the 1 July - 27 August season when huts and most other facilities in and around the mountain and nearby villages are open. It is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and although it hasn't erupted for about 300 years, it is indeed an active stratovolcano. It also is surrounded by five lakes, among which are Lake Kawaguchi, Lake Yamanaka and Lake Motosu. From these lakes and Lake Ashi (which is a little further away) people who do not want to climb the mountain can have excellent views of the mountain when the weather is clear. In winter, the summit is covered in snow.
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Mount Merapi is an active stratovolcano and currently the most active one in Indonesia, erupting regularly for since almost 500 years, most lately in 2010. It's one of the 16 potentially deadliest volcanoes in the world because of its large populations living on or near the mountain slopes. It's just 30 kilometres from the city of Yogyakarta but people are living up to 1,700 metres high on the slopes of the volcano, with the total hight just under 3,000 metres.
Although not particularly of interest for travellers (unlike for example Mount Bromo), Mount Merapi sure makes for a great sight and wandering around the villages below the mountain is a nice way of spending an afternoon (if possible!). On top of that, in 2004 an area of 6,410 hectares around Mount Merapi was established as a national park, ironically leading to the fact that fewer people were ready to leave their homes during the 2006 eruption because they were afraid the area would be incorporated into that national park. The Merapi Museum Center in Yogyakarta is of interest, with a replica of Merapi's Post 2010 Eruption.
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Soufriere Hills is an active volcano on the island of Montserrat, located in the central Caribbean. Soufriere means sulphur in French and many volcanoes on other islands in the region (e.g. Guadeloupe, Martinique and Saint Lucia) have names like this as well. The volcano on Montserrat is the most active one during recent years and probably the most famous as well.
In 1995, the volcano became active again after a long period of dormancy. It has since been active up until now although the main eruptions and resulting pyroclastic flows occurred during the second-half of the 1990s. The southern part of the island was abandoned during this period, including the former capital Plymouth. From then it was a relatively period of rest until 2008, when a devastating eruption again took place with pyroclastic flows towards the former capital and surroundings. Again, people were evacuated and the small part in between the safe zone and exclusion zone, that used to be open during the day, again was closed and became part of the exclusion zone. Apart from researchers and several other authorised people, no one is allowed to enter this exclusion zone.
There are excellent viewpoints of the volcano and its surroundings, on both the western and eastern part of the island. On the east side, one can see the former airport, while from the west the former capital, an extraordinary and breathtaking view and experience. One of the best views of the volcano itself though is at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, in the west of the island.
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The Arenal Volcano is one of the best known volcanoes throughout the Central American region and is located in the northweste Costa Rica. Together with Lake Arenal, they form part of the Arenal Volcano National Park and is popular with landscape and nature enthusiasts. The viewing of the lava flow at night is one of the most fantastic activities here.
The volcano was dormant until 1968 when a first eruption killed 87 people and destroyed much of the crops and livestock. Up until now it has been active almost continuously but it is a relatively safe area to go, as long as you don't go beyond the safety perimeter. The last major eruption was in 2000, although it has been active continuously since 1984. You have to be a little lucky to see the volcano in full glory as mostly there are clouds around the top. The park itself has more to offer though, including hiking through the rainforests and meeting the local wildlife up-close and personal.
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The Eyjafjallajökull is the name of the volcano in the south of Iceland, which made headlines in 2010 as its ashcloud brought European and Transatlantic air traffic to a grinding hold. The stratovolcano is covered by a glacier with the same name. This combination means that eruptions can also cause flooding problems. Geologists believe the volcano is connected to another (more active) subglacial volcano called Katla, which lies 25 kilometres to the north.
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Mount Etna is the largest of the three active volcanoes in Italy, and also one of the most active in the world. It is situated on the eastern part of the island of Sicily, near the city of Catania. The mountain is almost always in a state of eruption the last couple of years.
The best way to get onto the mountain is from the south, via a road that leads up to the mountain. At an altitude of 1,900 metres, there is a parking lot. There used to be a cable car going up the mountain, but this was destroyed and hasn't yet been rebuilt. From the parking lot most trails lead to the Valley of Oxes (Valle del Bove). The first of the four active craters is not that far away. There are buses going up the mountain until the parking lot, and there are a couple of tour agencies in Taormina offering tours to the mountain.
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Mount Vesuvius is a volcano that earned its place in the history books in 79 AD, when an eruption covered the town of Pompeii under a layer of lava. It also caused huge destruction to the town of Hercalaneum. The stratovolcano, considered one of the most dangerous in its class, could do a lot of harm to the city of Naples. The last eruption of the mountain was in 1944. Today, the volcano and its slopes are a national park. There are a number of paths leading up the mountain, and there is even parking space at 200 metres below the summit. The rest of the climb has to be done by foot.
Both the Etna and the Vesuvius are on the Decade Volcano List, a list of the 16 most dangerous volcanoes, mainly because of their proximity to many people (see below at Mount Rainier for more information).
Vulcano is an island located about 25 kilometres south of Sicily and is one of the Aeolian Islands. The Roman name Vulcano, over the years changed to Volcano, which makes this little Stratovolcano (its highest cone is only 501 metres high) the godfather of all the other volcanoes around the world. On the island there are several craters stretching from south to north. In the south is the highest cone called Monte Aria, and two other cones. In the middle of the island is the Gran Cratere at the top of the Fossa cone, which caused the most recent eruption from 1888 to 1890. At the north of the island is Vulcanello, which is 123 metres high. It emerged from the sea during an eruption in 183 BC, and was active until 1550, over time creating a small ishtmus, becoming part of the island. Both the Greeks and the Romans mention Vulcano as a workshop of the Gods.
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Mount Rainier is an active and massive stratovolcano in the state of Washington, 87 kilometres southeast of Seattle. It is the highest peak of the Cascade Range with 4,392 metres. Mount Rainier and the surrounding area were declared a national park which is known under the name: the Mount Rainier National Park. With 26 major glaciers Mount Rainier is the most heavily glaciated peak in the USA, if you would exclude Alaska. In the past large scaled mudflows caused devastation in the area of the volcano. The last major eruption was in 1894. A trip to the top of the mountain can only be made by people that have experience is climbing on glaciers and snowfields. The ascent takes two to three days. On clear days the mountain can be seen from as far as Portland and Seattle. Mount Rainier is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, and it is on the so-called Decade Volcano list, which refers to the 16 volcanoes identified by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior (IAVCEI) as being worthy of particular study in light of their history of large, destructive eruptions and proximity to populated areas. . Because of its large amount of glacial ice, Mount Rainier could potentially produce massive lahars that would threaten the whole Puyallup River valley.
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Mount St. Helens is best known for its catastrophic eruption on May 18, 1980, which caused 57 deaths and many homes, roads, bridges and railroads were destroyed. This volcanic event also caused the summit to shrink by no less than 400 metres. After that eruption, the summit has been replaced by a 1,500-metre-wide volcanic crater. The mountain is located between the cities of Seattle and Portland.
Mount St. Helens is located on the Cascade Range (of which Mount Rainier at 4,392 metres is the highest), which is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire - the most volcanic active part of the world. The volcano is well known for its ash explosions and pyroclastic flows. The last major eruptions were in 2004 and 2008.
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Popocatépetl is an active volcano located in the heart of Mexico, about 70 kilometres southeast of the capital Mexico City. The mountain has been climbed since a long time ago. The Tecuanipas tribe is said to have climbed it in 1289, followed by the Spanish in the 16th century. Literally meaning the 'smoking mountain', it is the second highest peak in the country and on one of those rare clear days it can be seen from the higher parts of Mexico City. Popocatépetl is one of the only three mountains in Mexico that has glaciers near the summit.
Popocatépetl has had over 20 eruptions in modern history, with the eruptions of 1994, 1996, 2004 and 2005 (still continuing as of 2012)  being the most recent ones. In the 1996 eruption, tens of thousands of people were evacuated by the government based on the warnings of scientists. The volcano then experienced its worst eruption in thousands of years.
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Mount Ngauruhoe would not have made this list had it not been for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, in which the active volcano became famous as Mount Doom, the fictional name in the movie. Mount Ngauruhoe is situated between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ruapehu on North Island, New Zealand, together forming the Tongariro National Park. Many people hike up it on the Tongariro Crossing, which is considered one of the ten best walks in the world. The first ascent of the volcano was made in 1839 by John C. Bidwill.
Along with Mount Ruapehu and Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngaurohoe is part of a line of volcanoes known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, stretching across the Pacific Ocean. Although the volcano erupts on average every 9 years, the last major eruption was in 1977.
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The Mount Taranaki is the second highest mountain on the North Island of New Zealand. It's an active volcano, but not as active as others in the country and therefore is also called a quiescent. The last major eruption was around 1655 and a moderate one exactly 100 years later. Again about 100 years later, a piece of the top of the mountain came down in the 1850's or 1860's. A second volcano crater has been forming at the southern flank of the mountain. Whilst from the other side it looks like an almost perfect symmetrical mountain. Due to the similarity to Mount Fuji, it was used as a backdrop in the film the Last Samurai. Since 1881 the mountain and the surrounding forest are a national park.
You don't need to be an experienced climber to reach the summit in summer, but prepare the trip well and be prepared for the changing weather conditions of the mountain. The climb from the Stratfort Plateau and return are about 9-10 hours of walking and climbing.
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Mauna Kea is by some measures the tallest mountain in the world. It is located in the state of Hawaii on the Big Island. When measured from the base of the mountain on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, it rises 10,203 metres to its peak, taller than Mount Everest if using the same measurement. The peak rises over 4,200 metres above sea level, making it the highest mountain on the Hawaiian archipelago. It is a dormant volcano, with its last eruption dating back to 4,000 to 6,000 years ago.
In the Hawaiian language, Mauna Kea means "white mountain", so named because its summit is regularly covered with snow in winter. The mountain's summit is one of the best astronomical sites in the world and several leading observatories can be found there as a result.
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What the Hawaii Islands are for the east of the Pacific, Vanuatu is for the west. The islands have many volcanoes to see and explore as the islands are located right on the Pacific Ring of Fire. Probably the most famous one is Yasur volcano on Tanna Island. This volcano is easy to reach and although it's active year round, it is unusual for it to be too active to approach. Therefore, the Yasur volcano has become an extremely popular tourist attraction not to be missed when you are visiting this part of Vanuatu. Apart from Tanna, also the islands of Ambrym, Lopevi, Kuwai, Ambae and Gaua have nice volcanoes, many of which are just beautiful only to look at.
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The Cotopaxi volcano in the Andes mountains is located just about 30 kilometres from Quito and on a clear day you can see the mountain from the capital. It is part of the chain of volcanoes around the Pacific plate known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. It is the second highest mountain of Ecuador at 5,897 metres above sea level, and although it claims to be the tallest active volcano in the world, actually Llullaillaco volcano, on the border of Chile and Argentina is considerably taller at over 6,700 metres and is considered active as well. Nevertheless, the Cotopaxi is much more famous and active with over 50 eruptions during the last 370 years or so, although the last one was in 1940. Cotopaxi has an almost symmetrical cone and also has one of few equatorial glaciers in the world, at about 5,000 metres and up.
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