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The 12 Best Places to See Lava (With Helpful Tips)

The 12 Best Places to See Lava (With Helpful Tips)
Lava flowing over volcanic rock

There are few things in the world more dangerous and captivating than flowing lava. Seeing lava pouring out of an active volcano is a bucket list item for a lot of people, including myself. Unfortunately, this natural phenomenon is not all that common and it can be hard to know where to go in order to see it.

There are a handful of active volcanoes where you can reliably observe lava up close. Here are the 12 best places on Earth to see lava for yourself.

Stromboli, Italy

Mount Stromboli showing a strombolian eruption at dusk.
Mount Stromboli showing a strombolian (!) eruption at dusk.

Mount Stromboli’s volcanic activity is so famous and iconic that scientists have even named a type of eruption after it. This volcano in southern Italy has been having Strombolian eruptions almost continuously for over 2,000 years.

Strombolian eruptions are characterized as being relatively mild, featuring ash columns, lava bombs, and firework-like displays of spewing lava. Sometimes Stromboli will even have flowing lava when activity is very high, but that isn’t very common and hasn’t done so since 2003.

Stromboli is located on a small island just to the north of Sicily, and is so iconic that J.R.R. Tolkien is said to have modeled Mt. Doom after it. At night, the eruptions are clearly visible on the horizon and gave rise to Stromboli’s nickname – “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean.”

How to See Lava at Mount Stromboli

Best Time of DayEvening
Cost (Once There)$30/person
Length of Time5 to 6 hours
DifficultyModerate

To get a good look at lava erupting from Stromboli, you’ll need to book a tour with a local guide. You can find a guide in town, and it will cost around $30 per person which includes rental equipment. If the volcano is particularly active you will likely want to book in advance since spots can fill up quickly.

While Stromboli is famously and consistently active, it isn’t always erupting. If you’re already in the area, ask the locals how the activity level is and they will definitely be able to tell you how active the eruptions have been compared to usual. You’ll also want to make sure that the weather is nice – fog or clouds can easily obscure your view of the eruptions.

Check Mount Stromboli’s volcanic activity levels here (outside link)

Once you’ve begun your tour you’ll begin your climb to the top. Depending on the activity and danger levels that day, you may be able to get as close a 150m to the eruptions. The climb isn’t overly difficult – anyone in reasonable shape can make it – but I would recommend making use of the hiking poles and gaiters (more on these later) that your tour company will provide.

Most tours are timed so that you reach the top around sunset. This is done on purpose because the visuals of the eruptions are WAY better at dusk after the sun has gone down. The lava bombs and glow from the fissures really pop and reflect off of the ash and steam, making for great photo ops.

The eruptions are accompanied by large rumbles and booms as the lava explodes out of the top of the mountain, giving your ears a show as well as your eyes. And of course, the lava isn’t the only thing to look at once you’re at the top. As long as it’s not too dark, you’ll have great views of the town below and the sparkling Mediterranean as well.

The trip down is when you’ll really want your gaiters. They cover the tops of your boots and prevent pebbles from getting down inside. Going back down the mountain you’ll take a path that is basically skiing on loose rock. Having done this a few times I can tell you to lean back on your hiking poles and just plow quickly straight downhill – it’s a lot of fun!

Masaya, Nicaragua

The glowing lava lake and ash plumes of Masaya as the sun sets.
The glowing lava lake and ash plumes of Masaya as the sun sets.

Masaya is a shield volcano located in a large national park just south of Managua. It’s famous for having one of the most active lava lakes in the world, which makes it a perfect destination for anyone hoping to catch a glimpse of red hot molten rock.

Masaya is just one vent in part of a larger volcano caldera. Inside the national park you can catch glimpses of native wildlife and vegetation as well as visit an old lava tube.

How to See Lava at Masaya

Best Time of DayEvening
Cost (Once There)$5-10/person
Length of time2 hours
DifficultyEasy

There are two tour options to see lava at Masaya. They are essentially the same tour, but one is at night and the other is in the day. Which one you choose will depend on the type of experience you’re looking for. In either case, you can’t get too close to the lava lake because many of the closer trails have been closed due to increased activity.

The day tour costs about $5, and I would recommend this option for anyone interested in seeing the other scenery such as birds, plants, and the surrounding geology. This option tends to be more popular, so while an advance reservation isn’t required it might be a good idea.

Check the volcanic activity level of Masaya here (outside link)

The night tour costs $10, and in my opinion if you’re making this trip for the express purpose of seeing lava then this is the way to go. The lava lake will really stand out in the dark, letting you see the roiling surface and red hot glow against the caldera. The downside is, of course, that you can’t see much else because it’s too dark.

For both of these tours, know that you will have limited time at the viewing area. The tour operators will typically give you about 10 minutes to enjoy the sites and take pictures before moving you along and allowing the next group to come through. I would recommend bringing binoculars to get a better look at the lava lake.

The lava lake is about 5 km from the park entrance, and you’ll need to drive unless you feel like hiking it. You can also hire a taxi at the entrance if you don’t have your own car. No equipment is necessary for the hike once you’re there – the trail is very short and easy.

Erta Ale, Ethiopia

The large, active lava lake in the hellscape of Erta Ale
The large, active lava lake in the hellscape of Erta Ale

Erta Ale is a completely different experience from anything else on this list. This trip to see lava is for true adventurers who are looking for something off the beaten path, and in my opinion it looks like the experience of a lifetime. The mountain itself is a gently sloping shield volcano. The lava lake has been going strong since at least 1906, making it the longest existing lava lake on earth.

Located in northeastern Ethiopia, Erta Ale literally means “Smoking Mountain” and the pit with the lava lake is known as the “gateway to hell.” If that isn’t imposing enough, the entire region is extremely hot, dry, and can be politically unstable. All tours are required to have an armed military escort after some tourists were killed in 2012.

How to See Lava at Erta Ale

Best Time of DayDawn
Cost (Once There)$300/person
Length of Time2 to 3 days
DifficultyVery Hard

In order to see the lava lake at Erta Ale you must hire a tour company and book in advance. A tour will cost about $300 and will involve a 2 night, 3 day excursion that usually also includes seeing the Salt Flats of Lake Asale (another geological wonder in the area).

The lava lake isn’t always active and bubbling so if at all possible check the conditions before you book a trip. Most of the time, though, this is one of the most impressive lava lakes on the planet if you can get to it.

Check the volcanic activity of Erta Ale here (outside link)

Make sure to pick a good tour operator. The area is dangerous both from the natural elements and ill-intentioned people. It’s one of the most inhospitable and lawless places on Earth, so you want to make sure you’re in good hands while you’re out there. They should have proper equipment including plenty of water and gas masks for the fumes at the caldera.

You’ll drive quite a ways to camp and then leave on foot for the lava lake after sunset. It’s about a 9-mile hike each way and can be pretty grueling. It’s timed so that you get there while it’s still dark and you can enjoy the glowing lava before the sun comes up. The trip back will be even more physically demanding than the trip there because the sun will be coming up and it’ll get hot quickly.

Sakurajima, Japan

The smoldering peak of Sakurajima in the distance.
The smoldering peak of Sakurajima in the distance.

Sakurajima – “Cherry blossom island” – is the most active volcano in Japan. It has been erupting almost constantly since 1955, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the southern part of the country. The volcano erupts multiple times per day, but the frequency and intensity vary and are unpredictable.

The volcano used to be separate from the mainland but is now connected thanks to an eruption in 1914 that created a land bridge. It’s still most easily accessible by ferry, however.

How to See Lava at Sakurajima

Best Time of DayDusk or early morning
Cost (Once There)Free
Length of TimeAt your discretion
DifficultyVery easy

Due to the high amount of activity and the nature of the eruptions, you aren’t allowed to get very close to the action at Sakurajima. You aren’t allowed to get any closer than 2 km, and most of the observation points are about 3 km away. Still, in the early morning and after sunset you can catch a glimpse of the eruptions lighting up the sky if the timing is right.

Check the volcanic activity of Sakurajima here (outside link)

If the conditions are right, this is one of few places on Earth where you can see lightning associated with volcanic eruptions. In my opinion this would be just about the coolest thing in the world to see – a glowing volcanic eruption wrapped in ash being lit up by flashes of lighting!

While you’re waiting for an eruption to occur you can enjoy a lot of the other activities the area has to offer. I would recommend checking out the hot springs and relaxing while taking in the sights.

Nyiragongo, DRC

The boiling lava lake of Nyiragongo spilling over.
The boiling lava lake of Nyiragongo spilling over.

Mount Nyiragongo is a very active stratovolcano located in Virunga National Park on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is famous for having the largest and most active lava lake on Earth, which has been erupting almost continuously since 2002.

The volcano is very impressive, with a crater over 1km wide. The lava there is extremely fluid and flows faster than it does in similar locations. Unfortunately, it sometimes spills over through fissures in the rock and quickly destroys everything in its path, including towns and forests.

How to See Lava at Nyiragongo

Best Time of DayEvening
Cost (Once There)$425/person
Length of Time2 days
DifficultyModerate

You can hire an outside tour company to arrange for your trip, but the best, easiest, and most affordable way to see lava at Nyiragongo is to book directly with the park. Park rangers lead all of the treks, so booking with another operator will add cost for no real reason. Booking with the park will cost around $300 per person, not including gear rentals or the cost of a porter.

All treks begin at the Kibati patrol post. You can also arrange to hire a porter here, which I would definitely recommend. The porters are not officially affiliated with the park, but they provide a valuable service for about $25, and you’ll be contributing to the wellbeing of the local economy.

Check volcanic activity of Nyiragongo here (outside link)

The trek to the summit takes about 5 hours. It’s a pretty easy hike, so anyone in reasonable shape can do it without worry. You will need some decent gear including gloves, a sleeping bag, several layers of warm clothing. All of this can be rented for about $100 from the park, but in my opinion it would be best to have your own. It can be cold and windy on the crater rim so you’ll want to have enough warm clothing.

During the hike from the park entrance you will likely be able to catch a glimpse of the local wildlife including chimps, monkeys, chameleons, and birds. While you’re in the area I would also suggest booking a tour to see rare mountain gorillas!

The hike is about 4 miles each way. You’ll depart from the park entrance around 10 am and get to the summit in the afternoon, giving you plenty of time to see the lava lake in the day and then transitioning into dusk and at night. You’ll spend the night in a nearby hut, snuggled in your sleeping bag, before leaving around 6 am the next morning.

Piton de la Fournaise, Reunion Island

A fantastic eruption of Piton de la Fournaise against the night sky.
A fantastic eruption of Piton de la Fournaise against the night sky.

Piton de la Fournaise – “Peak of the Furnace” – is a classic hotspot volcano located on Reunion island, just to the east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Because their geologic settings are so similar, its eruptions bear a striking resemblance to the ones seen in Hawaii.

The island is owned by France and is a popular tourist destination not only for the volcano but for the coral reefs, jungle, and beaches. The volcano isn’t always erupting, so be sure to check the status of the lava flows before you book anything.

How to See Lava at Piton de la Fournaise

Best Time of DayEarly morning
Cost (Once There)Free
Length of TimeAt your discretion
DifficultyEasy

Lava eruptions at Piton de la Fournaise can occur anywhere on the volcano but are most common near the summit. You’ll need to take a car about 20 miles up the mountain from the town of Bourg-Murat and then hike in from there. Once you’re at the caldera, only hiking is allowed.

I would recommend leaving pretty early in the morning to beat the crowds, especially if there is a lot of volcanic activity that day. When there is a major eruption the island can get very busy and there are often traffic jams on the route to the caldera.

There are no fees or permits to worry about if you’re just planning to hike in and see the lava on your own. You can hire a guide on-site if you’d like, but it isn’t necessary. Just be sure to stay safe stick to the designated path. The hike is very easy and can be done by anyone in reasonable shape. You can take the path (including some stairs) quite a ways down into the caldera.

If hiking isn’t your thing or the traffic jam is just too long, you may also want to consider a helicopter or airplane tour of the volcano. Flights are typically available for around $225 per person, but you’ll definitely need to book in advance if the volcano is erupting. Night flights are also available when the lava flows are active, giving you some great views of the glowing molten rock below.

Volcan de Fuego, Guatemala

Volcan de Fuego putting on a show, taken from the slopes of Acantenango.
Volcan de Fuego putting on a show, taken from the slopes of Acantenango.

Volcan de Fuego – “Volcano of Fire” – is part of a series of volcanoes in southern Guatemala. It is well known for its Strombolian eruptions, casting fireworks-like displays of lava bombs into the air at regular intervals.

Volcan de Fuego usually has small eruptions every 15 to 20 minutes, with some larger eruptions occurring at unpredictable intervals. A trip to this volcano is a great option for anyone living in the US because flights are relatively short compared to a lot of options on this list. While it can be physically demanding, the trip up the mountain can be done in as little as a day.

How to See Lava at Volcan de Feugo

Best Time of DayEvening
Cost (Once There)$100/person
Length of Time1 to 2 days
DifficultyHard

There are two options available to see lava at Volcan de Fuego – a single day hike and an overnight option. I would recommend the 2 day, overnight trip because this will give you the best view of the eruptions and more time to enjoy the sights.

Both types of trips will likely leave from nearby Antigua. The single-day trip will cost around $65, while the overnight tour will run you about $100. You will need to be in pretty good shape for these hikes, as you’ll be walking for about 7 hours a day over steep and rocky terrain.

Check the volcanic activity of Fuego here (outside link)

There are several combinations and options of tours available if you choose to go the overnight route, but all of them involve hiking up Acantenango. This mountain is directly adjacent to Fuego and they are collectively known as La Horqueta. From Acantenango you will have a great view of the eruptions on Fuego, and it is a relatively short hike across the saddle to get closer to the lava if your guide deems it safe.

Batu Tara, Indonesia

Batu Tara, which means “Fire Rock”, is a lonely volcano located in the Lesser Sundra Islands. If you’re like me and have no idea where those are, it’s in the Flores Sea in southern Indonesia. It is extremely remote and difficult to get to, making this a unique destination for anyone wanting to see lava for themselves.

The volcano of Batu Tara has been active since around 2007 and tends to erupt every 10 to 45 minutes, featuring large ash plumes as part of its Strombolian eruptions

How to See Lava at Batu Tara

Best Time of DayEvening
Cost (Once There)$3500/person
Length of Time7 days
DifficultyHard

In order to see the lava at Batu Tara you’ll need to join an expedition. The island is extremely remote and it will take a few days of traveling by land, air, and sea to get there. There are no public transportation options, so joining a trek tour is pretty much you best and only option.

The tours usually last around 7 days, and due to the length and difficulty of the trip, they aren’t especially cheap. A tour will generally cost around $3500 per person, which includes all of the travel, gear, and food necessary to get to the volcano and back.

Check the volcanic activity of Batu Tara here (outside link)

If you want to look for a tour I’d recommend starting with this tour company (outside link). Most tours will leave from Bali and it’ll take you several days of travel (including a lot of time on a fishing boat) to reach the volcano. Once there, you’ll spend about 2 days on the island to see the eruptions and hear the rumbling of the volcano at all times of the day. This experience is a lot more involved than many of the others on this list but is sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Kilauea, Hawaii

The famous lava of Kilauea spilling into the ocean, throwing up clouds of steam.
The famous lava of Kilauea spilling into the ocean, throwing up clouds of steam.

Kilauea is the volcano that immediately comes to mind for almost anyone when they think about flowing lava. The name means “spreading”, and given the nature of the eruptions it’s easy to see why. Located on the large island of Hawaii, this large shield volcano erupted almost continuously from 1983 to 2018. At the time I’m writing this article it is not erupting, but it’s worth keeping on this list because activity could resume at any time.

Aside from the potential for fantastic lava flows, the area around Kilauea has lots to see and do. If you’re there for the geology there are plenty of lava tubes to explore and fresh lava flows to enjoy at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

How to See Lava at Kilauea

Best Time of DayEvening
Cost (Once There)Free to $250/person
Length of TimeAt your discretion
DifficultyEasy

Just to reiterate: at the time I’m writing this article, there is currently no lava flowing at Kilauea. However, activity may resume at any time, so be sure to check with the USGS for the status of the volcano.

Check the volcanic activity of Kilaeua here (outside link)

If and when lava flows resume at Kilauea, there will be several viewing options to choose from. How close you can get depends on where the lava is flowing and how safe the area is. If the lava flows are on public land then you’re good to go – you can view the lava up close by yourself or with a guided tour. If it’s on private land, however, then you’ll have to explore other options such as helicopter or boat tours.

Public viewing areas will change with time as the lava changes course. Some locations will be better than others, but if you ask park officials they will be able to direct you to the best places. This option likely won’t get you super close to the lava, but will be the cheapest and safest way to go.

Guided tours can last anywhere from 1 hour to half a day, depending on how far the lava flows are from the start point. The hiking isn’t particularly strenuous, but it will be over uneven ground and may be quite lengthy.

Boat tours are very popular options when the lava is flowing into the ocean. They give you a great opportunity to see the lava up close, and the steam produced when the flows make contact with the ocean are a rare sight. Be sure to check that you tour company is licensed to get close to the lava – only a handful of companies are.

Helicopter tours are a fantastic idea if the lava flows are inaccessible due to safety or their location on private land. They do book up fast, however, so be sure to make a reservation in advance. Helicopter tours from Hilo are shorter and more affordable than those from Kona, costing about $250 and lasting 45 minutes.

Villarrica, Chile

And eruption at Villarrica, taken from the crater rim.
And eruption at Villarrica, taken from the crater rim.

Also known as Rucapillan, this massive stratovolcano located in southern Chile is one of only a handful of volcanoes in the world that has a visible lava lake in its crater. It is topped by several massive glaciers and has long been known as one of the most active volcanoes in Chile, last erupting in 2015.

The most notable feature of Villarrica undoubtedly its lava lake. It isn’t always active, however, so if you’re planning a trip with the intent of seeing lava up close and personal you’ll definitely want to check the current status of the volcano. Small eruptions keep the lava lake intermittently active, but aren’t enough to sustain it at all times.

Climbing the volcano isn’t the only thing you can do there – it’s located in a national park and the mountain is known for its skiing and volcanic caves. At night, when Villarrica is having small eruptions or the lava lake is active, you can sometimes grab surreal photos of the glow from red-hot lava reflecting off of the clouds above.

How to See Lava at Villarrica

Best Time of DayEvening
Cost (Once There)$70/person
Length of Time1 day
DifficultyModerate

If you want to take on the challenge of Villarica then it’s best to organize your trip in nearby Pucon. Guide companies are necessary and abundant, so check around and find one that works for you. It’s best to make a reservation early on in your stay in case weather postpones things. You can climb Villarrica year-round, but the best time of year is January and February.

Even as far as climbing volcanoes goes, Villarrica is a unique and rewarding experience. Upon reaching the summit you are rewarded with fantastic views and the chance to see an active lava lake, and maybe even better than that is the trip back down which involves rapidly sliding down narrow snow chutes on your butt!

Check the volcanic activity of Villarrica here (outside link)

The guided tours usually cost around $60 per person. Once you leave Pucon with your group you’ll reach the base of the volcano where you’ll have the option to take a ski lift part of the way up or begin your hike there.

I’ve asked around and almost everyone agrees that it’s best to just take the lift. I’m someone who loves a challenge and getting the full experience, and even I would take the lift. It gives you more time to enjoy the cooler parts of the trek and ensures that you won’t be physically drained before summiting. It costs around $10 to take the lift but, in my opinion, it’s well worth it for the time you save.

Once you get off the lift you’ll strap on your crampons, grab an ice pick, and head for the summit. You’ll be able to see other volcanoes in the distance and take in some great views. And, of course, you’ll hopefully be able to catch a glimpse of the lava lake in the volcano crater!

The trip down the mountain is something that really sets this volcano apart from others on this list. Narrow chutes have been carved out of the snow for you to luge down, making for a quick and thrilling descent. You can reach pretty impressive speeds, and if it gets too fast for you you can always use your ice pick as a brake.

Mount Yasur, Vanuatu

Mount Yasur throwing off some lava bombs at night.
Mount Yasur throwing off some lava bombs at night.

Known as “The Lighthouse of the Pacific”, Mount Yasur is located on one of the southernmost islands of Vanuatu (northeast of Australia). That nickname is well-earned, as it even attracted the attention of Captain Cook and prompted him to investigate the island.

This is another volcano that is famous for its Strombolian eruptions, but it is unique in its level of accessibility. Once you’re on the island, it is surprisingly easy to reach the top of the mountain and get a good look at the lava.

How to See Lava at Mount Yasur

Best Time of DayEarly morning
Cost (Once There)$125/person
Length of Time3 hours
DifficultyEasy

Seeing the eruptions at Mount Yasur is a surprisingly easy endeavor. You can simply drive up nearly to the top of the volcano to park, and from there it is a short (but steep) walk to the rim of the crater. There are plenty of guides and security guards at the top to keep you safe and show you around if you’d like to pay for their services.

Vanuatu monitors the activity level of Mount Yasur on a scale of 1 to 5. If the level is 3 or higher then you won’t be able to get up to the best viewing points, so the best time to go is when it’s at level 2.

Check the volcanic activity of Mount Yasur here (outside link)

You will likely need transportation to the volcano, and the best way to do that is to book a tour. From the resorts on the airport side of the island that will run you about $125.

The tours typically run at two times – one in the morning and one in the evening. This is to allow you to see the eruptions while the sun is down and the contrast of the lava to the night sky is at its best. I would personally recommend going early in the morning because it tends to be less crowded – probably because you have to leave around 3 am.

Once you’re at the crater’s edge you will likely be provided with helmets, glasses, and light coats to protect your clothing from the ash. Make use of them! You’ll be treated to a fantastic, up-close view of gas vents, red-hot glowing fissures, and spewing lava bombs, all while listening to the grumbling of the volcano.

Mount Etna, Italy

A spectacular strombolian eruption of Mount Etna at dusk.
A spectacular strombolian eruption of Mount Etna at dusk.

Mount Etna is one of the most iconic volcanoes in the world. The most active volcano in Europe, it was once believed to house the forges of Hephaestus. It dominates the landscape of eastern Sicily and tends to erupt every few years, with the last significant eruption occurring in 2018. It’s known for its Strombolian eruptions which are best seen at night.

There are many smaller vents in the area which you’ll likely see and smell at some point if you spend much time there. Mount Etna is a UNESCO world heritage site and is an extremely popular tourist destination in southern Italy.

How to See Lava at Mount Etna

Best Time of DayEvening
Cost (Once There)$100/person
Length of Time1 day
DifficultyModerate

As imposing as Mount Etna appears, it is actually pretty accessible to anyone who wants to hike to the top. You are allowed to venture part of the way up the volcano by yourself, but ever since 2013 you are required to have a guide if you want to make it to the summit. This is for good reason – Etna can be unpredictable and the volcanic & weather situation can change quickly.

The cost of a tour to the summit will run you about $50, plus about another $50 for the cost of the cable car. While you can technically hike up to the mountain hut the cable cars stop at, it is well worth the money to take the cable car if you can afford it. That part of the hike is pretty unremarkable and you’ll save quite a bit of time if you can afford it.

Check volcanic activity levels of Mount Etna here (outside link)

Once you reach the mountain hut you can take a 4×4 most of the way to the top but most people would recommend hiking. It’s a relatively easy 90-minute hike to the summit, where you’ll be rewarded with exceptional views of Sicily and an up-close look at a smoking, active caldera. Since you’ll be starting the day at sea level and ascending rapidly to ~11,000′, altitude sickness is a real possibility.