Volcanoes possess the ability to paralyse air traffic, cover the landscape with ashes and destroy villages. In short, an eruption is a life-threatening spectacle.
But while volcanoes may be dangerous, they are increasingly also tourist attractions, offering travellers an incomparable experience of nature.
It’s safe to say that when Indonesia’s Mount Agung sent huge clouds of smoke into the sky in 2017, many tourists didn’t know what to make of it. Isn’t Bali’s only claim to fame, its luxurious beaches?
“Many tourists were surprised that there are active volcanoes there,” recalls Thomas Walter, from a German research centre for geosciences.
“Those who haven’t found out in advance are often shocked,” he says. “But then there are those who deliberately travel to see volcanoes.”
There are about 1,500 active volcanoes throughout the world. And as more of the world has taken up travelling, the risk of travel being affected by volcanic eruptions has correspondingly grown as well.
There are around 450 active volcanoes in the Pacific Ring of Fire – 127 in Indonesia alone. In 2010, the Merapi on Java erupted, shooting clouds of ash 18km up into the sky. The area surrounding the volcano had already been evacuated days before, saving many thousands of lives.
“This is a very dangerous volcano,” Walter explains.
But the risks posed by volcanoes aren’t limited to the Ring of Fire. In Europe, for example, there’s Mount Etna in Sicily, Italy. In December 2018, there were several small eruptions and quakes. At the same time, the volcano attracts many tourists. “It’s become very easy to get up there, there are bus tours from the hotels,” Walter says.
Responsible volcanic tourism is important, says the expert.
Holidaymakers should ensure they are well-informed. Germany’s Foreign Office, for example, mentions the dangers associated with visiting volcanoes in its travel and safety instructions for the countries concerned. Its website is also a useful resource on the topic.
But in fact, the risk of tourists being harmed by a volcanic eruption is relatively low in relation to other hazards while travelling. “The height and bad weather are most often underestimated,” says Walter.
Outside of Europe, volcano trekking is also a popular tourist attraction. This is especially true in Central and South America.
In the Andes, impressive volcanoes more than 5,000m or even 6,000m high line up like a string of pearls stretching north to south. There are 80 active volcanoes in South America’s Chile alone.
The Cotopaxi in Ecuador is particularly beautiful – it is also active from time to time. The ash has frequently found its way to the nearby capital, Quito.
Why are people so fascinated by volcanoes anyway? “They make the dynamics of the planet tangible,” says geologist Walter.
“You can’t see that a tectonic plate is slowly shifting – but you can see a volcanic eruption.” And perhaps there is also some kind of ancient thinking behind it: “Fire awakens interest in mankind.” – dpa