There are few more incredible sights than that of a volcano spewing out red molten lava. It some tragic circumstances eruptions can cause misery and destruction. In most cases they create a visual spectacle that attracts visitors from across the world to marvel at the raw power of nature.
For those adventurous travellers who like their volcanoes active, Central America is a real treat. Part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a chain of active volcanoes runs through Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. While few of these volcanoes may be gushing out picture-perfect lava at any time, a trip to the region will guarantee the sight of some truly incredible landscapes, as well as a glimpse into life in the shadow of these brooding unpredictable giants. And for some, undoubtedly, they will get to see a volcano in action.
Antigua, Guatemala’s most popular tourist destination, is overlooked by three volcanoes. While Volcan Agua may dominate the skyline, it is Fuego that emits an almost constant puff of smoke. The colour changes during the day, from a whispy white against the midday blue to an ominous black in the evening twilight.
Volcano hikes from Antugua are extremely popular and will take visitors to nearby Pacaya. Be warned however. While the pictures in the town show tourists admiring lava at very close quarters, there has been no lava visible for almost a year now, since the last major eruption.
El Salvador is home to a constant chain of active volcanoes. The last to erupt was Santa Ana in 2005. Visitors can now hike to the top of Volcan Santa Ana and peer into the crater below to see the bright green volcanic lake below.
Nicaragua is home to more active volcanoes than any other Central American country. Volcano tours can be undertaken from the colonial city of Granada or from the capital Managua, and can be taken as day hikes or can involve overnight camping.
Perhaps more than anywhere else in the region, visitors flock to Costa Rica to enjoy the country’s abundant wildlife and its impressive landscapes. The most popular area to bag a volcano is Arenal, around three hours north of San Jose. Home to a spectacular lake, the area is completely dominated by the towering Volcan Arenal, regularly belching out clouds of steam and smoke. While Arenal can be viewed from a safe distance, visitors are prohibited from going onto the volcano’s slopes due to the constantly changing levels of activity.
Central America holds many fascinations for the visitor. Many are drawn to the region’s rich historical treasures that have survived many centuries of upheaval and destruction. Yet of all its attraction, perhaps it is the volcanoes that provide the most colourful, exhillerating and awe-inspiring experiences on offer.