In 2010, it was Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull. This year, Hawaiis Kilauea Volcano is the one making headlines, spewing lava up to 100 feet in the air and forcing closures of several main access roads in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park since it erupted on March 5. A flight restriction under 1,500 feet also is in place.
Of course, that hasn't deterred adventure travelers, who've come out in droves to try to catch a glimpse of the action, according to the National Park Service. I'm not going to advise that as deliciously tempting as watching molten lava flow into the ocean might be. So until Kilauea calms down, here are some other places where you can tour a volcano. (Though geology experts advise that eruptions can happen much faster than previously believed. Consider yourself warned!)
Mount Etna, Sicily: Steeped in folklore and legend of the ancient Greeks and Romans, this Sicilian mammoth could still be rumbling after its January 13 eruption, which forced nearby airports to close and drew spectators from all over to see the 90-minute lava show. Although the volcano has been active for decades, it's not generally regarded as dangerous in fact, about 25 percent of Sicily's population lives on or near its slopes and base.
At nearly 11,000 feet, Etna also is a popular draw for ambitious hikers. Several outfitters offer guided tours to the top, which can be supplemented by gondola and bus rides. Even with that assistance, the final approximately 1,500 feet to the summit is no leisurely stroll, with tricky terrains and high winds at the top. One modern-day legend even says that a Spanish hiker fell into the crater.
(As far as reputable outfitters, I had a hard time finding a comprehensive list, but there's some decent information on itineraries and the park's visitor center at www.parks.it/parco.etna.)
Poás Volcano, Costa Rica: Visiting this active volcano, nestled in Poás Volcano National Park, is mystical and mesmerizing, thanks to low-lying clouds and plumes of smoke constantly billowing. Poás has two crater lakes near its summit; Laguna Caliente (shown in the photo above that I took during a 2002 visit), is one of the world's most acidic lakes. The park has three marked trails that are easily hiked (bring a jacket, as it's often chilly at the viewing area for the craters). Plan on arriving earlier in the day, as clouds build and obscure views.
Most tour operators in the capital of Costa Rica, San José, offer day trips to Poás for $30 to $70, depending on what other attractions are included. Another option: Take a taxi from the nearby town of Poasito, toss your bike in the trunk, and coast down after you're done sightseeing.
Eyjafjallajokull, Iceland: This Icelandic volcano may have caused travel nightmares when it send a cloud of ash into the sky in April 2010, but the boost in tourism it has caused since has been a dream for the country's economy. Already a coveted destination among adventure travelers, Iceland has enjoyed an overall tourism boom since its hard-to-pronounce peak upheld the country's moniker as the Land of Fire and Ice. Two other active volcanoes, Katla and Helka called the "angry sisters" are also on the radar screen of geology experts. For more information, visit www.inspiredbyiceland.com.