Volcanoes – Safe or Sorry?
You’ve probably seen many stunning photos of active volcanoes in Central America, and thought, “Beautiful…but stay away!”. You could really be missing out, if that is your reaction.
There are many things that travellers adore about Central America; nature, colonial cities, beaches and lakes are all big attractions. You may be surprised to know that one of the main reasons people come to Central America is specifically for the volcanoes!
The Central American Volcanic Arc is a chain of volcanoes that extends parallel to the Pacific coast. This ‘Ring of Fire’ defines the Central American Isthmus from Guatemala in the north, through El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and down to northern Panama. This Volcanic Arc includes hundreds of formations, ranging from major strato volcanoes to lava domes and cinder cones. Central America’s highest volcanoes are found in Guatemala. There you’ll also find Lake Atitlan whose basin is volcanic in origin, filling an enormous caldera formed by an eruption 84,000 years ago. An absolute sight to behold!
Of the 100 volcanoes found throughout Central America, the country with the most is Guatemala with 37, followed by Nicaragua with 21, El Salvador 20 and Costa Rica 15. Honduras has only 4, one of which – Utila is a small island. Belize does not have any active volcanoes.
The most active of the volcanoes in Central America right now are Poas and Turrialba in Costa Rica, Cerro Negro, San Cristobal, Telica and Masaya in Nicaragua, San Miguel and Santa Ana in El Salvador and Santiaguito and Fuego in Guatemala. You can hike many of these, as well as sit at the crater or even board or raft down, if you want some real adventure.
But is that dangerous? There is a lot of interest and research that goes into knowing exactly when any one of these volcanoes may go off. Volcano Fuego, which is situated (and can be seen from) about 18km away from Antigua, Guatemala billows with smoke and ash sometimes several times a day. Every now and then we are treated to the spectacle of furious lava explosions, from a safe distance of course. The institute of volcanology (INSIVUMEH) in Guatemala constantly monitors all of the volcanoes there and has procedures in place for travellers who may be hiking a volcano or locals who may be living right next door to one.
The trips that we undertake on our tours, such as hiking or boarding down some of these volcanoes are done with local professionals as well as our experienced tour leaders. We always ensure we have an expert who knows what they are doing during the adventure or in the event of an emergency. Adventure is great but risk taking is not; we will never put our clients at risk!