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Visit a Rainforest Inside a Volcano

Visit a Rainforest Inside a Volcano
Jennifer Billock

Have frequent flier miles burning a hole in your pocket and need new ideas for where to go? Check out our weekly Have Miles Will Travel column to discover strange, wonderful and unique destinations around the world. 

So maybe you can’t go to Mars, but how about heading to the Azores in Portugal for an experience unavailable anywhere else on Earth? Imagine standing at the bottom of a volcano and gazing into a crystal-clear lake while getting showered by rainforest vegetation above.


Algar do Carvao Caves, Terceira Island, Azores, Portugal, Europe


You and the Volcano

About 3,200 years ago, molten hot lava shot out of the Algar do Carvão volcano, leaving behind an empty and dormant 300-foot-deep volcanic chimney—and since 1968, it’s been one of the only places in the world where you can explore a fully formed dormant volcano from the inside.

There are three distinct areas once you’re inside the volcano. First, you’ll enter the chimney. Look up, and the walls closest to the top are covered with lush greenery and moss, sustained by a rainforest effect of mist, dripping rain, and humid air pulled in from the outside. As the reach of natural light fades further down the chimney, the green gradually gets replaced by solidified dripping obsidian.

Further down, you enter the Cathedral. This cavern, about 35 feet high, doubles as an event venue for weddings and concerts. The final area of Algar do Carvão is a roughly 40-foot-deep freshwater lake, fed by the constant rain dripping down from the upper part of the volcano. It’s a lake. At the bottom of a volcano. That’s filled with a rainforest.


Algar do Carvao Caves, Terceira Island, Azores, Portugal, Europe

Getting Into the Volcano

Terceira Island, one of the largest in the Azores, has its own airport with direct flights to and from Portugal, the United States, Canada and more: Lajes Internacional Airport. After you land, rent a car at the airport and drive to Angra do Heroismo, the main town on the island. You can find a company there that will take you on a tour of Algar do Carvão. If you’d rather go on your own, follow signs on the road to get there. It should take about 30 minutes. You could also bike to the spot.

Be prepared for more than 330 steps to go down into the volcano (and back up). You’ll also want to wear clothes you don’t care about getting wet—it’s almost always dripping inside—and have shoes with good traction.


Algar do Carvao Caves, Terceira Island, Azores, Portugal, Europe

Be Mindful of the Season and Hours

Algar do Carvão has unique operating hours. The association Os Montanheiros is in charge of tours and maintenance and notes that tours run daily from April to September and only Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from October to March. Groups of up to 30 people who can’t visit on the scheduled days from October to March are able to call and schedule a private tour.

The hours can change, as well. There’s no English website for the volcano outlining the times in detail, and nearly every other website about it has a different set of hours—so call either the Visit Azores team to inquire, or ask at your hotel when it’s open for visitors.

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