Mount Etna is the cherry on the cake of my volcano expedition to Sicily. After hiking the Gran Cratere in Vulcano and Mount Stromboli, I am looking forward to conquering Mount Etna. After all, it has been a dream of mine for a long time. And the regular news reports on its eruptions have been making it all the more fascinating to me.
Etna is located on the south east of Sicily, not far from Catania. That’s only a one hour flight from Cagliari, Sardinia, where I am based. I really can’t find any more excuses for not visiting: it is time to finally go.
The mighty peaks and craters of Mount Etna
The Mighty Mount Etna
With its 3350 meters, Mount Etna may not be the highest volcano in Europe (that’s Teide, in Tenerife), but it certainly is the largest one with a base circumference of around 150 km.
Mount Etna actually is a series of stratovolcanoes – a number of volcanoes built of layers of lava flows, ash and blocks of unmelted stone. It has four craters at its summit: the central ones, called Bocca Nuova and Voragine; the Northeast crater; and the newest Southeast one (formed by the 1978 eruption).
Mount Etna is the most active volcano in Europe, and one of the most actives in the world, with Strombolian kind of eruptions (producing ash, tephra and lava fountains) that constantly change its shape and elevation.
In 1669, a large eruption destroyed part of the port of Catania. Since then, eruptions have been regular and of a smaller scale, though rather violent. These kind of eruptions are called “paroxysms.” The last recorded one has been in February 2017, when 10 visitors were injured by boiling rocks ejected from a crater on the south-east side.
I am hoping to experience at least one small eruption during my hike of Mount Etna, though my friends call me crazy when I mention that. Either way, I am looking forward to the hike.
However, things don’t quite go as planned and I end up not hiking Etna at all. But I enjoy it all the same, and I plan to go again to conquer it. Here’s what happened, and why I didn’t hike it but still enjoyed it.
Mount Etna as seen from Bosco Ciancio
Mount Etna: Volcano or Mirage?
Mount Etna is the very last stop of my volcano extravaganza tour of Sicily (a region that should always be included to any trip to Italy). Four days, 3 volcanoes: it can’t get better than that. I can’t wait to be there.
The cold I have had the week before seems to be finally gone, and though I have felt a bit chilly while at the top of Mount Stromboli, I conclude that the uneasiness I am feeling is pure exhaustion due to the 7 weeks of uninterrupted travel, from Italy to Sri Lanka, then to the Maldives and Spain before ending up in Sicily; the change of a few time zones and of a number of beds I hardly care to remember.
To read more about my hike of Stromboli, check my post “Why Mount Stromboli Is The Best Volcano Hike.”
It’s really early on Saturday morning, when I board a hydrofoil that is meant to take me from Stromboli to Milazzo. There, I catch a ride to Bosco Ciancio, near Biancavilla, on the southern slopes of Etna. The closer we get there, the clearer I see the mighty volcano. And the stronger the headache and body ache I have been feeling since I woke up get.
By the time I reach my hotel in the early afternoon, all I want to do is crawl in bed after taking a strong dose of paracetamol.
I suppose sleeping and paracetamol work, because a few hours later I wake up feeling better, though definitely not my 100% and not ready for a difficult hike the morning after.
The good news is that I can still visit Mount Etna without having to hike it. I decide to opt for the soft approach, thinking that I can always take advantage of the direct flights to Catania in the future, to go on that much dreamt hike.
The moon-like landscape at the top of Mount Etna
Mount Etna Without The Hassle
The starting point to visit Mount Etna on the southern slope is the complex where Rifugio Sapienza is located, at little over 1900 meters above sea level. The area is lined by souvenir shops, coffee shops and restaurants.
I wonder if the owners are not afraid that eruptions and lava flows may destroy their businesses. I know that lava flows have destroyed houses and businesses in the past. On my way to Etna, I spot a house whose only visible remain is the roof – the rest covered by solidified lava. I conclude that business may be quite good if the owners are willingly taking the risk to have their shop destroyed.
I walk past the shops and restaurants to jump on a cable car that takes me to an elevation of 2500 meters. The view from the cable car is stunning, but just a prelude to what I will see once at the top. Every now and then I see people walking up, following a rather uneven trail (in the lava flows). I would have done the same, had I not been so sick the day before.
Once at the top, I hop on a 4×4 bus that, driving along the desert slopes of the volcano, takes me to 2950 meters above sea level, by the Torre del Filosofo (Philosopher’s Tower), where I and the rest of the visitors are greeted by Paride, a local guide and vulcanologist.
Paride takes the group around the caldera and shows the solidified lava flows, as well as the results of the latest eruptions and the fumaroles. We stand in awe of the Valle del Bove (Valley of the Ox), a large caldera in the shape of a horseshoe on the eastern slope of Mount Etna.
The road that goes all the way up to the Torre del Filosofo was destroyed by the latest eruption
I ask if eruptions cause any threat to the local life, and Paride mentions that the lava flows occasionally threaten agriculture, transportation, and at times even the local towns surrounding Mount Etna. He points to the road that the 4×4 buses use to drive visitors up from the cable car and tells me that the park authorities regularly have to re-build it, as it gets destroyed by eruptions.
He mentions that in the winter, people go skiing on Mount Etna. I try to imagine how incredible it must be to ski on an active volcano, snow all around, and at the same time have a view of the Mediterranean sea in the distance.
I can see why the locals call it “Mongibello” (the beautiful mountain): Mount Etna is simply splendid, in a frightening yet charming kind of way. It is a huge resource for local life. Its fertile soil is perfect for the cultivation of olives, grapes and fruit – some of the best Italian olive oil, wines, mandarines and oranges are produced here. And the revenue produced by tourism is thriving, with ski tourism in the winter, and hiking the rest of the year.
As I hop back on the 4×4 bus that takes me to the cable car, I vow to visit again.
The stunning view from Mount Etna spans all the way to the Mediterranean Sea
The best access point to Mount Etna is on the southern side, where Rifugio Sapienza is located. That’s also where the cable car is located.
There’s various ways to visit Mount Etna, reflecting the difference in one’s budget. Keep in mind that due to the high activity of the vulcano, it is necessary to hire a guide in order to go all the way to the peak craters. Indeed, the fumaroles close to the craters eject toxic gases whose direction change depending on the wind. It is not uncommon for guides to have to go rescue groups that venture on their own and eventually get stuck because unable to breathe.
The cheapest (and most difficult) way is to walk all the way up via the path that follows the cable car.
A cable car ride costs €33 for the round trip.
A combined ticket that includes a cable car ride, a 4×4 ride to the Torre del Filosofo, and a guided tour around the calderas costs around €63.
Guided treks to the peak craters start from Rifugio Sapienza and cost around €85. The meeting time is normally 9:30 am. The excursion starts with the cable car ride to 2500 meters, and is then followed by a guided hike all the way to the peak craters and back. Please not it is not recommended to hike Mount Etna alone. Check out my post on why I don’t go hiking alone.
At 3000 meters above sea level, the temperatures are rather chilly even in October
Gearing up for the visit
Whichever month one plans to visit Mount Etna, it is important to keep in mind that there’s at least a 10 degrees Celsius difference between the temperature at the base of the volcano and the top. I have visited in mid October, and it was quite cold. I can only imagine that it is really cold during the winter, when Mount Etna is covered in snow.
The following list is applicable to those visiting Mount Etna during the warmest months:
- Hiking boots: the terrain is rocky and sandy at the same time and that extra ankle support will be needed.
- Hiking pants, a thermal t-shirt, a sweater, and a warmer wind proof jacket: it does get cold at 3000 meters above sea level! I also recommend taking a scarfand a hat, and gloves to be on the safe side.
- Sunglasses: the sun can be fierce on the eyes in the summer months, and there’s a lot of dust flying around.
- A daypack to carry the extra clothes, plenty of water (especially if planning to hike) and food and snacks.
- A camera to catch the amazing views.
A gorgeous aerial view of Bosco Ciancio and its surroundings
Where to stay and eat near Mount Etna
There are various places to stay and eat near Mount Etna – either in the villages around it, or even in Catania for those who prefer staying in a big city.
After weeks of non-stop travel, I was in desperate need for a quiet place where I’d hear no noise of traffic and where I’d be sure to get proper sleep.
I opt to stay at Bosco Ciancio, a beautifully refurbished rural house, once the ancient manor of the Dukes of Ciancio. The building, dating back to the 1800s, is located in Etna Park and completely immersed in nature. All rooms have stunning views of the countryside, and there is a lovely internal garden and an outside patio.
The main hall of Bosco Ciancio is the perfect place to relax
The reception area, where the bar is located, is stylishly furnished and it’s a cozy place to relax while reading a book or sipping a glass of wine.
The restaurant at Bosco Ciancio offers meals that reflect the local tradition and which are carefully prepared using local and seasonal ingredients. The breakfast buffet includes homemade cakes, jams and local chestnut honey. In fact, as I go for a walk in the forest I spot a number of hives.
The dinner menu changes every day and generally includes a selection of appetizers, pasta dishes and main courses, with also vegetarian and vegan options.
The quietness of the location, the charming environment and the cozy room make my stay at Bosco Ciancio simply perfect. I manage to get over 9 solid hours sleep, which is a real treat!
Click here for the latest rates at Bosco Ciancio and here for reviews.
Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of Bosco Ciancio during my visit of Mount Etna. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.
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I went to Vulcano to experience yet another volcano hike, and discovered an island that has so much more to offer than I ever expected.
When I finally arrive in Vulcano, after more than 12 hours of traveling from Spain, the night has fallen already. I have heard the island (one of the seven of the Aeolian Islands archipelago, and the closest one to Milazzo, in Sicily) is beautiful. But I can’t confirm this, right now: it’s so dark that I can’t see a thing.
I have also heard that Vulcano has a strong smell of sulphur. This, I am immediately able to confirm, on the other hand. The air does smell like rotten eggs. I wonder if I’ll get used to it.
The acrid smell of sulphur is only one of the many things that, in my time on the island, remind me there’s a reason why Vulcano has that name. It’s the same smell I sensed on other volcanoes, such as Masaya in Nicaragua, or Mount Bromo in Indonesia. Volcanic activity here has been going on since 120000 years. There’s craters and calderas all over. It’s what prompted me to visit – after all, I only have a mild obsession with volcanoes.
Vulcanello peninsula can be seen from the Gran Cratere of Vulcano
Vulcano: The Perfect Island For Adventure And Relaxation
It’s 7:00 am in the morning when I open the blinds of my room at Therasia Resort and marvel at the view in front of my eyes. The light is magic at that time of day. Right in front of me there’s Lipari, the biggest of the Aeolian Islands. In the distance, I can see Alicudi, Filicudi, Salina and Stromboli, which will be my next stop on my volcano tour of Sicily and where I also plan to go on a hike.
Read about my adventure in Stromboli on my post “Why Mount Stromboli is the best volcano hike.”
Behind me, I can see the base of a volcano. That may be the one I’m meant to hike in the afternoon (I later learned that it was Vulcanello). Meantime, I decide to explore the village and the beaches.
The mud of Vulcano is said to have beneficial properties
The buzz of the summer months has gone. It’s mid October, and the crowds of tourists are mostly gone: soon enough all businesses will be closed and only the roughly 500 people that live in Vulcano throughout the year will remain. To date, there’s a lot of vineyards and olive trees on the island, though the main revenue is obviously tourism.
A few tourists lay at the beach. It’s still warm and sunny. There’s two beaches on each side of the isthmus that connects the main island to a smaller one known as Vulcanello. Both beaches are characterized by dark, volcanic sand. It’s so different from the white beaches of Sardinia I am used to, or from the incredibly turquoise waters of the Maldives that I have visited only a month ago. Yet the sea is incredibly transparent.
Some other tourists seem to enjoy the mud baths Vulcano is famous for. They are said to have incredibly beneficial properties. It is only €3 to get in, but the sulphur smell is so overpowering that I pass on the opportunity to cure my asthma.
I’d much rather climb the “faraglioni,” the rock stacks from which I may get a good view of the bay, but the guy at the ticket booth of the mud baths doesn’t seem too eager to let me in. I convince him to let me go under the promise that I won’t jump any fence and won’t have to be rescued.
The clear waters and the “acque calde” of Vulcano are inviting for a swim, even in the fall
I get all the way to the top to admire the view. A few people are swimming in what are known as “acque caldo” (warm waters). Tens of submarine volcanic fumaroles eject hot steam, giving the water the effect of a natural jacuzzi. I can see why people love it.
Continuing my wanders around the village, I stop at the coffee shop right in front of the harbour and order a granita. I may as well indulge in this typical, refreshing Sicilian treat before I go on my daily hike.
That reminds me, I am in Vulcano to hike the Gran Cratere. It’s meant to be a sweet, easy hike, yet rewarding. Here’s a recollection of what I saw and experienced during the hike, followed by some tips to make the most of it.
Hiking the Gran Cratere e Vulcanello
I decide to hire a guide to take me around Vulcano, thinking that since I am there for a short time I need to make the most of it (besides, I am not a fan of hiking alone – and here’s why). Our first stop is Vulcanello, located on the north of Vulcano. This used to be a separate island, formed with an eruption in 183 BC, which through a series of eruptions, was eventually joined to Vulcano via a small isthmus by 1550 AC.
The view of Lipari from the caldera of Vulcanello
Vulcanello was the youngest vulcano of the island, and the one with the shortest life too. It’s fairly easy to reach once the guide points the trail, which is well hidden in the vegetation. There’s a very large caldera – a volcanic depression that was formed after a violent volcanic eruption, when the cone of a volcano collapses in the space left after the magma is expelled.
We then go to Valle dei Mostri (Monster Valley), located in Vulcanello. This looks almost like a natural anfitheater, with statues all around – which actually are the result of the erosion of the lava rock by the sea and the wind. They look like monsters – hence the name of the place.
Nowadays, only a few remain. With time, many have been completely eroded. I can understand that. Others have been taken away by the owners of local villas to place them in their gardens. I leave wondering how the local authorities have allowed this to happen.
The eroded lava stone took the shape of a dinosaur
It’s almost 4 pm when we start hiking to Gran Cratere. The afternoon is warm, but there’s a lovely marine breeze. I puff along the steep trail, but the view is so beautiful that I often stop to take a photo. From the top, I can see all of the Aeolian Islands archipelago – Lipari and Salina, really close; Alicudi, Filicudi, Stromboli and Panarea in the distance. On a very clear day it is also possible to see the northern coast of Sicily and Etna.
It takes me less than one hour to reach the main crater, known as Caldera de La Fossa. The caldera is huge, with a 500 meters diameter. The last eruption here occurred in 1890, but there’s plenty of fumaroles that eject steam. It isn’t possible to get inside the crater, because the concentration of gas that is accumulated in the depression makes the air almost impossible to breathe.
A splendid view of the Aeolian Islands during the Gran Cratere hike
The fumaroles are mostly composed of sulphur, which gives the terrain its red and yellow color, and which fills the air of the typical acre stench. I walk through the fumaroles wearing a mask (good thing the guide carried one), yet the smell almost nauseates me.
I spend about 15 minutes at the top, admiring the view around me. I can see the port of Levante, where I landed the day before, and Vulcanello and the Aeolian Islands on one side; and Piano, one of the villages of the island, on the other.
Thankfully, I don’t have to walk through the stinky fumaroles to reach the path to go down again.
The fumaroles in Vulcano: the yellow of the rocks is due to the sulphur – which also makes the air smell like rotten eggs
Vulcanello, the Valle dei Mostri and Gran Cratere can all be accessed for free and without a guide, though having one will obviously make the experience more complete with information and tips.
Valle dei Mostri can be reached on an easy 30 minutes walk from Porto di Levante (the largest village, where the hydrofoils to the other islands and to Sicily depart from) and it is well signalled. The path to the caldera of Vulcanello, on the other hand, isn’t as well marked and it may be necessary to ask directions to the access point.
The entry point to the path to Gran Cratere is located at around 10 minutes walk from Porto di Levante. The walk to the crater and back takes no more than 2 hours, though the path is steep and sandy in some points and the lenght of the walk depends on one’s level of fitness.
The Gran Cratere of Vulcano
Gearing up for the hike
The hike to Gran Cratere is short and not too demanding, but wearing and carrying the proper gear is always recommended. Here’s a useful list of what to wear and take:
- Hiking boots: some people wear plain running shoes, others even attempt to hike with walking shoes or flip flops. But keep in mind that the terrain is sandy, rocky and slippery in some points; not to mention the ground near the fumaroles is very hot. Hiking boots provide the much needed ankle support and protect from the heat.
- T-shirt and either shorts (in the summer months) or hiking pants: also add asweather and a wind proof jacket. The wind is quite chilly at the top.
A scarf or, even better, a mask is needed if wanting to walk through the fumaroles
- A scarf, or a bandana: the sulphur at the crater makes the air stink so much that wearing a scarf around the nose and mouth is a must! If possible, wear a mask.
- A hat: especially if walking in the summer months and in the hottest hours.
- Sunglasses: it is so dusty that they are necessary to protect the eyes.
- A daypack: use it to carry the extra layers and a lots of water.
- A camera: the view is so breathtaking that taking pictures is a must!
A splendid view of the Aeolian Islands from the top of Gran Cratere in Vulcano
Where to stay and eat in Vulcano
As with the rest of the Aeolian Islands, there are plenty of sleeping and eating options in Vulcano. I arrived there at the end of 6 weeks of hectic travels, so I felt the need to pamper myself and opted to stay at the marvelous Therasia Resort. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Aside from a gorgeous, spacious room with views of the sea and the rest of the Aeolian Islands, I enjoyed eating at the two delicious on site restaurants (the breakfast buffet is one the best I have ever seen!); I jumped into the beautiful infinity pool; and I treated myself to the spa where I could pick from a great variety of treatments.
How to get to Vulcano
Vulcano can be reached via hydrofoil in a little over one hour from Milazzo, near Messina. From Vulcano, there are regular hydrofoils to the rest of the Aeolian Islands and to Milazzo.
Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of Imperatore Travel during my time in Vulcano. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.
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I didn’t just get to see a volcano when I hiked Mount Stromboli. I also got to listen to its voice. And it was a thrilling experience.
As a proper volcano and hiking junkie, I could no longer postpone a trip to the Aeolian Islands. I had hiked various active volcanoes in the world. I had gone volcano boarding on Cerro Negro, in Nicaragua. I had looked down the crater of Mount Bromo, in Indonesia. I felt a bit embarrassed that I had been to far away places and had yet to travel to the South of Italy.
It was finally time to fly to Sicily and explore some of the world’s most active volcanoes, which incidentally are at a stone’s throw from where I live.
A perfect sunrise from Stromboli, in the Aeolian Islands
A one hour flight from Cagliari, Sardinia, to Catania, one of Sicily’s most beautiful cities; then a 2 hour car or bus ride to Milazzo (a small town near Messina); and finally a hydrofoil ride from Milazzo took me to the Aeolian Islands archipelago. Located off the North East coast of Sicily, this is composed of 7 islands, all of them of volcanic origin. It literally is a volcano extravaganza.
In my very brief time there, I had the chance to visit Vulcano (the name says it all!), where I hiked Vulcanello and Gran Cratere, and Stromboli, one of Italy’s most active volcanoes.
Hiking Stromboli was the highlight of my brief time in the Aeolian Islands. In fact, it was one of the best hikes of my life.
Mount Stromboli in the distance, and a lovely atmosphere: easy to fall in love!
A Lovely Island
I fell in love with Stromboli at first sight, as soon as I set foot there after a hydrofoil ride from Vulcano. Come to think of it, I actually fell in love with it as soon as I saw it in the distance, right after sunrise, from the balcony of my room in Vulcano.
The island is tiny – no more than 12 square km and around 600 inhabitants that reside there throughout the year, although the island gets a large influx of tourists during the summer months. There’s hardly any car – just tuc tucs, golf carts and scooters.
I visited in mid October, at the very end of the summer season, when most businesses that cater to tourists have either already closed for the winter or are just about to.
Tiny alleys, white buildings and tuc tics: this is Stromboli
It was great. The weather was sunny and warm (without the terrible heat of the summer months). I got to experience the best of the island – its environment, the narrow alleys of the small village, the food, the locals – without any of the crowds. And, more importantly so, I got to hike an active volcano.
It was a thrilling adventure. One that I recommend to anyone who enjoys hiking, and who wishes to admire one of the most spectacular sunsets in the South of Italy. The following is a recollection of my experience on Mount Stromboli.
Hiking Mount Stromboli
Although I had hiked other active volcanoes in the past and had even seen the lava explosions on Volcano Pacaya in Guatemala, my experience on Mount Stromboli was ten times better.
I can’t quite explain what made it so special to me. It may be because Stromboli itself is an island, and all the time during the hike I enjoyed splendid sea views. It may be the all encompassing experience, where I could see, hear and literally feel the lava explosions. It was simply fantastic.
The view from Mount Stromboli: the intense blue of the Mediterranean sea
Mount Stromboli reaches an elevation of 926 meters above sea level. There are three craters at its peak, all of them regularly throwing smoke and lava. The most recent major eruption occurred in April 2009. Indeed, Stromboli is a very active volcano, characterized by what are known as Strombolian eruptions: explosions of lava that occur at more or less regular intervals.
The highlight of a hiking expedition on Mount Stromboli is seeing the lava explosions, and the best time of day to see them is when it is dark and the bright red of the lava strikes against the darkness of the surroundings. As it is easy to imagine, this was a major factor in making me sign up for the hike.
However, I had been warned that there was no guarantee that I’d be able to see the eruptions, as this would depend on the weather conditions. In fact, as I walked out to meet my guide and the rest of the group for the hike, the owners of the hotel where I stayed mentioned that guests who hiked the day before didn’t get to see much, because it was foggy at the top.
Yet, I was optimistic. I always am.
Walking through the village to hike up Mount Stromboli
Soon after meeting the guide and the rest of the group, we started walking to Mount Stromboli cutting through the village. The guide led us through the narrow alleys to eventually follow a path that goes all the way to the peak. A few minutes after leaving the centre, it appeared like nature was claiming its place: the vegetation was thick, and the soil dark and sandy, as it often is on volcanoes.
Walking up, the vegetation occasionally opened to reveal the breathtaking views: the intense blue of the Mediterranean sea against the darkness of the volcanic sand of Stromboli beaches and the whitness of the village.
As soon as the landscape became bare, I spotted other groups
At around 400 meters above sea level, vegetation started becoming sparse. Eventually, getting closer to the crater, the landscape got completely bare and it felt like walking on the moon. That’s when I finally realized that, indeed, it was a volcano I was hiking. That’s also when I noticed the presence of several other guided groups hiking Mount Stromboli. It looked like the few tourists that had remained on the island were all doing the same thing. I could not blame them!
A fabulous sunset over Alicudi and Filicudi as seen from Mount Stromboli
By the time my group reached the top, the sun was setting. The light was simply spectacular. The islands of Alicudi and Filicudi were clearly visible. The sea and the sky looked like one, big, cloud. Our guide led us to a viewpoint where we could literally sit and enjoy the show that was taking place below us.
Finally, the smoke, the fire and the lava explosions on the craters below were visible, and also clearly audible – though I admit at first I didn’t understand what the loud roar I heard was! I even felt the ashes from the explosion on my skin.
We spent round 30 minutes admiring this incredible show of nature before eventually making our way back to the village.
Posing for a photo on Mount Stromboli, my attention was caught by a loud explosion!
Due to the high activity of the volcano, only guided groups are allowed on Mount Stromboli (in any case, I hardly recommend hiking alone in general: read here why). Guided hikes are offered between the end of March and the end of October.
There are various companies that offer guided hikes in a variety of languages. Group expeditions of up to 20 people cost around €30 euro per person, though it is also possible to hire a private guide (which is inevitably more expensive).
I walked with Il Vulcano a Piedi and had a good experience.
Hiking expeditions depart directly from the village in the afternoon – depending on the season, between 3:00 and 5:00 pm. The hike lasts around 6 hours, based on the number of breaks and on the time spent at the top of the volcano. The idea is that of getting to the top right in time for sunset and walking down when it is dark already.
The path is mostly sandy: a steady uphill on the way to the craters, and a steep downhill on the way back to the village.
I didn’t find the hike to be difficult nor strenuous, though I suppose that depends on one’s level of fitness and I would recommend to not underestimate that.
The bare landscape on Mount Stromboli
Gearing up for the hike
Here’s a short list of what I recommend wearing and carrying for the hike:
- Hiking boots are vital: the soil is very sandy and good ankle support makes it much easier to walk. The good news is that all companies that offer guided hikes also rent boots and other gear, and there’s plenty of shops in the village where it is possible to buy them too.
- Wear layers, and carry at least one extra t-shirt: I recommend wearing a thermal, quick dry t-shirtand to carry an extra one to get changed during one of the breaks. Long hiking pantsare necessary, as it gets cold at the top, especially as the sun goes down. Also take a good wind jacket, a fleece sweater, a scarf and if possible also a hat and gloves. I hiked in mid October and I wished I had gloves, as my hands almost froze. I am not exaggerating!
- A head lamp or torch is necessary: the walk back down to the village is all done in the dark, and a light comes in handy. Companies usually provide that too, along with a helmet that must be worn once near the crater.
- Wear sunglasses: most of the walk is actually done in the shade or in the dark, but there is a lot of dust.
- Bring a small daypack: that can be used to carry extra clothes, plenty of water, and some snacks.
- Carry a camera: the views along the hike and from the top are simply stunning.
There’s many lovely places to stay in Stromboli
Where to stay and eat in Stromboli
Though the island is small, there are plenty of accommodation options and places to eat in Stromboli. I only spent one night there, and opted to stay at Hotel Miramare. Rooms there are plain but comfortable, and they all have a large balcony with incredible views of the sea. The owners are two lovely, incredibly sweet and kind ladies. There’s a bunch of friendly cats hanging around – they are all rescues. That added to the relaxed atmosphere to me! Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Another option, if staying longer, is that of renting one of the many villas in Sicily by the sea. I have seen several walking around the narrow alleys of Stromboli. They all have beautiful gardens and the benefit of having a kitchen to enjoy cooking using fresh local produce.
A good place to eat is Pizzeria Da Luciano. Pizza is perfect: a delicious, soft and crispy crust and some great fresh toppings; but there’s also other great options, which include fish and seafood, lots of pasta dishes, salads and a great, creamy tiramisu.
The best gelato is that of Lapillo, which also makes the freshest typical Sicilian granita.
Enjoying the show of nature on Mount Stromboli
Getting to and from Stromboli
Stromboli can be easily reached via hydrofoil. There’s three leaving daily from Milazzo, near Messina, to Stromboli. Two of them are direct, while one stops in Vulcano, Lipari, Salina and Ginostra islands before reaching Stromboli.
There’s 4 daily hydrofoils leaving from Stromboli and going to Milazzo. Keep in mind that if the sea conditions are too rough the connections are stopped. That happens regularly in the winter months.
Legal disclaimer: I was a guest of Imperatore Travel during my visit to the Aeolian Islands and wish to thank them for putting together an incredible itinerary. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.
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28 June 2018 Update: in the 3 times i have visited Nicaragua, I have always felt safe. Yes, I am aware of crime issues (especially petty crime, and especially in bigger cities such as the capital), but I have never encountered any real issue. But starting in April 2018 civil unrest and protests against the government have caused the situation to worsen.
I still think that Nicaragua is safe for travelers, but I know that a lot of hotels, restaurants and places that work with tourists are shutting down, at least temporarily. I hope things can get sorted peacefully as soon as possible, especially for the people fo Nicaragua. Should you decide to visit despite everything, you should not skip Cerro Negro. This post explains why.
If anybody had told me that one day I’d go volcano boarding, I would have laughed at them.
I have recently revealed my passion for volcanoes, of which I became fully aware of only once I traveled to Central America. Coming from Italy, I grew up with the news of volcano eruptions of Etna or Stromboli. But that’s what it was to me: just news material when a big eruption occurred.
I didn’t realize I was really interested in volcanoes before I found myself literally surrounded by them, first in Antigua Guatemala, and then in Lake Atitlan. They looked so mighty, so imposing, that they obviously caught my attention.
That’s how I ended up on my first ever volcano hike in Guatemala. I enjoyed it so much that I vowed to hike more volcanoes during my backpacking trip. After all, I was traveling across Central America, and it would be silly not to make the most of it, right?
Then I made it to Nicaragua, and ended up having one of the most fun, adrenaline packed adventures of my travel life.
The incredible sight of Volcan Momotombo in Nicaragua
Nicaragua and its volcanoes
I didn’t know much about Nicaragua before visiting, and had close to zero expectations about it. I ended up falling in love with it, with its incredible vibe, with its welcoming people, to the point that I have been there three times, and I have vowed to go again.
To read more about my love for Nicaragua, check my post “The day I fell in love with Nicaragua.”
One thing I had no idea of before going, is that Nicaragua is known as the land of lakes and volcanoes. It isn’t by chance: there’s 19 active volcanoes scattered around the country. Of these, a few surround Leon, my favorite city in Nicaragua. Some are close to Granada, Nicaragua tourist hot spot. And two make up Ometepe Island.
Pretty much any time one looks around in Nicaragua, there is a volcano in sight. Eventually, whether one likes it or not, it is inevitable to get on a volcano. I walked on the crater of volcano Masaya, not far from Granada, and explored the lava fields. I hiked Maderas, in Ometepe island. But it is Cerro Negro that gave me the most thrilling experience.
The following is a recollection of my experience on volcano Cerro Negro, with a few tips on how to make the most of it.
One of the many volcanoes of Nicaragua
Volcano Boarding on Cerro Negro, Nicaragua
Cerro Negro is close to Leon, Nicaragua most interesting city. It is the youngest and smallest volcano in the country, reaching an elevation of around 750 meters, yet among the most active ones. Its last big eruption occurred in 1999.
Just knowing these facts, I was curious to learn more about it, and possibly hike it. After having hiked Volcano Pacaya, in Guatemala, I was really keen to go on a similar experience in Nicaragua. After all, I love hiking, I love volcanoes and even more so, I love the thrill of hiking an active volcano.
To read more about my experience on volcano Pacaya, check my post “What to expect when hiking volcano Pacaya.”
The stunning view from the top of Cerro Negro
It was only when I started enquiring about the possibility of hiking a volcano near Leon (and possibly Cerro Negro), that I learned that it is possible to go volcano boarding on Cerro Negro. Needless to say, as soon as I found that out, I signed myself up. I was incredibly curious to experience this: after all, it was considered one of the most fun things to do in Nicaragua.
To find out about all the other fantastic things to do in Nicaragua, read my post “The most awesome things to do in Nicaragua.”
What makes volcano boarding on Cerro Negro possible is its soil, made of tiny grains of volcanic rock. To date, I haven’t actually heard of other countries that offer this activity – possibly due to the terrain of their volcanos.
Sliding down Cerro Negro implies a short but somehow tough hike to its top. The path isn’t hard in and of itself, actually. What makes the climb difficult is having to carry the wooden board all the way up, and fighting the strong wind which, although providing a good break from the almost unbearable heat of Leon, literally swipes away – especially when the wooden boards act like sails!
The landscape that surrounds Cerro Negro is lush: the vegetation at its bottom is thick, thanks to the incredibly fertile soil. The view from the top is simply splendid: it is possible to see as far as the Pacific Ocean. Needless to say, sunset views from there are simply breathtaking.
Gearing up for volcano boarding – photo courtesy of Andrew White (flickr)
Once at the top, everyone in the group is handed a pair of overalls, leather gloves and goggles to wear for the descent. These are supposed to protect against the dust and to reduce the impact if falling down. Needless to say, anyone who goes volcano boarding, regardless of any protective gear, is bound to get covered in dark dust at least on the face and hair. It took me a few showers to get rid of the dust and tiny dark pebbles from my hair!
People slide down one at a time. The descent is more or less fast, depending on the actual weight of the person going, on how many people have paved the track beforehand, and – obviously – on how one manages the board. I tried to catch as much speed as possible, but I was by far the lightest in my group, yet went before everyone else, with the result that I went down terribly slow, while the rest of the group went very fast.
Between the hike, the actual volcano boarding, and the gorgeous views, the experience is a lot of fun: it is worth every cent and I would totally do it again (sending someone to slide before me, so I manage to catch some speed this time).
Volcano boarding on Cerro Negro isn’t dangerous per se, though I know of a few people that fell and got injured (that’s a good enough reason not to go alone: here’s a post I wrote that explains why I don’t hike solo). Once again, it is all a matter of choosing the right balance between fun, adrenaline, and safety: it’s up to each and one of us to decide the speed to which we are sliding down, and to break when going too fast. Some people simply choose to go too fast and then lose control of the board.
Finally, volcano boarding! – photo courtesy of Garret Ziegler
Cerro Negro is at about one hour drive from Leon. There is no public transportation to goes all the way to the base of the volcano, and the road is quite bumpy, so the best way to get there is on a 4WD truck. The entrance fee to the protected area costs $5 USD.
There’s no place to rent the boards used for volcano boarding anywhere near Cerro Negro, so the most time and cost effective way to enjoy this experience is on a guided tour departing from Leon.
There’s various companies that offer volcano boarding. The cost is always the same – around $35 USD. Some tours can even be booked online. Usually, the more people in a group, the cheaper the price.
Tours generally depart from Leon at around 2:00 pm, giving the possibility of experiening an incredible sunset from Cerro Negro.
Gorgeous sunset view from Cerro Negro, Nicaragua
Gearing up for volcano boarding
- Wear a good pair of hiking boots, with proper ankle support. The soil is thick and sandy, and the strong wind makes it already hard enough to walk.
- Carry a wind jacket: it does get really windy and chilly, which is a novelty in Leon.
- Wear sunglasses to protect the eyes against the thick dust.
- Pack a small daypack with plenty of water for the duration of the hike.
- Carry some dollars or cordobas to pay the entrance fee to the protected area.
- Carry a camera to take amazing sunset shots: it can be left with the guide when sliding down, and he can use it to film the experience.
Care to know what’s normally in my backpack? Head over to read “My Packing List.”
Have you ever been volcano boarding? Did you enjoy the experience?
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