Everything You Need To Know To Visit Mount Etna

Everything You Need To Know To Visit Mount Etna

You really should visit Mount Etna when in Sicily.

This literally is the cherry on the cake for any adventure lover visiting Sicily. Located on the south east of Sicily, not far from Catania (only a one hour flight from Cagliari, Sardinia, where I am based), this is one of the most active volcanoes in Europe.

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).

Whether you are looking for a hike or you would like to just take it a bit easier when visiting Mount Etna, this post explains everything you need to know to plan your trip.

In a rush? Go straight to the point and book your tour of Mount Etna here:

Mount Etna

The mighty peaks and craters of Mount Etna

13 Things You Need To Know To Visit Mount Etna

It’s one of the highest volcanoes in Europe

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. It’s so unique that it made the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

As well as one of the most active ones

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 sone can be rather violent. These kind of eruptions are called “paroxysms.” The last recorded eruption has been in October 2019 – the ash cloud propagated through the explosion forced the closure of Catania airport.

Mount Etna eruptions and the lava flows occasionally threaten agriculture, transportation, and at times even the local towns surrounding it. The road that the 4×4 buses use to drive visitors up from the cable car has to be regularly have to re-built by the park authorities, as it gets destroyed by eruptions.

Locals have an affectionate nickname for it

Locals affectionately call Mount Etna Mongibello (Beautiful Mountain) – and it is easy to see why. Its sight is mighty, yet stunning. 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 Mount Etna tours the rest of the year.

You need guided Mount Etna tours to reach the peak crater

You can visit Mount Etna independently or on guided tours. The way you do it really depends on your budget and on how much of it you want to see. If you want to hike all the way to the crater, you need to join a guided tour. Guides are officially appointed among those that know the trail like the palm of their hands, and can navigate them even in bad weather. They are equipped with a radio they can use in case of emergency, too.

Please remember that this is a highly active volcano, where 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.

You also have to understand that if the volcano starts erupting, your tour may have to detour, or you may be unable to reach the peak crater – this is for obvious safety reasons.

These are the best guided hiking tours of Mount Etna:

Guided Mount Etna tours usually meet at the visitor center near Rifugio Sapienza. The price of the tour includes the guide, equipment such as helmets, but not a hotel pick up (you have to make your own way to Rifugio Sapienza) or the cable car and 4×4 that will take you to the beginning of the trail, located at Torre del Filosofo (around 2950 meters above sea level). Tours usually last around 6 hours.

Once in Torre del Filosofo, all groups are met by a local guide to walk around the lower craters. If you are meant to continue hiking, yours will be a strenuous but rewarding experience!

TIP: When booking a guided tour of Mount Etna, remember to read the small print. The price doesn’t generally include the cost of the cable car and 4×4 ride to the top, which is an extra €50.

Mount Etna

The road that goes all the way up to the Torre del Filosofo was destroyed by the latest eruption

The starting point to visit Mount Etna is Rifugio Sapienza

The best access point to Mount Etna is on the southern side, where Rifugio Sapienza is located. That’s also where the cable car station is located. Rifugio Sapienza is at around 1900 meters above sea level. There, you will find a series of souvenir shops, coffee shops and a couple of restaurants.

There are three ways to get to Rifugio Sapienza

By car

You can get to Rifugio Sapienza by car (the easiest option – you can rent it in Catania or at the airport). You can park the car for free at the large parking lot, but keep in mind there may be parking guards demanding a small fee (a euro or so) to look after your car.

By bus

Alternatively, you can get there by bus from Stazione Centrale in Catania. The only direct bus leaves at 8:15 am, so you really should book in advance (at least a day before) if this is what you are opting for. It takes about two hours to get to Rifugio Sapienza, as the bus stops in Nicolosi. This means you only get to Rifugio Sapienza at 10:15 or so – making public transportation not a viable option if you have a booked a tour that departs at 9:00 am, like most ones.

The bus back to Catania leaves at 4:30 pm – so you have plenty of time to explore Mount Etna on your own.

By guided tour

If you don’t have a car and don’t want to juggle public transportation, your best way of getting to Rifugio Sapienza and visit Mount Etna is on an organized tour departing from Catania. These are the best options:

Visiting Mount Etna is not exactly cheap

The cheapest (and most difficult) way to visit Mount Etna 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. I know what you are thinking – this is a lot of money! But keep in mind that the maintenance costs for a cable car on the slopes of a volcano that erupts regularly are very high, and the maintenance is indeed ongoing.

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 9:00 or 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 remember it is not recommended to hike Mount Etna alone. Check out my post on why I don’t go hiking alone.

But can visit Mount Etna independently to save a bit

This is good news, if you are traveling on a budget! You don’t have to join a guided tour if you don’t want to.

If you want to avoid all the fees that visiting Mount Etna implies, you can opt to take the public bus to Rifugio Sapienza, and from there you will need to hike all the way to the Mountain Hut which works as the Cable Car station and coffee shop. The hike lasts about 1.5 hours. It’s not exactly a nice walk – you are mostly walking on volcanic gravel – and if it is a sunny summer day, you may find it way too hot.

From the Mountain Hut, you can follow the windy road that goes all the way to Torre del Filosofo. You will be able to see a small, dormant volcano on the way. It will take you about 45 minutes to get to the Torre del Filosofo, from where you will have a chance to walk around a massive crater that was formed in the 2003 eruptions.

PLEASE NOTE: This is the highest spot you can get to without joining a guided tour.

You will have to follow the same path to walk back down.

Mount Etna

At 3000 meters above sea level, the temperatures are rather chilly even in October

You need to be properly dressed to visit Mount Etna

Whichever month you plan 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 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 scarf and 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.

TIP: If you forgot to pack the much needed gear to visit Mount Etna, you’ll be happy to know that you can rent some nice, thick jackets at the cable car station for a few euro.

Mount Etna

The stunning view from Mount Etna spans all the way to the Mediterranean Sea

You can visit Mount Etna throughout the year

You can visit Mount Etna throughout the year, but the experience you’ll have will vary greatly depending on the season. Go in the winter time, you will find it covered in snow. During the spring and summer months you’ll find the largest crowds; whereas the experience tends to be perfect weather and crowds wise during shoulder season (September and October). One thing for sure, no matter when you go it is bound to be cold at the top – after all, you are at an altitude. And not even the crowds will distract you from the sheer beauty of the place.

There are a few places to eat on Mount Etna

The wisest thing to do if you are traveling on a budget is to pack your own lunch and drinks for your visit. If you forgot to do so, or if you simply didn’t have time to, you will be pleased to know that there are a couple of places where you can eat around Mount Etna. Rifugio Sapienza is the most obvious option – you will have a selection of sandwiches, salads and meals cooked to order. The Mountain Hut where the cable car stops is another option to get a quick bite.

Where to stay when visiting Mount Etna

If you are planning to rent a car during your trip to Sicily, you have a wide choice of places to stay that are not directly in a city.

I stayed 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 restaurants serves dishes reflecting the local tradition, using seasonal ingredients. Click here for the latest rates at Bosco Ciancio and here for reviews.

If you’d rather stay in a city, the most obvious place to stay would be Catania. This is one of Sicily’s largest cities and you are bound to find some excellent accommodation options.

This is a selection of the best places to stay in Catania:

Other useful information

Make sure you get a good travel insurance for your trip to Sicily, especially if you plan to hike Mount Etna. You can get a good one here.

Check out my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.”

For more readings on Sicily, check out these guidebooks:

Further posts about Sicily

Make sure to read my other posts about Sicily:

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Everything You Need To Know To Visit Vulcano Island, Sicily

Everything You Need To Know To Visit Vulcano Island, Sicily

I went to Vulcano island to experience yet another volcano hike, and discovered a place that has so much more to offer than I ever expected.

When I finally arrive in Vulcano island, 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 island 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 will remind you there’s a reason why Vulcano island 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 are craters and calderas all over. It’s what prompted me to visit.

In this post, I share a few facts about the island of Volcano and some tips on how to make the most of it.

Vulcano

Vulcanello peninsula can be seen from the Gran Cratere of Vulcano

A Guide To The Things To Do Vulcano Island, Sicily

Take in the incredible views

The first thing you need to do when in Volcano island is taking in the splendid views. If you have a chance, a stay at Therasia Resort is a guarantee of a stunning view. I stayed there and every morning marveled at the sight that spread in front of my eyes. The light is magic at that time of day. You will get to see Lipari, the biggest of the Aeolian Islands. In the distance, you’ll see Alicudi, Filicudi, Salina and Stromboli – one of the most fun islands to visit.

Read about my adventure in Stromboli on my post “Why Mount Stromboli is the best volcano hike.”

If you look at your back from Therasia, you will be able to see the base of a volcano. That is Vulcanello and it is one of the many volcanoes on Vulcano island.

Vulcano

The mud of Vulcano island is said to have beneficial properties

Explore the villages 

I visited Vulcano at the end of October. By then, the buzz of the summer months is gone, and with it the crowds of tourists. Most businesses close at the end of October and only the roughly 500 people that live in Vulcano throughout the year will remain. The small villages are lovely to explore, and with them the surroundings. While tourism remains the first revenue for Vulcano, there are a lot of vineyards and olive groves.

Enjoy the beaches

Whether you visit Vulcano during the spring, summer or early fall, make sure to visit the beaches. There are 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 you may be thinking of. Yet the sea is incredibly transparent.

Go to the mud baths

Vulcano is famous for the mud baths and to be fair you don’t want to miss them. They are said to have incredibly beneficial properties – for example they cure asthma, which I suffer from. It is only €3 to get in, but the sulphur smell is overpowering. Be prepared for that.

Climb the faraglioni

Right where the mud baths are located, there are the beautiful “faraglioni,” the rock stacks from which you can get a good view of the bay. Keep in mind that it is not officially permitted to walk up (though there is a trail) as apparently people jump over the fence and fall, which leads to a call for rescue. It took me some convincing to the guard at the entrance. You may give it a try, but don’t say I told you so!

Vulcano

The clear waters and the “acque calde” of Vulcano are inviting for a swim, even in the fall

Swim in the acque calde

One of the unmissable things to do in Vulcano island is swimming in its famous “acque calde” (warm waters). Tens of submarine volcanic fumaroles eject hot steam, giving the water the effect of a natural jacuzzi. If you aren’t a fan of the cold waters of the Mediterranean, this transparent stretch of sea will be the perfect spot for a swim!

Have a granita

Much like the rest of Sicily, Vulcano is a perfect place to have a granita. There are a few coffee shops where you can pop in to get one. I like the one right in front of the harbour because the views are lovely. It’s a nice way to relax and indulge a bit before continuing exploring the island.

Go for a hike

With so many volcanoes, it is only obvious that one of the best things to do in Vulcano island is hiking.

The hike to the Gran Cratere is meant to be a sweet, easy hike, yet rewarding. Most people hike it independently, but if you want to get some facts right about the island and its volcanoes, I recommend hiring a guide (besides, I am not a fan of hiking alone – and here’s why).

A hiking tour of Vulcano typically stops at 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.

Vulcano

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.

The second stop during the hike is Valle dei Mostri (Monster Valley), located in Vulcanello. This looks almost like a natural amphitheater, 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. Others have been taken away by the owners of local villas to place them in their gardens. I am still baffles as to why the local authorities have allowed this to happen.

Vulcano

The eroded lava stone took the shape of a dinosaur

The final stop will be Gran Cratere. Most people start hiking in the late afternoon, and while during the fall the temperatures will be pleasant (especially if you get a nice marine breeze), this is not a hike you should underestimate on warmer days.

The view during the hike is so beautiful that you’ll often stop for photos. From the top, you 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 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 are 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.

Vulcano

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. The best way to overcome the smell is to walk through the fumaroles wearing a mask (make sure to carry one). Even with that protection, the smell is nauseating.

Once at the top, the views are even better. You can see the port of Levante, where all boats dock, and Vulcanello and the Aeolian Islands on one side; and Piano, one of the villages of the island, on the other.

Thankfully, the path down isn’t through the stinky fumaroles.

Vulcano

The fumaroles in Vulcano: the yellow of the rocks is due to the sulphur – which also makes the air smell like rotten eggs

Practical facts for visiting Vulcano Island

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 signaled. 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 length of the walk depends on one’s level of fitness.

Vulcano

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 a sweater and a wind proof jacket. The wind is quite chilly at the top.
Vulcano

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!
Vulcano

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 island. 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 Island

Vulcano can be reached via hydrofoil in a little over one hour from Milazzo, near Messina. You can book your high speed ferry here. From Vulcano, there are regular hydrofoils to the rest of the Aeolian Islands and to Milazzo.

Traveling to Sicily? Make sure to read my posts A Great Guide To The Things To Do In Catania, Italy” and “A Fantastic 8 Days Sicily Itinerary.”

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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Learn how to enjoy Vulcano - via @clautavani