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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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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