It would be a shame to plan a trip to Sicily without going up to Etna! Here are our tips for visiting Etna!
Considered the most active volcano in Europe with more than a hundred eruptions in the 20th century, it is also the second highest on the continent after the Teide (12,200 feet) on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands (Spain). At 11,000 feet, this 500,000-year-old volcano overlooks Sicily and the city of Catania, and attracts thousands of tourists all year round. The slopes, composed of fluid lava flows and ashes accumulated over the eruptions, have created a volcanic building with less steep slopes, several calderas and a dome at the top, making it a stratovolcano.
The first eruptive activity dates back 500,000 years and the last one dates back to 2016. Here are our tips for hiking on the slopes and climbing Etna.
Also read : The 17 best things to do in Sicily
Visiting Mount Etna: a little context
The formation of this mountain of fire is documented 500,000 years ago and the eruptions of the volcano are mostly effusive, with very fluid lava giving basalt rocks as they cool. Etna has five summit craters: the northeast crater appeared in 1911, the Voragine created in 1947, the Bocca Nuova appeared in 1968, the southeast crater constituted in 1971 and the new southeast crater, appeared in 2007 at the eastern foot of the old one, regularly in activity since then. The city of Catania, the tenth largest city in Italy and directly adjacent to the crater, has suffered the imprecations and anger of the volcano on several occasions throughout history: lava flows and destruction, pyroclastic rainfall…
When the weather is clear, it is possible to see the volcano over a large part of the east coast of Sicily. The city of Taormina in particular is famous for its theater with a unique view of the volcano. Its eruptions make it one of the most important geological sites in Europe and it is certainly the most famous volcano in Europe with the other Italian giant, Mount Vesuvius. The advantage of an effusive volcano is that it is also not dangerous to climb its slopes. Indeed, the eruptions release a plume of ash and smoke, but there are no gas explosions or fiery clouds, this pyroclastic blast rushing down the slopes at a speed between 200 and 600 km/h and a temperature between 300°C and 500°C.
A national park of Etna was created in 1987 and the site has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visiting Etna allows you to admire a variety of landscapes all year round – except in winter – from volcanic craters to barren lava fields, woods and vineyards. A lunar landscape is revealed to the hiker as he climbs the slopes, which become steeper and steeper towards the peaks. Finally, Etna covers an area of 1,200 km².
What to see at the top of Etna?
If you don’t want to organize your own visit to Etna. There are day trips with a tour guide from Catania, Palermo or Taormina. Prices differ according to the duration of the excursion and the services included. Here are some links to book this type of excursion for Etna:
It may be interesting to stop at Torre del Filosofo, an old refuge located on the way, at an altitude of 9842 feet. It shows the summit, consisting of a 660-feet wide cone and the large dome. The path leading to the crater dome goes around the crater from the west: you reach an altitude of 3,250 metres, with panoramic views unique in Sicily, a view of the three craters (Boca Nuova, southeast crater and northeast crater, with red fumaroles and sulphur fumes.
Beware of those who wish to visit Etna on their own: in the high mountains, fog can quickly settle in, but the lunar and flat landscape up to 8,200 feet above sea level can quickly make us lose our bearings without an approved guide. If you decide to climb Etna in winter, the volcanic colossus even has a ski resort on its northern side: the resort of Plano Provenzano. You don’t want to hike or are looking for thrills? Fly over the volcano by helicopter from Castiglione di Sicile!
How to get to Mount Etna?
By car, whether you brought your own on a ferry or chose to rent a car, you will drive towards Nicolosi from Catania: it is the last village before entering the Etna Park, on its southern side. The road to reach Etna is quite simple: you will have to go up to the Sapienza refuge, where you will be close to the Silvestri crater, considered inactive. A parking lot is nearby to park and start the visit. Like all tourist sites, there will be shops, restaurants and bicycle rental shops.
In Sapienza, it is possible to take the funicular up to an altitude of 8,200 feet at the Funivia Terminal. Be careful, the funicular is closed when the fog is out of control or in strong winds. It is accessible from 9 am to 4:15 pm in summer and from 9 am to 3:45 pm in winter. To get to the Funivia Terminal by foot, the hike takes 4 hours. Once at the Terminal, you can take a 4×4 minibus that takes you to an altitude of 9,600 feet to walk around the crater and observe the fumaroles that escape. The more adventurous can hike up Etna, adding a 2-hour walk on the marked trail.
To sum up, Mount Etna has several different areas that are accessible in different ways.
It is possible to go on tours of the Northern flank of Etna, most will not take you to the top of the volcano but rather explore a few dormant craters and fractures.
The Southern flank is where most visitors go to. There is a bus from Catania that will take you up to Rifugio Sapienza for 4€ per trip (6,60€ for a same day return). From there you can walk up to 8,200 feet for free (about 2 hours), or take a cable car for 30€, return ticket included (about 15 minutes). From the 8,200 feet point, you can climb up the remaining 1,640 feet on foot to Torre del Filosofo which will take about an hour, or take a tour on a 4×4 bus, for 24€.
Whether you take the bus or walk, once you reach the summit and crater zone, organized aroung Torre del Filosofo, a former refuge, you will have to pay 9€ for a guided tour to enter the summit and crater zone itself. You can choose to go on the higher route to the summit or the lower route to see other craters, the higher route beeing a bit more strenuous of course but also more rewarding.
Mount Etna: rates and opening hours
OPENING DAYS AND HOURS
- Bus from Catania to Rifugio Sapienza(towards Mount Etna): 8.00 am
- Bus from Rifugio Sapienza to Catania (way back from Mount Etna): 4.30 pm
- Cable car from Sapienza to 8,200 feet: 9 am to 4:15 pm in summer and from 9 am to 3:45 pm in winter
- Tour departures from Torre del Filosofo to the summit: from 9am to 11:30am.
- Bus from Catania to Rifugio Sapienza(towards Mount Etna): 4€ single, 6,60€ both ways
- Cable car from Sapienza to 8,200 feet: 30€ both ways
- 4×4 bus from top of the cable car to Torre del Filosofo: 24€ (both ways)
- Tours from Torre del Filosofo to the summit: 9€
Where to stay near Etna?
If you want to climb Etna first, staying at the bottom of the volcano’s slopes may be a good solution. Indeed, you may want to watch the sunrise on the slopes of Etna, which is a magical experience to live! Likewise, if you want to enjoy the landscapes around Etna, there are accommodations designed for that purpose. You can look at the accommodation in Nicolosi, which is the village with the most accommodation at the foot of Etna.
A good and more authentic solution is to stay in agriturismo near Etna. There are many such as Agriturismo Valle dell’Etna, Agriturismo Biologico Dell’Etna, Agriturismo dell’Etna, or Agriturismo Etna-Mare. The views of Etna from your window are breathtaking! Imagine having breakfast with Etna as a backdrop… Other choices are possible to stay around Etna.
Finally, if you are planning to take the public bus to Rifugio Sapienza, you can stay in Catania and catch the bus at 7am.
GOOD TO KNOW
Climbing on Etna is not to be taken lightly during your holiday in Sicily. First of all, you need to bring quality shoes, so as not to twist your ankle. Rocks and pebbles litter the paths and accidents happen quickly, especially with crowds around
Even if it is 30 degrees below the slopes of Etna, bring warm clothing! Despite being an active volcano, it will not be particularly warm, the temperature will drop drastically as you go up and the winds will blow harder. When you are almost at the top, you will need a large coat or windbreaker to cope with the cold and strong winds.
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