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Visiting Mount Etna in Sicily


One of the many wonders of Sicily is certainly Mount Etna. With its almost 11000 feet height the Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe. Mount Etna is without any doubt a "must see" but it's important to plan well the visit, considering the available time and the type of visit you want to do. The Etna offers actually many different experiences and there are many agencies which offer activities on the volcano. It's possible to choose among the all-inclusive packages of the tour operators or you can book your tour on the spot. It's also possible to program a trip autonomously.

Visiting the volcanic craters

First things first, we have to decide what we want to see on the volcano. Mt. Etna is a very active volcano but unlike other ones, for example the Stromboli in the Aeolian islands, the incandescent lava is visible only in certain periods, during the eruptions. When the Etna is active the lava is visible from security distance or, at night, as a red flood, frome the villages around the volcano.

However it's always possible to visit the extinct craters. The most famous are the "crateri silvestri", located on the south side of the mountain, near the village of Nicolosi. This is probably the most classic way to visit the volcano and it's possible to buy excursions in many hotels or local travel agencies. Departures are from the area of Taormina/Giardini Naxos (SAT Escursioni, phone +39 (0) 942 24653), Catania or Syracuse/Ragusa (Scarlet World, phone +39 (0) 95 8366721). A smooth street makes it possible, also for tourist busses, to arrive at 6200 feet at the mountain station Rifugio Sapienza. It's easy to arrive at rifugio Sapienza also by private car (during the winter you will need snow chains on board). The best way is to take the motorway Catania-Messina and to exit at Gravina di Catania -to visit the south side of the Etna, near Nicolosi- or at Giarre, to visit the north-east side, near Zafferana Etnea. It's difficult to visit Mt. Etna by public transport because there's only a daily run of the AST busses (Azienda Siciliana Trasporti, Tel. 840 000323). The bus departs from Catania in the morning, arrives at rifugio Sapienza after 2 hours and returns back in the afternoon..

View of the cableway on Etna (photo R.Allaway - Flickr, Creative Commons)It's possible to visit the crateri Silvestri by your own, the walk takes about 30 min. -1 hour. At the mountain station rifugio Sapienza you will also find souvenir shops, bars and restaurants. There's also the cableway station of the funivia dell'Etna. Here it's possible to buy the simple cableway ticket (price RT, 2016: € 30) which will take you at 8200 feet or the complete ticket cableway+jeep bus which will tak you at 9500 feet (price RT 2016: € 60). If you decide to go up we always suggest to take a complete trip because it's more spectacular. At 9500 feet a guide will escort you to see some active side craters: it's often possible to see the craters steaming and you will touch the warm rocks due to the volcanic activity. It is recommended to wear comfortable shoes and to take a jacket with you, also during the summer months. At that height it's often possible to find snow. For security reasons it's possible to arrive at the main crater only during certain periods. You will have to ask for information on the spot. The roundtrip from Rifugio Sapienza with the cableway and the jeep bus will take about 3 hours.


Hiking in the Etna nature park

Autumn trip on Mt. EtnaNature lovers will have a lot of choices to hike on Mt. Etna. During the high season there are daily group excursions with various duration and difficulty levels to book directly on the Etna or by phone. It's possible to ask further information at the Etna mountain guides which are based ot the south side (Gruppo Guide Alpine Etna Sud, phone +39 (0) 95 794755) near Rifugio Sapienza or on the north side (Gruppo Guide Etna Nord, phone +39 (0) 95 7774502) in Linguaglossa. It's also possible to book a private guide (on internet you will find plenty of offers) or you can plan an autonomous excursion, perhaps buying a book or a map wich illustrates the main nature trails. One of the most famous trails is the sentiero schiena dell'asino which allows to see the impressive Valle del Bove, a great lava valley. Other famous trails are the Monte Zoccolaro (about 0.6 miles, medium difficulty) or the monti Sartorius (about 2.5 miles, easy difficulty level). The Sartorius are extintc craters on the north side of the mountain. Some times the Etna nature reserve, Parco dell'Etna (phone +39 (0)95 821111) organizes free tours. Booking in advance is required for these tours. Trekking lovers can also plan to walk around the volcano sleeping in the public mountain huts. To access the huts you have to ask information at the Etna park or at the rangers. A small fee is required for some huts but other can be used for free.

Jeep tours

Etna jeep excursion (photo A. Guschin/Flickr - Creative Commons)A lot of small tour operators offer also "mixed" excursions using jeeps to climb on the Etna. Departures are mostly frpm  Taormina/Giardini Naxos or from Giarre. You will go on the volcano taking some offroad paths. Often the tour comprehends a visit to some lavic grottos and a small hiking tour. A nice tour offered by some agencies is also "Sunset on the Etna" with departures in the afternoon. Two of the most reliable agencies are Acquaterra (phone +39 (0) 95 503020) and Etna Experience (phone +39 (0) 95  8738756).

The Circumetnea railway

An alternative way to explore Mt. Etna is by train. The ferrovia Circumetnea links the villages at the feet of the Etna and offers incredible panoramas. The terminus stations are in Catania and Giarre-Riposto. It's important to know that the Circumetnea runs around the Etna at low height and doesn't go on the volcano top. Further information about the railway is available on our article about the Circumetnea.

Accomodations on Mt. Etna

Mountain lovers can choose to overnight on the Etna (during the winter it's also one of the two Sicilian ski resorts, together with Piano Battaglia,). Besides the mountain huts there are also shelters where it's possible to book a room with breakfast. Examples are the Rifugio Sapienza, on the south side, near  Nicolosi, at 6200 feet or the Rifugio Ariel, at 5700 feet, near Ragalna. There are also a lot of hotels around the volcano like the Hotel Corsaro, the Residence Serra La Nave or Il Nido dell'Etna.

Useful links

- Some webcams on the Etna: Main craters ||  Linguaglossa

- Etna map


Photo credits (creative commons images): S.Leggio/Sicilystockphoto.com; R. Allaway/Flickr; A. Guschin/Flickr


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