Hikes on mount Etna
On the edge of an active volcano
Impressions from hikes on Mount Etna in Sicily, where 800 odd craters offer a perfect view of an active volcano from a safe distance.
Again this summer Etna has been sending cascades of steam, smoke, sparks, ashes and burning lava out over Eastern Sicily, covering the pavements of Catania in thick layers of dirt and dust. I suppose they are used to the eruptions, being neighbours to one of the most active volcanoes in the world. I wouldn’t mind seeing the spectacular fireworks display from the main shopping street in Catania that seems to lead directly to the summit, but I don’t need close ups of strong forces of nature.
Therefore we decided to drive up to Rifugio Sapienza and walk around the Silvestri Craters from there. Contrary to more adventurous tours with cable cars, guides and 4×4 drives, these walks are free and can be undertaken on your own without special equipment, and even though you won’t see lava bubbles and burning rivers, you still experience the drama. The endless spaghetti road up to the rifugio passes through lush fertile fields and stony macchia to arid black ground, and when you leave your car in the parking lot, you find yourself surrounded by a lunar landscape. While Italy’s other famous volcano Mount Vesuvius is a cone shaped stratovolcano, Etna consists of about 800 craters of different shapes and sizes, so there should be one for everyone.
I had expected a place crammed with tourists, but late in the afternoon there’s hardly a soul around apart from the school girl selling souvenirs, and you could balance on the edge of cone shaped craters and pretend to be Neil Armstrong or the protagonist in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth without interference. There’s a distinct smell of sulfur in the air, but it is not suffocating, and if you bend down and put a hand on the ground, you’ll feel the heat. Small sensory impressions with a great impact. On me, at least.
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Volcanoes are simply amazing. Would love to see Etna, put my hand on the ground and feel the heat as you did.
I’m sure you’ll get the chance one day. It’s absolutely recommendable.
Oh I do like a good volcano! I went to Pacaya in Guatemala and got to light my walking stick on fire from the lava. Plus I melted the glue on my hikers… :)
Would love to get to Etna one day though…
I can’t match that, but I’m sure similar adventures can be had on Etna. Meanwhile I’ll start saving for a trip to Latin America.
we are going to sicily in week 40.
we are a grpoup of 8 persons. if we want to see Etna without guidance, how far up can we get. can we take the cable car and then walk around? or do we need to have guidance. I find it hard to find such information on the internet so when I saw your story and this possibility to ask I wrote right away.
thank you for this and hopefully yuo can help us.
peter ; finland
You’ve really got something to look forward to – autumn is a great time to be visiting Sicily. As regards Etna, we went to Rifugio Sapienza (1923 m) by car, but you can – at least in the summer – take an AST bus from the station in Catania. There is also a train going round the base of the volcano (114 km). It will give you some great views, but no hike. Around Rifugio Sapienze it is walk as you please, unless you want to follow one of the established trails and itineraries (see Parco Etna or take the cable car (Funivia dell’Etna) up to 2500 m. When you get out of the cable car, you can walk up to the authorized crater area (2920 m). The walk takes 3-4 hours forth and back, or you can jump on one of the truck busses at the price of costs something like 15-20 euro per person. These tours include a guide. I hope this answers your questions – if not you are welcome to write again – and wish you all a fabulous holiday.