A hike on Mount Etna is an easy enough day trip from Catania or anywhere in the Eastern part of Sicily. You can put together your own itinerary, but I chose an organized tour to make the most of my day on Europe’s most impressive volcano.
- About Mount Etna
- Day trip to Etna with Etna Moving
- DYI day trip to Etna from Catania
About Mount Etna
Etna is the highest active volcano in Europe. Its current height is 3326m, but it changes frequently with new eruptions. Etna erupts often, but it’s one of the “good” volcanoes because it doesn’t usually cause much damage. For comparison, Mount Etna is almost three times the height of Mount Vesuvius, the other famous Italian volcano.
Etna is one of the most impressive sights in Sicily, and it has almost constant volcanic activity. One of the popular expressions in Sicily is that Etna ‘sta fumando‘ (Etna is smoking), and that is a frequent image of Mount Etna.
The constant eruptions enrich the volcanic soil in this part of Sicily. That is why the local fruit and vegetables are among the best in the world, in my opinion. I’ll get back to that in a different post about the local food and wine of Sicily.
In the meantime, let’s get back to our day trip to Mt. Etna.
Day trip with Etna Moving
We chose a tour with a local company, Etna Moving. The day had a little bit of everything: great guides, a bit of off-road, a couple of walks, amazing views, and also some good food.
We left early in the morning from Catania in these huge SUVs. Well, we needed this type of transport, as you’ll see later on. We headed for the slopes of Mt. Etna. The villages we passed by looked beautiful and well maintained, more so than Catania, to be honest.
A bit of off-road
The first ‘adventure’ was a short off-road drive. We left the road and went into the forest. This is where the SUVs came in handy. We stopped in a place with a good view, and Fabrizio, our guide, taught us the first lesson of the day.
I always had a soft spot for volcanoes. I find them majestic, and their role in forming the atmosphere and balancing the temperature leaves me in awe when I think about it. An incredible mechanism! Anyway, my interest in these natural wonders is 1000 times exceeded by Fabrizio’s passion.
We learned about the differences between a Strombolian-explosive volcano like Mt. Vesuvius, and a stratovolcano like Mt. Etna. He also represented for us the internal system of a volcano right there, on the volcanic soil. Even a child could understand how the magma surfaces so Fabrizio must be a very good teacher.
Next stop, exploring a lava tube
We got helmets and headlamps and promptly entered a lava tube a few meters from the main road. We could have never discovered the place on our own. A lava tube is a tunnel where hot lava flowed at some point, leaving a large tube behind. Inside, you can see the marks of that incandescent flow on the walls. It’s not a place where a claustrophobic will feel at ease. You can still enter and stick close to the entrance if you’re not at your leisure in a dark underground tube. I’m proud to say I made it pretty far into the lava tube. I wouldn’t call it a pretty place, but at the same time, it’s not something you see every day.
A walk through the forest
Our next stop was a walk through the forest in an area recently covered with fresh lava. Etna had last erupted only a few weeks before. At that altitude, it had literally rained small hot stones. Everything had a black cover on, the forest trails as well as the roofs in an out-of-this-world scene.
I don’t know if you ever stepped on a fresh lava carpet, but it’s a different experience. The tiny lava stones are very light, and you can hear a squeak with every step. A little creepy, maybe.
Mount Etna – Silvestri Craters
Our highest stop was at the 2000m refuge, Rifugio Sapienza. From there, you can walk to the edge of the Silvestri Craters. Also, the walk comes with an incredible view, you can see all the way to the sea.
In March, when we went there, there was still a little snow from place to place. There’s nothing like the contrast of these white patches of snow against the black lava scenery. It’s a wonderful place at 2000m above sea level, where you’ll only find a few of the purest colors of nature. We had some time to walk around the place, enjoy the views above all, take all the photos we wanted. Of course, you can never catch the full beauty of the mountain.
Another thing you should try up here is a game. At this altitude, closer to the craters, there are a lot of lava bombs. During an eruption, the volcano throws large pieces of rock at high speed. You can find them everywhere on the mountain slopes. Nature sculpts them over the years using rain and wind to various shapes. You can imagine different things for each of these formations. Some good photos are waiting to be taken there and, besides, kids will love the game.
A picnic on Mount Etna
Our final stop, descending from the refuge, was at a picnic area under some giant pine trees. Honestly, it was the best meal I could wish for. We had some simple food like olives, sundried tomatoes in olive oil, artichokes, some homemade pizzette with tomatoes and oregano, and a glass of wine. In short, it was absolutely perfect, a true taste of Sicily.
The tour was supposed to last for about 5 hours but it was late in the afternoon when we were back in Catania, tired and happy. This day trip to Etna was definitely the highlight of our long weekend in Catania.
DIY trip to Mount Etna
You can take a day trip to Mount Etna from Catania pretty easy. Of course, you won’t cover as much ground or learn so much, but you can still reach the Silvestri Craters, for example.
The AST Bus leaves from Catania Central Station in Piazza Papa Giovanni XXIII. It reaches Rifugio Sapienza where you can walk around the craters and also take the cable to the peak.
You can take the bus at 8:30 AM from Catania and catch the return bus at 4:30 PM from Rifugio Sapienza on Mt. Etna. A bus ticket is 4€, and a cable ticket is 30€. However, you need cash, you can’t pay with your credit card for the tickets.
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