21 Oct Majestic Volcano Etna
Mount of Etna known to Arabs as Jabal al-Nār (the Mountain of Fire) and to Sicillians as Mungibeddu, is a combination of the Italian word “monte” and Arabic “jabal”, meaning “mountain mountain”.
And WOW is the best way to describe our experience. Etna is definitely one of the most popular attractions in Sicily. The Greek Mythology has two myths that include Etna; one is that Zeus has trapped the deadly monster Typhon in it and the other is that Hephaestus’s or Vulcano’s forges were underneath it.
Etna is the highest active volcano in Europe with altitude of 3,326 m located between the cities of Messina and Catania. Mount Etna is one of the world’s most active volcanoes and it is in an almost constant state of activity, and in 2013, it was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
We were staying in Catania, and Etna was an hour away by car. There are few options to get to the Etna, so we will share our knowledge and you can choose what suits you best.
There is a direct bus line that goes from Catania to Mount Etna, the price is affordable and return ticket is €6.60. Problem with the bus is that you have only one line that goes from Catania central station in 08.15am and drives you to Refugio Sapienza, at a height of 2000m. Bus usually arrives around 10.15am, and the only return bus is at 4.30pm from the same station, which leaves you around 6 hours to explore Etna. If you miss the bus, than you are in a trouble since the closest city is about 6 hours walk.
If you rent-a car you can go to the same height as the bus, and park your car at Sapienza Refuge ski area. Of course if you rent an off road car than you can go a bit higher to 2500 meters, at least that is an information we got. There are a lot of rent-a-car agencies in Catania, and most of them do have available cars at Catania’s airport. But if you are not a good driver we wouldn’t recommend you to drive around Sicily.
Plenty of tourist agencies in Catania’s city center are offering excursions to Mount Etna, prices go from €30 up to €300 depending on what you want to see or do. Those that cost €30 are not cost effective, for that price you get a transportation to the same place where public transport goes. During the trip they do make few stops to show you a few more cities/villages, then they show you Upper Silvestri Crater which is probably one of the most popular, and you have probably seen hundreds of selfies from there 🙂 Then you have a lot of free time, but if you don’t know where to go, it is really hard to spend it in a quality way.
There were some interesting offers that cost €80 or more, but we estimated that those are too expensive.
Aiarbnb experience or a private guide
This was our first time using Airbnb experience or a guide in general. We have found a lot of offers for Etna tours, and at the end we have chosen to go there with Luca. From the beginning we wanted to have an active hiking to Etna and Luca’s itinerary encompassed hiking, nature and sightseeing. Price per person was €55 and beside two of us and Luca, there was one more tourist from Great Britain.
Four of us started our trip from Catania in Luca’s small car. He parked car around 1km from Refugio Sapienza and first we started heading east through the forest. Our first shock was seeing forest on a volcano. Later on Luca explain to us that it is a planned afforestation, to bring back life to the mountain after the eruptions, that can sometimes burn down the whole forests.
There were even birds chirping along the way. We brought some food and water with us, but while we were walking through the forest, Luca showed us some edible plants that we tried. After an hour walk through the forest and shrubs, we get out and witness the heart-stopping scenes. The views went from Mount Etna, across the old craters all the way to the city and to the sea.
The hike continued in the direction of the dead valley (Vetta sentiero Schiena dell’asino – if we remember right). From the sightseeing spot Luca took us too, we saw a huge crater, 5 by 6 kilometers fully covered with old lava. For us, it was one of the most stunning monuments of nature.
We stayed here for a while, to admire powerful nature. This was the easternmost point we went top and after the break we started moving to the west.
But first we had to climb up on a few cliffs, and that wasn’t easy because the terrain was slippery and full of tiny volcanic rocks that were crumbling beneath us and we didn’t have a solid support, so that made this short climb hard. As we we were going higher rocks were getting smaller and smaller until they became black sand. At the altitude of approximately 2350 meters all around us was just the black volcanic sand.
One of many high points of this walk was running through this black sand. At this point, it felt like we landed on Mars, stunning landscapes and colors, it didn’t look like anything we saw before. We bet Iceland would be a great place to visit too.
On our way to the west we picked up some volcanic stones as souvenirs, and visited few more craters including Upper Silvestri Crater.
More Etna for the lucky ones
So we only climbed to approximately 2,350 meters, but as we said this is the highest active volcano in Europe 3,326 m high to be exact. There are options to go higher. From Sapienza Refuge ski area, lying at 1,910 m (next to the Silvestri Crater) you can take a cable car. The cable car costs around 30€ and it will take you to an altitude of 2,504 metres in just 15 minutes. If you want to go even higher, and you can’t go higher than 2,920 meters, you need to pay the 4×4 jeep or a van and a guide, and that costs about 40€. But the bad weather can ruin your plans, if it’s foggy or windy the funicular doesn’t work, so that is one more reason to book a guide who will give a tour according to the weather forecast. Luca took us there at 4 pm so we were able to look at the sunset and we didn’t walk during the high temperatures.
To reach the summit you have to be a scientist and have special permissions, so we mortals will never witness the great Etna in its fullest. This monument has so much to offer and we envy those who can explore it and enjoy it. Nature is truly the most wonderful thing this planet has, no man made wonder can compare to it.