Visiting Mt. Etna
It's hard to make a trip to Sicily without visiting it's most famous Volcano. Sitting at 3,330 meters high, it dominates the skyline of the northeastern part of the island and is one of the most active volcano's in the world. In fact, in the last 60 years, it's had nearly 50 eruptions including the most recent one a little over a year ago which injured 10 people. So basically, if you are planning a trip to Sicily and have your heart set on Mt Etna, know that it may not be entirely possible pending the most recent volcanic activity...and that it can erupt when you are climbing it.
That said, there are a few ways you can visit the mountain. The most common way is to drive up from the south or the east meeting at the Rifugio Sapienza which is located on the south side of the mountain. From there, you can either hike up the mountain or take a cable car about 2,500 meters up. At that point, you can either hike to the main crater which is a fairly steep walk for about 2km or take a bus that brings you about another 500m to the edge of the main crater.
If it's beautiful out and you are up for hike plus have a lot of time, then I would walk. You could even hike from Rifugio Sapienza but it will most likely take 4 - 5 hours to get to the top of the crater from there. Choosing to walk from the top of the cable car, will probably take you 1 - 2 hours to the top.
With all of that in mind, remember you are at the top of the mountain where weather can be fairly dramatic, not to mention cold, even in the heat of the summer. It was beautiful out when we started our drive up the mountain but once we reached the cable car, the temperature dropped and it got a bit cloudy. At the top of the cable car, it was probably 35-40 degrees (Fahrenheit) and visibility was even worse. Had I made my wife hike from the top of the cable car (which I wanted to do until I saw there was minimal visibility), I would have been in the dog house for weeks. It was cold, at times was raining and hailing, and at points during the bus ride you couldn't see 10 feet in front of you - which made for a very thrilling ride up. So we opted for the bus to take us to the crater to avoid the elements and the physical activity.
At the top, there are guides who will walk you around the main crater for about an hour. It's fairly massive and hard to believe that it only formed only about 15 years ago. To set your expectations, there's no lava flow and you can't look down into a gigantic hole hoping to see a pool of lava similar to when Frodo enters Mt. Doom but the size is very impressive and the pit of the crater does have a hole billowing with smoke.
All in all, it was a good bucket list experience. If you've never been to a volcano, it will definitely be worth the visit regardless of the weather but if you can go on crystal clear day, I would recommend that. Otherwise, opt for the cable car and bus, see the crater and then head back down to 80 degrees, sun and an aperol sprtiz.
|Looking up at the volcano from Rifugio Sapienza|
|Cable car on the way up|
|Samantha and I at the top of the mountain|
|I'm standing on one side of the crater and you can see people on the far end|
|The bottom of the crater|
|My mom and Rachel at the top of the mountain with volcanic rocks behind|
|In the distance, you can start to see the mountain hillside from Taromina|