Last week I reached the top of Europe's most active volcano Mount Etna and it was a remarkable and exhilarating experience to date. Towering the island of Sicily, Mount Etna is the largest and the youngest volcano on the European continent. With an explosive history, Mount Etna proves to be the great destination for the adventure excursions.
I have always wanted to climb a volcano but I never knew how life altering the experience could be. The one thing that I constantly thought about on the mountain was that this wasn't man made but nature did this on its own. It created something so astonishing that we can enjoy it for generations to come and only take advantage of nature's creation to the amount of what Mama Etna allows us.
There are so many reasons to enjoy Mount Etna so here is everything you need to know before you set foot on the active volcano.
Where is Mount Etna?!
Mount Etna is a stratovolcano (volcano built on alternate layers of lava and ash) located on the east coast of an Italian island called Sicily. Most Sicilians consider the mountain as the mother of the island - Mama Etna.
You might ask where this ”Mama Etna” thing comes from, and there’s a very sweet explanation: Already after a few minutes in the car with our guide, we noticed, that he consequently called the enormous mountain ahead of us for Mama Etna. Not Mount – but Mama.
It was so obvious that the mountain was way more to him than just rocks and lava. He honestly loved Etna and because he was such an amazing storyteller we quickly found ourselves enchanted by Etna. He told us how Etna has formed not only Catania but basically all of Sicily, how her (yes – an active volcano is a she) temper is something the locals have learned to live with and – more than anything – how Etna is their Mama.
By delivering some of the world’s most fertile soil for growing almost anything she takes care of her children on the slopes and in the valleys below. And this relationship is what makes the Sicilians forgive their Mama when she decides to spew her lava out. Since she is a so-called slow flowing volcano people have plenty of time to get out of the way, but she might still swallow buildings, forests and more. Like she did in for example 1992, when she had her last major eruption.
Yes, Etna really is the Mama for Sicilians in general and for the people in and around Catania in particular. The more than 300 craters around tells a story of ever ongoing creation and change. And as Ludovico said it: “Mama Etna is a true lady. Divine, beautiful and sometimes a little unpredictable”.
Most people visit Mount Etna from the neighboring cities of Taormina or Catania. From Taormina, it's about 1h 10min drive and from Catania it's about an hour, depending on the traffic.
I had the pleasure of visiting both Taormina and Catania. Even though they are both on the same island, the difference between the cities was immense. Taormina is quaint and very beautiful. With Greek Ruins, beautiful churches and small ally-way overlooking the water, it's a breathtaking place. Catania is a big university town, so the nightlife is excellent. The city is built on the lava rocks that Mount Etna has left behind. The great thing about Catania is that you don't have to stray far from seeing historic sights.
What to Bring?
Mount Etna is 10,991 ft (3,329 m) and the change in temperature is huge. You may leave your hotel room in shorts but as you will drive higher and higher it will only get colder and colder.
Since I only reached 6,400 ft (2,000m) I was so thankful that I bought a jacket a day before to keep me warm. Bring your comfortable shoes (sneakers would be ideal) for the trek up and if you don't have it, buy it. If you decide to go all the way up, you will need to bring a coat, boots and a hat because there will be snow. Even in June, you can still see the snow at the top.
Also, bring a bottle of water. Even though there are a restaurant and shops at the top, you still want to stay hydrated before you get there.
Don't forget your sunglasses since the sun will shine during winter or summer season.
How to Get there
The easiest way to get to Mount Etna is by a car, however, the traffic and the roads aren't the easiest to handle, therefore getting a tour guide is the best solution. Since this was a family vacation, we did just that.
Every hotel offers tours to Mount Etna because it's one of the biggest attractions in whole Europe. However, one thing you should know about me is that tours that consist of more than 10 people aren't enjoyable for me. I like to explore and do my own thing. I started searching for tours that were more peculiar and I hit the jackpot.
We booked our tour with Excursions Etna and our tour guide Ludovico Balsamo was the best person to give us the tour of Etna and really learn about the history of the youngest volcano in the world. We did the Sunset Tour that included pick-up/drop off at the hotel, exploring of a lava cave, trekking activity and free tasting of local Etna products.
Ludovico picked us up from our hotel at 3:30 pm. He made it fun, educational and personal since it was just my family and myself on the tour. We set our own pace, took pictures and really enjoyed the fresh air and the beautiful scenery that Mount Etna offered.
1) Tasting of Etna Products
Oro d'Etna - is the place where you can taste Etna produced products such as honey, garlic, wine, oil, candy and more. All the items are for sale so you can bring some memories back home.
2) The View of Erruption
Our second stop was at 1,640 ft. (500 m) where we could see the lava tracks. Etna formed about 35,000 years ago and it's the first eruption was in 1500 BC and has been continuously erupting ever since then.
3) Exploring the Lava Cave
This was my favorite part because I have never explored a cave, let alone a lava cave. Ludovico gave us the safety helmets and flashlights and down under we went. Even though I was not a fan of spiders, I was brave enough to get as low as possible and really get the full experience. There are roughly 200 caves to explore.
4) Reaching the 6,500 ft.
The last stop was the best stop. We finally reached the 6,500 ft (2,000m) and I couldn't believe the view. This is where most tourist stop but if you love a good adventure, there is more to explore on Mount Etna.
This is also where you can find the local restaurant and cafe.
Mount Etna is considered the youngest volcano (600,000 years old) and the most active. The air is super cold and thin so make sure you bring all the necessary items so that you can fully enjoy this experience. From helicopter rides to hiking, all year round Etna offers unforgettable memories and best views of the island.