If you find yourself in Sicily then one must do is visiting Mount Etna, the most active volcano in the area. It has been active for over 2700 years and whilst not a danger at present it has erupted as recently as New Year 2023. An ever present landmark all around the Catania area it was a place we just had to see as close up as possible. It is recommended the best times to visit are between March and September, especially for hiking. As we write this on 3rd April, it’s minus 3°C and snowing up there.
How to get there
There are several private volcano tours available and even a bus to get there from Catania which you can read more about here http://www.astsicilia.it/bus-catania-etna/. As we had a hire car we opted for the drive option; something which involved navigating the busy roads around Catania and the winding roads up the mountain. The roads were actually fine and there were stops for phot opportunities. The drive took us an hour and a half with a coffee stop in a lovely town called Nicolosi. We headed for the cable car station or Funivia dell’Etna as it is known locally.
Is there car parking available?
Yes and it’s free, there are nearer car parks to the funicular but they charge you per hour. Park in one of the Official parking areas and there is no fee. This is located at Rifugio Sapienza.
Do I need to prebook tickets?
We arrived on the day and hadn’t prebooked the cable car but this was no problem as they go very frequently. They are small carriages for a max of 6 people and are constantly moving. It was a hefty €50 each (March 2023) return. In addition it was an extra €28 to get the 4×4 up to 2750mtrs with a short tour at the top.
The Cable Car Ride
The gondolas are quite small, seating a maximum of 6 people but they run constantly. The ride from the station to 2500mtrs took approximately 15 minutes and there were some spectacular views on the way.
Is there a cheaper option?
It is possible to walk up from the cable car station to 2500mtrs which is very steep and good footwear would be essential due to the scree. We saw several people doing this and if you’re fit enough and like a challenge go for it! It takes about 1.5 hours to reach 2500mtrs to the visitor centre and it didn’t look the most scenic so consider wisely.
In terms of hiking independently from the visitor centre this really is a big no no. I have read other guides where previously you could hike up to 2900mtrs but not anymore. You are allowed independently to hike to 2600mtrs and no higher with clear signs indicating this. We did note however that many people took no notice of this and were walking up to 2750mtrs following the jeep 4×4 tracks. This is for safety reasons and so bear this is mind and it is strictly against the rules. It is of course possible to climb higher with an experienced guide to the upper craters but appropriate equipment is required; as well as a high level of fitness. These tours are for sale online and by the cable car station.
The 4×4 bus to 2750mtrs
Exiting the cable car station there is a small hut you need to wait at for the next bus. There was no set timetable and it was very unclear what we were supposed to do and there was no one around. We waited around 45 minutes before a bus arrived. We took the time to take pictures and enjoy the views. Eventually the bus arrived and several of us crammed in!
The 4 x 4 was a rickety affair as you would expect and the journey took about 10 minutes to reach 2750mtrs. Once we left the bus we met our guide who would be taking us for a tour around the area. I am aware from previous research sometimes the 4×4’s have gone higher than this. What I would note is that it is judged on the activity at the time from the volcano and what is safe at the time of visit.
The guide gave a talk on the history of Etna and its formation. The valley we observed was the original peak of Etna which was formed where the African and European techtonic plates meet. The mountain moves each year 10mm to the west. There is activity approximately every 15 days and lava rock is so light due to the gasses which escapes in each eruption. It was an interesting talk and we were able to wander freely on our own taking photographs.
After about an hour of talking and photo taking it was time to head back down to 2500mtrs.
Facilties at Mount Etna Visitor Centre
At 2500mtrs there is a cafe where you can buy drinks, snacks and souvenir shops. We grabbed a drink but the cafe was not cheap so be prepared with your own lunch and snacks if you are on a budget. There are toilet facilities for free and also coats and footwear to hire for a reasonable cost if required. It should be noted how cold and windy it is at altitude so be prepared. We were very fortunate with a lovely sunny day as only 3 days after our visit the temperature was – 3°C with a heavy snowstorm at 2500mtr. Checking the weather forecast prior to your visit is highly recommended. There are also souvenir shops both ends of the cable car and we tasted some lovely limoncello and fuocco dell’Etna which is not for the faint hearted.
Final thoughts on visiting Mount Etna
We loved our time visiting Etna but not the price! It is expensive to go up by cable car and the 4 x 4 tour. Unfortunately, given my mobility issues we had limited options if we wanted to see as much as possible. It is not the most disabled friendly place and I saw one guy struggling to get around in his wheelchair due to a lack of clear paths. I think we both agree this is a must do experience, but be prepared to pay a hefty price for the experience and ensure you are well prepared with clothing and footwear.
Carol and Nigel xx