Skip to main content

Exploring Sicily's fiery Mount Etna volcano

By Andrew Demaria, CNN
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Mon October 28, 2013
A view from 2,800 meters up the mountain, looking toward the peak of Mount Etna. The top of the volcano is actually a series of craters. Because it erupts frequently, Etna's landscape is constantly changing. These images were taken just a few days before the most recent eruption on October 26, 2013. A view from 2,800 meters up the mountain, looking toward the peak of Mount Etna. The top of the volcano is actually a series of craters. Because it erupts frequently, Etna's landscape is constantly changing. These images were taken just a few days before the most recent eruption on October 26, 2013.
HIDE CAPTION
Mount Etna, Sicily, during quiet time
Desolation
There is life
She's hot
Tour party
Etna crater
One of Sicily's top attractions
Easy way up
Life on Mars?
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mount Etna is open to tourists every day of the year unless authorities deem it too dangerous
  • An ascent that includes a cable car, 4x4 bus and guided walk is the easiest way to explore the volcano
  • The volcano's peak is actually a series of craters, some more active than others

(CNN) -- At approximately 3,350 meters, it's Europe's highest and most active volcano.

Living up to its volatile reputation, Mount Etna blew its top again over the weekend.

Etna eruptions are relatively frequent -- the past 12 months have seen a string of powerful lava fountains, flows and ash emissions.

The result: a landscape that constantly changes as lava hardens, craters collapse and, in some cases, are created.

A trip to the top section of Etna is a bizarre experience -- from near the stunning peak it's easy to understand why the volcano is one of Sicily's most popular tourist destinations.

More: 10 things to know before visiting Sicily

It's tricky to line up a visit when the volcano is spewing fury like an angry goddess (Aitna, or Aetna, was the Greek goddess of the volcano), so most Etna tourists end up with the saner, sober version.

The images in the gallery above are from one such lava-less visit.

Yet even on calm days, the Etna landscape is otherworldly -- it only takes a bit of imagination to picture James Tiberius Kirk stumbling about with his tricorder looking for life.

Bleak yet stunning

With black lava sand, volcanic gravel and rocks that crunch underfoot, the volcano is a world apart from the classic beaches and hilltop Baroque towns that dot Sicily.

For hikers who start from the amenity-packed base at 1,800 meters, the scenery varies little. The walk up can be monotonous.

Another way up is via a cable car from the base that connects with a 4x4 bus to take visitors to the 2,800-meter mark.

A guide meets each vehicle and leads a walk around the area -- this is a good way to see some of Etna's numerous craters.

Total trip time: up and down in two hours, including lots of photo opportunities. For most visitors, it's the easier, more efficient way to see the volcano.

You can get closer to other parts of the volcano by signing on with one of many authorized Etna expedition tour outfits.

Cable car, 4x4 and compulsory guide fees cost about €57.50 ($80) per adult. Cable car only is €27.50.

At almost three kilometers above sea level it isn't always exactly gelato weather on the mountain. Layered clothing is a smart idea.

The volcano turns into a no-frills ski resort that operates December to February, depending on snowfall.

Getting to Etna

In peak summer months, Etna traffic gets busy.

The easiest way to get the mountain is via public bus from Nicolosi or other nearby towns.

In less hectic periods, driving is ideal. The windy road on the south part of the peak that crisscrosses old lava flows is a nice teaser for the scenery to come.

Comprehensive driving directions can be found on the Etna administrative headquarters website.

Maps, expedition operators and more details can also be found at the Etna administrative headquarters.

Mount Etna is open daily, all year (when not erupting in a life-threatening way), 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (last cable car); in winter to 3:30 p.m.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:56 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Nonprofit Ethical Traveler has released its annual list of the developing countries doing the most to promote human rights and preserve their environments.
updated 5:36 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
These waterfront watering holes have killer ocean views, creative drinks and the mahalo vibe we demand.
updated 3:38 PM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Can't wait to book your ticket to Indianapolis and Oakland? The venerable guidebook is right there with you
updated 1:25 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
By helicopter, snowmobile and big-wheel truck across some of the world's most volatile landscapes.
updated 4:42 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
Construction begins on a new Singapore airport complex that could make delays and layovers a pleasure.
updated 9:41 AM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
Inflight chatterboxes are annoying but they're not the worst violators of onboard etiquette, according to an Expedia study.
updated 5:32 PM EST, Mon December 8, 2014
These statues are awe-inspiring even for the strongest of non-believers.
updated 11:59 AM EST, Fri December 5, 2014
The Palace of the Parliament, built by former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
25 years after the death of Romania's communist dictator, tourism is helping heal old wounds.
updated 6:52 AM EST, Fri December 5, 2014
Photo sharing website names the top 10 destinations for geo-tagged snapshots.
updated 5:05 AM EST, Wed December 3, 2014
New York may be a paradise of Zagat-rated, Michelin-starred restaurants, but some of its best food can be found on the streets.
updated 1:01 AM EST, Tue December 2, 2014
Guide Lebo behind the wheel of Chobe Game Lodge's first electric game viewing vehicle, at Chobe National Park in Botswana.
Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana ups the eco stakes with what it claims is world's first battery-powered safari fleet.
updated 8:18 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
The interior of the Formosa Boulevard Mass Rapid Transit Station in Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan.
These quirky and beautiful subway stops make standing cheek-to-cheek with 45 strangers almost seem fun.
updated 8:14 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
A scene from a desert safari in Dubai
Luxury vintage Land Rover tours explore Bedouin backwaters without bashing up precious dunes.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT