During our time in Sicily we did 2 Mount Etna excursions. We wanted to have different experiences and that is exactly what we got!
For the first excursion the alarm went off at 4 AM………….yes, you read that right 4 AM. Ugh….. it is an early morning on our first full day but it was because we had a scheduled 4:50 AM pick up for a Mount Etna sunrise tour. We booked our tour through Sicilying (Just a note about the company – you will pay a deposit online and the remainder of the balance will be paid in cash the day of the tour). Per the website this is a jeep tour on Mount Etna to watch the sunrise so we were envisioning a drive via jeep to a spot on Mount Etna in which we could watch the sunrise. Well, we got that and more!
We took about an hour drive up Mount Etna’s north side through little villages that have been impacted by previous eruptions. On the way we made a stop at a little church that villagers went to during the 1928 eruption to pray for the lava flow to stop and not destroy their village. The lava flow did stop – at the back of the church. You can see a hole in the wall where the lava flow did begin to burn through but other than that the church is still standing with a statue of the Madonna inside. Outside of the church are stone plaques representing the Stations of the Cross. After this stop we continued onto our destination.
We then left the main roads and began to off-road to a spot where we would set up in hopes of seeing the sunrise. Our guide took us to a lava field where there lava flowed during an eruption where a single house sits surrounded by the lava. As we were driving to the location we did notice clouds had rolled in overnight so we were not able to get the full sunrise experience. Even though we were not able to see the full sunrise while standing in the lava field listening to the hooting of the owls as night turns into day was a peaceful to start day and to start our trip.
After this we hopped back into the car and set off for our next destination, which neither of us really knew where we were headed. After a short drive we stopped at another spot where we got out of the car and put on some hard hats and were told we were going to a lava cave. When lava flows and cools sometimes the center of the flow is hollow and creates a cave when it is fully cooled and hardened. We walked down a set of steps from a top opening into the cave. Down here the air is cooler and less humid, and since the mountain can get a lot of snow, lava caves were used to create ice. Snow would be packed into the cave then pulled out when the weather turned hot to preserve food, but more importantly to make granita. We walked to the other end of the cave where another set of steps was located to exit.
After the cave adventure we moved our last adventure of the morning……..hiking volcanic craters! We went to the Silvestri Craters, also known as the Button Craters. This is a series of 7 craters that were formed after the eruption of Mount Etna in 1892. We walked along the craters where we watched the clouds moved in and around. It took us about an hour to walk amongst the craters and lava bombs and return back to the car.
Later in the week we experienced Mount Etna on the more touristy side by exploring the southern side of the mountain. This time we booked a group tour via Viator. The tour started out with a stop at Alcantara Gorges. The Gorges were created from lava flow from Mount Etna and the Alcantara river flows through. There is an entrance fee (€10) to enter the Gorges as well as the gardens. In order to get down the Gorges you have to take an elevator to a set of steps that overlook the river. Take the steps down to the river bed and walk towards the cave. Since we were there in early spring the water level of the river was not high.
Above the Gorges is a garden that we were able to wander through. Since we arrived early we were the only tour there and had the gardens to ourselves. There are several types of succulents, flowers, and fruit trees.
The tour description included a railway ride around Mount Etna which we thought would be a a different experience. Well, what the description or reviews fail to inform you is that this train is a regular commuter train – that’s right, people traveling from town to town are also on the train which is just one car with 3 compartments, so if you have a full group (like we did the day we went) it can be tight quarters. As the train ambles down the track you are able to see Mount Etna. If you are sitting facing the way the train is traveling I suggest sitting on the left side of the car. This is the side closer to the view of Mount Etna and open the windows because it did get warm in there!
Once we finished with the train ride we headed to our last destination of the tour – Mount Etna Summit Crater! When you get to the spot where the bus drops you off you begin to feel the change in the air – where as at Alcantara Gorges and the train ride where we walking around in tank tops, here you definitely need to make sure you have a jacket! I had just a lightweight jacket with me and at this level I was ok.
The ticket system for the cable car and crater trek was interesting. Our tour guide gave each of us a plastic card, similar to a hotel key card. You use this card for entrance to the cable car. We took the cable car up to the summit crater level and once you exit the cable car you pass by a little window where a woman stops you to let you know the outside temperature was 2ºC and that you can rent a heavier jacket (ski type jacket) for €4. Welp, an additional jacket sounds like a good idea at that temperature. We left the little chalet to where we pick up the truck for the trek to the cable car. Again, you use the plastic card to go through a turnstile to the waiting trucks. We did a little off-roading to a spot where we would begin our walk with a guide. I am grateful I spent that €4 on the additional jacket! It was cold, snowy, and foggy at this level of the mountain.
The fog would roll in and envelope us one minute then clear out the next while we were walking the crater. It’s amazing how the weather can change so quickly at that level. During the walk the guide would stop and explain about how the crater was formed etc. We then took the truck back to the little chalet we started our trek where we could leave our jackets and take the cable car back down (the plastic ticket card was collected at the turnstile) where we would meet our bus.
The two tours provided us with different experiences on Mount Etna and I would recommend both experiences!