Mount Etna in Sicily is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the tallest active volcano in Europe. But one of the coolest parts of when I lived in Italy is that after hiking Mount Etna in Sicily, I can say that I’ve visited the home of a cyclops.
Mount Etna, Italy
There are many things that make Mount (Mt.) Etna a popular tourist site. From its role in Greek mythology to the ski resort that sits on top of it in the winter, Mt. Etna is more than your average mountain.
It has a volatile reputation and hiking Mt. Etna; the massive monster so often responsible for the city of Catania’s devastation, was something my friends and I knew that we had to do.
As an active volcano, it’s blown its top many times in recent years – to the detriment of the nearby towns and cities. Ash emissions and the sight of flowing lava is not uncommon among those who live near the mountain’s base. It’s no wonder the Phoenicians called it Etna, meaning chimney or furnace.
But what’s more interesting, is that as a result of the eruptions, which causes collapsing craters and shifting slopes, the topography is constantly shifting.
The summits height changes with each eruption. Due to this, Mt. Etna has is strikingly unique in that it will not look the same way when you return.
Since Etna is a strato volcano so no one knows exactly where on the massive surface the next eruption will be.
Hiking Mount Etna in Sicily
Climbing Mt. Etna is almost bizarre. The landscape is very bleak. It’s kind of like you’ve landed on another planet and are looking for signs of life.
Much of the mountain is covered in lava, pumice, and newly added layers of ash from recent eruptions.
It takes about two hours to climb up it. When you get to the top of Mt. Etna, either from hiking or taking the cable car, on a clear day you can see all of Sicily.
Hiking Mt. Etna without a guide is really easy and exactly what we did. There are probably Mt. Etna tour groups, but I don’t think you need a group or guide for this at all.
The Valle delle Bove
This is a huge cleft about 11 miles around and 4,000 feet in depth on the southeast slope. It’s one of the most famous parts about Mt. Etna. The majority of all the recent lava flows end up pouring into it. There are extinct craters here as well for you to explore – if you dare.
Life on Mount Etna
One other thing that I thought was interesting is that Sicilians find Etna’s soils to be fertile in some parts. The lower slopes are supported by agriculture, orchards and wineries. The people working and living in these areas of the mountain have seen their share of portions of the town being swallowed up by the volcanic eruptions. Etna’s summit is perpetually emitting smoke.
But nature is resilient. There’s a lot of wildlife that live on the slopes of the mountain. From ladybug’s to herons to snakes.
Mount Etna & Greek Mythology
Lots of things happened at Mt. Etna for the Greeks. It housed the forges of the god Hephaestus (Vulcan), whose known for making Zeus’ thunderbolts. Zeus of course was the Greek sky and thunder god.
Mt. Etna also served as a prison to some of Greek mythologies most vile monsters. Typhon, “the father of all monsters” was trapped under Mt. Etna by Zeus. Then there was also the titan, Enceladus, who was imprisoned at the mountain’s deep center. Perhaps both are still there today, still trying to break free.
Mt. Etna Travel Tips
To buy tickets to climb Mt. Etna, go to the Rifugio Sapineza in Nicolosi. There are three stages to the top. A cable car can take you for under 30 euro. A jeep can take you for 51 euro, or you can walk it. To get to Nicolosi from Catania you can take a 2-hour bus ride.
There’s also a bare bones ski resort that operates from December to February. When we had found the ski lifts we had thought these were remnants of a ruined ski resort from before an eruption. Turns out it’s still in operation.
Dress with layers. You’ll get hot-ish hiking up the mountain but it will be breezy and cool once you’re at the top. Also, here are some good tips for Mt. Etna hiking routes. And if you can’t get enough of Italy, check out how awesome my first Roman soccer game was!