Mount Etna, the volcano adventure (October, 2018)
When we planned our two-week trip to Sicily, we were sure of one thing: we would go up to Mount Etna. We did it and it became a life changing experience.
About Mount Etna itself
Mount Etna is located at the eastern part of Sicily, Italy. The volcano is actually 3,326 meters high but it change due to summit eruptions. The first volcanic activity at this place happened about 500,000 years ago and Mount Etna is still active! Smoke always rises from the peak to remind people to be thankful for the volcanic soil that makes their lands fertile.
How to get there
We don’t have a driving license, so car rental was out of the question. The only way was to get on a bus from Catania since bus only goes from there. Catania wasn’t in our plan so we decided to go from Taormina with bus. Bus goes every morning from Taormina to Catania, it starts around 6 o’ clock. But when the day came István didn’t feel well so we waited a few more days with the trip.
We traveled to Siracusa, which was the next stop on our journey. Siracusa is almost as far from Catania as Taormina so we decided to go from there.
Siracusa and Catania are connected by frequent train services. There’s a train early in the morning, arrives at about 7:30 to Catania Central Station which is perfect. Because the bus which goes to Etna departs at about 8:30 every day.
When you come out of the Central Train Station (called Stazione Catania Centrale) then you immediately reach the bus terminus. At the left side of the square you will find the ticket office where you can buy the tickets for the buses. The return ticket to Mount Etna costs 6.6 Euros per person (in 2018). (Next to the office there’s a small shop if you would like to buy some drink or food for the day. They have very tasty arancini balls!)
In the tourist peak season (mostly in the summer months) there are two daily buses in the morning between Catania and Mount Etna. But keep in mind that outside of this period there’s only ONE single bus every day! It’s highly recommended to get there early to have seats on the bus.
You can find the bus (operated by AST company) at the middle of the square. Look for a bus which has a small board next to the driver with ‘ETNA’ written on it. Then take a seat and enjoy the 2 hours ride!
When on the bus to Mount Etna
The journey is about 2 hours long but we were not bored for a minute. There was a tour guide on the bus who spoke almost all the way. It was a bit tiring but we heard lots of useful information about this magical place. He spoke about the history of Etna and about the previous eruptions. He told us a lot about the tours we could book to the upper craters of Etna. We didn’t want to join groups so we missed that opportunity but if you would like you can book the tours through the guide.
On the winding road we saw the smoking peak of Mount Etna many times and we became more and more excited. Very beautiful as it shows up between the houses, then it disappears and we only see the smoke, then in the next turn of the road there is the peak again. Amazing sight!
Halfway through the trip the bus stops in a small village for a short break (for about 10-15 minutes). Then you continue your journey and the next stop is the final one at 1900 meters high!
You will see petrified lava flows everywhere along the way. At a point the bus will slow down a bit and the tour guide will also warn you to turn your head left. You will see the ruins of a house that has been almost completely destroyed by lava. Only the roof of the house is visible. Shocking.
At 1900 meters
This is the last point you can reach by bus and by car. Where the bus stops you can find Rifugio Sapienza Hotel, souvenir shops and restaurants and the cable car which can bring you up to 2500 meters. All the souvenirs and foods can wait and don’t go up to the cable car immediately because you will find an amazing place here: the Silvestri Craters.
The craters formed during the eruption of 1892. There are two main craters, an upper one and the lower one. A very steep path leads up to the upper crater.
Since I have never been in good shape so we preferred to leave this to those who have good stamina 🙂 There were a lot of people who climbed up so it’s not impossible but we decided to choose the easier way and took a walk in the lower Silvestri Crater.
Guys… This is amazing. Incredible and unbelievable. There are countless shades of red and brown. Smaller and larger rocks and lava stones everywhere. You will see small winding roads up to little craters.
You can walk along the entire edge of the crater, go down to the bottom or just sit down on a giant lava stone and look around.
Wherever you look you can see traces of destruction everywhere. No plants, no animals, nothing. People often say it is a lunar landscape. I have never been on the Moon but I think it really can be that way.
If you are lucky you can see Catania from here. Or if you are more luckier you will see amazing clouds that covers everything near to you. So mystical, supernatural and will root you in the ground.
At 2500 meters
After you break away from the Silvestri Craters it’s time to move up high.
The only way to get up to 2500 meters (and not climbing up) is to go with cable car. It’s very easy to find the cable car station because everyone goes to that direction 🙂 The ticket office is in the station, you can buy the tickets here. A return ticket costs 30 Euros per person (in 2018).
Note: The first cable car leaves the station at 9 o’clock and they operate until 16 o’clock. It’s important to carefully check the weather forecast on the day you want to do this trip because if the weather is windy it’s not safe so the cable car does not operate!
It has very small cabins with 6 seats inside. The journey up to 2500 meters takes only a few minutes. A little shaky but incredibly exciting!
The upper cable car station is in a simple restaurant. If the weather is cold it’s great that you can have a hot tea of coffee and a warm sandwich here. And if you booked any trips up to the main crater you will reach the 4×4 buses from here.
Walk out of the restaurant to see an even more exciting face of Mount Etna. The red color disappeared, everything is grey and brown here. But mostly grey.
Usually everyone walks in the direction of Laghetto Crater (the road up right side) but we took a walk on the left side road.
This road leads you back down to the lower cable car station. We stayed at this level where we found a real miracle. The silence.
Nobody was there. Completely nobody. First we thought that we are not at the right place but a few minutes later we recognized that we are at the best place where we could be. We were alone! I don’t even really know how to say this to fully reflect reality.
There’s one kind of silence when you are alone somewhere and nobody is talking to you. You can hear the birds singing, or the sound of the distant traffic but you say that this is silence. But definitely not!
It was a level of silence we had never experienced before. Neither of us. When you hear blood flowing in your ears… When you don’t want to take breath because you hear your breath very loud and you don’t want to break the silence… Stunning.
A few rays of the sun passed through the clouds and warmed the lava rocks so we sat down and just listened to the nothing. And in this miracle, I discovered another miracle that I really didn’t understand then: a small plant. There, in the middle of nowhere at 2500 meters high.
After we have amazed ourselves enough it was time to go down with the cable car because we wanted to eat something and we had to reach the bus back to Catania.
On 1900 meters again
There is only one daily bus from Mount Etna to Catania at about 16:30. This is the same one that brought us up in the morning. If you want to have seats it is necessary to be at the bus at about 15 minutes before departing time.
If you have time you can find cheap restaurants here (a simple meal for two people can cost only 25 Euros). In the souvenir shops you can buy really cool fridge magnets made of lava stones! A lot of them are hand-painted items, the prices are usually 3-4 Euros. There is a small Etna Museum which is free to visit.
When you go down from the mountain to Catania, don’t forget to take a farewell look at the lava-covered house, the petrified lava flows and never forget the silence you experienced today.
Costs of a one-day-trip to Mount Etna from Catania
This list reflects our costs in 2018, per person:
– Breakfast arancini in Catania: 3€
– Return bus ticket from Catania to Mount Etna: 6,6€
– Sandwich in the bar at the cable car upper station: 6€
– Return cable car ticket: 30€
– Meal in the restaurant: 13€
– Souvenirs :): 12€
Total cost: 70,6€ per person