alcantara gorge guide tourist walking in alcantara river

Alcantara Gorge, Everything You Need To Know Before Visiting

Alcantara gorge is one of the most astonishing places I’ve visited in Italy! I immediately thought of the Giant’s Causeway (in Northern Ireland) because of the basaltic walls where the river runs its course. And yet this otherworldly landscape is just a few kilometers away from Catania in Eastern Sicily. Exploring this wonderful canyon is one of the highlights of a trip to Sicily. But how do you prepare your visit and what should you expect? Don’t worry I’ve got you covered with this helpful travel guide.

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How to get there?

The easiest way to get there is with a car (we rented ours on Discover Cars). Whether you are traveling from the national road SS114 or the highway A18, also called E45, take the exit Giardini di Naxos (Naxos Garden) from there go on SS185 towards Motta Camastra. The two gates to the river and the different guided tours and activities are along the road.

With public transport you can get to Naxos by train from Messina or Catania, there are 3 main bus companies doing the journey to Motta Camastra, the stop to the gorges. You can find their time schedules and buy the tickets online on their websites: Etnatrasporti, AST and SAIS (their website is also in English).

alcantara gorge guide alcantara river

Two ways to Visit Alcantara Gorge

There are two different ways to visit the Alcantara Gorge: the Geological and Botanical Park (entry fee) or the communal access from the beach (small entry fee).

Alcantara Gorge Geological and Botanical Park

Website: Gole Alcantara.
Opening hours: the park is open all year long from 8.30 AM to 7 PM.

When visiting the park, you can choose among many formulas let’s see them:

  • Basic, you can visit the MOL (Museum of Land) and learn more about the origin of this canyon. Then you can take the lift to the beach and go up the river for a trait among the beautiful basalt columns.
  • Walking, includes the access to the botanical park and the terraces from where you can observe the gorge from above. As a photographer I absolutely loved this formula and many of the pictures in the article were taken during this walk. Obviously after the park you can also take the lift to the beach and go up the river just like the “Basic” formula. This itinerary is pretty easy and you can enter/exit multiple times in a day.
  • Shuttle tour, similar to the Walking tour but instead of walking there is an electric shuttle that brings you through the botanical garden.
  • River trekking, after getting dressed in a waterproof overalls you will explore the gorge with guides. Note that you can easily go up the river without this particular equipment or the guides.
  • Body rafting, this is one of the funniest activities, but you must be in a good physical shape. Guided by professional rescuers you will go up the river equipped with an helmet, a wetsuit, a life jacket, and neoprene shoes. To go back to the entry you will let the river waters carry you among rocks, rapids, and waterfalls.

Our choice? I highly recommend to visit the Park and take the Walking Pass. The botanical garden is very pleasant and there are many view points to admire the Alcantara Gorge from above.

alcantara gorge guide view from terraces alcantara river

The communal access from the beach to Alcantara Gorge

The final part of Alcantara Gorge is accessible also from a stair that has a moderate difficulty. To get the access there is an entry fee of about 2$, about 1/4 of the ticket price to access from the lifts.

From the beach and going up the river you can admire the last part of the gorge that is over 30 meters high.

Tours and Activities on the Alcantara River

Body rafting

Body rafting is a fun and adventurous activity you can try while discovering the Alcantara river. If you are not familiar with this activity you are basically canoeing among the river rapids but without a canoe! It’s less dangerous than it sounds. 😉

The equipment needed (helmet, wetsuit, neoprene shoes, and life jacket) is provided by the activity sellers. And your guides are professional rescuers.

You can either do this activity with the body rafting formula of the park or with one of the many providers nearby.

alcantara gorge guide body rafting alcantara river

The advantage of booking with an external company is that they have the transport to Alcantara river included if you haven’t rented a car. But of course it’s more expensive than if you were booking from inside the park.

You can book your activity upon arrival or online, but I highly recommend to book in advance as during the tourist season you may find everything booked. On getyourguide there are three different body rafting experiences:

  • Alcantara Gorge body rafting I think is best one for testing this experience. You are inside Alcantara Canyon among the basalt walls. The activity lasts about an hour and costs 53$.
  • Alcantara River body rafting takes part in another point of the river outside the canyon. There are large lava stones but the scenery is less spectacular than inside the canyon. The activity lasts about 2 hours and costs 49$.
  • A third option includes body rafting on the Alcantara river (outside the canyon) and lunch with wine. This option is very costly due to the transport included from Taormina, Messina and Catania. The cost of this tour is 273$.

ATV Tour

The ATV tour runs along the river side and will let you discover natural landscapes and admire the river from view points. There are two options: with the first one you will drive for about 50 minutes escorted by a guide (81$). The alternative is a 2 hours drive (142$).

alcantara gorge guide alcantara river basalt columns

Things to Know Before Visiting Alcantara Gorge

The most important thing to know when planning to visit is considering the season. During rainy weeks (mainly in Winter), the beach disappears and going up the river get very difficult. Winter season is also when most of the activities aren’t available.

Walking in Alcantara Gorge is an amazing experience, just remember that the water is very cold all year long. I got used to the temperature after a couple minutes but after one hour my feet and legs were freezing!

Personally I went barefoot and even if it’s completely doable, consider bringing neoprene shoes. I got used to pebbles but you may prefer having your feet protected. Naturally if you are doing a guided visit in the canyon, the shoes and equipment is provided.

Where to Stay?

When visiting Catania I highly recommend go trekking on Etna, Sicily’s active volcano. In this case you can stay in one of the accommodations on Etna’s slopes, don’t worry it’s completely safe! On booking search for Etna (or click on the link and you’ll get there), and zoom in the northern area above Catania closer to Etna.

Alcantara river is closer to Taormina (in the city’s South) so you can look for accommodations in Pedara, Viagrande (where we stayed), or Zafferana Enea that are closer to the trek on the volcano.

If you don’t want to go on mount Etna look for accommodations in Taormina, one of the loveliest seaside villages in Italy.

alcantara gorge guide basalt columns alcantara river

One last word about Alcantara Gorge

Even though it’s not as famous as some of the most beautiful basalt columns around the world, Alcantara Gorge has nothing to envy to these most famous landscapes. And one of the things I loved the most about it is that you get to explore it while walking in the river’s water. Quite unique! Are you planning a trip to Eastern Sicily? We stayed for 5 days and loved everything about it!

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