person standing in front of mount etna crater emitting smoke

Visiting Mount Etna, the Ultimate Guide

Mount Etna is the most active stratovolcano (conical volcano like Fuji and Vesuvio) in the world! In fact it produces so much lava and rocks that in 2021 its height increased by 100 ft (30 mt). Now as you can imagine, planning a trip to visit a volcano that is so active can be tough. You may be unlucky (or lucky, depending from your point of view) and find yourself in the middle of an eruption with limited access to the mount. Even in that case I think it will be an awesome experience as you will witness lava flows from afar. So let’s what to expect when visiting Mount Etna and how to perfectly plan your experience!

The itinerary I present is perfect for a 2 days trip during the period from May to October.

If you only have one day skip to “the best of Mount Etna in one day”. Between November and April there is often snow on the summit and many tours and excursions are unavailable. On the other hand you can sky!

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In This Article

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Where to stay?

It depends. If you are renting a car (as we did with Discover Cars), you can stay in one of the many villages on the volcano’s slopes, for example Pedara, Viagrande (where we stayed), or Zafferana Enea. This was the best choice for us as we wanted to be autonomous and get there at dawn. As a photographer I can’t recommend enough visiting in the early hours as the colors and atmosphere are absolutely magical, but I’ll let you judge from my photos!

In case you prefer to travel with public transports, you can choose an accommodation in Catania. There are buses doing the route to Rifugio Sapienza (Hut Sapienza) daily, and the guided tours from Viator and GetYourGuide often start from there also.

Check out the best accommodations in the area on Booking.com

mount etna rifugio sapienza

Things to know before visiting Mount Etna

Dress for an expert-type-of hike

I know you’re probably thinking I’m packing for Sicily right? Flip flops, sunscreen, and a hat. And yet don’t forget:

  • Good hiking boots, possibly high ankle, they will protect you from gravels entering in your shoes.
  • A hat to protect you from the sun. Ideally a boonie hat that will not fly away with the wind. Note that when taking a guided tour you will have an helmet when acceding to a certain altitude.
  • Dress warmly and comfortably. You don’t need to bring your Artic jacket but remember that it’s chill.

Good to know: rent a jacket.

When you are visiting the Northern area in Piano Provenzana, you will find several souvenir shops, many of them also rent jackets and trekking equipment.

At Rifugio Sapienza (Etna’s South gate) you can rent a fleece lined jacket, boots, and socks. I rented their jacket and it was very clean warm and comfortable. Check their website for more info and prices.

silhouette standing on lava black dune on mount etna

Bring high calorie snacks and stay hydrated

You’ll spend a great amount of energies on these treks, so forget about your strict diet and treat yourself with some chocolate, energy bars, granola, etc… You’ll need the energy boost!

Also don’t forget water in quantity. If you have a refillable bottle you can ask for tap water at the refuges.

On a side note, use the restroom whenever you have the chance. There won’t be many chances to have pit stops past 6500 ft (2000 mt).

Don’t underestimate the altitude

Inexperienced hikers will find it very difficult to keep up with the tour guides. Don’t be afraid to ask a break or rest a little. Try to save your energies the best that you can, especially during lunch breaks. I would have loved to explore a bit during this time, but I’m glad I chose to rest instead.

Also and most important, if you are visiting the summit you have to cope with low oxygen levels in the particular atmosphere of the volcano. I don’t mean to discourage you, but listen to your body.

mount etna north summit

If you are visiting autonomously

There are a few areas that you can visit and hike on your own. Although to visit the summit, you must take part into a guided tour. When you are exploring on you own respect the signalization and panels, even if you may see other people (and I saw a few myself) not respecting the restrictions.

Also take into account distances, on the map everything seem so close and easily attainable, but it will take you much more in reality because of the elevation gain and sometimes even the weather can be unhelpful.

Visit Mount Etna by area: the North

Monti Sartorius

Start very early in the morning if you want to catch dawn from Monti Sartorius, to get there from the villages on the Etna’s slopes will take you about an hour. From Zafferana Enea reach Milo municipality and take road Mareneve (lit. Sea snow). There is a parking area where you can leave your car and go on the trail.

Monti Sartorius are relatively new to the landscape as they created during Etna’s eruption in 1865. Birches cover some areas creating a small forest where you may even find porcini!

The loop trail is very easy, it will take you about an hour and a half to get to the starting point, and you will be gifted with amazing views of the surroundings (Taormina, Ionio Sea, Calabria coast).

silhouette standing on a mountain with two other silhouettes far away on violet and orange sky monti sartorius at dawn mount etna

Rifugio Citelli and the Big Bench

Back on the road have a stop by Rifugio Citelli (remember the use the restroom tip?), there is a large selection of excellent sandwiches for your lunch, and you can have breakfast if you have followed my advice of getting up before dawn.

Our next stop is Piano Provenzana, but before getting there you can stop at the Big Bench to take a picture in the middle of the volcanic landscape (these are the coordinates). The bench is just few meters after the detour to Piano Provenzana.

red big bench in piano provenzana on lava fields

Piano Provenzana

There are several trails starting from Piano Provenzana. You can find more info about each trail including the caves in the area in this website on Piano Provenzana. The area is very nice to explore, but with limited time I highly recommend to take a guided tour on the impressive 4WD buses.

Tours on Etna’s summit are possible only with special buses, that will bring you to 9500 ft (2900 mt). The landscape is insane, otherworldly! From May until mid October you have the possibility to take a sunset guided tour.

unimog 4WD buses piano provenzana mount etna

4WD Bus Tour to Etna North summit

First stop of the adventurous 4WD tour are the craters created from the eruptions of 1809 and 2002. Besides admiring the amazing view you can also walk on the craters border, it’s completely safe.

Then you’ll get at 9500 ft/2900 mt where the Volcano Observatory is situated. Overlooking Valle del Leone (Lion’s Valley), the observatory rise above centuries of different lava flows in a landscape that reminds sea as if it was sculpted on stone.

In front of the observatory you can admire the active South-East crater that it’s always emitting smoke, and if you are very lucky you may safely witness an eruption of lava.

Check availability/book the 4WD tour

volcano observatory on etna north

Sunset optional excursion

It’s slightly more expensive, but I absolutely recommend you to take the sunset tour to admire the sunset from the summit. We took this tour and never regretted the extra money, just like at dawn, the atmosphere is simply magical!

The tour below isn’t rated yet on getyourguide but it’s the one we took and it’s a 100% worth it!

Check availability/book the sunset 4WD tour

silhouettes against sunset on etna north summit craters

And this would make it for a very exciting and long first day. I can guarantee you that you won’t have any problem sleeping unless you have cramps, maybe stretch a little bit before going to bed. 😉

Etna South

Valle del Bove

Kick off the day with an easy trekking called Schiena d’Asino (Donkey’s back). The trek will give you access to Valle del Bove (Ox Valley) one of the few areas of Mount Etna where you can see very ancient lava flows mixing with new.

If you prefer to save your energies for the challenging hike to the summit, there is a panoramic point, close to the parking, where you can admire part of the valley.

valle del bove lava flows on mount etna north

Rifugio Sapienza

Rifugio Sapienza is the gate to Etna South. There are the meeting points of many tours, several restaurants, and quite surprisingly even two hotels! If you are on a budget Rifugio Sapienza Hotel, have simple and clean rooms. While for treating yourself consider the beautiful Corsaro Etna Hotel and Spa.

Why am I mentioning hotels? If you are spending a full day on Etna South, this can be a nice alternative to staying in Catania or on Etna’s slopes. Although don’t forget it takes time to get up there.

Crateri Silvestri and Crateri Silvestri Superiori

Created after an eruption that lasted 6 months, Crateri Silvestri are one of the most crowded areas on Mount Etna as they can easily reached from Rifugio Sapienza.

There is a second series of craters called Crateri Silvestri Superiori, that you can reach in about 30 minutes. I really loved the short walk as there are some yellow bushes dotting the black ground.

crateri silvestri on mount etna

Cable car

The cable car is a 15 minutes ride to the Bar Etna’s Cable Car. The price is 50€ (54$) for adults and 30€ (32$) for children from 5 to 10. You can find more info about the opening hours on Funivia Etna official website.

From there you can either hike to the craters (only with a professional guide) or take a 4WD to get to 3000 mt (9800 ft).

Summit craters

READ THIS CAREFULLY: The excursion to the summit craters is highly discouraged for people who are not fit, who have health problems and especially heart problems.

With that said the final hike to Etna’s summit is quite extraordinary! The landscape as you can imagine is unique. The guides who are trained professional have a quick pace and you have to keep up with them to listen the explanations about Mongibello (Etna’s nickname).

Remember to bring food, or you can also buy it at Rifugio Sapienza before taking the cable car.

Check availability/book the summit tour

mount etna south summit crater emitting smoke

ATV Tour

From Rifugio Sapienza you can rent an ATV for a 1 hour and a half / 2 hours tour. You’ll be driving mostly on the paved road, don’t expect to go a lot higher than Rifugio Sapienza. It’s still a nice and fun activity, but I’d recommend it less than visiting the summit craters.

Check availability/book the ATV tour

atv at rifugio sapienza

Piano Vetore

After taking the cable car back to Rifugio Sapienza you can visit Piano Vettore and explore the area of lava flows covered by vegetation. If you are exploring on your own be careful, getting lost there it’s easier than it may seem!

The Best of Mount Etna in one day

In case you are on a tight schedule and have only one day for Mount Etna I recommend you to rent a car and dedicate your morning to the exploration of Rifugio Sapienza surroundings and Crateri Silvestri, including the superiors.

While on the second part of the day head to Piano Provenzana and take the sunset 4WD tour. This is an ideal day even for less fit travelers.

walking on the black lava dunes of mount etna

Planning a trip to Eastern Sicily?

Visiting Mount Etna was one of the highlights of an unforgettable trip to Eastern Sicily. Need an idea for an itinerary? Couple the two days with exploring Alcantara Gorge, and visiting Taormina, Siracusa, Noto and obviously Catania.

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