Excursion · Travel

A trip to Sicily – Pt 7: Catania & Etna

Welcome back to my little corner of the internet!

Last time, we were driving to Catania – you can read about the trip here.

Catania was the highlight of my trip, because I have always enjoyed volcanoes and been fascinated by their devastating power. So, obviously, Mount Etna was my priority number one. The very next morning, we got up early and drove to the Rifugio Sapienza from where the guided tours start.

To get on the Etna, you need to take a cable car to reach the accessible summit. Without a guide, you will be able to walk around, but you won’t be able to climb up to the crater,  nor in the area surrounding the four craters.

If you choose a guided tour, however, and if you are steady on your feet and ready to walk for approximately six hours, I strongly recommend a guided tour with the Alpine guides of the Etna. The tour starts around 9 am and will take you up to the crater, if the volcanic activity allows it, around volcanic bombs, lava trails and sulfuric fumes. The guides will explain details of the activity of the Etna and its eruptions. If you are lucky enough and there has been a recent eruption, you might even be able to get close to a lava flow (I have not had the pleasure, yet).

ashen face after 6 hours of hiking

My face covered in ash after my hike on the Etna. I had ash and sulfur in my ears and nose for days.

nature coming back

After an eruption, nature starts growing again. At first, there are plants and insects. It is fascinating to see how after such destruction life comes back.

Valle del Bove

Most flows of lava end up in this valley. You can hike through it, but the terrain is difficult and hostile and to walk the 6km of width, takes almost an entire day.

A volcanic bomb

The Etna spews so called volcanic bombs that are usually massive granite blocks. They weigh several tons and drop at an incredible speed. We were given helmets to protect ourselves from gravel, but they would have been utterly useless if a bomb had fallen on our heads.

Snow in the lava

In winters, the Etna is covered in snow and you can ski there. When there is an eruption, the lava covers the snow, but is unable to melt it all, creating an interesting cross section of layers of lava and snow.

The South Eastern crater

The Etna has 4 craters and, by far, the most active one is the South Eastern one.

The South Eastern crater close up

It is a strange feeling looking down a crater. You expect seeing lava and activity, but all you see is a dark pit from where deep rumbling sounds arise.

A channel

Some lava flows work like plumbing, big tubes filled with lava. What remains is a surreal canalization.

As a funny anecdote, the Etna appears in several films. One of the most famous scenes is Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. The volcanic activity that you can see in the scene where Anakin is burnt in lava is from a volcanic eruption on the Etna.

Remember to bring water and food on your hike. It is an incredible experience to eat a sandwich while sitting on a volcanic bomb and listening to the deep gurgling of the Etna.

And now, the post turned out to be much longer than I had previously anticipated and if you made it all the way here, kudos to you!

We’ll take a tour through Catania tomorrow…

To be continued…

How do you feel about volcanoes? Are you as obsessed as I am? Let me know in the comments below.

Love,

Raffi

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