Where should you hike in Sicily?
In my opinion, the question of where you should hike in Sicily should start with Mount Etna, which is a beautiful volcano which is still active and lies on this historical island in very south of the country. This place is a must visit destination for all the tourists who are planning to travel to Italy. Furthermore, Mount Etna is so enormous that it is visible from well over half of Sicily. It is in a constant state of the eruption which makes it even more spectacular.
A few facts of Mount Etna –
- Mount Etna is a massive brooding presence with touching a height of approximately 3330 meters
- Mount Etna is Europe’s largest active volcanic mountain
- It has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013 because of its topography
- The mighty mountain as well as the area nearby is a great place to ski during the months of November to March. In fact, you will be able to find ski resorts over here
- There have been regular eruptions; the major one has been in 1669 that destroyed part of the port of Catania
Best Time to go to Hike Mount Etna
Hiking in Sicily is a year-round affair and Mount Etna in particular can be hiked all year round, especially if you are looking for good hiking near Syracuse. I visited it during the month of October when the pleasant was not that harsh and the number of tourists is comparatively less (not that less though) after finishing up a multi-day hike in Cinque Terre earlier that month in the Italian Riviera.
I will suggest you to avoid the months of June to August as those are the peak months and you will be in the middle of a sea of tourists.
I am also providing a month by month detail of the weather conditions in Mount Etna, so that you can choose to visit this place in accordance to it.
- Autumn Season (September and October) – These two months are considered the best months to explore Italy since the number of tourists is comparatively less. However, it gets very windy as you move up towards Mount Etna so please dress accordingly and wear a few warm clothes.
- Winter Season (November to March) – These months are the best for all the skiing lovers. Not only you can hike Mount Etna but also enjoy the skiing slopes from the skiing resorts. Of course, you have to dress in accordance to the temperature and carry warm clothes.
- Spring Season (April and May) – These months are the most unfavorable months to visit Mount Etna as the surroundings are mostly cloudy and in the month of April you might also encounter snowfall.
- Summer Season (June to August) – One of the most crowded months. The place is cloudy for all the right reasons though. You will not find snow at all during this time around. Further, the sky is clear which means pleasant weather and perfect views. But beware of the hotel prices due to a huge footfall of tourists.
How to Reach Sicily
There are several ways to reach Sicily. While the most comfortable one has to be by air, however, the most fun one would be reaching Sicily by train. Yes, Sicily is an island that is separated from the mainland of Italy, but you can still reach here by taking a train.
- Sicily by Air – There are many domestic transfers in Italy that you can book. Rome, Florence, Pisa, Milan, and Sicily are considered to have the biggest airports of Italy. Hence, you will be able to find air transfers to and fro Sicily easily. However, consider booking budget airlines and check EasyJet to find for cheaper flights. It is better to book flights in advance to make the most of your budget. Although remember that Italians charge an extra for one checked in baggage.
- Sicily by Train – Reaching Sicily by train is the most interesting thing to do and I will recommend this commute over flights.
You can take Eurorail till Naples and from here catch an overnight train to Sicily. The ride is very comfortable. You can sleep through the entire journey and not even realize the distance.
However, the best part of this train is that the entire train goes inside a ferry. The entire train is transported on a ferry across the Straits of Messina. When in ferry you can either sit in the train carriage or head up on the deck to see Sicily from far away. Although do not forget to return back to your carriage once the train is about to reach the mainland.
The train ride is much cheaper and much more thrilling than the airplane transfers. You can find the timing of the trains on the website of the Italian railway company www.trenitalia.it.
- Sicily by Ferry – There are many tourists who prefer travelling in their own vehicle. There are ways through which you can get your own private vehicle to Sicily as well – which is by ferry. Try booking these services well in advance as you can get discounts as well.
To Catania – Catania, the main land area to reach Mount Etna is connected with Civitavecchia and Genoa through Grimaldi Lines and with Naples through TTT Lines.
How to Reach Rifugio Sapienza for Mount Etna from Catania
You can take a cab to Mount Etna, however, if you are trying to find a cheaper mode of commute then there are bus services as well that runs between Catania and Mount Etna.
Mount Etna by Bus
There is only one bus service between Catania train station and parking of Mount Etna. The AST bus leaves Catania at 8.15 in the morning, and starts returning from Catania at 4:30 pm.
The cost of this round trip is € 6.20 per person
Note: There is bar near to the bus stand from where you can but the ticket of this AST bus.
How to Reach Rifugio Sapienza for Mount Etna from Taormina
There are no direct buses from Taormina to Rifugio Sapienza. You again have to take a bus till Catania first and then catch a bus for Mount Etna. That is why staying in Catania is better if you are planning on hiking in Sicily for its Mount Etna day hike.
However, if you still want to stay in Taormina, then you can also book a tour. There are two kind of treks – short trek which is of 2,900 metres and a longer one of 3,300 metres. It is one of the best holidays in Sicily, in my opinion.
How to Reach to the Mount Etna Crater
By Cable Car (Funivia) –
Once you will reach the parking area of Mount Etna, you will find that the entire place is lined up with souvenir shops, coffee shops and restaurants. Walk past them and you will come across a cable car (Funivia) services. You can even skip this and hike up to Mount Etna depending upon your budget and time and not worry about the multiple paths to the top.
Rifugio Sapienza – Cable car (Funivia) lies at an altitude of 1900 metres in Rifugio Sapienza and can take you to an elevation of 2500 metres. The cable car (Funivia) starts at 9 AM till 5:30 PM. Unfortunately, there are no special offers for this cable car, regardless of the season.
Mountain Station – It takes 15 minutes to reach here from Rifugio Sapienza. There is a food joint and a bar where you can enjoy a meal. Starting from here you have to catch a 4×4 jeep.
Summit Area – The 4×4 bus which will take you to 2950 metres of Torre del Filosofo. It offers breathtaking views and costs 33 EUR for the round trip. From here you can see the results of latest eruptions and solidified lava flows. You will also admire Valle del Bove (Valley of the Ox) and explore the low crater or the high crater depending upon the trek you are on.
Short Trek – In the short trek you reach till an elevation of 2900 metres. You do exactly everything that I mentioned above. Taking a cable car (Funivia), then hopping onto a 4×4 car. From here on a guide accompanies you and take you to the lower craters of Mount Etna. The average duration of this tour is about 2 to 2.5 hours. Furthermore, you can get the ticket for this tour on the spot. It costs about 30 EUR to ride on the cable car (Funivia) and then another 33 EUR for a round tour on a 4×4 jeep.
Long Trek – If you want to attain an elevation of 3,300 metres and see the high crater then the long trek is for you. Take a cable car (Funivia), hop on to the 4×4 jeep after getting down from the cable car (Funivia) and from here you go for a hike to 3,300 metres and come down all the way to the cable car (Funivia) on foot. Again, like for the short trek you can buy the tickets for the long trek on spot. The cost for this trek is 70 EUR and it offers some of the most stunning views of Mount Etna. I say it is a long hike, but really it is not one of the long hikes in Sicily, if you think about it on how many hours it takes.
However, do remember that this trek happens only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and starts only once a day which is at 10:30 AM.
By Self Hike
If you want to do a self hike from Rifugio Sapienza, you can do that too. You can reach the lower crater at a height of 2,900 metres. However, you won’t be able to go to the 3,300 metres on your own. For that you would need a ticket from Funivia itself.
Where to stay near Mount Etna
B&Bs and Luxury Hotels
Sicily has several B&Bs and luxury hotels if you want a room with a beach stay. If you plan to book an entire room for yourself, the price varies from 50 EUR to 70 EUR. If you wish to stay near to Mount Etna, then book Rifugio Sapienza. This will also help you in reaching to the crater fast when you want to avoid the crowd.
- Rifugio Sapienza
So what all Rifugio Sapienza offers –
- Free parking
- 30% discount on cable car (Funivia)
- Great breakfast
- Explore Mount Etna early in the morning as tourists arrive late
- B&B Etna House
Another one that I will recommend is B&B Etna House which is in Nicolosi. You get good breakfast but the perk of this place is that the public buses come here.
- Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo
If you are reaching Mount Etna from Taormina side, then stay in Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo which offers excellent views of Mount Etna. It is worth the penny to wake up to such views.
I love couch surfing in the foreign lands. Not only it helps in cutting down the cost but it also helps in connecting to the locals and understanding their culture a little better. There is a website specifically dedicated for this purpose – couchsurfing.com. You can find in the locals that can host you near to Etna, in return of a few gifts and amazing travel stories.
This is another way to cut down your cost. Not only hostels are cheaper but you get to interact with other travelers, some of which may be hiking around Sicily as well, so you can plan other trips and locations.
Now, you can try to find a place in Catania which can provide an access to both Mount Etna and the train station. Further, you can also stay in a village near the foothills of Mount Etna to experience the local culture.
Things to Pack for Mount Etna
Etna’s summit can be 10-15 degrees (Celsius) colder than Catania. It also gets quite windy and cloudy and the weather can change quickly here. Now based on the season and months you are travelling in the layer of clothing and the type of dress changes.
However, there are a few typical clothing that you should definitely carry to Mount Etna –
Head Cover – Woolen Cap
The first place from where our body leaves heat is through the head. Thus, it is of utmost importance that you always cover your head and ears.
The winds and cold as you gain altitude gets even harsher. Cover your face and neck which will also help to do away with the dust and gas when you are near the crater.
Fleece is a great way to protect you from cold. Carry a lightweight and easy to fold fleece jacket.
It is essential to cover your hands as well. Have a good waterproof gloves with you in case there is snow.
Wind Cheater Jacket
The weather as you gain elevation becomes drastically windy. To avoid winds from piercing at your skin with its cold, it is essential to wind cheat it with the help of a good jacket.
Wind Cheater Pants
As your upper body, your lower body needs a good covering as well. Further, if you are planning to ski here ensure that you have a good pair of ski pants (waterproof) that you can use for multiple days.
The path towards the crater is rocky and muddy. Further, if you are planning to reach the crater by hiking then it is essential to have a good pair of shoes with you for sure footing.
Have an extra pair of socks. There are chances that it starts to rain or you might have to layer up your feet as the colder the weather gets.
- Day pack to carry your essential small things around the camp while exploring
- Your photo ID and passport
- A good pair of sunglasses to protect from the UV rays
- Sunscreen, especially if you are planning to arrive during the summers
- Moisturizer/lip balm as you are prone to skin dryness as you gain elevation
- Rain cover or poncho
- A small towel
Visit Mount Etna Early
If you are visiting Mount Etna between the months of April to October, you will be in the middle of a sea of crowd. And when you have to hike up or take a cable car (Funivia), you will not be able to enjoy the secluded-ness on a day trip. The cable car (Funivia) starts at 9 AM. So it is better to reach at this time so you can avoid maximum crowd.
Hiking Mount Etna is right up at the top of the list of trips you should take when you travel in Italy. It is not a difficult hike and you can enjoy the secluded spots even more in just a few hours. In fact, if you reach even early, maybe by 6 AM, then all the more chances to avoid the crowd. Hiking is very peaceful as well as there are not many people and you can stop wherever you want to for photos. In fact you can choose South side to hike up to the crater or the North – there will be no need to reach all the way to Rifugio Sapienza to reach the crater.
Why Should you Visit Sicily?
Well, it is Italy, so I think the first reason to visit anywhere here is the food. That being said, hiking in Sicily and particularly hiking Mount Etna is quite a unique experience. Hiking towards an active volcano is thrilling in itself. However, prepare yourself that if in case things go wrong you have alternative plans as well. You can reach the crater through several ways and no particular path is a better path. You can reach the crater from South or from the north, with a tour operator or without a tour operator, hop on a cable car or hike the full way instead – each of them is unique in itself and depending on what kind of an explorer you are, you can choose your own path to reach to the crater.
Radhika Sharma is a travel blogger, an avid YouTube an IG influencer for the past 2 years. She is based in New Delhi and quit her corporate job a year back. She is the co-founder of the blog, Nomllers. You can find her work on her YouTube and Instagram.