Lying on the est coast of Sicily in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, we find one of the most active volcanos of the planet, the mighty Mount Etna. This volcano has been known to humanity for his frequent eruptions since the 7th-century B.c when the ancient Greeks colonized Sicily’s island, giving rise to one of the most sophisticated cultures of the Mediterranean Basin.
On December 13, 2020 a new eruption, lighted up the island’s night sky, with lava fountains up to 300 meters high and two streams of lava flowing along the slopes of the volcano. Luckily, the eruption stopped to before the lava reached any town. The question that often people visiting Sicily ask is, “are not people living so close to the volcano scared that a massive eruption might cause damage and death”? Well, local people will reply “No, we are not scared, Mount Etna is a gentle Giant” As a matter of fact to see a town wiped out from the lava we need to go back to 1923 when a lateral eruption covered five villages. Still, even then dwellers had all the time to gather their personal belongings and escape the flowing lava. The fact that Mount Etna does not pose a threat lies in his magma’s chemistry with medium to low silica levels, allowing gases to escape the column of magma and often produce a medium explosive eruption, rather than one massive every thousands of years. Another reason that lower the chances of an eruption to reach any town is the active craters’ altitude at over 3300 meters above sea level, far from any town.
On the other hand, the summit’s frequent explosions deliver tons of ashes rich in minerals to the fields at the volcano’s feet, making the soil super fertile, allowing exotic species like bananas, avocado and Mangoes to grow. However, the most significant industry that Mount Etna support is tourism.
Mount Etna and the tourism Industry.
Before the covid-19 put a halt to travel, 26% of the Sicilian GDP came from the tourism industry’s revenues. This figure alone is essential to understand how much Sicilians rely on the incoming of holidaymakers. Mount Etna is the island’s main tourist attraction, together with the coastal town of Taormina and the Alcantara valley, that is why every year hundreds of thousands of travelers choose to visit Sicily to climb Mount Etna’s flanks to the summit and feel the thrill of walking on the four active craters’ rim.
The Climb to The summit
The tours start on the south slopes of Mount Etna. The cable car goes from 1800 meters to 2500, from here hikers will hop on board of a massive Unimong Jeep to cross a vast section of a lava desert that looks like the moon, with ancient craters dotting the landscape. The trekking starts at an altitude of 2900 meters and follows a steep climb that lasts three hours. Above three thousand meters, some people can experience light oxygen starvation, but a brief pause will help to overcome the altitude’s fatigue. Once on the active craters’ rim, saying that the spectacle is breathtaking is a euphemism. The vertical walls plunging to the hearth of the planet display tens of small holes, emitting high-pressure gases, the main crater’s explosions shake the ground, and the multitude of red and yellow crystallized minerals colour the soil making the landscape alien. The view on the Mediterranean Sea, the mountain ranges and the lush valleys is the most beautiful to be seen in the whole of the island. The walking time for an excursion to the summit of Etna is seven hours; the distance is nine miles.
Even in August, the temperature can be cold due to the wind blowing from the North, so proper clothing is always paramount. Local tour operators organizing expeditions to the summit provide, trekking boots, jackets and walking poles, without additional cost. The access to the active craters is allowed just with a certified guide.
What else to do on Mount Etna?
Those tourists who might not be interested in experience the climb to the summit; Mount Etna offers a series of trekking to a lower altitude that cross-section of lush forest and get to the summit of old craters. Even if far from the summit of the volcano, such walking tours deliver plenty of emotions and offer landscapes hard to find anywhere else. Another popular tour on Mount Etna is the one on two wheels. On the north side of the volcano, there are a series of Mountain bike trails that wind through a lava desert, a lush forest and reach an altitude of over 3000 meters. Both muscular and electric mountain biking tours are available with different levels of difficulty. Horse riding is another popular choice to discover the volcano’s trails; some agency sells three day’s tour, camping in the wild and reaching the Alcantara Valley and the famous Canyon, where the river trekking and body rafting adventure has become a significant attraction of this part of Sicily. Last but not least, the wine tasting tour offers the opportunity to do some off-road on the woodland of Etna on-board of jeeps and visit some winery in the beautiful wine district.