Visiting Mount Etna, the Largest Volcano in Sicily

Mount Etna
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Even in May, when the temperature was soaring, there was snow on the ground. Lots of it, piled high by the side of the path and clustered around the edge of slippery glaciers. But the sun was shining, and the volcano was puffing gently in the distance. This was Mount Etna, the largest volcano in Sicily, and we were determined to make the most of our visit, to enjoy the views and the scenery.

Snow on Mount Etna
Even in May snow is piled up beside the path

Mount Etna: a UNESCO World Heritage Site

This is the mountain that dominates the landscape of Sicily, its snowy top visible almost wherever you go. In the winter its slopes become ski runs; at other times it is host to climbers and to those, like us, who let the cable car do most of the hard work.  

Mount Etna, Sicily
Etna viewed from the town of Taormina: the mountain is visible all around Sicily

In 2013 Mount Etna was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. This was a recognition of its status as an “iconic site”, one with immense natural and geological significance.    

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The Most Active Volcano in Europe

The geological significance lies, of course, in the fact that Etna is Europe’s tallest and most active volcano. The last major eruption was in January of this year, a spectacle that lit up the sky and sent larva tumbling down the mountainside, causing major disruption to nearby Catania airport. But smaller emissions take place all the time, making it necessary for anyone who wants to peer over the edge of the crater to check the daily warnings before setting out, and to be accompanied by an experienced guide.  

Mount Etna
The volcanic landscape of Mount Etna

The effect of all this activity is apparent as you explore the mountain. It is a landscape of cones and craters, of ash and solidified larva, a landscape that shifts and changes with each eruption. Trees grow on the lower slopes and there are a few mountain flowers higher up, but no plants can survive the relentless assault upon the upper reaches.

Slopes of Mount Etna
A few plants manage to grow on the lower reaches of the mountain

Mountain of Ice and Fire

When we emerged from the cable car the scenery was monochrome, black ash and larva rock against the white of the snow. We walked up the path, stopping short of the summit, and perched by the side of a glacier to eat our picnic. We could have taken a guide to the summit, and watched the steam rising from the very core of the earth, but we chose instead to keep the crater at a respectful distance. For us it was the other-worldly scenery and the spectacular views that were the main attractions of Etna.

Glacier on Mount Etna
Ice and larva combine to create a monochrome landscape…
View from Mount Etna
…but there are spectacular views of the surrounding countryside

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19 thoughts on “Visiting Mount Etna, the Largest Volcano in Sicily”

  1. What beautiful photographs. You've really captured the scene. I have been to a few places in Italy (Rome, PIsa, Florence, Venice, Lake Garda and Ventimiglia, just over the border from France) but I would would love to visit this region too.

  2. Both my husband and I are in love with Italy. We're looking forward to seeing Sicily on our next trip and hope to have the chance to visit Mt. Etna. Thanks for posting this and showing what the volcano looks like up close. I love your photos.

  3. Nice pictures. We went in 2010 and climbed up some of that odd silty moonscape. The soil is so rich in that area that growers continue to brave life amid an active volcano. Don't know if I would do that.

  4. I was there years ago and I loved this place. I wrote an article about it naming it: In 4 Hours To The Moon And Back because it really felt like being on the moon. At that day you couldn´t see the sea and Sicily because clouds where down there.
    It´s definitely worth a visit even if it´s not cheap to get up to Mt. Etna.

  5. Awesome pictures. I would love to visit Sicily but always forget that this is also the place you will find this active volcano. I definitely add the volcano to the list of sites to see in Sicily.

  6. Awesome post! I love reading posts on active or dormant volcanoes and Etna is one of those that I would love to explore further along with the Hawaiian/Indonesian volcanoes. The pictures are high quality also and inspiring to folks wanting to visit this part of the world.

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About Karen

WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren. I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 60 countries at the last count). I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica (I still hope to get there one day…), and my current favourite destinations are Italy, Spain and North America. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way.

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