Mount Etna! Every question answered right here in this detailed guide! Starting with the best time to visit: Mt. Etna can be visited and hiked year-round. However, the best months to visit with pleasant temperatures and without the extreme July/August tourist crowds are: May and late September - October. But still, expect busy areas at Etna South even during these shoulder months. Even more important is to choose the right time of day for your hike or visit.
Eruption Update June, 2019: Tours are possible (as usuall during 'normal' eruptions). Like in recent years, the tours by experienced tour operators are usually not affected by eruptions. On the contrary, tours become even more spectacular! Check our handpicked tours from reliable tour operators below we chose from our experience. Read more details below!
Read on for our detailed when to go tips or jump directly to:
- Full Mount Etna Guide (Public Cable Car, 4x4)
- Hotel Tips (Taormina and Catania)
- Hand-Picked Mount Etna Tours (Tips)
Mount Etna Helicopter Flight (Epic)
Thinking about the Etna Heli Flight Tour (see above) and need some motivation? Watch this stunning aerial Etna video (turn to landscape orientation on a mobile phone):
The official winter season is from December to March and the summer season from April to October/November. Keep in mind that even in the summer you’ll need a jacket above 2000m. Helpful monthly overview: Mount Etna Weather
April, May (Spring): The season starts, yet April temperatures are not pleasant enough for most visitors and there is a chance of new snow. During both months the chance of a cloudy day is still high compared to the summer months. Temperature wise May is better than April as temperatures are rising. Although May is considered a shoulder month, it’s already busy. Not the crazy crowds like in July/August, but the queues at Etna South are already long.
June, July, August (Summer): Most pleasant temperatures, stable mountain weather and the least chance of cloudy days. Another climate advantage: Between June and late September Mount Etna is snow-free. This is also the peak season. Especially in July and August, it’s ridiculously crowded and accommodation prices are at their highest (read below on how to avoid the crowds).
September, October (Autumn): Temperatures drop, but those 2 shoulder months still offer pleasant temperatures, especially September. In October it’s windier, the chance of clouds are a little higher and there is even a chance of snow. Dress accordingly. Both months are considered shoulder season. However, it’s still busy at Etna South.
November, December, January, February, March (Winter): It’s winter season and quieter. Visits to Etna and even hiking tours are still possible. Skiing as well of course. You need to dress for cold temperatures and even colder wind. Bring an extra pair of socks and a winter jacket. Be prepared for snow. The Funivia (cable car, see below) as well as the jeeps (or snow-cats) run every day in winter, even during Christmas. However, depending on the weather conditions there might be days when they are not operating. In the winter, a pre-booked tour (see below) is highly recommended instead of going up on your own. They also provide you with snowshoes and sticks.
Time of Day
To avoid the heavy crowds it’s recommended to start early in the morning. Read below (Avoiding Tourist Crowds) for more details regarding an early morning visit. Another advantage: Clouds tend to form later in the day. This means you’ll experience much better views by going early. Heavy clouds and mist can spoil the whole experience at the top. In case you are going in the peak summer months with the least chance of clouds (see above) and the weather forecast predicts a clear next day: Then you might try a sunset tour as well.
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
Silvestri Craters near Rifugio Sapienza at 1900 m
Usually, the whole summer season between late April and October is busy at Etna South. If possible, try to avoid July and August on the south side, as it’s ridiculously crowded during both peak months. The heaviest crowds are at Rifugio Sapienza (read the description in the section below 'Review & Tips'). However, as soon as you get to the top and start hiking further with a guide, you’ll get away from the masses of tourists anyway. Read on for more tips on how to avoid the crowds, even in the peak summer months:
To use the cable car + jeep and avoid the crowds at Etna South between April and October: Regardless of the month, take the very first bus to Rifugio Sapienza (see below). If you go by (rental) car: Be at Rifugio around 8:30 in the morning. The cable car (Funivia) starts officially at 9 AM. However, the first lift often begins 15 minutes earlier. Be there at this time and you’ll avoid the heavy crowds which usually start to arrive around or after 10 AM. Another advantage of going early: It’s less cloudy in the mornings compared to afternoons / evenings. Additionally, avoid weekends, it’s less busy during the week.
If you are a hiker, there is an even better way: Be at Rifugio Sapienza (see below) as early as possible. Then start hiking up to 2900m (further is not allowed without a guide). You won’t see many others, maybe even hike in solitude. If you want to approach the highest craters (3300m): You need to use the long trek (see below) or pre-book with a tour operator: They use the cable car and jeep in the morning for longer treks. Extra tip to avoid the crowds: Book the Rifugio Sapienza hotel (see below, at the very end) and explore the area there when it’s quiet: early in the morning or late in the evening.
Visit Etna North:
Alternatively, visit Etna North. The landscape is less volcanic like but still fascinating and much less touristy. You can either hike self-guided or book a guided Etna North tour: Operators offer guided hiking tours to the top as well as jeep tours.
Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Eruptions are quite frequent, with powerful lava fountains, lava flows and ash clouds. As a result, the landscape changes steadily as lava hardens, craters collapse and sometimes even new craters are created. With black lava sand and volcanic gravel, you experience a lunar-like scenery and stunning view if you make it to the summit craters. Mt Etna is part of the Parco dell’Etna Regional Nature Park. You'll find tons of additional helpful information on their website: Parco dell'Etna. Read on for our detailed tips and the ways to visit and get to the top (Three options: A, B, C > read more below. Keep in mind that these have nothing to do with the park A,B,C,D zones).
ETNA SUD (South Side)
Base: Rifugio Sapienza
The south side ‘base station’ is Rifugio Sapienza and it’s the highest point you can drive to. It’s more touristy and popular than the north side: A collection of shops, souvenir stands, larger car park as well as restaurants at 6,262 feet (1,909 m). Landscape: Barren looking, volcano-like, lava scenery.
Getting to Rifugio Sapienza
From Catania (by bus):
You can get from Catania to Rifugio Sapienza by public bus or by car (21-mile (34 km) drive). The bus stops halfway for half an hour at Nicolosi. If you choose to take the bus, buy the tickets at the AST office (Google Maps) in advance close to the station. Preferably early in the morning. During the busy summer months, it’s recommended to buy them the day before. The bus runs once a day only (twice daily July-August) from Catania’s Stazione Centrale, or main railway station. Buses usually depart around 8:15 AM and drive back at 4:30 PM. In peak season (July/August), be early at the bus stop as it gets full and you might not get a decent seat.
From Taormina (and by car):
If you are in Taormina you'd first have to take another bus from Taormina to Catania. There is no direct (public) bus connection from Taormina to Rifugio Sapienza. If you are in Taormina and want it hassle free via bus: Book a tour: see below at C) Pre-Booked Tours. If you choose to get to Rifugio Sapienza by car, we highly recommend to book in advance: Rental Car Deals in Taormino or Rental Car Deals - Catania Airport (best price guaranteed)
A) Public Tours (up to 2,900m or 3,300m / no reservations)
Short trek 2,900 m and long trek 3,300 m: 1) Rifugio Sapienza (Funivia) > 2) Mountain Station (Jeep/4x4) > 3) Summit Area. From here on: the long trek up to 3,300 m or short trek staying at 2,900 m. Want to know more details? Read below the insights about transport and stations for both treks, long and short (you can decide at any point/station to stay there and/or head back):
1. Rifugio Sapienza (1,900m > enter Funivia = Cable Car): Drive here by car or use a bus (see above). You may visit the two very old Silvestri Craters: It’s a 1 km walk, very easy and free. Some visitors only do this ‘quick visit’ and don’t go further. However, staying at Rifugio Sapienza only would mean to miss the best part of Mt. Etna. To continue from Rifugio Sapienza use the cable car (Funivia dell’Etna) up to the mountain station. The ride takes about 15 minutes. Schedule: 9 AM - 5:30 PM.
2. Mountain Station (2,500m > enter 4x4 Jeep): After arriving with the cable car at the mountain station (Webcam) you can take a break at the bar there if you like. Then continue by jeep (large 4x4 Unimog, 15-20 minutes) up to the summit area.
3. Summit Area (2,800 m, 3,300m): With the large jeep you reach the summit area: Torre del Filosofo. From here the guide either takes you to the low craters (short trek, 2,900 m, 40 minutes) or the higher craters (long trek (3,300 m). Depending on which trek you are on.
No reservation or booking in advance for these public tours: You buy all tickets on the spot (Funivia tickets soon online). Both, long and short treks, use the same transports up to the summit. The differences between both treks:
Short Trek (1-3 up to 2,900m): From Rifugio with Funivia + Jeep (see description above) to the summit, then short hike with a guide (40 minutes) to a low crater. As soon as you take the jeep, a mandatory guide is included. You can stay as long as you like and take the next jeep down.
- Total time: 2 - 2,5 hours
- Start: Several times daily
- Tickets: At Rifugio / Mountain Station
- Price: Funivia 30 EUR + Jeep 33 EUR
- Difficulty: Very easy (40 minutes walk)
- Craters: Old craters (eruption 2002)
- Value: Great scenery and views
Long Trek (1-3 up to 3,300m): Same transport to the summit area (Funivia + Jeep). However, instead of a short guided hike, you head for the high craters (3,300 m) and back down to Rifugio Sapienza on foot (4-5 hour trek). You buy the tickets at their Meeting Point at Rifugio Sapienza. No reservation is necessary. However, it's usually a good idea to call or write them in advance to make sure the trek will happen. As of May 2018, the long trek can also be booked online: Gruppo Guide Alpine Etna Sud (only available in Italian so far). Additionally the Etna Nord(!) Group offers Etna South(!) tours to the top. Only on 3 days: Mon, Wed, Fri. Summit Craters from Etna South.
- Total time: 5-6 hours
- Start: Only once a day at 10:30 (be there at 9:00 AM sharp)
- Tickets: Meeting Point Rifugio
- Price: Total > 70 EUR
- Difficulty: Moderately strenuous
- Craters: More active (eruption recently)
- Value: Spectacular scenery and views
Everything from the text above (stations included in the public tours) is summarized in the following infographic:
B) Self Guided Hikes (up to 2,900 m)
From Rifugio Sapienza, you can hike up to 2,900 m from Rifugio Sapienza without a guide. You may also choose to use the Funivia (see #2) from Rifugio Sapienza to the mountain station and then hike from there to the top. However, you are not allowed to go any further after arriving at 2,900m (see below) without a guide. That means there is no way of getting to the high craters (3,300 m) on your own. Some say that the hike up itself at Etna South can be a little monotonous until you get to the top.
C) Private Pre-Booked Tours (up to 3,300 m)
As an alternative to the standard long or short trek or even going on a self-guided hike, you may also book a guided private tour in advance. Those tours often start in Catania or Taormina, which means that you don’t have to worry about getting to Rifugio Sapienza on your own. Great tour operators and tours are (check their tour details, as they often offer both Etna South and Etna North tours):
- Mount Etna Tours: From Catania or Taormina, safe booking, excellent and friendly guides. Hassle-free: They pick you up! Safe booking!
- Continente Sicilia
- Legendary Sicily
Tip: If you stay in Taormina and don't have a rental car, it's easier to book a tour which starts in Taormina rather than taking 2 bus lines until you arrive in Catania or Rifugio Sapienza: Taormina >bus> Catania, then >bus> from Catania to Rifugio Sapienza.
ETNA NORD (North Side)
Base: Piano Provenzana
The north side ‘base station’ Piano Provenzana is a (ski) station at about 5,970 feet (1,820 m), with a car park and winter ski lift. It’s a lot quieter with fewer tourists than Etna Sud, especially more relaxing for a visit during the busy summer season. Landscape: Forests, wildflowers, less volcano-like. However, if you choose a guided tour to the very top, you’ll see the same craters and volcanic landscape at the summit area.
Tours and Hikes: The village of Linguaglossa is the best starting point for excursions on the north side of Etna. From Linguaglossa you access Piano Provenzana. Piano Provenzana is the main ski resort on Etna and the center for hikes and treks. 4WD excursions are organized from here, and hikers can take the 3-hours hikes from here to the cone of Etna. Great Hiking Report: Etna North Climb More details about guided tours from the Etna Nord Group: Etna North Excursions
Questions & Answers (FAQ)
The different tours and hikes are confusing. Which one should I pick? If your health condition allows it, choose a tour to the higher summit craters (3,300 m). The views are stunning. You are not allowed to ascend to 3300m without a guide. In order to get to the 3,300m area, you either need to choose the public standard long trek (see above) or any privately pre-booked tour for the south side or north side. The best selection of tours (including safe booking) can be found here: Mount Etna Tours (South and North)
How do I get up there in general? For Etna South it’s always: First get to Rifugio Sapienza, then take the Funivia (= cable car), then at the mountain station, you get into one of the large jeeps. Even the tour operators use both ‘public’ means of transport. Alternatively, you can hike at any point. For Etna North, your starting point is Piano Provenzana and then hike to the top without a guide or book a guided hiking tour. The guided Etna North tours either use jeeps or are pure hiking tours.
Is it difficult? Do I need to hike? Not at all. You can even get to 2,900m and experience great views without a longer hike by taking the public short trek (see above): From Rifugio Sapienza, you take the cable car (Funivia), then get into the jeep and at the summit area it's a 40-minute walk to the closer craters. However, you won't experience the more stunning craters at 3,300m. You may even visit Rifugio Sapienza only and walk to the old Silvestri Craters (see the infographic above).
North vs. South, which side is better? There is no better side. Both offer stunning views. The south side has the typical volcano look, with barren black lava rocks, typical lunar-like landscape (find photos from the south side in the gallery below). It’s also the ‘tourist side’ and often very busy. The north side is much quieter and includes forest, wildflowers as well as some lava parts of course, but not the lunar-like feeling from the south side. Photo North Side. However, if you reach the very top via the north side, you’ll see the same craters and volcanic landscape at the summit area. If you don’t like longer hikes: The summit area of Etna South can be reached without pre-booking via the ‘public’ transports (cable car, + 4x4). Etna North can be ascended with jeeps as well, but only via privately pre-booked tours.
Some say the massive crowds at Etna South spoil the trip? In fact, it’s difficult to find a month with pleasant temperatures and no crowds at all at the same time. Follow our tips (in the top section on this page) to avoid the heavy crowds, as they can spoil the experience. Also keep in in mind, that it’s ‘only’ heavily crowded at the stations (Rifugio, etc.)
Do I need to make tour reservations? Not for the standard (public) Etna South tours (long and short treks, see above). You buy the tickets on the spot. Private tours require pre-booking of course.
How can I see volcano eruptions? You cannot predict when eruptions happen. Some operators offer special night tours when it happens: Go Etna - Night Eruption Tour However, keep in mind that depending on the latest or current eruptions parts of the summit area can be off limits (see below: Current Alerts).
Where can I see a lava cave? Book a private tour which includes visiting and entering a lava cave by checking our handpicked tour describe above: Hiking excursion up Mt Etna (incl. lava tube) by Sicila Adventure. You'll explore a lava cave with a helmet and head lamp, and see how lava flows. A great experience with very knowledgable guides!
Where can I go without a guide? Since 2013 there are new rules and restrictions (that’s important to know in case you read any reviews about visits before 2013): Official Access Rules for Etna They defined a yellow-zone including the Summit Craters and proximal areas, which you can only visit if accompanied by authorized personnel. In other words: Above 2900 meters an authorized guide is required.
2019 (early June): Eruptions going on. Tour operators will guide you to 2800 m max. 2017 (June): Due to recent eruptions from February until April, the highest point you can get to is 2900 m with a guide and 2700 without a guide. Then only reliable status update can be found here (only Italian): Alert Status Etna (> Unfortunately this site is not available to the public any more. That means there is no official reliable source for status/alerts at the moment). The alert levels in English are explained here (yellow = 2 at the moment): Access Rules and Alert Levels. UPDATE July 14, 2017: The top craters are accessible again, the alert is gone. That means you can access 3300m again with a guide and 2900m without a guide. UPDATE June 2018: No alerts, everything is accessible. UPDATE December 2018: There are eruptions going on end of December 2018. We'll let you know as soon as we have updates regarding accessibility.
- It’s cold up there at the top, even in the summer. Always bring layer of clothes and a jacket
- Typical temperature difference in July: Rifugio (1900m) vs. Summit (3300m): 25°C vs. 9°C (77°F vs. 48°F)
- You can also rent a coat at the mountain station (Etna South, 2500m)
- Wear sturdy shoes
- Bring a scarf for protection, sunglasses, sunscreen
- Bring water and snacks
- Check the weather (forecast) in the morning: If it’s very cloudy, stay in bed