Mt Etna: visiting an active volcano

Mt Etna: visiting an active volcano

Volcanoes have all the elements you need to engage children’s imagination: smoke, fire and huge scale destruction. As geography lessons go, volcanoes take some beating. With this in mind, I knew we would have to explore Mt Etna when I was planning our trip to Sicily earlier this year.


Exploring the slopes of Mt Etna

Along with the Aeolian Island of Stromboli and Mt Vesuvius near Naples, Mt Etna is one of three active volcanoes in Italy. Etna and Stromboli are continuously active whereas Vesuvius hasn’t erupted since 1944. There are countless other volcanoes in Italy which are classed as dormant having not erupted for several hundred years.


Mt Etna looms over Taormina

Mt Etna had erupted a few weeks before our visit to Sicily in April and I had been checking daily whether the eruption would continue during our trip. What could be better than watching a volcanic eruption from the window of our aeroplane? (at a safe distance of course). Unfortunately by the time we arrived, the powerful belches of lava had slowed to a gentle flow which wasn’t easily visible from the directions we viewed the volcano. However, there was a continual cloud of smoke emanating from the summit, a sure reminder of what had come before.


Approaching Mt Etna from central Sicily

We finally approached Mt Etna following a week or so of exploring central and eastern Sicily, during which time the volcano, at 3,329m (10,925ft) high, was frequently visible – including some 70km away when we were in the hilltop town of Enna.

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Mt Etna is visible some 70km away from hilltop Enna.

Despite the volcano’s destructive nature, the “Mother of Sicily” as she is fondly described by some, feeds the island through her rich soil; olives, citrus fruit and pistachios thrive and the region’s vineyards produce excellent wine. Around a quarter of Sicilians live on Etna’s slopes and the volcano is also one of Sicily’s premier tourist attractions.


Mt Etna dominates eastern Sicily

It is possible to make your own visit to Mt Etna via Rifugio Sapienza where there is a cable car, eateries and shops as well as guides available for hire. However, I decided we would all benefit from pre-booking a guide so I picked EtnaFinder after reading about them in a Daily Telegraph article by Italy expert Lee Marshall.


Learning about Mt Etna from Marco of EtnaFinder

We met our guide Marco near Giarre, which was on route to our final destination of Taormina later that day. It doesn’t take a great deal to fire up my sons’ excitement: they were thrilled at the prospect of swapping our boring hire car for a proper 4×4 which would take us over the (very) bumpy terrain.


Our trusty 4×4 on Mt Etna

All Italians, it would seem, are brilliant with kids. Marco, a parent himself, was no exception. He explained the workings of a volcano in terms our five year old could understand. When booking the trip, I’d explained to EtnaFinder that we wouldn’t be up for long hikes as our 3 year old isn’t keen on covering big distances without a bike or scooter so an itinerary was designed around this.

We visited old lava flows and spotted where a house had been consumed by lava. The children delighted in sitting on a “lava bomb”, a large volcanic rock which had been spewed from a crater during a particularly violent eruption.


Sitting on a lava bomb

Marco had endless stories to tell of villages flattened and miraculous escapes as well as an interesting discourse on what it means to be a Sicilian today. The tour culminated with a visit to a lava cave where we donned hard hats and climbed down with ropes and explored by torchlight.


Exploring a lava cave

On EtnaFinder’s advice, we’d packed warm clothing but it was actually fairly mild at the altitudes we reached even though there was still snow cover in places. We enjoyed a good meal at Rifugio Citelli although we had to forego an early lunch and return later as a tour group just got in ahead of us. Our three year old didn’t appreciate this; combined with our early start and a delay to what had become his daily siesta, he was rather unhappy until he had a little snooze while we were exploring the cave. However, Marco was excellent at lightening the mood and ensured the rest of the day was a success. If you’re exploring Mt Etna with young children, it’s worth getting your lunch order in early.


Exploring Mt Etna requires a bit of stamina.

A trip to Mt Etna, particularly with a private guide, is an excellent geography lesson for kids, and adults. As Sicily has so much to offer families I’m sure we’ll return to Mt Etna in the future, hopefully when she’s in a more explosive mood.

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  1. Trish @ Mum's Gone To
    September 25, 2017 / 2:45 pm

    What a brilliant way to explore the volcano – a proper guide, in a proper vehicle, who knows all the good tales to tell.

    • September 25, 2017 / 3:26 pm

      Yes, guides are really worth paying for.

  2. pigeonpairandme
    September 25, 2017 / 8:08 pm

    I’d never really thought as Mount Etna as being a life-bringer as well as destructive force – but it makes perfec sense. Now I can’t stop thinking about what it must look like from a plane! #MondayEscapes

  3. September 26, 2017 / 10:31 am

    Oh, it really does look beautiful and worth a trip to see. #explorerkids

  4. September 26, 2017 / 11:05 am

    This looks amazing. My son would love to explore the volcanic rocks

  5. September 26, 2017 / 12:25 pm

    Would love to do this with my boys. As a geography teacher i’m always looking for geography lessons in the outdoors! #ExplorerKids

    • September 26, 2017 / 12:53 pm

      My five year old loved the lava bomb and the cave, it was so much fun to teach the kids about the natural world in this way.

  6. September 26, 2017 / 7:13 pm

    What a fantastic way to see the volcano and would love to do it with the guide too. Thanks for linking up to #MondayEscapes

  7. September 26, 2017 / 7:56 pm

    What in interesting place to explore with the kids loads of history my little one would love the lava cave xx

  8. September 26, 2017 / 10:28 pm

    My kids love learning about volcanoes and would love to visit a live one someday. What an adventure! #ExplorerKids

  9. Sarah
    September 27, 2017 / 3:42 pm

    LOL that is an award-winning first sentence.

    • September 27, 2017 / 4:40 pm

      Ha ha, thanks! It’s so true though!

    • September 27, 2017 / 4:46 pm

      Definitely do it! The whole of Sicily is amazing!

  10. September 27, 2017 / 7:16 pm

    This looks amazing. I think our boys would love going to Mt Etna. Although I think we would book a guide like you did. #MondayEscapes

  11. September 28, 2017 / 8:13 pm

    Sicily is certainly on our travel list! Thanks for this write up, we’ll make sure to make a visit to Mt. Etna when we go!

  12. September 29, 2017 / 9:23 am

    Fascinating to me how Italians have built up right around active volcanos. When visiting Naples and Pompeii, my husband and I were commenting on how if Vesuvius erupted again, so many would be hurt and/or homeless, but build they did.

    Never made to Sicily, but plan to one day soon.

    • September 29, 2017 / 10:04 am

      Apparently a lot of the housing around Vesuvius was built illegally 🙁

  13. September 29, 2017 / 1:40 pm

    That looks amazing! We’ve just booked flights to Sicily for the spring and Etna is at the top of my to do list! #FarawayFiles

    • September 29, 2017 / 1:55 pm

      Brilliant! Spring is a perfect time to visit, that’s when we went. Hope you have a great time!

  14. Clare Thomson
    September 29, 2017 / 5:35 pm

    What a fabulous idea for a family trip, Annabel. I love this! And it’s wonderful how a good guide can make a visit so much more special with children. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    • September 29, 2017 / 6:20 pm

      Yes, we’d never have found the lava bomb without the guide and my older son totally loved having a proper reason to wear a hard hat!

  15. September 29, 2017 / 5:48 pm

    So cool! We missed out on this when we were in Sicily this year. I want to go back just to walk on that lava. The sight of Etna smoking away in the distance is incredible. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    • September 29, 2017 / 6:19 pm

      There’s so much to see in Sicily isn’t there? There’s so much more I want to go back and visit.

  16. September 29, 2017 / 7:46 pm

    What an amazing experience! Mine experience of Mt Etna wasn’t as exciting as yours. Lesson learned! 🙂 #TheWeeklyPostcard

  17. September 29, 2017 / 8:28 pm

    So neat to see an active volcano! I would have done the tour as well. I don’t know much about volcanoes and feel like I would have missed out on the learning experience if I did it on my own. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

  18. September 29, 2017 / 8:41 pm

    That sounds like a really really great experience!!! I think I’ll need to go too now.

  19. September 30, 2017 / 12:59 am

    This sounds like so much fun! I visited Vesuvius although I was initially worried about it still being an active volcano (although as you note, it hasn’t erupted in a long time. Perhaps it’s building up to a big one?). But it seems they monitor volcanic activity closely enough that it won’t come as a surprise the way it did to the people of Pompeii all those years ago. I assume the same is true of Mt Etna. How cool to be able to see the smoke!

  20. Sally@Tips 4 Trips
    October 1, 2017 / 2:12 am

    I’ve visited Pompeii and Herculaneum but not Mt Edna. Mt Edna sounds really educational as far as the effects of a volcanic eruption by exploring the lava flow and seeing where houses have been buried.

  21. October 1, 2017 / 8:11 am

    Don’t know if I could get that close to an active volcano! I would be worried it’d blow its top! But it’s probably quite the thrill! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

  22. October 2, 2017 / 3:07 am

    Very educational post. I would have loved to take this trip. I’ve visited Pompeii and Herculaneum but not Mt Edna. Looks like a great hike. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  23. October 2, 2017 / 9:37 am

    What a brilliant adventure! I think I’d be just as excited as Rowan would be


    • October 2, 2017 / 10:04 am

      Yes, it’s somewhere I’d wanted to go for ages. It’s great when you can share an adventure together!

  24. October 3, 2017 / 4:22 pm

    So crazy! What an interesting and different thing to do on a holiday in Italy. My boys would have loved the 4×4 as well. Being from Oregon, I have memories of Mt. Saint Helens erupting back in the early 80’s. Several other mountains in that range are also classified as dormant, but you never know! Great post – brilliant pics, thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles – Erin

  25. October 3, 2017 / 7:14 pm

    So scary!! I’m torn between wanting to visit and being terrified, to be honest, but it seems like an experience that’s too good to miss! Definitely wouldn’t want to go right after an eruption though… 😀

    • October 4, 2017 / 3:32 pm

      They seem to know the volcano quite well so hopefully you’d never be in danger..!

  26. October 4, 2017 / 9:42 pm

    What a great post, will pin it for next year when we go back to Sicily for our friends wedding! A guide sounds a very good idea, our boys will be 2 and almost 5 years old so will have similar considerations walking wise 😉 thanks for sharing! #MondayEscapes

  27. October 5, 2017 / 1:51 pm

    What an awesome tour! Somehow, we hadn’t thought about a volcano tour, other than in Hawaii. You can bet this is on our To Do list now! Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

  28. October 9, 2017 / 8:26 pm

    I love your photos, Etna looks spectacular-even when fairly quiet! I think that getting a guide was a good idea, it looks like you learnt so much and got a real insight into the volcano and Sicily as a whole. It can be tricky with young children so you managed to cram in a lot. THanks for sharing with us #AdventureCalling

  29. October 10, 2017 / 3:57 pm

    What a brilliant adventure. Despite visiting Italy on numerous occasions we’ve never been to Sicily, so have never seen Mt Etna. It looks a great experience and getting a private guide sounds like a perfect plan. Thanks for joining us on #adventurecalling . I hope you can when it opens again tomorrow.

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