Sicily - A volcanic adventure wonderland

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean sea, and at its closest point at Messina, it is only 3 kilometers away from mainland Italy. You might know about Sicily's rich history, fascinating cities, or its impressive Baroque towns. However, something you might not know is that it is the most volcanically active island on Europe's mainland!

This is because Sicily sits right on the border between the Euroasian and African tectonic plate, which runs right through the island. Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes have left their marks in Sicily's landscapes in the past, and still today, you can witness active volcanoes.

Volcanoes are fascinating for many people, and there are many tours dedicated to letting you explore their lunar-like landscapes and slopes safely. In this article, we share some unique volcanic adventures on and near the awe-inspiring Sicilian volcanoes.


Mount Etna

The mighty Mount Etna - a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2013 - dominates the Eastern side of Sicily. According to the ancient Greeks, Mount Etna was the realm of Vulcan, the God of Fire. At 3.350 meters, it is Europe's highest active volcano. After each eruption, the mountain changes its shape and new canyons and craters form.

The earliest activity of Mount Etna began only around 550.000 years ago, and the first recorded eruption was in 475 BC. Since then, many eruptions have taken place. However, the most catastrophic one was in 1669 when the mountain was torn apart, and magma flowed for more than 100 days up to the seaside town of Catania.

The base of Mount Etna is an ancient so-called shield volcano - built almost entirely of fluid lava flows - and on top of it, there is a stratovolcano, with relatively cool lava temperatures and several vents (openings). The black flows of lava and plains of black sand on the top contrast the lush vegetation on its lower slopes. Various oak and stone pines, birch and beech trees cover a large part of its surface. The trees change color in the autumn and create a spectacular setting.

Mount Etna attracts all kinds of adventure-seekers; passionate hikers, climbers, geologists, and nature lovers will find on this natural monument any activity. You can opt from hiking extinct craters, exploring Etna's rocky slopes by quad bike, watching the sun disappear into the sea on a sunset tour, and even visiting Etna's vineyards.


Discovering the Southern slopes of Mount Etna

Small volcanic cones, black lava rocks, and recent lava flows characterize the Southern slopes of Mount Etna. The climb to the summit starts most of the time at Rifugio Sapienza. From there, a cable car can bring you up to 2.500 meters above sea level, and here various trails start to the top. The climb is quite strenuous and requires some hiking experience. Descending the mountain, you see the lateral craters of the 2002 eruption and its magnificent lava flow field.


Hiking the Northern slopes of Mount Etna

The fascinating north slopes are more off-beaten than the southern ones, but its landscape is less volcanic. The hikes on the northern side of Mount Etna usually start at a small tourist center Piano Provenzana, which was nearly destroyed during the 2002 eruption. You walk over the lava flow fields of 2002 and 1923 eruptions, get fantastic views of the magnificent lateral craters, and can explore Etna's beech and pine forests.


A sunset hike on Mount Etna

Mount Etna at sunset provides gorgeous views of the surrounding landscape. On an easy walk over natural trails, surrounded by extinct craters and lava flow caves, you can admire the warm colors of the sunset—an ideal trip to explore the volcano during the evening hours of a hot summer day.


Quad bike tour on Mount Etna

Adventurous travelers will love this activity! With a quad bike, you can explore the off-road paths of Mount Etna. On your way you will pass lava flows, caves, ancient woods, and lava tubes. You will have the possibility to stop to check out up close ancient craters and the impressive Valle del Bove, a volcanic caldera of 1000 meters deep.


Body rafting in the Alcantara Gorges

The Alcantara Gorges is a canyon nestled between high lava stone walls with small lakes and waterfalls. The crystal-clear Alcantara River that runs in the canyon has carved its path over many thousands of years. Here you can enjoy canyoning, hiking, jumping off the rocks, and body rafting in the river rapids… Thrill-seekers, this is for you!


Taormina

An excellent base - practically in the shadow of Mt Etna - for making these adventures is the charming seaside town of Taormina. The city itself is perched on a hill about 250 meters above the sea, and provides some incredibly scenic views. Taormina has an old history, a lively center and glamorous beach life.

Taormina's Greek-Roman theater is probably the most visited site. The striking architecture of this more than 2,000 years old arena is breathtaking. It still hosts today many performances and plays. Overlooking the Ionian Sea and with a perfect panorama of Mount Etna in the distance, it makes for a beautiful setting for a picture!

Corso Umberto is the main pedestrian street through Taormina and is hard to miss. For shoppers, it's the place to be. Corso Umberto boasts numerous high-end stores as well as gelato shops and cafés. Traveling down the hill from the center of Taormina, you arrive at the town's glorious coastline with many beaches, such as Mazzaro Bay and Isola Bella. The latter is considered one of the most spectacular beaches on the island of Sicily... Find it out yourself!


Watersport lovers can go sea kayaking or paddle boarding to discover beautiful sea caves, such as the well-known Grotta Azzurra or the nature reserve of Isola Bella.


Syracuse

South from Taormina, you find another historical town: Siracusa. Archimedes, Plato, and Saint Paul loved Siracusa (Syracuse), and with good reason. The Città Vecchia (Old City) of Siracusa - Ortigia - is small but steeped in 2,500 years of history and features countless monuments and narrow medieval streets that make it a jewel of rare beauty. Sportive travelers can hop on a bike in Siracusa and head to the Parco Archeologico Neapolis with its incredible Greek theatre and Roman amphitheater. Besides, in the waters off the coast of Ortigia, you can also go snorkeling and boating!


The Aeolian Islands

The Aeolian Islands lie off the Northeast coast of Sicily. They boast an overwhelming natural beauty, made even more special by their particular volcanic nature. From a geological perspective, the islands are very young as they only rose from the sea around one million years ago. The archipelago consists of seven unique islands, each with its distinct landscape: Lipari, Panarea, Salina, Alicudi, Filicudi, Stromboli, and Vulcano.

The Aeolian Islands lie off the Northeast coast of Sicily. They boast an overwhelming natural beauty, made even more special by their particular volcanic nature. From a geological perspective, the islands are very young as they only rose from the sea around one million years ago. The archipelago consists of seven unique islands, each with its distinct landscape: Lipari, Panarea, Salina, Alicudi, Filicudi, Stromboli, and Vulcano.

Sparsely populated, the Aeolian Islands offer savage landscapes, charming villages, and fantastic food. Capers, figs, olives, wild fennel, lemons, and grapes grow abundantly in the dense volcanic soils. With two active volcanoes, black lava beaches, and a magnificently clear sea, the Aeolian Islands should be on your bucket list.


Stromboli Island

Dramatic Stromboli is maybe the most spectacular of the Aeolian Islands. Stromboli boasts frequent, spectacular eruptions that you might just get to see.

You can hike to the top of the volcano Stromboli and witness the eruptions of red hot lava at sunset. Alternatively, you can make a 1-hour hike to the viewpoint overlooking the "Sciara del Fuoco," a blackened lava flow running down from the volcano into the sea. A spectacular sight!

Those we prefer not to hike can take an evening boat trip and admire how the eruptions and lava make the night sky glow red.

Don't forget to look for Strombolicchio. It's a giant sea stack – born from various eruptions – that pops out from the sea and has a lighthouse on top! Finally, be sure to visit the isolated fishing village of Ginostra that clings on Stromboli's rocky slopes and is only accessible via old mule trails.


Vulcano Island

Vulcano is characterized by its smoking volcanic crater, vapor spouts, and sulphuric mud holes The island has a variety of volcanic activities to fill your day!

After this strenuous hike, you can sunbathe on the black sand beaches, relax in the bubbling mud baths (known for their thermal and healing properties) or discover the underwater scenery on a snorkeling adventure.


Apart from the islands of Vulcano and Stromboli, also the other Aeolian Islands are worth a visit. Its coastlines and sea are gorgeous, and its interior full of charm and traditions. Be amazed by the lush green vegetation on the island of Salina, the archaeological treasures and picturesque villages of Lipari, the glamor of Panarea, and the untouched nature of the off-the-beaten islands of Filicudi and Alicudi. Friendly locals, excellent food, locally produced (sweet) Malvasia wine, and many warm sunny days will welcome you!


Our Sicily - Volcanic Islands Adventure tour lets you discover the East coast of Sicily and showcases the amazing volcanic heritage of Sicily.


For more, check out our Family Adventures and Adventure Weeks to Sicily.