12/08 The Grand Tour of craters

When you arrive on Etna you have two possibilities to visit the top. The classic short tour and (just since few years) the big tour, the one we like call unofficially “Grand Tour”.

We wrote a brief document to explain differences between these two excursions. You can find it clicking on “Excursions on Etna 2010“.

Do you know why we propose Grand Tour to every guest who comes or sends us an e-mail? Congratulations to guides, 100% of people who do Grand Tour (yes, I know, it’s incredible) comes back in hotel not just happy to have done it but enthusiastic. It is a great result.

The most incredible thing? I never did this excursion by guide and until today I spoke about it by words of guests who spoke me about it than by direct experience.

One week ago after have been invited by guides several times I finally decided to join tour. Effectively I didn’t join them for all complete tour because I had a secret mission to make a nice surprise to an hotel ‘special guest’ but this is absolutely another tale 🙂

Hotel Corsaro - Starting Grand Tour of Etna craters

Let’s me tell you about excursion me and my girlfriend did. Ah, we are not exactly trekking people, when we go on holiday we move more for food and drink.

At 10.00 we left Hotel Corsaro (1.940 meters) by walking. We carried ‘essential’ with us. One liter and half of water, two soft drinks, four sandwiches, two snacks. We took our camera and a big and almost empty backpack. Empty, yes, but that’s another tale. As I said.

At guides hut (1.900 meters) we found plenty of people who wanted to go. Guides spent half hour answering people questions and preparing group (most people needed jackets and shoes, including my girlfriend, and they had enough to satisfy all requests – rent price is € 2,00 for jacket and same for trekking shoes; heavy sockets are sold for € 2,00).

Hotel Corsaro - Gruppo Guide Alpine Etna SudHotel Corsaro - Guides rent shoes and jacketsHotel Corsaro - Guides explain excursion

Guides divided us in three groups, an italian speaking one, a french speaking one and an english speaking one. All together we entered low cable car station (1.920 meters) and we climbed up to Montagnola. Weather was a bit foggy during climbing but when we reached high cable car station (2.500 meters) it was totally clear. A good beginning. We moved on off road buses and we crossed the moon landscape 2001 and 2002 craters created. A desert of volcanic cones and tons of gray ash.

Hotel Corsaro - Cable carHotel Corsaro Etna - Off road vehicles

We left bus when we reached “Torre del Filosofo” refuge (2.900m) where ash left by latest eruptions was so high than just a corner of building is now visible. I can assure it was not a little building, it was as big as Hotel Corsaro without roof floor. You have to see it now.

Hotel Corsaro Etna - Torre del FilosofoHotel Corsaro Etna - Forbidden zoneHotel Corsaro Etna - Bocca Nuova & Sud Est crater

Guides rejoined our group and we started tour on ash terrain. Walk was so very easy and not too steepy. When we reached 1971 small cone (3.000 meters) we had to cross a lava field. It was different by lava we have around hotel. It was very light and noisy under our steps. I thought to singing sands.

Hotel Corsaro Etna - Singing lava sandHotel Corsaro Etna - MascotteHotel Corsaro Etna - Singing lava sand - strange rock

After this small lava river crossing and few minutes to rest we began to attack Bocca Nuova crater. From 3.000 to 3.300 meters it was long and harder but we proceeded slowly with several stops to take breath. 3.000 meters air is not enough dense for a fast walking if you are not prepared; even if your legs can walk you find yourself with short breath. After about one hour we reached a very thin path, extremely steepy. More we advanced more we found sulphur deposits around us. Luckly it was a short trip.

Hotel Corsaro Etna - Hard path to Bocca NuovaHotel Corsaro Etna - Hard path to Bocca Nuova - small caveHotel Corsaro Etna - Bocca Nuova border of sulphur

We arrived on Bocca Nuova border (3.200 meters) and scenario was incredible and (as usual when you go to the top after many years) totally different by what I remembered. Guides explained us we were actually inside the crater on a lava ‘cap’ which some years ago was almost completely closing crater. This tableland is rich in suplphur and if you dig with your hands just few millimeters you feel terrain is very warm and steam starts to come up. An empty soft drink bottle was filled by this terrain. I will discover in next weeks if it is good as I remember for vegetables I have at home.

Hotel Corsaro Etna - Bocca Nuova suplhur fieldHotel Corsaro Etna - Bocca Nuova suplhur fieldHotel Corsaro Etna - Bocca Nuova

After another rest guide took us close to hell’s door and his attention to us went to maximum. He allowed us, one at time, to look inside. He took each of us firmly to avoid falls and he had ten eyes to avoid any of us could walk too close to border. To look inside: this is an experiece, photos can’t show you how big crater is and expecially how ‘alive’ it is. Your are not on a mountain with a big hole. You are around mouth of a big alive creature and I am not good enough in writing to explain ‘respect’ you feel for what could kill you in a second but attracts you like a god.

Hotel Corsaro Etna - SafetyHotel Corsaro Etna - Hell's mouthHotel Corsaro Etna - Hell's mouth

We walked around border and I reached a nice spot in which some holes where surrounded by sulphur and ejected warm steam. I took some photos but when wind turned on me I had to breath those gases for a second. Oxigen is not enough and ask your body to don’t breath when it is trying to get any single oxigen particle is simply impossibile. I had to run some steps away to take some deep hungry breaths.

Hotel Corsaro Etna - Steam and sulphurHotel Corsaro Etna - Looking insideHotel Corsaro Etna - close to the border

Video of steam emission on YouTube: Steam emission on Bocca Nuova
Video of steam emission (by another angle) on YouTube: Steam emission on Bocca Nuova, panoramic
Video of Bocca Nuova on YouTube: The door to hell

This is probably what happened to our unforgot guest Beatriz Caldevilla Lebeña who went alone to Bocca Nuova. Only difference is I was far away from crater border and had to breath those gases for just a moment. She was on crater border and maybe gases surrounded her. Guide talk about her and I was glad to enrich his story with some details they didn’t know as It was important to me to reach point where her stuff was found. Guides take groups away by that spot who is considered dangerous for two good reasons: dominating wind who go in that direction and muddy ground who can play a bad joke.

Hotel Corsaro Etna - close to the borderHotel Corsaro Etna - Girlfriend jumpHotel Corsaro Etna - close to the border

It was time to go, visit to top craters are short for safety reasons. If going up is long and slow going down is a fast, funny and crazy run with big jumps and great skiing on black sand. We reached a safe place where having lunch back to 1971 crater. While group prepared for long but easy tour back to Rifugio Sapienza zone (touching several interesting places as Valle del Bove, 2001 and 2002 craters and so on) we gave people our good-bye and began our secret mission. But that’s another tale, as I said 🙂

Hotel Corsaro Etna - CloudsHotel Corsaro Etna - Leaving cratersHotel Corsaro Etna - Leaving craters

We wish to thank guides and cable car society “Funivia dell’Etna” for this magnificent day. Now I know why people are so enthusiastic.

Hotel Corsaro Etna - ShoesHotel Corsaro Etna - WritingsHotel Corsaro Etna - Etna has a wonderful beach

Hotel Corsaro Etna - Sud Est craterHotel Corsaro Etna - Giger's Alien egg - volcanic bombHotel Corsaro Etna - Dead Dune's sand worm - volcanic bomb

Hotel Corsaro Etna - Strange formations of lavaHotel Corsaro Etna - Krabusch styleHotel Corsaro Etna - Strange lava river

Hotel Corsaro Etna - 100% HappynessHotel Corsaro Etna - Off road vehicles running up & downHotel Corsaro Etna - Hotel view


  • Peter and Maria says:

    We like your report of your grand tour. The description is close to our tour in June.
    Please keep us updated about your success with sulphur on vegetables….
    Best regards
    Peter and Maria

  • Davide Corsaro says:

    I would be glad to receive more descriptions to make an official one.

    I would like to write about an ‘ideal’ description with photos I can send to people.

    I would be glad to publish yours (and translate it) if you make one.

  • Amara Graps says:

    Your description also is close to Joannemie’s and my tour in July 2006. Congratulations! (on both your experiences and having one like our own).