Etna is Europe's largest active volcano. It's 3,350 meters or 11,000 feet above sea level and has been erupting longer than any other volcano in written history. Yet, it is safe to visit, climb, and explore when following the rules with care.
Our Etna visit was on Day 1 of our tour of Sicily. We rose early in the morning and climbed on the bus for the drive to the mountain. The big question was whether there would be blue sky or the mountain would be in the clouds and, therefore, offer much less of an experience. We were lucky. En route we could see Etna rising in the distance. The top was in sunlight.
Arriving at the mountain with our guide, Ertan, we made our way to the gondola. Having his experience with us made navigating the busy entrance easier and faster than it would have been on our own. The first phase of going up Mount Etna is taking the gondola over the desolate and sometimes steaming ground.
The gondola is like any cable car. The cars ride the cables to cabins at each end where people get on and off. The cars slow as they enter the cabins and make a 180C turn to go back in the opposite direction. They slow sufficiently that it is easy to hop on while a car is in motion.
At the gondola station midway to the top is a snack bar. If you haven't brought water with you, it's a good idea to buy a bottle here. It was my first day in Sicily and I was jet lagged. Add to that the elevation and I felt the need for water and bit of sugar to keep me going.
After the gondola you have the choice of hiking to the top or taking the four-wheel drive buses. We took the buses which was a good thing for I wouldn't have made the hike given the thin air.
Once at the top we met our local guide who walked us around one of the craters sharing the science and history of the volcano. There is a little climbing at the top but not enough to be a problem.