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Earlier that day on our breakfast terrace on Salina we had gazed across the sea at the smoking Stromboli volcano island, and now we were here, sat on the warm earth on the edge of a ridge peering down into the three craters, waiting for the show to start.
Stromboli island in Italy is the tip of a vast underwater volcano off the coast of Sicily and is Europe’s only permanently active volcano.
We’d begun our ascent at 4pm when the hot September Sicilian sun was beginning to subside. We left the white washed town (population 400) and the long black sandy beaches behind as we walked slowly up. First it was a gentle incline through caper plants and lush vegetation, then the path became steeper and bleaker, rocks strewn amongst the grey volcanic sand.
We’d been worried about the Stromboli hike but it was easier than we expected, taking two hours to get to the summit with frequent breaks.
We were the first group to arrive at the three Stromboli craters, well before sunset and had plenty of time to observe their changing forms.
Clouds of smoke constantly emerged from the craters, a mass of hazy gases, at first tinted green, then orange. They made strange gushing, gurgling sounds, an ominous warning.
Part of our brains knew that waiting for a volcano to erupt so close to us was crazy, but that’s what we all craved, the chance to see the volcano showing its full power. It tempted us with glimpses of its fiery red belly or a particularly menacing rumble, and one of the small craters expelled a cloud of black gases.
All were false starts and we continued to wait. The sun sunk lower and the sky lit up in oranges, pinks and blues, reflected in the mirror-like sea. Across the water we could see Calabria on Italy’s mainland, and Salina island where we’d eaten breakfast that morning.
As darkness fell we finally got what we’d been waiting for as the largest Stromboli crater erupted in a sudden burst of orange and red, sparks flying like fireworks, the red of the flames echoing the colour of the sinking sun.
It was a brief but dramatic display of nature’s might.
We were hooked and wanted more. We watched in silence in the darkness, in awe of its power, on tenterhooks waiting for the next eruption. Behind us the full moon glowed large and golden, creating a strong beam of light across the sea.
Just as we prepared to depart we were rewarded with another mini eruption—a fiery red spray from the gurgling beast.
We half walked, half slid through the deep black sand, our shoes filling up with volcanic ash that would take weeks to remove all traces of. We fell into a rhythm, taking long strides, heels first, zoning out in the silent night. It felt strange to walk on solid ground again, our legs wobbled, confused by the resistant earth.
Back in town we were too tired for a celebratory beer and pizza—a hot shower and comfortable bed beckoned.
Sunset on top of an island, a full moon hike, a volcanic eruption—any one of these would have been incredible, but all together they created a magical experience that was definitely worth the climb.
Climbing Stromboli Volcano: The Details
- You have to climb Stromboli volcano with a guide and most people join a group trek. We went with Magmatrek who charge €28 per person including helmets and an English speaking guide. There were 20 people in our group, so it’s not an intimate experience but all the groups were large. We were happy with the service and would go with them again.
- Booking in advance is essential.
- Stromboli tour departure times vary from 3 to 5.30pm depending on the season. In mid September we left at 4pm and were back at 9.20pm.
- Tours run from mid March until the end of October. I would avoid trekking in July and August, if possible, because of the heat.
- Hiking shoes or boots and a torch (flashlight) are obligatory for hiking Stromboli. You can hire trekking gear from a few shops in town.
- It’s also a good idea to take snacks, water (at least 1.5 litres per person), warm clothes (it gets cold at the top), and a change of tshirt (you’ll sweat on the hot climb up).
- It’s a steep climb so you need to be reasonably fit, but it wasn’t as difficult as we thought it would be. There are breaks every 30 minutes on the way up and at least 45 minutes rest at the crater.
- The Stromboli trek is not suitable for people with asthma, a heart condition, or vertigo.
- Children must be aged over 10 years.
Where to Stay on Stromboli Island
We stayed in Residence Aquilone which has simple bungalow rooms set in gardens. Our small double room had a comfortable bed, private bathroom, fridge, and terrace and was just what we needed for our one night stay. Double rooms cost €60 which is a bargain on this expensive island.
How to Get to Stromboli Island
You can get to Stromboli by ferry or hydrofoil with Liberty Lines or Siremar from Milazzo on Sicily or from the other Aeolian islands. There’s also a ferry from Naples.
We arrived from Salina island on the Liberty Lines hydrofoil which took an hour.
If you are staying on Lipari island and want to do the Stromboli hike as a day trip, you could take this Get Your Guide tour which includes a visit to Panarea island.
Stromboli Hike Summary
Hiking Stromboli volcano at night was one of our favourite ever travel experiences. Even if you aren’t a super experienced hiker, we highly recommend you add it to your Sicily itinerary. It’s a magical evening.
- Combine your Stromboli island trip with peaceful Salina, another one of the Aeolian Islands.
- Discover the best places to visit in Sicily.
- See our guide to food in Sicily for the best dishes and restaurants to try.
- Read what it’s like to be a digital nomad in Palermo for a month.
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This post was originally published in 2013 and updated in 2018.