Mount Etna, located on the island of Sicily, Italy, is the largest and most active volcano in Europe (Volcano Discovery, 2018). Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013, Mount Etna is famed for its exceptional levels of volcanic activity tracing back 500,000 years, which continue to influence modern-day science disciplines (UNESCO, 2018).


Figure 1: Mount Etna, Sicily, eruption


Recounted by Isabel Choat as ‘the giant on the horizon’ (Choat, 2018); Mount Etna attracts masses of visitors every year. Even with the extensive seismic monitoring that takes place, there remains a high level of uncertainty of Mount Etna’s next eruption; but this site continues to be a popular tourist attraction, offering a wide variety of facilities (UNESCO, 2018). Tourist activities at Mount Etna include a thrilling cableway which enables visitors to reach the summit areas of the volcano by cable car and off-road vehicles (Funivia Dell’ Etna, 2018). This truly sensational and immersive experience provides an excursion to visit the craters and an incomparable backdrop of the volcano; with a seeming disregard for the potential risks of such a venture.


Figure 2: Mount Etna cableway


Mount Etna’s volcanic activity is unpredictable and in March 2017, a BBC team of journalists and several tourists were caught in the middle of an explosive eruption (BBC News, 2017). Despite the risks of visiting Mount Etna, such eruptions have apparently done little to deter volcano tourism. Once catastrophes such as this are over, tourism begins to recover and curious visitors ‘arrive in growing numbers to witness the destruction’ (Efurt-Cooper, Sigurdsson, and Lopes, 2015).

Reviews of Mount Etna note that there is hardly a month where one would not find crowds gathered around the geological wonders. I visited the site in August 2017 and was amazed by the throng of tourists exploring the volcano and boosting the local economy.  Thus, are the health and safety risks marginalised in favour of commercial gain and an awe-inspiring and sensational experience? How does this relate to preserving the heritage of a natural landscape?


Adventure-seeking tourists thrive at these attractions, as do all tourists, but preserving the heritage and natural landscape of Mount Etna should be of utmost importance. UNESCO attempts to manage tourist behaviour by restricting public access to the top of Mount Etna and organised activities need ‘advance authorisation’ (UNESCO 2018). Both are difficult to enforce, however, but sustainable tourism principles need to be ‘well monitored and managed’ to avoid issues such as erosion and ‘disturbance of wildlife’ (UNESCO, 2018); and to prevent the corruption of this significant geological phenomenon. Monitoring the number of visitors, better management of the park’s amenities and managing finances could also help facilitate this.


Figure 3: Tourism at Mount Etna (photo taken by author)

UNESCO declares Mount Etna as a site of ‘outstanding universal value’ (UNESCO, 2018) and it will always be an enticing destination. Perhaps little will deter tourists from wanting to explore an active volcano! Thus, UNESCO needs to preserve the tangible heritage of Mount Etna by making health and safety a priority by continuing to utilise seismic monitoring but also communicating to tourists the necessity to have an awareness and respect for the ‘environmental protection’ (Efurt-Cooper, Sigurdsson, and Lopes, 2015) of the natural site. Only then, can there perhaps be a greater measure of safety in the sensational.


Audley Travel Website, Visit Mount Etna, Italy (online). Available from: (Accessed 5th October 2018).

BBC News Website, Moment BBC Crew Caught in Mount Etna Explosion (online). Available from: (Accessed 10th October 2018).

Choat, I. (2018) Under the volcano: a tour of Etna and north-east Sicily, The Guardian (online). Available from: (Accessed 4th October 2018).

Erfurt-Cooper, P., Sigurdsson, H., and Lopes, R., (2018) Chapter 75: Volcanos and Tourism, The Encyclopaedia of Volcanoes, 2nd ed., Academic Press

Funivia Dell’ Etna Website, Excursions (online). Available from: (Accessed 4th October 2018).

Gabbatiss, J., Mount Etna: Europe’s biggest volcano ‘sliding towards the sea’, The Independent, (online). Available at: (Accessed 5th October 2018).

UNESCO Website, Mount Etna (online). Available from: (Accessed 1st October 2018).

Wish Sicily Website, Etna Volcano (online). Available from: (Accessed 5th October 2018).

Volcano Discovery Website, Etna Volcano (online). Available from: (Accessed 5th October 2018).