I’ve known you could reach the top of Mt. Vesuvius (Vesuvio in Italian) since I was a tour guide, but had never actually made it up to the rim of the volcano myself until this past summer. Though the summit is in view almost everywhere you go in the Gulf of Naples, it seems not many people know that you can actually get a stunning view from the top – or not many people want to take the risk, seeing that it’s still very active, but let me tell you all, if you’re anywhere in the vicinity of that thing when it blows again, you’re all done for anyway – here’s a quick recap on what scientists are preparing for the next time Vesuvio decides to blow:
“Mount Vesuvius sits on top of a layer of magma deep in the earth that measures 154 square miles (400 square kilometers)….topping it off, scientists expect that the next eruption will be an incredibly forceful explosion, termed plinean, marked by flying rock and ash at speeds of up to almost 100 miles per hour (160 kph) To summarize, if Mount Vesuvius erupts today, it wouldn’t be a pretty picture. Given its potential, Vesuvius could endanger more than 3 million people and wipe out the city of Naples.”
So, if you’re in the Gulf or on the Amalfi coast, doesn’t matter, you’re getting Pompei’d so why not climb up and look into the mouth of the beast? Here are the few ways you can get up to the crater and look down into one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world – and also get a gorgeous view of the Gulf of Naples while you’re at it.
Hiking the Vesuvius Volcano from the Bottom?
Yes, there are hiking trails from the lower towns that make it all the way up through the national park, I’ve seen some on Wikiloc (a great app to download for hikes over here and probably elsewhere) and the official website of the National Park of Vesuvio also has some information on the trails they’ve developed over the past decade. However, I have a few warnings: I’ve read the average time to hike the entire thing is about seven hours, and I’d make that longer because of the heat, volcanic rock, and lack of shade at the summit. Also – though there isn’t any indication on the website, I know for a fact that at least some of the paths are currently closed down because of the arson fires that completely destroyed much of the park in 2017. Overall, unless you’re a really experienced hiker that can speak Italian, I’d say don’t try it from the bottom.
Taking a Private Volcano Tour
The easiest way for most tourists to get to the top of the volcano is with a private tour – unless you have your own rental car but we’ll get to that later. I’m not going to link any tours here because I don’t have a particular one I know and trust to recommend (if anyone has tips they want me to add in here, I’ll be happy to!) but I do know that many run from all around the Gulf – Naples, Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, even Capri, and can be anything from a few hours to an entire day long.
The shortest and most direct tours will be from Pompeii and Herculaneum. If you want more English options and a more touristy feel (aka easier) head to Pompeii. I know for a fact students were able to jump on a quick tour of the cone of the volcano in just a few hours. The guides are spread around the entrances and exits of the Pompeii ruins and you won’t be able to miss them. These guided tours will be the easiest way to visit the top of the volcano, but you will have a time limit, and not be as free as you would if you were heading up by yourself.
Taking the Vesuvio Express Bus
From Herculaneum, you can get the Vesuvio Express bus that is apparently 20 Euro per person (10 for the ride, 10 for the entrance fee into the park) and from the reviews, seems pretty easy to navigate, though remember most of these people already successfully navigated the train from Naples or Sorrento. If you are not a well-worn traveler, I’d advise you more of a guided tour like above.
Driving Up the Volcano Yourself
If you’re brave (I mean really brave – like driving-in-Boston-brave but then throw-the-mafia-into-the-mess-and-take-more-rules-out brave) and rented a car, GOOD FOR YOU! I hope you got all of the insurance. If you have your own car, welcome to the club – this is how we made it up. Now, if you’re ready for some switchbacks, you can actually drive up almost all of the volcano yourself. Taking the one road that is seemingly open from Herculaneum called the Strada Provinciale 114, you can make it up to the fork in the road where you can pay to park on the side of the shoulder (not a parking lot) for five or six euros. From there, if you feel like hiking a bit, you can walk on the side of the paved road until the start of the walking trail, or you can pay another 2 euro per person (do it, it’s worth it) to get shuttled up the rest of the driveable road to the ticketing booth, where you’ll need to pay 10 Euro per person for the entrance into the actual park.
Obligatory Hiking is Necessary on Vesuvio
This is absolutely important and no one seems to explain how difficult this hike can be. Even if you get a private tour with a guide, every single person is going to have to hike at least a half-hour (if you’re slow it’ll be way longer) in loose, sandy volcanic ash with no shade to actually get to the top of the crater. There is no assistance, no limited mobility help – the most they try and do is have an ambulance on standby in the highest parking lot and sell walking sticks for too much money.
I can’t repeat this enough: This is a hike. I’m talking heavy-breathing, steep incline, and you’re basically doing it in sand because – volcanic ash. There’s an ambulance parked at the edge of the pavement in the parking lot. When we walked by on our way up, there was a line of tourists sitting clutching their ankles and tending to cuts and bruises. I saw so many people that were absolutely unprepared to workout that day – there were grandmothers, babies, people that looked like they had just come from Sunday mass, pearls and all, and then actual hikers mixed into the group, all straggling up this zig-zag path at varying gates, dodging those that were coming back down.
The night before was the coldest night we had had, and thankfully the cool breeze was still flying up from the sea, so the sun didn’t feel too hot, but on any day over 70/80, without a breeze, I couldn’t imagine. In August, it would be the inferno even without the lava. Especially because of the fires, there isn’t any shade, though it makes the gulf spread out at your feet look magnificent. But the ground is dark red and brown and black lava rock and the trail is steep and there certainly aren’t any fountains available so you better bring your own water.
If you’re regularly working out, running, generally athletic in your daily life, this hike shouldn’t be a problem. Many regular hikers think the hike from the ticket booth to the top is easy. So if you’re at the gym every other day, this shouldn’t be a problem, I’m just really looking out for the vast majority of the people I saw on the path that day that definitely needed more warning about what they were getting themselves into.
How to prep to hike to the cone:
- Wear the right shoes – the more grip the better because the soil is loose and many people slip – especially going downhill.
- Know you can handle hiking uphill for at least a half-hour in the sun. If you have trouble walking, I’d highly advise you to stay in the ruins of Pompeii and look at the volcano from a distance.
- Bring a backpack with water, a mini safety kit if you can for minor slips/falls, and water for your pets too if you’re taking them (you can take dogs!)
- Bring cash – it’s easier for the tickets, and needed if you want a coffee or a rinky-dink souvenir from the top – yes, of course, there’s a coffee shop – this is Italy. For the tourists that feel the need to infuse everything with alcohol, you can also get a glass of wine if you really need to.
- Wear layers if you can! The weather can change really rapidly and can be much different from how it feels by the train station.
- There officially aren’t any bathrooms on the rim and only porta-potties at the top of the bus drop off. Prep for this!
Why It’s Worth It
Once you reach the top, the view stretches around you from the Amalfi coast out to the Isle of Capri, to Ischia, and stretching under it all is the coast, the city of Naples spreading across the valley. Turn the other way, and your met with the enormous, gaping mouth of Vesuvius. Though the bottom is quiet now and sealed shut with rock from the last eruption, sulfur fumes still leak out from the steep walls of the crater and rise up into the air. The place looks and feels dangerous, otherworldly. It was all definitely worth the hike. Because we were on our own we had as much time as we wanted on the top and could take our time going up and down – if you’re with a tour, you may be rushing more.
Going down was a bit slippery, as I said, but generally easier than going up. Once we hit the pavement, we dusted ourselves off and headed for the shuttle bus to bring us back down to the car. Luna did great throughout the entire thing (again, that breeze was key or it would’ve been too hot) and because she’s cute and because we got a coffee in the little shop, we got a break from the sun for a minute as we reached the top and then were good to go to explore. If it was hotter, we probably wouldn’t have even tried the hike because it would’ve been too hot for her.
The experience was definitely a unique one, and though some have complained about the pricing or the necessary hiking involved, I do think it’s something that everyone should do and it’s a once in a lifetime experience. – if you’re brave enough. This info was based on my personal experiences and just a little bit of research. If anyone reading has been to Vesuvius and has any additional information to add, shoot me an email!