Visiting the Alcantara Gorge in Sicily
Located on the north slopes of Mount Etna is a very special place that is often overlooked by tourists, the Alcantara Gorge. The locals know this place well, as it is a great spot to cool off during the long, hot, Sicilian summers.
Formed by runoff from Mount Etna and the Nebrodi Mountains, the Alcantara River is one of the few rivers on Sicily that runs year round. Several thousand years ago the rivers path was blocked by a large lava flow from the slopes of Mount Etna. The cool water of the river helped to quickly cool the lava, which resulted in the lava crystallizing and forming the unique ballast rock columns that are visible today. Over the next few thousand years the river proceeded to carve a path through the columns resulting in the gorge that visitors see today.
If you are staying in Taormina, then a visit to the Alcantara Gorge is an easy trip and might make for an adventurous little excursion. The gorge is only about thirty minutes from Taormina by bus and considerably shorter than that if you have a car or opt for a taxi.
What to do when you get there
There is much to do at the Alcantara Gorge once you arrive. If you like to hike and explore there are numerous trails at the gorge where you can hike along the top of the gorge. If you are looking to cool off you can hang out at Gorge Beach, which seems to be a popular option.
To get down into the gorge you can either take the stairs or there is an elevator that will whisk you down the 50 meters to the river. The small beach area is great for getting your feet wet, sunbathing, or if you desire to jump in there are areas where the water is a little deeper so your can dive in. You get a great look into the heart of the Gorge and the waterfalls from the beach here so don’t be afraid to explore. The water is advertised as being cold but we found it very refreshing. You can see why this is a popular spot with the locals during the hot Sicilian summers
The Gorge Trail follows the river upstream along the top of the gorge and offers some great views into the gorge from this unique perspective. You get some great looks at the lava columns that were formed by the river over the millennium. The trail also takes you through some of the botanical gardens and citrus groove areas and has rest areas with benches. This trail is rated as easy and is about ¾ of a mile in distance. This trail offers the best views down into the gorge and is worth the hike.
The Alcantara Trail is more difficult and follows the river between Gorge beach and Saje Beach for about a half a mile. This trail will take you into the river at times so come prepared with water shoes or wading boots, which can be rented at the site. A guide is required to venture into the gorge on this trail. The views from the river level up the gorge walls however are quite impressive.
The Eleonor Trail is also rated as easy and is approximately a half mile in distance. The Eleonor Trail takes hikers downstream along the top of the gorge in the opposite direction that the Gorge Trail takes you. On the Eleonor Trail you can see the monoliths of lava that were sculpted from the river and some small caves.
The Venus Trail is rated as difficult and you will need a helmet and wetsuit for this trek. You must also be able to swim, as you will be body rafting and spending most of your time in the water. For those of you who opt for this you will get a cold rush as you float your way down the Alcantara River through the gorge. We did not partake in this one but it looked like a lot of fun and I’m sure the views are wonderful.
There are a variety of other activities that are offered at the Alcantra Gorge. You can take a number of different guided walks through the Alcantara Valley to explore the beautiful landscape of the region. You can also take a Sicilian Cooking Class or participate in local food tasting. Or, it you prefer something different, participate in some olive or citrus harvesting from the gardens and fields of the Alcantara Valley.
- Schedule and Fees
Taormina to Alcantara Gorge Bus Schedule & Information
The Alcantara Gorge is open daily from 8am until sunset.
- 8 euro adults
- 6 euro age 65 and over
- 5 euro age 4-12
- Under 4 is free
- Body Rafting 30 euro
- River Trekking 20 euro
If you are staying in Taormina you can take the bus from the main bus terminal in Taormina. The bus stop at the Alcantara Gorge is right at the entrance to the park so there’s no additional walking or guesswork. If you have a vehicle you can enter the GPS coordinates of the Alcantara gorge, which are: 37° 52’ 46,32” N-O 15° 10’ 29,79” E.
- From Taormina: 20km - 25 minutes
- From Catania 53 km - 50 minutes
- From Messina 65 km – 1 hour
There are changing facilities on the premises in addition to a gift shop and also two restaurants, La Macina, which is pretty casual and the more upscale, L’Antico Refettorio. If you prefer to pack a picnic for the day you can enjoy it on the beach or they have an outdoor seating area up top outside of the restaurant area.
If you are looking for a little adventure while visiting Sicily you may want to allocate a half-day or possibly even a full day to cool off in a unique and beautiful setting. While this may not be for everyone it is certainly a change of pace and somewhat off the beaten path.
Ciao for now.
Map showing Alcantara Gorge, Taormina & Mt. Etna
© 2013 Bill De Giulio