It might be, as the ancients believed, the entrance to hell, nonetheless, Vulcano is the most visited of the Aeolian Islands, no doubt because of its proximity to the Sicilian mainland. Only the late, great film director Federico Fellini could have done justice to a movie about visitors flocking here to bathe in the mud.
To reach these fabled mud baths, Laghetti di Fanghi, go to the docks and enter along Via Provinciale. Walk over to a 56m-high (184-ft.) faraglione, or "stack:" It's one massive pit of thick, sulfurous gunk that is said to greatly relieve certain skin diseases and rheumatic suffering. Take note: The mud discolors everything from clothing to jewelry -- one reason for the prevalent nudity. Also, because the mud baths are radioactive, don't stay in them for more than 10 to 15 minutes. In summer, expect to encounter muddy pools brimming with (naked) tourists. The water from the sea bubbles up like a giant Jacuzzi nearby, and it's here that mud bathers wash off the gunk. Take care that you don't scald yourself while cleaning yourself off. The beach nearby isn't bad, but the aroma from the mud baths may have you holding your nose if you attempt to sunbathe here. The baths are open from Easter to October, daily from 6:30am to 8pm; admission is 1€.
You can, of course, skip this muddy cauldron altogether and head directly to the dramatic Spiaggia Sabbie Nere (Black Sands Beach), the finest in the archipelago. Regrettably, its black sand gets so hot by midday that flip-flops are a virtual necessity if you plan to while away your day here. This beach is on the distant side of the peninsula from Porto di Levante to Porto di Ponente; get here by going along Via Ponente. Porto di Ponente is a 20-minute walk north from the mud baths.
If you tire of the black sands, leave the beach and take the only road north to Vulcanello at the northern tip. Locals call this a "volcanic pimple." It erupted from the sea in 183 B.C., spiking its way up through the earth to become a permanent fixture on the island's landscape. As late as 1888, this toy-like volcano erupted a final time, creating what the islanders call a Valle dei Mostri (Valley of Monsters) of bizarrely shaped lava fountains.
The Gran Cratere
To the south of Porto di Levante lies one of the greatest attractions in the Aeolians, the Gran Cratere. From Porto di Levante, follow Via Piano away from the sea for about 182m (597 ft.) until you see the first of the AL CRATERE signs. Once you do, follow the marked trail; allow 3 hours to make it there and back. Tip: This walk is unshaded, so go early in the morning or late in the day; load up on sunscreen and water; and wear sturdy hiking shoes.
For your trouble in making this steep, hot climb, you'll be rewarded with dramatic views of some of the other Aeolian Islands. As you near the mouth of the crater, you see rivulets caused by previous eruptions. At the rim, peer down into the mammoth crater itself. Vapor emissions still spew from the crater, whose lips measure 450m (1,476 ft.) in diameter. The steam is tainted with numerous toxins, so you may not want to hang out here for long.
South to Gelso
Most of the tourist activity is concentrated in northern Vulcano, but an offbeat excursion can be made by taking a bus that cuts inland to the remote, almost forgotten villages of Piano and Gelso.
Islanders who live inland are likely to reside in the remote village of Piano, 7km (4 1/3 miles) from the port. Piano lies between two peaks, Mount Saraceno, (48m/157 ft.) and La Sommata (387m/1,270 ft.). There's not much here, and many of the homes are abandoned in the off season. If you continue on the bus to the southernmost village of Gelso, you can view the inland scenery of Vulcano along the way. At Gelso, the end of the line, you'll find some summer-only places to eat and good sea bathing. Gelso is Italian for "mulberry," one of the crops cultivated here along with capers.
The best beach is immediately east of Gelso. Spiaggia dell'Asino is a big cove reached by a steep path from the village of Gelso. Hydrocycles, deck chairs, and umbrellas can be rented from kiosks on the beach in summer.
Another little road goes to Capo Grillo, which has some of the best panoramic views on the island, with a sweeping vista of the Aeolians.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.