If you’re a budget traveller passing through Pompeii, chances are you’ll want to climb Campania’s catastrophic volcano. Let’s face it, who wants to go see the ruins without checking out the ruiner?
Now, at 1,281 metres tall, even the most tight-fisted and empty-walleted of backpackers won’t want to start at the bottom. This is where research comes in – but be warned – whether it be Google, guide books, or word of mouth, the topic of hiking Mt. Vesuvius is surrounded by more myths than the great mountain itself.
Oh, and be further warned, Vesuvius’ next eruption is long overdue, so there is a small possibility that you might die.
#5 “Only a 15 minute trip to the highest car park with Vesuvio Express”
If you’ve done your Googling, you’ll know that the popular Vesuvio Express is the cheapest (and apparently) quickest way of climbing the volcano – a coach trip from nearby Ercolano Scavi train station, on the Circumvesuviana line.
The tour’s advertised as being a “20 minute drive to the volcano’s highest car park”, or sometimes, “a 15 minute drive to the highest car park” depending on who and where you got your sales literature from.. In actuality, it takes around an hour to an hour and a half, so plan wisely and don’t get thinking you’ll be seeing Pompeii in the same day!
#4 “Board an air-conditioned coach with an English-speaking driver for just 10 Euros”
Triple whammy. No, no and more no. Tickets are 20 Euros return (10 for park entry, 10 for the trip) and the coaches run (apparently) ever hour or so, depending on who you speak to and who’s driving.
The buses are pre-1970s relics, so you’ll be lucky if you get a functioning seatbelt. And the most English you’ll get from a driver is the word ‘time’ when he points up at his plastic clock to let you know when he’ll be returning. Vesuvio Express are the kings of false advertising.
#3 “You’d be better off driving up yourself”
Don’t. Just don’t. This common rumour can and will get you killed. Coach driver dudes treat the narrow, winding road like a racetrack, and you’ll likely be knocked off a cliff – and balls-up your car hire’s Collision Damage Waiver – en route. Hey, you might even lose your lives and/or limbs along the way.
Also, the car park costs 10 euros which, combined with your entrance fee and fuel, means you’ll lose out on cash, too. And don’t think you can taxi it either; if you did, you’d end up bankrupt AND dead. Remember: A Fiat 500 isn’t small or strong enough to squeeze through two coaches tackling a 2-metre wide hairpin at the same time. Although being aboard Vesuvio Express with a faulty seatbelt isn’t 100% safe in that situation either…
#2 “A 30 minute hike to the top from the car park”
Surprise surprise, the “30 minute hike” advertisements are also absolute twaddle. Again, it actually takes around an hour to an hour and a half, so be prepared! Oh, and if you do go up with Vesuvio Express you’re only given 1 hour, 45 minutes to explore before the driver comes back to pick you up, so stick your skates on.
Fortunately, if you do use these guys (which, let’s face it, you will) tickets aren’t stamped with a specific time, so you can always jump on the next pickup. Another 1 hour, 40 minutes later… So, yeah time your trek up (and down!) accordingly.
#1 “The trek from the car park is along an easy 200m path up a gentle slope”
Chances are, whether you’ve got your nose stuck in your Lonely Planet guide, or you’re reading a brochure you picked up at the hostel, you’ll see this bull printed in black and white. But remember – nothing is ever black and white. Least of all Vesuvius, which has rocks of a reddish, purpley brown colour. But that’s besides the point.
The actual distance from the mountain’s highest car park to the summit clocks in at somewhere like 900m (Lonely Planet say 860m, but, as already mentioned, their advice on Vesuvius is slightly off-kilter). And if you were thinking of taking your Grandad in his flip flops, think again.
A relatively easy path? There is no path. You’ll be walking a trodden-down trail of loose, slippy volcanic ash, sort of like walking up a super-steep, 900m sand dune. Oh, and the handrail mentioned in many a leaflet is more of an anti-fall barrier, of the chubby wooden cuboid variety. I guess it’s kind of grabbable… if your hands are shaped like those of a 1950s robot.