Gunung Bromo, Kawah Ijen, Java
In the far eastern regions of Java lie two extraordinary sites. The first is the massive volcano named Gunung Bromo. The second is the sulphuric crater lake of Ijen. These are two of the most impressive sites in Java, not to mention the whole of Indonesia. Sounds amazing, right? Well like most amazing places it comes with a catch. Bromo and Ijen and very remote places, making accessing here quite difficult and tedious. Transport from Yogyakarta can take up to twelve hours to Bromo and eight or nine from Bali to Ijen. The weather is also a major factor here, as clouds often cover up Bromo and heavy rains make Ijen hazardous. Apart from all these factors, witnessing sunrise at Bromo and the miners of Ijen will be an experience you are unlikely to ever forget.
Reaching and altitude of 2396m, Gunung Bromo is, quite possibly, Indonesia’s greatest attraction. The landscape, resembling the surface of the moon, is unlike anywhere you have ever seen. Nearby is Gunung Semeru, Java’s highest peak, and one of the most active volcanoes in the region. Visiting Gunung Bromo is a must when traveling through Java. Seeing the volcanic clouds twirling around Bromo, while the sunrise streaks shades of orange and blue across the horizon, is stunning.
Getting to Gunung Bromo
There are a few ways to get to Gunung Bromo. Most travelers begin their journey from Yogyakarta in central Java. From Yogyakarta, your options are to take a train, plane or tour.
Flight – Obviously the most expensive option, but also the fastest, is to fly. You can fly to Surabaya then take the train or bus from there to Probolinggo. Lastly, it’s another few hours from Probolinggo to Cemoro Lawang (Gunung Bromo).
Train – Probably the best option is to take train. From Yogyakarta, there are now direct trains all the way to Probolinggo. It’s comfortable, but still takes around nine or ten hours. Once you reach Probolinggo, you will most likely get forced into taking a tour up to Gunung Bromo, although it is possible to take public transport all the way to Cemoro Lawang and arrange the rest there. This option is great if you have lots of time and are not on a tight schedule.
Tour option – The most popular option, and most convenient, is the tour. Just because it’s popular and convenient does not mean it’s the best option. The tours usually make promises of an AC bus, hotels with hot showers and great food. I can promise you this is not the case. The air-conditioned bus is actually a small, hot and sweaty minivan that crams tourists in like sardines. The hotels are usually cold, dirty, unfriendly shacks. The tour is not all bad, however. It’s cheap, usually starting at about $60 US, and you get to meet tons of other travelers. I recommend the tour if you are pressed for time, or a solo traveller who wants to meet others.
Top Sights in Gunung Bromo
Bromo is not just a volcano, there are many things you can do here as well. If you have time you can easily spend two or three days here, exploring some of the unknown parts of Bromo that very few people actually see.
Sunrise View Point – Witnessing the sunrise over Bromo is breathtaking. The shades of pink, yellow and purple slowly crawl down the majestic volcanic peak. Below in the crater, fog rolls in, creating a mystical scene. This is all seen at the Sunrise View Point, a designated, well known spot that you will see advertised all over the Indonesian Tourism industry. Some people walk here from Cemoro Lawas and others take the Jeep, which charges a steep 15 dollars per person. I highly recommend you take the jeep as it’s a steep, seven kilometer walk through the dark.
The jeep picks up passengers around 3:30 am and gets you to the view point at about 4:30am. From the drop off point, it’s another kilometer walk to the top. During high season, don’t expect to have the place to yourself. When I was there, I saw about three hundred people fighting at the view point.
Sunrise View Tip – When you reach the view point platform, go directly to your right. You will see a small wire gate with an opening near the cement wall. Crawl through here and there is a small, bush covered trail that will take you down through the forest on the hill side. Just a few minutes’ walk down will bring you to a big opening that reveals the same view as the platform, but with no noise and no other tourists.
Bromo Crater – The dusty crater resembles an apocalyptic scene. Almost no vegetation grows here. Often, the crater is filled with thick fog in the morning, really giving you that zombie-apocalypse feeling. Walking around here is a great experience. In order to get up to the volcanic crater, you will be required to cross the dusty plateau either on foot or by horseback.
The climb up to the volcanic crater is not difficult, but be careful as it can get slippery when it rains. Once you reach the lip of the crater, you will be in awe. Smoke billows out from the deep, powerful, vibrating crater. If you are feeling adventurous, you can climb around the rim of the smoking crater, but be warned it is very dangerous.
Trekking – Gunung Bromo area offers some great trekking opportunities as well. Small villages dot the lush countryside out of the Bromo Crater. You can see potato and cabbage farms, unique houses built specifically to retain heat, and beautiful vistas overlooking the valley. There are also plenty of other viewpoints that you can hike up to see different angles of Bromo.
The Sulphur Mines of Kawah Ijen
Kawah Ijen, also known as the Ijen Plateau, is the most volcanic region of the area. This boreal forest region is unlike anywhere else in Indonesia. The climate is chilly, and the vegetation resembles that of western Canada’s forests. The majority of visitors to the region are here to visit Gunung Ijen. Gunuig Ijen, which is Bahasa for “Lonely Mountain,” is an inert volcanic crater. Deep in the centre of the crater is an acidic blue lake that contains a large concentration of sulphur deposits. Paired with Gunung Bromo, these two sights are, quite possibly, the main draw of Java.
Getting to Kawah Ijen
Most people do a tour from Yogyakarta, combining both Gunung Bromo and Kawah Ijen, in a rushed, three-day blast. Coming here on your own time is a much better alternative, and will give you a better perspective of this natural wonder.
Getting here on your own really isn’t that difficult. There are two towns from which you can access Kawah Ijen.
Bondowoso – Getting to Bondowoso is a cinch. After getting to Probolinggo from Yogyakarta, you can take the three-hour bus to Bondowoso. Once in Bondowoso, you can take public transport as far as Sempol, and then hire a private vehicle after that. Or, just take a private hire right from Bondowoso for about 750 000 Rp.
Banyuwangi – Getting to Banyuwangi is also very simple. You can either take the train or bus from Probolinggo. Once in Banyuwangi, you can take the newly paved road by Ojek for 200 000Rp (drivers wait by the ferry harbour), which will require a few hours wait for other passengers to fill up the vehicle. Or, you can hire a private vehicle, which will cost 650 000Rp for the few hour journey.
Tour Option – Tours from Yogyakarta make the journey to Gunung Bromo and Kawah Ijen all the way to Bali in a two-night stressful run. The tour vans are usually crammed to the max, and will drop you off at less than appealing hotels. They also only give you a few hours to spend at each destination.
The up side to the tour is that, if you are on a time budget, as most travelers are, then you can see the both these amazing places, and be in Bali in a fashionable timeframe. You can also get the chance to meet some amazing people who have joined you on the tour! Lastly, taking the tour is considerably cheaper then doing it yourself. I have seen tours in Yogyakarta offering both Gunung Brom and Ijen together for 800 00Rp. This does not include entrance fees, or the jeep at Gunung Bromo
Top Sights at Kawah Ijen.
Kawah Ijen’s obvious highlight is the crater itself, but there is much more to do and see in this beautiful region of Indonesia.
Kebun Balawan Coffee Plantation – This semi jungle region offers great opportunity to grow grade A Arabica coffee. A visit to the Kebun Balawan Coffee plantation will give you a whole new perspective on the work that goes into producing some of the highest quality coffee in the world.
A tour will consist of visiting the coffee plantation, and watching the field workers harvest the beans. Then you can see the factory that roasts and manufactures the coffee into a sellable product. Nearby are some thermal pools and waterfalls that are worth visiting.
Hiking/motor biking in Kawah Ijen – Kawah Ijen region has plenty of paved and unpaved roads. These roads give some great opportunity for hikers and motor bikes as there is very little traffic up here. From Sempol, you can ask about scooter rental, and hiking trails. By spending a few days exploring here you will get to do what very few tourists do. Visiting the Indonesians that actually live here is a unique cultural experience. Most tourists just see the crater and ship out.
Kawah Ijen Crater – The Crater of Kawah Ijen is why everyone comes here. Its emerald blue lake is picturesque and stunning. To get to the crater, you will be required to do some strenuous hiking. From the trail head, it can take anywhere from 45 min to 2 hours depending on your physical capability.
As you climb up the steep trail to the crater you will be offered to buy masks by locals. If the crater billows out sulphuric smoke it can irritate your eyes and cause respiratory problems. If you suffer from any respiratory illness I would highly recommend these masks. If you are in great shape and have no issues you can hike right up to the crater rim in almost 30 minutes as I did.
At the crater rim you can go one of two ways. You can continue up the rim to the “view point” which will give you a different view of the crater. Or, you can head down to the bubbling blue acidic lake. If you have limited time, then I highly recommend you head down the crater to the lake.
Visiting the Sulphur Miners – This was my favorite thing about Kawah Ijen. Deep in the crater there are large yellow Sulphur deposits. This is where all the sulphuric clouds originated from. Brave miners walk into these clouds and dig large chunks of this sulphur by hand. When the sulphur has been dug out, they haul it up the dangerous steep path up to the crater rim using wicker baskets that are placed upon their shoulders.
The miners put themselves at much risk doing this. They ruin their lungs from the sulphuric gas, and have deformed shoulders from hauling up to 80kg of sulphur per trip up the mountain side. Witnessing these incredible hard workers is an amazing sight.
The workers get a real kick out of watching tourists try to pick up the baskets they almost seemingly barley even notice lifting. When I lifted, it I could walk, but definitely not climb up a mountain! Many of the miners are used to tourism, and will pose for a picture or two, but they are expecting something in return. A small monetary tip or a cigarette or two is fine. Think of it if it were the other way around. You would want a tip from gawking tourists as you labored away!
Blue Fire – In Yogyakarta, you will see many signs at the tour agencies advertising the Blue Fire! What they are referring to is one of the processes the miners do in Ijen to mine Sulphur. In the early hours of the morning (usually 3am!), the miners light the Sulphur on fire,making the extraction easier for the day workers. The fire creates a beautiful blue blanket over the sulphur mounds.
This is a great option, but if you’re on a tour there are some issues. The first being that after being rushed and sleep deprived from Gunung Bromo, you will be required to hike up a mountain and down a crater on three hours of sleep. The second is that its quite dangerous to do this as you cannot see the clouds of sulphur smoke and you cannot see the trail in the dark.
On your own time this can be a valuable experience, but otherwise I would skip the blue flames and focus on the crater and miners.
Location: Gunung Bromo, Kawah Ijen, Java, Indonesia
Daily Costs: 30 USD
Tips: Really think it over whether you want to take a tour or not, going slower here in my opinion is worth it!
Recommended Guide: Lonely Planet Indonesia