Gunung Bromo and the Ijen Plateau are two of Java’s biggest highlights, attracting thousands of travellers every year. Many people opt to join a tour, either covering these places separately or choosing a combined option. Whilst tours can be good for those with limited time, they can also be very costly and don’t allow freedom or flexibility. Many travellers pay a lot for such an experience and are often disappointed, having been rushed from one place to the next.
Read on to find out how you can see these two Indonesian highlights independently!
Gunung Bromo (2392m) rises from the ancient Tengger caldera, one of three volcanoes to have emerged from a vast crater that stretches for 10km across. Beside Bromo lie the peaks of Kursi (2581m) and Batok (2440m); they stand in a sea of ashen, volcanic sand, surrounded by the towering cliffs of the crater’s edge. Gunung Semeru lies to the south; it is Java’s highest peak and one of the island’s most active volcanoes.
The access point for a visit to Gunung Bromo is Cemoro Lawang, a tiny highland village that is situated on the lip of the Tengger crater, overlooking Bromo. There are numerous hotels and guesthouses, all charging rates that are heavily inflated from the norm in Indonesia.
Considering the prices charged, standards and cleanliness are fairly low; you need to pay a lot for something decent. Rates surge at peak times and increase further (by around 20%) on selected weekends, some days in August and over the Christmas/New Year period.
Getting to Cemoro Lawang
To reach Cemoro Lawang you’ll first need to transit in bustling Probolinggo. It’s best to reach Probolinggo by train; the station lies 2km north of town (6km from the bus terminal). Probolinggo lies on the Surabaya-Banyuwangi line, which means if you’re coming from Jakarta, you’ll pass through Surabaya.
- Yogyakarta – 8.5-9 hours/ 95,000-315,000 IDR/ 3 daily
- Surabaya – 2 hours/ 29,000-275,000 IDR/ 4-6 daily
- Banyuwangi – 4.5-5 hours/ 27,000-160,000 IDR/ 5 daily
You can also reach Probolinggo by bus, arriving at the Bayuangga bus terminal 5km from town on the road to Cemoro Lawang. Be careful here; this bus station has a poor reputation among travellers, known for its dishonest characters and ticket touts eager to make a buck. Buses to/from Banyuwangi, Bondowoso and Surabaya are very frequent.
- Banyuwangi – 5 hours/ 40,000-60,000 IDR
- Bondowoso – 2.5 hours/ 20,000-35,000 IDR
- Surabaya – 2.5-3 hours/ 20,000-30,000 IDR
- Yogyakarta – 10-11 hours/ 100,000-150,000 IDR
From Probolinggo you’ll need to take a mini-bus up to Cemoro Lawang; these leave from an area next to Bayuangga bus terminal and cost 35,000 IDR/person. They won’t leave, however, until the maximum capacity of 15 people has been reached. Sometimes, especially late in the day, travellers will need to pay more to either leave faster or at all. Angkot D (5000 IDR) connect the train station with the bus terminal.
A Guide to Seeing Gunung Bromo
You’ll want to wake up very early to view Gunung Bromo at sunrise; this is when the crater is at its most magical and the colours are most impressive.
- Leave your hotel in Cemoro Lawang at 3:30am; it will be chilly at this time so wear warm clothing!
- Start hiking to one of the sunrise viewpoints that overlook the whole Bromo landscape. In Cemoro Lawang the road forks just before Café Lava; take the RIGHT fork.
- Follow the paved road for 2.5km to the car park and lowest viewpoint; bring a torch as this stretch is entirely unlit.
- From the car park follow the winding road and then stairway for a further 650m; you’ll reach SERUNI SUNRISE POINT 2 (a multi-level viewing deck). You can stop here to watch the sunrise over Gunung Bromo or, alternatively, continue uphill on the uneven trail to a higher viewpoint.
- Wherever you choose to break for sunrise, continue uphill regardless to view the vast crater scene from slightly different perspectives. The trail solidifies and stairs reappear near the top; there is a wooden viewing platform at the second-highest viewpoint (KING KONG HILL).
- Stairs will lead you up to the road. From here you can turn RIGHT to SUNRISE POINT 1 atop Gunung Penanjakan (2770m). This is, reportedly, the best of the vantage points. It is, however, also the busiest; jeep tours bring hundreds of tourists to this spot on a daily basis. As we’d already got some pretty spectacular photos, we decided to pass on this one; we imagine that the peace of the scene would be somewhat marred by so many people.
Having seen the sunrise, you’ll want to head down to the eerie Laotian Pasir (Sea of Sand) to the slopes of Gunung Bromo. During safe periods it’s possible to ascend the volcano’s cone (there’s a staircase with 253 steps); from here you can gaze into the steaming, sulphurous caldera.
When we visited, however, there was a 1km exclusion zone around the peak due to the risk of explosions and lava flows. The volcano was puffing away, emitting some rather black smoke!
- From Sunrise Point 1 or turning LEFT at the point where the stairs meet the road, it’s roughly a 6km hike down to where the Sea of Sand begins. Motorbike taxis will offer their services. We started walking but then took up one such offer; we paid 70,000 IDR for one bike to whisk us both down.
- Motorbike drivers will take you across the Laotian Pasir, past the photogenic Hindu temple (which is only open on auspicious pilgrimage days) to an area near the cone of Bromo. It’s a thrilling, hair-raising ride across the grey volcanic sand!
- Take in the spectacular vistas, ascend and loop around the Bromo crater (if possible) and view the Hindu temple from outside. You can also enjoy a horse ride (75,000-100,000 IDR) across the crater bed. Luckily, there’s little in the way of commercialism or hassle on the Laotian Pasir, save from a few souvenir and food vendors.
- It’s a pleasant 3km (40 minute) walk across the Sea of Sand, up the crater wall and back to Cemoro Lawang. You’ll likely be back in the village by around 10am.
NOTE: If you follow the above guide you won’t need to pay the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park admission fee; if you hike in the opposite direction from Cemoro Lawang down to the Laotian Pasir you’ll be stopped and asked to pay it at a check-post.
Foreigner Admission Fee (weekday): 210,000 IDR
Foreigner Admission Fee (weekend): 310,000 IDR
You can either spend the rest of the day relaxing, moving on towards the Ijen Plateau the following day, or you can press on and make it to Banyuwangi (the access point for Ijen) that same day. We chose the latter option, having a late breakfast and checking out of our guesthouse before midday.
Keep reading for how to get to and experience the magic of Kawah Ijen!
The Ijen Plateau
The Ijen Plateau is a vast, volcanic region dominated by the cones of Ijen (2368m), Merapi (2800m) and Raung (3332m). A beautiful alpine area, these highlands are home to coffee plantations and a few isolated settlements. Travellers make the journey here to hike up to the stunning crater lake of Kawah Ijen (2148m).
The turquoise sulphur waters of Kawah Ijen are surrounded by the volcano’s crater walls; sulphurous smoke billows from the vent at the edge of the lake, which bubbles when activity increases.
Around 300 miners, all men, hack out the yellow sulphur by hand each day; their only protection from the harmful fumes are cotton scarfs, which they tie around their noses. It’s extremely tough work that pays very little; the men have to haul loads of 60-80kg back down the volcano. You’ll see these collectors as you hike up to the crater.
Getting to Banyuwangi
Banyuwangi is the main access point for the Ijen Plateau; it’s a pleasant enough town with a smattering of decent guesthouses and homestays. The ferry terminal for Bali, the train station and the Sri Tanjung bus terminal are all around 8km north of town in the port of Ketapang.
Arriving back at Bayuangga bus station in Probolinggo, we caught an onward bus to Banyuwangi. Because the mini-van from Cemoro Lawang to Probolinggo took so long to fill up, we were very late leaving; this thus had a knock-on effect, so we arrived very late in Banyuwangi.
The following gives an idea of buses to/from Banyuwangi from the Sri Tanjung terminal:
- Probolinggo – 5 hours/ 40,000-60,000 IDR
- Surabaya – 7 hours/ 55,000-90,000 IDR
- Denpasar – 5 hours/ 40,000-70,000 IDR (including the ferry trip)
Trains from Banyuwangi include:
- Probolinggo – 4.5-5 hours/ 27,000-160,000 IDR/ 5 daily
- Surabaya – 6-7 hours/ 56,000-170,000 IDR/ 4 daily
- Yogyakarta – 13-14 hours/ 94,000 IDR/ 1 per day
A Guide to Seeing Kawah Ijen
Guesthouses and travel agencies in Banyuwangi can all arrange tours by hired car to the Ijen Plateau; this can be a good option if you are a group of travellers. Some tours include a visit to a coffee plantation or a waterfall, as well as gas masks and an English speaking guide; check what’s included before signing up.
Ollie and I decided to do things independently and rented a scooter (100,000 IDR for 12 hours) along with gas masks (30,000 IDR/mask). The road going up to the Ijen Plateau gets considerably worse the higher you go; the journey is much more uncomfortable in the dark as it’s difficult to see and avoid all the giant pot holes.
The route is well signed, though we navigated our way using maps.me, which turned out to be pretty accurate. Be extremely alert and careful when driving as the road twists and turns sharply; it’s around 35km from Banyuwangi to the parking area at Ijen that takes 1.5-2 hours.
- Leave your guesthouse in Banyuwangi at around MIDNIGHT! Yes, MIDNIGHT! We decided to drive to Ijen the night of our arrival, so got absolutely no sleep that night. Wear warm clothes for the drive; it gets colder as you ascend to the plateau.
- Purchase your admission ticket in an office near the parking area. For foreigners it’s 100,000 IDR (weekdays) and 150,000 IDR (weekends and public holidays).
- Start hiking up to the crater; the trail is very steep (3.5km, 2 hours). Don’t forget to bring a torch; you’ll be walking in total darkness otherwise! There’s a small teahouse at the 3km mark. Remember to wear your gas mask when you feel you need it.
- From the crater rim you can descend an extremely steep gravel path down to the sulphur deposits and the steaming lake. The scramble down takes around 30 minutes; the path is slippery and the sulphur fumes can be overwhelming.
- It is down here that you can witness the famed BLUE FIRE, not actually a fire but a chemical reaction that occurs when sulphuric gas comes into contact with oxygen. The best time to witness these dancing ‘blue flames’ is from 2-4am.
I was unable to descend far into the crater as I found the sulphur fumes even at the crater rim overwhelming; expect burning lungs and streaming eyes. These effects will be much more pronounced the further down into the crater you go.
- Back at the top, wait for sunrise; it can be very cold until the sun comes up so make sure you have warm clothes with you. The fumes will move with the wind, so you may find that your breathing eases after a while.
- Near where the track down to the lake begins, take the left path up to a highland plateau that offers stunning views over Kawah Ijen in one direction and out over the surrounding peaks in the other. With the sun rising higher in the sky, the views up here are expansive and magnificent, the clouds on the horizon adding to the magical atmosphere.
- Carefully make your way back down to the parking area; the light will reveal the grey, sandy, dusty terrain and the steep sides of the Ijen crater. You’ll also be able to see the gas billowing out of the vent. Take your time on the descent; though easier, it’s a lot more slippery going down.
In Banyuwangi we stayed at Didu’s Homestay (250,000 IDR/night). It’s a wonderfully cosy place with double-bed bamboo cottages arranged around a pretty garden. There’s an open-air communal pavilion in the garden with seating areas, book shelves and a TV lounge along with benches on which breakfast is served. Staff are very friendly and helpful, scooters can be rented and tours are offered – highly recommended!
From Banyuwangi many travellers head to Bali; in the opposite direction you might head to Probolinggo (for Bromo), Yogyakarta or Surabaya. We headed on to Surabaya!
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