Exploring Java: DIY Trek on Mt. Bromo and Mt. Ijen

I spent the past four days in Eastern Java, where I hiked two of Indonesia’s most exquisite and extreme volcanoes: Mt. Bromo and Mt. Ijen. 😍

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Mt. Bromo at sunrise

Now when I first looked at climbing these two volcanoes, I found various options for multi-day tours. Unfortunately, all of them were WAY out of my price range, so I opted to make my own DIY route. If you want to save hundreds of dollars, then follow my easy step-by-step guide. 😀DSC_5295

Hiking Mt. Bromo and Mt. Ijen: the DIY version

I started my trip in Yogyakarta. From there I took the 6:45 AM train to Surabaya. It cost 6 USD and took four hours. I stayed overnight one night at My Studio Hotel for 10 USD. They had these unique Japanese-style capsule beds with very clean facilities, free Wifi, free drinking water, and a free Japanese-style breakfast.Untitled pod

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matcha tea spread on toast with sprinkles (the sprinkles are from the Dutch influence)

At 9AM the next morning, I took a two-hour train ride to Probolinggo for another 6 USD. On the train I met this American/Canadian couple, so we decided to do the rest of the journey together. They are Theology PhD students at Berkeley University, and they are traveling in Indonesia for a school conference.DSC_5240When we arrived at the train station we took an ojeck, or mini van, for 5,000 IDR or 0.35 cents to the bus station.IMG_9026The hardest part was taking the bus to our final destination, Cemoro Lawang. That is because this bus only leaves when it’s full. I had read stories online about people who had waited over 6 hours for the bus to fill up. Who has time for that?!Ummm-NoSo with my very insistent and persuasive personality, I started bargaining with the driver. I got the price down to 40,000 IDR or 2.90 USD per person if we left right now. I told everyone that if we didn’t pay more, we could be waiting for hours, so I easily persuaded them to cough up a few cents more and we were on our way! 😀IMG_9028The ride up to Cemoro Lawang took 1 hour and 15 minutes, and offered some breathtaking views of the Javanese countryside. ❤IMG_9082We arrived in Cemoro Lawang at about 1:45 PM. Cemoro Lawang is a picturesque mountain village filled with quaint homestays and a handful of local restaurants.DSC_5221Personally, I loved its cool mountain temps, and views of the lush green valleys. DSC_5332DSC_5331After arrival, we checked in to our hotel, so we could drop off our bags. Our accommodation in Cemoro Lawang was Yog Bromo Homestay.DSC_5144I originally reserved a room with Homestay Desa Ngadisari, but DO NOT book with them. They lied about their address on booking.com, and they’re actually located in a different village about an hour walk from Cemoro Lawang. On the other hand, Yog Bromo Homestay is located right next to the volcano, and they let me book my room on arrival. My room cost 10 USD, and they thick blankets for sleeping, hot water for showering, and free WiFi.

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left: homestay common room; right: homestay bedroom

They also had an adorable dog named Rainbow, who had a very colorful personality. 🌈DSC_5334After dropping off our things, we made our way to the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park.DSC_5226

Hiking Mt. Bromo

Mt. Bromo is located in the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park.DSC_5211Mt. Bromo is an active volcano, which last erupted in 2011.DSC_5276 (2)It stands right next to Mt. Semeru, which is the highest volcano on Java.DSC_5147The two volcanoes sit inside the steep-walled Tengger caldera, which formed thousands of years ago after a massive volcanic eruption. DSC_5243The Tengger Caldera is a barren and flat plain, which has been aptly named the “Sea of Sand”.

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walking across the Sea of Sand

There is supposed to be a 25 USD entrance fee to the national park, but we never saw a ticket office or were asked to pay, so we just kept walking.DSC_5211From the entrance alone you have spectacular views of Mt. Bromo and Mt. Semeru.DSC_5160DSC_5218From the entrance we walked down a hill into the Tengger Caldera, and then walked 45 minutes across the Sea of Sand and past a Hindu temple to get to Mt. Bromo.DSC_5214DSC_5167You can also take a jeep or horse if you don’t feel like walking.DSC_5182DSC_5210Lastly, from the base of Mt. Bromo, we had to climb some sturdy stairs to reach the volcano’s rim.DSC_5197DSC_5205The smell of sulfur was almost unbearable at the top, so we only spent a few minutes there to snap some photos before heading back down. 😀DSC_5208JZVY8345DSC_5195DSC_5187Some guy was sitting up there enjoying an apple and admiring the crater, but I thought this spot was anything but appetizing. Hah! Instead, after making our way back across the Sea of Sand, we went to dump the cups of sand out of our shoes and took a shower. Then we headed to Warung Edi restaurant for dinner. We thought the portion sizes there were very small, but then we realized the price of each meal was around 0.90 cents to 1 USD. You could easily splurge and order two meals, and not break the bank.😜 To start, we all ordered different ginger drinks. Mine was ginger tea, but the other girls had plain ginger and a tengger ginger, which was totally laden with sugar. They also had some nice veggie entrees, like gado-gado, which is a dish of rice, hard-boiled eggs, and crunchy veggies covered in a spicy peanut sauce.dinnrAt 8 PM the girls headed to bed and I went to the nearby Cafe Lava to hang out and be a bit social. I met a nice American guy there who was working on his PhD in Jakarta. Like the girls, he also attends Berkley Unversity in California, so I invited him to trek with us to see Mt. Bromo at sunrise. 😀

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Cafe Lava

At 2:30 AM the next morning, the three of us left to hike Penanjakan, the mountain which offers the best viewpoint of Mt. Bromo at sunrise.

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sunrise view from Mt. Penanjakan

To get there, you follow the unnamed road where Yog Bromo is located in the direction of the national park. As you walk on the road, it slowly veers off to the right. You then continue to follow that path straight up Mt. Penanjakan until you reach viewpoint #1, Seuruni Point.DSC_5324This route only took us one hour to get to, and it was very easy to navigate.DSC_5322

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viewpoint #1

Viewpoint #2 took an additional 30 minutes to get to, and the path was clearly damaged by landslides. We had to grab on to rocks to climb up, and the dirt and loose gravel beneath us was quite slippery. Again, it was easy to navigate, but I’d recommend bringing a flashlight or headlamp to find your way.

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picture of the path during the day

As for clothing, the temps here are 40 degrees Fahrenheit at night and 65 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, so dress appropriately. I had on some pants with a sweatshirt, but the town also sells sweaters and hats if you’re not prepared, and many hotels even rent out winter jackets for 2 USD.DSC_5220Anyway, we made it to viewpoint #2 at 4:15 AM. There were virtually no people there, so we were able to claim our spot before the crowds started to form. The views were totally unobstructed and absolutely jaw-dropping. You could overlook the twinkling lights of the Cemoro Lawang village and the entire Tengger Caldera as shades of pink and orange started to streak across the pitch black sky, and white fog slowly rolled across the hills.DSC_5265DSC_5315At around 5:15 AM, the crowds really started to form, so we were lucky to have claimed our spot. We sat in bliss as the sun crept over the horizon, and each few minutes the sky would change to offer a totally new and equally beautiful view. 😍DSC_5310DSC_5301DSC_5320Here’s a short video of the sunrise.

There was also a woman selling hot coffee and instant noodles if you needed a quick pick-me-up. ☕🍜DSC_5313Overall, one of my favorite sunrise views and highly recommended for anyone visiting Indonesia. ❤DSC_5295DSC_5304At about 7 AM, we headed back down to the village. We stopped in at Cafe Lava Hostel for an unlimited breakfast buffet. The buffet included fried rice, noodles, veggies, eggs, fruit and coffee for only 2.50 USD. Not a bad deal! 😀IMG_9070Afterwards, the girls decided to stay one more night in Cemoro Lawang, so the American guy and I left for the next volcano, Mt. Ijen.IMG_9084For this we had to catch the bus back to Probolinggo that again would only leave when it was full. For a second time I had to negotiate with the driver, and again we paid 40,000 IDR or 2.90 USD per person to leave instead of waiting for more people. After arriving at the bus station, we took another ojeck mini van for 5,000 IDR or 0.35 cents to the train station.

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stuffed in there like sausages 😂

From there, we took the 11 AM train to Karangasem in Banyuwangi. The train took four hours and cost 9 USD. In Karangasem, we stayed at Kamping Osing Inn. They offered a room for 9 USD, which included free drinking water, free WiFi, and a free breakfast of eggs, rice, and veggies.UntitledUntitledKarangasem is a very small village, but it had beautiful natural surroundings filled with tropical plants and rice fields. 🌴DSC_5337DSC_5338The hotel also arranged transport to Mt. Ijen. For 350,000 IDR or 25 USD, they provided jeep transport, guide, entrance fee (which was 100,000 IDR), and a compulsory gas mask. Not too shabby! There were five of us in total (the American, one Colombian guy, and two Chinese girls) that left at 1 AM the next morning to begin our drive to the base of Mt. Ijen.

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the Colombian was on an 11-month journey, which was spent mostly in India performing reiki massage and meditation 🧘

Hiking Mt. Ijen

Mt. Ijen is an active volcano filled with toxic levels of sulfuric gas. 😲DSC_5494When the gas leaks from the crater cracks at over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit it sometimes ignites large blue flames. Indonesia and Iceland are the only two places in the world with true blue fire, and the blue flames in Indonesia are the largest! 💙🔥

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blue flames seeping from Mt. Ijen

The distance from the parking lot to the rim of the crater is 3 km, which involved walking uphill along a dark path for 1.5 hours to an elevation of 2,600 meters.

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parking lot entrance during the day
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evacuation plan: run like heck 🤣

From the rim of Mt. Ijen, we made a treacherous descent to the crater’s floor.

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saw this sign after we had climbed into the crater 🤔

I don’t think I was prepared for the intensity of this trek, and had to grab on to my guide several times as we scaled down steep rocks covered in loose gravel in the middle of the dark.

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the “path” leading to the crater floor

Again, headlamps or flashlights are strongly recommended.

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the “path” to the crater during the night

When we got to the floor of Mt. Ijen, I was able to observe the labor-intensive mining operation that was underway at this site.DSC_5421Dozens of Indonesian men work here in the middle of the night to extract chunks of sulfur. The miners then carry 200-lb baskets of sulfur up the steep crater rim, where it is then transported down the volcano and sold to various companies. 😲DSC_5378Sulfur is used to produce various items, including rubber, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and pesticides.DSC_5449The workers make 2-3 trips up and down the volcano each day, and earn a measly 10 USD per day. 😲DSC_5456DSC_5452You’ll notice that we had to wear compulsory gas masks once we entered the crater.DSC_5463That’s because the volcanic gas is so potent and toxic, that without one you would singe your nostrils from the acidic smell, and elicit an obligatory cough as you take in the poisonous fumes. Sadly, the workers are given little more than a rag to cover their faces, and many go without. Exposure to the gases can cause airway constriction and asthma, along with the countless other health issues that these workers will bear from carrying such heavy loads. As well, the site is quite dangerous. One tourist who was taking photos slid off the mountain right in front of me. I screamed as I thought he would surely fall to his death. Luckily he caught himself halfway down, and only initiated an avalanche of small stones that continued to fall beneath him. DSC_5467Aside from that terrifying moment, one of the most impressive moments occurred when the sun had finally begun to rise.DSC_5482As the darkness cleared, a stunning turquoise crater lake was revealed at the base of Mt. Ijen. It left me truly bowing down to the beauty and beast that is Mother Nature. 🌎DSC_5485DSC_5482After sunrise, we made the steep ascent back to the crater rim and down the volcano back to the parking lot. We stopped on the way for a rustic cup of mountain coffee and a “toilet” break as we took in the views of the gorgeous countryside. DSC_5508DSC_5506DSC_5504If you don’t feel like making the trek on foot, there are mountain “taxis” offering to carry you down.DSC_5497Overall, I half mixed feelings about this volcano hike. I thought it wasn’t worth injuring myself over, but I think it’s great to expose the realities of this back-breaking mining industry. Maybe this negative exposure could potentially lead to stricter regulations for the workers and improved salaries. One can only hope!DSC_5462

Total cost for the four-day DIY route: Starting from Yogyakarta, and including all the bus and train transportation, accommodation, and the Ijen jeep tour, this DIY version cost 75 USD. What I liked about this compared to a package tour as well was that you had the luxury to choose when you left and how long you stayed in each place.

Anyway, after returning to the hotel, we had our breakfast and packed our things, then the Colombian, the American, and myself prepared to leave for the island of Bali. Stay tuned to hear all about our journey, and my experience on that tropical island. Until then! 😀DSC_5516

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