And what brought us to Java’s epic volcanoes
The plan — hatched around this time last year — was to stay in Bali for five days. Just chill out. Go temple hopping. Check out the beaches. But the wife, from out of the blue, posed (although she’s denying it now): “We’re going to Indonesia and we’re not seeing any volcanoes?”
Good question, because I’d been dreaming about going to two remote volcanoes in East Java: Bromo and Ijen, arguably two of the most beautiful in this Southeast Asian country dotted with active craters. I showed Bretha some pics, and without hesitation, she declared, “Let’s go!”
Now, there were quite a few issues to hurdle. To get to Bromo, we’d either take a two-and-a-half flight from Bali to Surabaya, then another three-hour road trip to the jump-off point in Malang, then go back to Surabaya before heading to Yogyakarta for more temple hopping. This option meant we wouldn’t see Ijen Crater, which is famed for its blue flames and sulfur mining.
So, we took another route (cutting short our Bali trip by three days) to see both Bromo and Ijen. While we DIYed everything else during the two-week trip, we opted to acquire the services of an online tour agency — Ijen Blue Flame Tours, which we highly recommend along with our funny and awesome tour guide Arif — to see both volcanoes. And this itinerary explains why (more info here):
*Ubud, Bali to port of Gilimanuk by car: 124 kilometers (4 hours)
*One-hour ferry crossing from Gilimanuk Port to Ketapang Port.
*20-minute van ride from Ketapang to Banyuwangi
*Speed sleeping in Banyuwangi hotel.
*Call time at 1 a.m. for 1-hour ride to Mount Ijen jump-off point.
*Two-hour, four-kilometer hike in 10-degree Celsius weather to viewing point of Kawah Ijen, or Ijen Crater.
So how was the climb like? Consider the trail slope of 30 to 45 degrees in the dark. No kidding. Depending on your pace, you’d reach the crater rim. There was the optional descent to the crater along a narrow, steep pass, which takes roughly an hour with a gas mask on. My eldest daughter and I descended to witness the blue flames with Arif, while my wife and two younger kids stayed near the crater rim and made themselves warm and cozy by a bonfire that some miners made.
The hike back to the parking area with a quick stop for hot coffee or tea in between takes two hours through spellbinding scenery. Through all this, Arif was extremely helpful and encouraging, telling us his story of how he used to be a sulfur miner himself here in Ijen two years ago.
*On our way back, we stopped by a nice waterfall called Air Terjun Jagir, where we had breakfast and Cyan took a dip.
We headed back to Ketapang Inda Hotel, tidied up, then took a 280-kilometer, 6-hour drive to Cemoro Lawang village.
*Speed sleeping in Cemoro Lawang Inn.
Bye, Ketapang Inda Hotel… hello Cemoro Lawang Inn!
*Call time at 2:30 a.m. for 1-hour ride on 4×4 jeep to Bromo viewing area and wait for sunrise. The weather here was much colder than Ijen, around 8 degrees and we had to warm our hands over hot coals during the wait.
Minutes later, we headed to the designated viewpoint, waited for the first rays of sunlight, and then slowly revealed before our eyes was the jaw-dropping scenery of Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. The park features five volcanoes sprawled within the caldera of an ancient volcano: Mount Bromo (left), Mount Kursi, Mount Widodaren, Mount Watangan and Mount Batok (frontmost). In the background at the edge of the Tengger massif, an active volcano complex, is Mount Semeru, the highest mountain in the island of Java.
From the viewpoint area, we rode to the drop off point for a hike across Tengger Sand Sea (the caldera of an ancient volcano), past the handsome Gunung Batok, and climb on top of the Bromo Caldera with a view of Mount Semeru, both active volcanoes.
*We then returned to to the hotel and headed to Surabaya via a 95-kilometer road for three hours. We then took a five-hour train ride to Yogyakarta.
Surprisingly, the kids weren’t exhausted from all the hiking in the wee hours as they got to sleep and rest during transit. But was it all worth it? Hiking up Gunung Ijen Bromo Tengger Semeru massif and experiencing both from near and far are experiences that are beyond words. And the Traveling Vs would say it’s something families should do: to hike up and down volcanoes when you find yourself in Indonesia.