One of the excursions we will never forget in our lives is the one to the volcanoes in Java. We never imagined that we would be walking through the crater of an active volcano. Definitely one of the best things to do in Indonesia.
Tour 2 days 1 night (Bromo and ijen)
There are several ways to get to the Bromo and Ijen volcanoes, and depending on which way you choose, you will need to spend more time there. Also, keep in mind that the volcanoes are about 5 hours away from each other.
We decided to book a 2 day 1 night tour online and we were very satisfied!
Our tour started in Surabaya, a city in the northeast of Java. But in reality the base city where most of the tours start from is Malang. As we had to go to Malang from Surabaya we preferred to save ourselves the trouble of figuring out how to get there and have the tour pick us up at Surabaya station. (To see how to get from Yogyakarta to Surabaya by train click here. click here.)
In addition, this option saved us a night in a hotel and a day on the trip.
At 12 midnight our driver picked us up from the train station in Surabaya and we went straight to the Bromo volcano to see the sunrise (almost 4 hours drive). Yes, we were dead when we arrived, but with the excitement of going to the volcano, we almost didn't feel tired.
After watching the sunrise, climbing the crater and having breakfast, we set off on the 5 hour drive to a hotel in Bondowoso, the town where we base ourselves for the Ijen volcano.
Again at 12 midnight our driver picked us up to take us on the road to Kawah Ijen (1 hour and a half away). Once there, we went up the volcano and down into the crater, an incredible experience!
Then we went back to the base for breakfast and got into the car for one last time. The next destination is the port of Ketapang where we would take the ferry to Bali.
It was included in the tour:
- Entrance to the volcanoes
- Private driver (from Surabaya to Ketapang port)
- Jeep for Bromo
- Local guide on each volcano
- Hotel night with breakfast
Price: $USD 175 per person.
We got it from a local company that we found on the internet and we always communicate via email with them, 100% reliable. We leave you the page in case you are interested: Java Travelline
However, we would like to make it clear that there are several tours that can be booked from Yogyakarta, Surabaya or Malang. This was the one that best suited our budget and what we were looking for.
The climb to the sunrise point and the way to the volcano is done by jeep. So at 3 o'clock in the morning we arrived at the point on the road where we had to change transport. We got into the jeep and started the climb together with hundreds of other jeeps. When we were almost there, due to the traffic of jeeps, our guide offered us to get out and finish the climb on foot! So we did just that, which allowed us to find a good spot to watch the sunrise.
We waited for an hour in the dark until the sun began to appear from behind the mountains. As the minutes passed, we began to observe our surroundings: mountains, volcanoes and lots of people! The guide showed us which of all the volcanoes we saw was Bromo, and we could see how it was tinged with the colours of the sunrise, something really beautiful.
Climbing the Bromo volcano
Once it was daylight we returned to the jeep, now the road was downhill, we were heading to the foot of Bromo. When you get out of the jeep you get the feeling that you are on an uninhabited planet, because everything is covered with volcanic sand and it is a super arid terrain.
Now you can smell the sulphur coming from the volcano, and the climb to the crater is coming! It is 100% necessary to bring a mask, they are sold everywhere for a few cents. A handkerchief will also do, but make sure it's not too thin, otherwise it won't cover you well.
To get to the crater you have to walk about 20/30 minutes through volcanic sand, for some people it can be a bit more difficult because of the altitude, the volcanic sand flying, the sulphur that you start to feel, or the sun that starts to heat up a bit. They offer you to go up on horses but we are NOT in favour of using them, they are very skinny, badly treated and in daily contact with volcanic gases, let's not promote animal abuse. It is by no means impossible to walk the route, it may take you a few minutes more.
When you reach the foot of the volcano you have to climb 253 steps built into the volcano's slope that lead directly into the crater.
Once up in the crater you will be speechless, for us it was one of the best experiences we had travelling. To be able to walk on the edge of an active volcano, to see how the gases come out of its centre, to be able to sit and admire this world we live in.
Kawah Ijen Volcano
The excursion to Ijen also starts very early in the morning, because in order to get down to the crater and see the blue fires it is necessary to do it at night. So at 12 midnight our driver picked us up from our hotel in Bondowoso and we had a 1.5 hour drive to the entrance of the volcano.
Once there we met our guide who gave us the wonderful news that the volcano activity was not very high, which meant we could go down into the crater and see the blue fires!
The Ijen volcano is at an altitude of 2800 metres, which is a hike of almost two and a half hours, completely uphill! It is tough but totally worth it.
The descent into the crater
In order to descend into the crater you need to rent an oxygen mask. They are available all the way down to the volcano for $50,000 rupees ($USD 4).
Once at the top, following our guide we start to descend the 300m to reach the crater of the volcano. The path is very narrow, only one person passes at a time, so all the tourists line up behind our guides, illuminating the path with the torch and paying close attention as it is very easy to slip. Also, every now and then you have to run to the side to make way for the miners.
As you get closer to the crater you start to feel the sulphur and you need to put on your mask. It was completely crazy to be in the crater of a volcano, to be down there and see how the sulphur comes out in liquid form at very high temperatures and how the volcano is releasing the gases.
Every now and then the wind blows a sulphur fume at you and it is almost impossible to breathe. Our guide, who used to be a miner, made us get close enough to where the sulphur comes out to show us up close how the miners were cutting the rock to get the ore out. Our eyes were burning and watering from the fumes, and it was almost impossible to breathe being so close. To think that the miners don't wear masks, just a handkerchief to cover their mouths. Inhuman work.
Not only do they have that contact with the volcanic gases, but after extracting the sulphur, they put it in poor baskets and carry it up the crater of the volcano on their backs. They have to make the 300m uphill with more than 70 kg of sulphur on their shoulders and then the 3 km to the bottom of the mountain to weigh it. They can only make two trips a day and the amount they are paid per kg of sulphur is tiny.
The blue fires
It is an almost unique phenomenon in the world that can be seen at night. Blue fires occur when the sulphuric gas that emerges from the cracks of the crater under pressure and at 600 degrees, in contact with the air, ignites. An incredible phenomenon to see.
The most acidic lake in the world
After appreciating the blue fires we started our way up, but we got stuck half way up. Our guide made us sit and wait for a while as the sun rose. As the sun was shining all around us we could see a huge turquoise lake stretching out in front of us.
It is the largest lake in Java and the most acidic in the world, due to its high concentration of sulphuric acid and hydrochloric acid, and its temperature is 40ºC.
What we told you about the Kawah Ijen volcano is based on our experience. We have been reading a lot of others and we were surprised how many people had bad experiences. This can be due to several factors: weather conditions (if it is too windy, the volcano gases will come up to you), volcanic activity (if there is a lot of activity you probably won't be able to go down into the crater and see the blue fires), the season you go (weather conditions are better in the dry season).
Therefore we advise you to read more experiences, not only ours, before planning your visit to Ijen. Also find out the days before how the volcanic activity is and if it will be possible to go down into the crater.
For us it was an amazing experience and we wish that everyone who visits Java has the opportunity to go to Ijen and have an experience like ours.
- Take warm clothes, as it is usually quite cold in the early morning, around 9 degrees Celsius. It is not necessary to wear trekking boots, with a pair of trainers you will be perfect. Tights are the most comfortable for this type of excursion and apart from being warm, they take up very little space in your suitcase. Try to wear clothes that you don't think you'll wear again on the trip as they have a sulphurous smell, impossible to remove without multiple washes!
- For the Ijen it is 100% recommended to do it with a guide.
- If you don't have much time, hire an excursion, if you do it on your own it will probably take you longer.
- There are usually 2 types of tours to do both volcanoes, one for 2 days and 1 night and the other for 3 days and 2 nights. The difference between the two tours is that on the 3-day tour you sleep one night near Mount Bromo and the next day you get up very early to see the sunrise. The two-day tour picks you up at the train station at midnight and takes you directly to Bromo. At first we wanted to do the 3D and 2N but since it was more expensive we decided to do the 2D 1N and we think it was the best decision, more days were not necessary.