After my epic hike to Mount Bromo, it was time to dive into the blue flames of Kawah Ijen… well, not literally.
The hike gave me an incredibly valuable experience filled with joy, awe, amazement and sadness. Quite an unexpected mix of emotions.
The Ijen Crater (Kawah Ijen)
Normally, to make the connection between Bromo and Kawah Ijen, you should get the train from Probolinggo to Karangasem, which cost 95,000 IDR. However, as I formed a group of 5 on the way (travelling solo doesn’t always mean alone :P), we decided to take advantage of a private car hire offer in Probolinggo, which cost 200,000 IDR each. This was a good price having in mind the driver took us to our hotel in Karangasem, picked us up at 1 AM (yep, this time we start even earlier!), took us to the base of the mountain, waited for us there for several hours, took us back to the hotel to get our luggage and have a meal, and then dropped us off at the Banyuwnagi pier, from where we took the ferry to Bali (turned out we were all doing the same route and the Universe just put us together). This saved us a lot of hassle and bargaining, and I would recommend it if you’re Ok with the crazy Indonesian driving (at first we were scared for our lives, but later on we got amused by the rollercoaster-like ride. Forget about sleeping though).
If you decide to take the train however, you may try to arrange a pick up from your hotel. The place we stayed at was called Kampung Osing Inn (Trip Advisor Review) and offered free pick up from the train station, the possibility to arrange the super early hike’s pick up and a wonderful breakfast for when we came back from the hike. Main reason we chose this place was that it’s only 1 hr drive from the beginning of the hiking trail, offered good prices and was close to Banywangi pier and the connection with Bali. We got a triple room for the total price of 150,000 IDR.
It’s 1 AM. Let’s Go.
The pick up was so early as we still had 1hr drive to the entrance of the National park and the blue flames can only be observed until 5 AM.
Two-three days of travelling, bargaining, hiking for hours and getting just a few hours of sleep however can be challenging and make people cranky. If you have the time, maybe spend an extra night at Cemoro Lewang to give yourself some rest and a good night’s sleep. I’m not an athlete, but I consider myself physically active and I can say that the Kawah Ijen hike is in no way a piece of cake. Still, I managed to do it without rest and with sore knees, but I can see how it might not be the case for everyone, so be very realistic about your fitness and physical preparedness.
The hike starts from the entrance of the National Park where your free guide will be waiting for you. This is where you also have to pay the entry fee of 100,000 IDR, which this time you cannot omit. From what I know, having a guide is not obligatory, but some of the miners working at the sulphur mine at the top of the mountain do it voluntary, hoping for an extra income from tips. Trust me, it’s worth having one. Our guide, Suki, was incredibly kind, funny and singing French songs at 2:30 AM while going up a very steep slope! This most definitely helped raise the spirit of our tired group.
Due to the toxic fumes at the crater it’s necessary to also get a gas mask for 50,000 IDR, which you can rent from the local miners (I don’t imagine a lot of people travelling with gas masks in their backpacks). It may not seem necessary at first, but you’ll be very grateful for having one once you reach the volcano.
It took us about 2hrs of good hiking till we reached the crater with the last 30 min being the most challenging ones. Going down steep massive rock formations at dark, while toxic fumes are burning your eyes, definitely wakes you up. Be careful, listen to your guide and you’ll be fine.
The Wonder of the Blue Flames
Being able to see the Kawah Ijen’s blue flames depends a bit on chance and luck. Or more like the weather conditions. Depending on where the wind blows from you might not be able to see them as everything is covered in fumes. Thankfully, we were extra lucky again. We had a cloudless sky covered in gazillions of stars and the wind blew in a way it gave us an amazing view of the wonder from a smoke-free zone. Thanks to Suki, who literally went into the flames with my phone, we got this awesome video to give you an idea:
After the initial euphoria of the view passed, we had another 30min to sit down, relax and just enjoy the view. A mountain hissing, rumbling, smoking and burning in a beautiful, and yet scary, blue fire. Then the sun came up to reveal the beauty of the blue sulphur lake and the ugliness and sadness of the miners’ reality…
The Sad Truth Behind Kawah Ijen’s Blue Flames
With the break of dawn the blue flames disappeared and we were able to see what’s around us. The sight caught us unprepared and shocked us. We felt so proud of ourselves for being able to complete the hike and go down the big rocks, but then we saw the local miners working in the sulphur mine climbing those rocks while carrying 60kg (over 130 pounds) of sulphur on their backs. Some of them had no proper gas masks, shoes or socks.
When we asked our guide Suki about it, he said he’s also a miner and he’ll start his 12-hour shift once he drops us back at the bottom of the mountain. He said he was lucky because he learnt English from the tourists and is able to be a guide as well. The people there risk their lives every day to break and cary the solid sulphur coming from the mountain (still being used in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries), inhale the toxic fumes and cary it up the mountain for less than 5 USD a day. Five bucks a day! Turns out this is the only source of income for the common people in the region and several generations of whole families work at the mine. They see their families once a week if they’re lucky and struggle for survival every single day.
And there we were, with our expensive cameras and fancy clothes, taking selfies and pictures of them. We were all shattered by the ugliness and unfairness of all this and this time the tears in our eyes were not caused by the fumes. Suki got worried we were not happy with him as a tour guide and tried to cheer us up. On the way up we saw a few miners having a break and trying to sell little sulphur turtles to the tourists. I paid for two and took just one…the man insisted. We wished we had more change to try and help out those less fortunate people, but at this point we had all silently agreed we’ll be very generous with our tip for Suki, who had nothing, but gave us so much this day. The look on his face when we gave him the tip in the end spoke books. Everyone’s eyes wet.
The hike ended in a very unexpected way. We weren’t laughing or even talking on the way back. We were tired and sad, everyone reflecting or everything we witnessed that morning. The experience was heartbreaking, but also very valuable. I wish to believe it changed us for the better and made us appreciate things more.
I know that a lot of people don’t like to read sad travel stories, but this was the reality and I’ve committed to nothing but the truth. If there’s one thing I’d like to ask the people doing the hike is to find generosity in their hearts and remember that what is pocket change for us might mean the world to the people working there.
What to Bring for the Hike
A warm jacket – Just like Bromo, Ijen is very cold as well. In case you’re not prepared, don’t worry. You can rent a jacket from the locals at the entrance of the National park. A few easy to take off layers under the jacket will be good.
Flashlight – remember the hike starts it’s the middle of the night?
Comfy Shoes – hiking shoes would be nice, but not a must. I did the hike in my Champion trainers without a problem, but our travel buddy Vince, who lost his shoes 2 days before, did the hike in socks and flip flops!
Water and snacks – we got a few bits from our hotel the night before. Water is essential.
What it Cost
Most tour agencies ask for at least 1,500,000 IDR (around 112 USD) for a crammed 2 day tour of mount Bromo and Kawah Ijen, but the price I paid for doing it on my own was very far from that. The total amount I had to pay for Bromo was 395,000 IDR (you can check out the details in this post) and this is what Ijen cost me:
200,000 IDR – Transfer from Probolinggo to Karangasem, including all transfers to and from the mountain and to the pier
100,000 IDR – Entry fee to the National Park
50,000 IDR – 1 night in Kampung Osing Inn in Karangasem
50,000 IDR – Gas mask
35,000 IDR – Jacket (optional)
395,000 IDR – All Bromo hike expenses
Total 830,000 IDR or around 62 USD
In the end it turned out that not only it’s possible for a female solo traveller to do it without a tour agency, but I also did for more or less half the price and double or triple the satisfaction 🙂
I really hope this post will be useful, will inspire and encourage other travellers to explore those nature’s wonders on their own.
Feel free to leave any comments about your experiences, or ask any questions.
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