If you visit Java, Indonesia, and want to hike the beautiful volcano Mount Bromo and admire the blue flames of the Ijen Crater without an expensive tour agency, you’ll most probably meet a lot of challenges. Especially if you’re female and solo. The most frequent responses I heard when I asked the locals for information were “It’s not possible”, “It’s too dangerous”, “You can’t do it”. A piece of advice from me – When people tell you what you can or cannot do, show them what you’re made of. It IS possible, it IS challenging and this is how I did it!
Sit back and be prepared for a very detailed survival guide divided in 2 parts 🙂
Part I – Mount Bromo
When I was in Yogyakarta all the travel agencies offered exactly the same package – 1 500 000 IDR (about 112 USD) for a crammed 2-day tour to both volcanoes. Having in mind the standard in the country this is a complete rip off, but most of all, it’s a kill-joy. Every minute of the hour is split, planned and rushed. You have to go with the large groups, eat, look, take pictures and leave when told so. Not my type of adventure really.
To be honest with you, I was very close to giving up and not doing it, because people almost got me convinced how “I can’t”. Thankfully, the adventurer in me prevailed and after a quick research I got myself a ticket to the town from where the fun began:
1. The Hell Town of Probolinggo – Where the Bromo Experience Begins
- The town itself might not be terrible, but my very short experience there was. When the locals see a foreigner getting off the train in Probolinggo they know exactly where you’re going – Bromo. This very second you’ll be harassed and lied to by the transport mafia who’d want to charge you at least 500,000 IDR to get you to the village from where the hike begins – Cemoro Lawang. When I say transport mafia, I mean it. There is nothing official about the “official” transport company – no price list, no information, no time table available. Be prepared to be tossed back and forth to imaginary busses, be told that the last bus for the day had already left, etc, etc. Non of this is true, of course, so keep your calm and do the following:
- Look around to see if there are other tourists around and don’t be shy to make friends. The more you are, the stronger you are. I was lucky enough to meet a cute travelling couple, who also wanted to do the hike without an agency (saludos Hanna and Felipe!).
- Get a local taxi from Probolinggo train station to the bus station. Follow the locals. You might try asking them, but chances are they’ll be scared to tell you (remember the mafia?). The mini bus cost 5,000 IDR or less than 0,5 USD.
- Negotiate your price, but don’t be too cheeky. The taxi driver also knows where you’re going and might want to drop you off at a transport agent before the bus station. The guy offered to take us for 40,000 IDR each, but at this point we were so stressed that we’ll be ripped off again that we insisted on being taken to the bus station. There however, after a lot of negotiating, the price we could get was 100,000 IDR each, which is not ideal, but luckily there we saved another solo traveller and increased our number. I got to share a room with him in Cemoro Lewang, so the total cost evened out in the end (solo traveller’s problems, but you get used to sleeping with strangers when on budget :)). Keep in mind though, that any price around 50,000 IDR is fine as the “official” bus will not leave until full or for 500,000 IRD for the trip. The Bromo mini buses are outside the main bus station.
- Pay the mysterious “village fee”. At the entrance of Cemoro Lawang we were asked to pay 10,000 IDR village fee, otherwise we have to pay 320,000 IRD “National Park Fee”. Preposterous! You DO NOT have to pay the park fee, which is also being charged by the travel agencies. It’s a mountain, a volcano, Mama Nature’s creation, for God’s sake! I don’t think we had to pay the village fee either, but at this point we were tired of arguing and just paid it.
- Get a room in Cafe Lava Hostel in Cemoro Lawang. The place is very basic, but it has a great location close to the beginning of the hiking trail (check out my Trip Advisor Review). Having in mind you have to start the hike at 3 AM (YES! 3 in the morning) to see the sunrise over the volcano, there’s not much time to sleep or be picky. Besides, the travel agent will put you in the same place 🙂 The economy double room there cost 150,000 IRD. Around the hotel there are many little shops from where you can buy food and snacks to last you for the hike.
2. It’s 3 AM! Let’s Start The Bromo Hike!
I know it sounds scary, but the excitement of hiking my first volcano was better than a double coffee shot.
In reality you’re not hiking to the top of the volcano itself, but to one of the hills overlooking the volcano where you can see a spectacular sunrise. To get on the “free” trail and not the one that costs 320,000 IDR take right from the hotel and then sharp left at the first possible intersection. If you’re lucky, the sky will be clear and you’ll be able to see the billions and billions of stars in the night sky over the mountain. The hike was very pleasant and I wouldn’t say it was very challenging for most of the time. The path is pretty straight forward, so as long as you have a flashlight or a headlight, you’ll be fine. Eventually we started seeing other hikers and lazy tourists in Jeeps, so I found it impossible to get lost. Eventually you’ll get to the place where all the people gather to see the sunrise, but don’t stop there. Instead, go for:
- King Kong View – it’s absolutely worth it! Compared to the hundreds of people gathered at the regular sunrise view, King Kong will give you plenty of space and intimacy to enjoy a spectacular sunrise overseeing the volcanos. And all that for additional 30 min hike! Because of the large amount of people we missed the regular path to get there and had a mountain goat experience instead, but we still made it safe and sound.
I swear to you, this was one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve seen in my life! I’d completely forgotten about all the hassle, Probolinggo, the short sleep with a stranger and the super early start. I was there, was brave or crazy enough to do it on my own and all my efforts were rewarded. Peace. Happiness. Joy. Tears. Awe. I was overwhelmed by so many feelings, but the best part was that I had all the time in the world to enjoy every single one of them! Not rushed by travel agents, not pushed by all the tourists down the hill. It was Perfect.
Here’s a short video of that magical morning:
- Getting from King Kong View to Bromo Volcano – after all I was there to get on the top of the volcano, and not just see the sunrise over it. The good news is that there are local guides with motorbikes who can take you down the hill from the other side. I wouldn’t recommend walking the distance unless you’re super duper mega adventurous and Ok with several extra hours of walking down a very steep hill. We negotiated the price for 50,000 IRD per person and I can say this was money well spent. Not only we got at the bottom of the volcano really fast, but we also had a proper off-road experience and a photoshoot 😀
From the base to the top there was a steep path followed by even more steep steps to take you to the crater, which we could already hear rumbling. Don’t worry, none of these steep steps matter once you get up, walk on the rim of the crater, look at the massive clouds of fumes coming out of it and hearing its roaring, hissing and rumbling. It’s alive. And I ate my breakfast sitting right on the edge! Haaa! We spent there and hour, or maybe more, all of us being so thankful for not going with a tour agency. There was no one else around.
A little side note: The laziest of the tourists were riding horses to take them up the hill, which I beg you not to do. The animals were abused and in a very bad condition, which made my heart ache, so please, don’t support that industry.
- Getting Back to Cafe Lava – it is actually very easy from the base of the volcano and doesn’t take more than an hour. Taking our time with everything, we were back at the hostel around 10:30 AM, had enough time to grab some food and get the minibus back to Probolinggo train station. This time it cost only 35,000 as it was full (maybe more than it should have been) and on the way we adopted another solo traveller. It was 5 of us now!
3. What To Bring For the Hike
- A warm jacket – It’s cold! It might be Indonesia, but it’s high up and cold! If you’re not prepared with a jacket though, don’t worry, you can rent one from the hostel for 25,000 IDR. There are also people selling gloves and hats, but I didn’t find that necessary – the hike warms you up 🙂
- Comfy shoes – hiking shoes are not a must and a pair of trainers will suffice. I did the hike in my Champions, but the real hero was a guy from the group who lost his shoes and hiked in flip flops! (fare play to you samurai Vince!)
- Headlight / Flashlight – well, it’s dark at 3 AM, so this doesn’t really need explanation. I used the flashlight from my phone and that was OK.
- Sunscreen – not something you think of in the middle of the night, but you’ll be grateful to have it once the sun comes up!
- Food and drinks – it took us 7 hours to do the whole loop and we really appreciated buying snacks from the town the night before.
- Camera – needless to say I guess, but don’t forget to charge it! :))
4. Price Breakdown
Let’s sum up the expenses so far and compare them to the travel agency price at the end of Part II of the story.
95,000 IDR – Train from Yogyakarta to Probolinggo
5,000 IDR – Taxi from the train station to the bus station in Probolinggo
100,000 IDR – Transfer Probolinggo – Cemoro Lewang
10,000 IDR – Village fee
75,000 IDR – A night in Cafe Lava
50,000 IDR – Motorbike down the hill to Bromo’s base
35,000 IDR – Bus back to Probolinggo
25,000 IDR – Jacket rental (of course this is optional. I just wasn’t prepared with my own)
395,000 IDR Total
I tried to be as specific as possible, but in case you have any questions or would like to share your experience, feel free to leave a comment below.
If you found the information useful, please Like & Share. We all have the right to explore nature’s wonders without travel agents – spread the love 🙂
You can read about the journey to Kawah Ijen in Part II (click here).