Climbing Kawah Ijen

On the day we headed to Kawah Ijen we'd already experienced the sunrise at Mount Bromo and climbed to the crater rim to finish back at our hotel by 7.30am. We were pretty tired after all that but we were also set on our next destination - Sempol.

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The previous evening had been spent organising our trip to Ijen and after discussing various different options and packages that were available, we realised the cheapest and easiest option was to pay for our taxi to Ijen and then another tour with the homestay we chose. The private car from Bromo to Sempol was 1.1million Ruppiah. There will most likely be much cheaper ways to this but this was the cheapest we found that wasn't also a minibus. It works out to about £16 per person. We organised this with Cafe Lava Hostel.

It’s a 7 hour drive from Bromo to Ijen and after the 3am start and 7.30am finish it's safe to say we were already knackered, but at least you can sleep in the car if you want. There are stops along the way and as long as you communicate with your driver he’s happy to stop when you like.

We arrived in our hostel at around 5pm and got some food. We chose a  place called Arabica Homestay which is North of Mount Ijen in Sempol. It’s available to be booked through Agoda or AirBnb. 

Bedtime was at 8pm, enough for 3hours of sleep before we woke up to go and see the famous “blue fire” at the top of mount Ijen.

Our homestay was about 30-45 min drive from the mountain so we organised a driver to take us to the volcano car park then wait for us to climb and come down and then drive us to Banyuwangi. Apparently most of the other tours start at 1am but we asked to leave a bit earlier as we definitely didn’t want to miss the fire or the sunrise and we didn’t want to end up behind hordes of tourists.

We’d already bought our gas masks from an ACE Hardware store in a mall in Surabaya, but at Arabica they provide masks as part of the trip - although I’d still buy you’re own as I doubt they change the filters very often. Ours cost 41,000 for the mask with a double filter and 11,000 for each filter. Don’t forget to buy the filters - we did and had to go back!

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Once again, to climb up Ijen you don’t need a guide. There’s pretty much one road up. When we arrived we had to buy an entrance ticket which was 100,000 Ruppiah each.

It’s very dark so make sure you have a head torch. The climb is much steeper than Mount Bromo, it’s not an easy walk. We met and passed many miners climbing up with their trolleys pulled behind them. They looked exhausted. We spoke to a few of them and they explained that they have to make the trip 3 times a day sometimes bringing down 90kg of sulphur in each trip. None of them were wearing masks. The miners are really friendly and sell some of the sulphur which they fashion into dinosaurs, flowers, rabbits and more. We bought 3 different ones for 50,000 - probably very overpriced I’m sure, but to be honest I was glad to be giving something after I saw their awful working conditions.

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It took us about 40 minutes to reach the first coffee stop - a little shop that wasn’t open at the time. After a short break we continued up until we reached the point where we would descend into the crater. This bit probably took another 40 minutes or so. 

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The path into the crater is very dangerous. There are sheer drops at times, loose stone underfoot and very narrow walkways. And yet the miners manage to negotiate these paths with 90kg on their backs!

When we reached the crater we saw the much anticipated blue fire! It was such a sight!  The blue fames are caused by the combustion of the sulphur when it comes into contact with the oxygen through the cracks. I hadn’t known what to expect but it was beautiful. It was around 3/3.30am by the time we reached the blue flames. We seemed to be the first ones there as there were no other tourists around which was lovely.We watched the miners hard at work and the blue flames some more. You can also see the edge of the sulphur lake at the very bottom.

After about a half hour the first of the tourists started to trickle in and then pour. You could see the lights coming down the side of the mountain. I was so glad we’d left early enough to get there before.Making our way back up was even harder as you had to wait for groups of people to come down before you could go through some of the narrow bits. A lot of people rudely push past you too thinking they always have the right of way, but not everyone was like that. 

Once we’d climbed back up we followed another path to the sunrise point. There are many areas to catch the sunrise but we carried on until we found a small concrete building with a place to sit and with a fantastic view. The path to the sunrise point is pretty flat which made a nice change. 

Watching the sunrise was so nice after our long walk. This is the point, if any, where you will get cold because you're sitting for a long time so make sure to bring something to sit on or something to keep you warm.

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Although the sunrise was beautiful and you could see Bali from where we were, my favourite part was the view over the sulphur lake once the sun had come up. 

The stunning acidic waters under the sulphur clouds from the crater are something of real awe and beauty. I couldn’t stop taking photos and looking over this amazing view.

By the time it was about 6am it was time to go. I could honestly have stayed there all day. It took around an hour to get back down. There were quite a few people walking down at the time. There were also many people with trolleys offering a taxi service for those that didn’t want to walk down. 

We arrived back at the taxi around 7am, what a crazy adventure we’d just had! 

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Ijen was so much lovelier than Bromo, but they are completely different. I think if I’d done Ijen first I would have been disappointed so If you only have the time to climb one I would recommend you skip Bromo. 

We were still buzzing from the climb but fatigue was starting to creep in so we went to a little shop and had some coffee, noodle soup and deep fried bananas.

Our driver was still waiting for us so we jumped in the car and drove another 2 hours to Banyuwangi where we could take the ferry over to Bali for the next leg of our trip. 

Top Tips:

  • Take a head torch
  • Dress in layers so you can add/strip off as appropriate
  • Take plenty of water
  • Leave early so that you miss the hordes of tourists that flood in later
  • Get to the sunrise point early to get a great place to watch
  • Don’t walk too fast, you’ll just burn yourself out. Take a nice steady pace and take breaks where you need to
  • Be friendly with the miners at Ijen, say hello if you pass them. Many are happy to talk with you and tell you about what they’re doing
  • Ask your driver in advance about getting to the next part of your travels, whether it be a different volcano, Bali or wherever you’re headed

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