A road trip is the best way of taking in two of the most scenic volcanic landscapes of East Java: Kawah Ijen, with its sulphurous turquoise crater lake, and the majestic Bromo-Tengger-Semeru national park. This 4-day sample itinerary starts from Banyuwangi and ends at Surabaya, but you can also do this trip the other way around.
Day 1: to Ijen
Fly to Banyuwangi and drive straight to Licin. Organise a driver who will stay with you for the whole duration of the trip in advance, we were very pleased with Java Transport (firstname.lastname@example.org).
We stayed at Mi Casa Guesthouse, in a lovely wooden bungalow in the lush jungle-like backyard. Extremely good value for money, the bungalows are spacious and private, with a pleasant veranda and outdoor bathroom. They also serve a good dinner. Prepare to go to bed very early, because you will be getting up at midnight to climb Ijen volcano.
Day 2: Kawah Ijen’s blue flames and sulphur miners
Yes, it really is worth getting there as early as possible, especially if you are there during a holiday period. The entrance post opens at 2 a.m. and you want to be first in line to be able to get an undisturbed view of the rare “blue flames” after the pretty intense climb up to the rim and down into the crater of the volcano. Rent masks at one of the coffee shops at the park entrance, and bring a good flashlight.
The first part of the hike (about 1 hour) is strenuous, but the path is easy enough. The descent into the crater to see the blue flames from up close is trickier. It is absolutely doable to walk down without a guide, but do pay attention not to slip! We were lucky enough to be the very first to arrive and climbed down all alone. The only other people already there when we started to descend were some sulphur miners who, walking past us with remarkable ease in spite of their heavy loads, showed us we were on the right path…
The sulphur miners working here have one of the most physically demanding jobs in the world. Strangely enough it seems they don’t have health problems related to the noxious sulphur fumes. Nevertheless, their working conditions are shocking. Read more about Ijen’s sulphur miners here.
The most beautiful part of the experience was to see the sun rise over the lake and the slow changing of colors and emergence of detail… and for this you could in theory arrive an hour or two later. Being the very first to arrive up at the top and climbing down the steep and rocky path to the bottom of the crater was an adventurous experience though!
After this, you deserve a rest, so I recommend spending a second night at the delightful Mi Casa Guesthouse, even though that means backtracking a little on your way to Bromo.
Day 3: Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park
Drive to Bromo. It’s a long trip, but a nice way to see some of the countryside. Start early so you arrive in time for an afternoon walk along the Tengger crater rim and/or amongst the very steep fields of cabbages, potatoes and onions. If it doesn’t cloud over you might catch a sunset view of the volcanoes from Cemoro Lawang.
We stayed at Jiwa Jawa in Wonotoro, a comfortable and modern lodge-type hotel, but without soul. It does have a good restaurant, with a pleasant elevated terrace and views over the vegetable fields. It might be more convenient to stay in Cemoro Lawang itself, for example at Lava View Lodge, overlooking the immense Tengger crater and the volcanoes inside the caldera. The hotels in the village are average at best, but you couldn’t be better placed for hikes around the area. Do realise you need to pay the admission to the national park to access Comoro Lawang.
Your hotel will be able to help you find a driver and 4×4 to take you into the national park the day after. If you are staying in Cemoro Lawang you can also walk the 3 km to the slopes of Bromo. In any case, prepare to get up very early once again!
Day 4: Bromo up close
Another volcano at sunrise. We were here in the rainy season, and when it looks like the morning is going to be cloudy, DO NOT drive up to the view point on Gunung Penanjakan. In my opinion it’s in any case better to go straight to the base of Bromo and start your walk up to the crater rim at first light when nobody is there yet (about 30 minutes, definitely less challenging than Ijen). If you already got a good view of the landscape the day before, it is not worth going up to where there are literally hundreds of cars and people packed on top of each other waiting for sunrise since 1 a.m.
253 steps lead up to the lip of the Bromo crater, from where you can peek inside the steaming, sulphurous guts of the volcano. The view from here is literally breathtaking (the fumes can get overwhelming sometimes, but no need for a mask here), but absolutely magnificent.
After this prepare to leave. Surabaya airport is a 4 hour drive, perfect to catch up on some sleep after all those early wake-up calls. This 4 day road trip is part of my 2 week itinerary through Indonesia.