When most people think of Indonesia, their minds go straight to Bali. The beaches and the laid back vibe are not to be missed. But before you book your trip and plan to spend your next vacation only at the beach, don’t forget about Indonesia’s main island, Java where you can explore and rediscover your adventurous side.
Ijen Crater Lake after sunrise
Ijen Crater Lake, which is on the east side of the island, (only 1 hour away from the ferry to Bali) should be at the top of your Indonesia checklist. Indonesia, with over 17,000 islands, has plenty of volcanoes to trek. What sets Ijen Crater apart from the rest is the spectacular turquoise lake resting at the bottom and the 20-foot bright blue flames shooting out the cracks of the volcano walls deep inside the crater.
The dazzling blue fire is not lava, but rather the sulfuric gases and minerals burning near the surface at an extremely hot temperature. It can only be seen in the dark. Once the sun comes up, the blue flames disappear.
Guides will take you off the beaten path
While there is something to be said for exploring on your own, having a guide made the trip even more amazing. Our guide was a former sulfur miner and used to work in the volcano. He had some great first-hand knowledge and knew where the best spots were to wait for the sunrise and avoid the crowds.
You can find a number of guides waiting near the entrance of the trail that will be happy to offer their services. The gates typically open at 2:00 AM, but depending on gas levels, this time may be pushed back. Play it safe and get there around 1:30.
There is enough volcano to share
This is a warning: Ijen Crater is not some hidden gem that is waiting to be discovered. Plenty of Indonesians already know about it and and there will most likely be a crowd waiting to get in. Luckily the site has not been too over commercialized with its increased popularity, at least yet.
Some people even camp out next to the entrance to be the first in line. But guides, especially with private tours, have priority and are let in ahead of the usually hundred or more people waiting. I recommend a guided tour if you want to get in early and avoid the rush. At the top, our guide knew of some great spots to break away and watch the sunrise in total isolation. Explore the ridge and find a nice quiet place to enjoy the unforgettable view.
It’s just 3 kilometers to the top, but you will feel the burn
The hike up is not a walk in the park by any means. Even if you are not in the best physical shape, you will make it. Take your time if you have to. There are plenty of places to stop and rest. The walk up will take anywhere from one hour to 90 minutes. Bring a flashlight or a headlamp because it is completely dark. The trail can also be steep and rocky.
Try your best to get in early and make the journey up as quickly as possible. You will never forget how it feels being completely alone inside the crater next to the 20-foot giant blue flames before the rest of the trekkers make it down.
By the time you get to the top, the sulfur fumes will start to become unbearable. The guides will have gas masks for you to wear. Looking a little like Darth Vadar from Star Wars, you can begin your descent towards the lake and the blue flames shooting from the cracks at the bottom.
As you walk down, be extra cautious of loose rock that will cause you to slip. The walk down is another test of your leg muscles. Try not to think about the fact that you have to walk back up to catch the sunrise. Also be aware of sulfur miners making their way back up and make plenty of room for them to get by. They usually carry about 100 kg of sulfur in baskets on their backs and make the trip up and down the volcano twice a day. The place smells and so will your clothe afterwards. Tip: wash your clothes as soon as you can or else they will cause everything else you own to smell like rotten eggs.
How to get there
To get to Ijen Crater, you can enter from the west via Bondowoso or from the east via Banyuwangi if you are coming over from Bali. You can hire a driver from either of these locations and a round-trip ride will cost about 350,000 to 500,000 IDR ($26-38 USD). Don’t be afraid to bargain hard if you have to. Arrange for your travels the night before. The entrance fee at the park is 100,000 IDR ($7 USD) Another option, if you plan to see more of Java, is to join one of the many all-inclusive guided excursions. Guided, multi-day tours can run upwards of 4,500,000 IDR ($350 USD).
Before booking your trip to Indonesia, take a look at what Java has to offer. The beaches of Bali are incredible, but Ijen Crater Volcano is a unique experience you won’t forget.
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