I had never heard of Ijen Crater until August of last year. My friend had suggested I go and when I looked it up on Google, I knew I had to go. I mentioned it to a few friends and it was the standard, “Oh, yes! We must go!” and then never to be talked again. Well, I guess I was proven wrong when Li Ling asked a few weeks ago if I wanted to go. At first, I was a bit hesitant because there was so much cursed going on in my life and then some, but then I knew I couldn’t miss out on this amazing experience.
Where and what is Ijen Crater you ask?
Ijen Crater is a volcano in East Java, Indonesia which is one of the many volcanoes in the Banyunwangi Regency – Mount Merapi is the highest volcano in this complex of volcanoes and erupted last week! What sets Ijen apart from the other volcanoes is that it has a one kilometer wide turquoise colored acidic lake and there is an operating sulphur mine by it. You can also see blue flames spitting up from the cracks which is essentially ignited sulphuric gas. Unfortunately I only saw a very brief glimpse of these famed blue flames. Sigh. Maybe I need to go again?
Looking at the itinerary, it looked pretty daunting. A lot of time in a car and super early morning wake up calls. But hey, it’s not every weekend we do something like this, so I was super excited about it! Li Ling was awesome and arranged everything with Bromo Java Travel. They offer a variety of tour packages with various other options, but our time was limited and so we settled for the 3 Days, 2 Nights Tour of Mount Bromo and Ijen Crater tour. This package included pick up from the airport in Surabaya and drop off. Our awesome driver, Sam, was with us the whole weekend and drove us down to our hotel for the first night. Mind you, it was about a 6 hour drive from the airport to Ijen View Hotel. The hotels we would stay in was included in the package, but you do have a choice of a couple places to choose from depending on your budget (in Bromo we stayed at the Bromo Permai Hotel). Our package came out to IDR3.7m (~USD263) per person. Had we had a 3rd person, it would have been cheaper.
Our flight left Singapore at 7:50am (6:50am Surabaya time) and we arrived in Surabaya around 9am local time, we pretty much crashed on our way to the hotel, except for our various stops along the way, and most importantly, lunch!We arrived at the hotel around 4pm. We checked in and then went to check the hotel out a bit and then walking out of the resort to see what was around. They had a beautiful pool, but sadly we did not bring our swimmers. Aside from that, not much was happening so we made a pit stop at the supermarket to pick up some snacks. I tried this Cornetto with pop rocks on it. Wasn’t expecting that, but it was good!As there wasn’t much to do, we chilled in the room and basically I passed out cold at around 6pm-ish. I woke up at midnight and got ready for the night/morning ahead as we had a 1am pick up. Argh. I can’t believe I was taking a shower at midnight and getting ready to trek a volcano instead of heading to bed. 😉
We met Sam in the lobby and was told that the drive to Ijen Crater was around 1.5 to 2 hours. I definitely didn’t think it was that far away! Well, needless to say, we both just passed out in the back and let Sam navigate the dark, windy roads to Ijen. And then we were there. It was 2:30am-ish and met our guide, Nuri. We made a quick stop to the loos and then at 3am, the gates opened and we were off with the crowd.
The trek started off benignly. A slow steady incline which was slow going because of all the people. It was easy enough at that point until we began hitting the hills. Oh lordy! These hills were steep. And they kept going. FML. I was already sore from having worked out the night before, but these hills were killer because it was so steep. You also start seeing the locals who yell out, “taxi?” It was very tempting to take a taxi, which is essentially a wheelbarrow type rickshaw and 3 guys would pull you up. I am seriously in awe of their strength because those hills were no joke – and you do see a few people opt for the taxi.
It’s a 2 hour hike to the top of the crater, but it probably took us 2.5 hours or so to get up there. And that was my fault for holding us back because I struggled with my breathing after all my issues the previous month and my legs were tired from leg day. HA I know, excuses, excuses, but it is what it is – I made it to the top in the end, so that’s what counts, right?!? Our guide, Nuri, was awesome! He was very patient with me and stayed with me as Li Ling basically ran up the mountain. HA Although he kept saying it was only another 15 minutes and then after those 15 minutes, he’d then say it’s another 15. Nuri, you sly dog! 😉
When we reached to the almost top – I say almost top because there is a break in the path to where you head to the bottom of the lake and where the sulphur mines are. Now, at this point, the miners are getting ready to descend into the mine. This is a job not for the faint hearted. It’s excruciating back breaking labor for minimal wages in harsh conditions. They will make two trips with 70-90kgs of sulphur in their baskets and dropped off at the sugar factory. They’ll make $10-15 a day. Read more about these miners here. So when you see one with the sulphur in their baskets, get out of their way!!!
So I don’t have pictures of the actual mine because you’re technically not meant to go down there. It’s an even more treacherous descent/ascent down there and the sulphur fumes are overpowering. Mind you, the tourists who do decide to go down there are wearing gas masks and these miners have nothing but a scarf over their mouths. Li Ling said that the tourists who did go down were coughing like crazy when they came back up and their eyes were tearing up. Think about that for a second and thank your lucky stars we have easy jobs.
Now, we went up to the top to catch the sunrise. We made it! Ijen at its highest is 2799m (9,183ft) above sea level and you are rewarded with the most amazing views! I have never seen anything like it, it is simply stunning. These were taken just as the sun was beginning to rise. Sorry for the grainy photos – I was using my iPhone 6 and zoomed in. I did take pictures with my actual camera, but I only had my pancake lens on. We hung out at the top, marveling at this natural beauty. I have struggled this year with one thing after another, but you know what? I am still so incredibly lucky to have the life that I do; to be able to experience the beauty of this planet we all live in – not only from a financial standpoint, but also from a physical one.
The sun was starting to rise faster, painting the sky beautiful pastel hues of yellows, oranges, pinks, blues and purples. And that lake! Guys, this still gives me goose bumps. And you can see the yellow smoke from the mine as well. Up here, you really can’t smell the sulphur smell.
Isn’t it absolutely stunning? For the most part, there weren’t that many tourists. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty but you had enough room up top that you’re not all on top of each other – unlike Mount Bromo.
I think we spent a good hour up there just taking it all in. I honestly didn’t want to leave. But I was starving. HA. We basically hadn’t eaten anything since 4pm the previous day, though we had a slice of bread with a fried egg before heading up – definitely not enough fuel for this hike! So we started off on our descent. And guys, just because we’re heading down now, it should be easier, right? HA. Well, those steep hills make for steep descents. I wasn’t wearing hiking boots which was my mistake. I honestly should have just sat on my ass and slid down the mountain because my Nike Metcons (bad choice of footwear on the way down!!) had no grip and I slid every 10 feet or so. Others around us were also struggling and every few seconds you can hear someone else sliding. Nuri, my awesome guide, basically held on to me so I wouldn’t slip but even then I managed to take him down at one point. And not only that, my thighs were on fire!!
As we hiked up during the night time, the hike down gave us some breathtaking views of the area. The clouds; the lush green vegetation as the land around it is so fertile and the soil is rich in minerals from the volcano.
Things to know before you go:
Wear layers! It is chilly up there, but it gets quite sweaty on the way up! I had an extra jacket but I ended up not needing it. I was basically wearing my snowboarding pants and a pair of thermals. I had my snowboarding insulated hoodie with a Uniqlo Heattech shirt and I was fine.
Bring a head torch! You’ll be hiking up during the night time and it is dark.
Before I went, I read you can just use running shoes instead of hiking boots. Well, I definitely wish I had had shoes with better grip. The path can be dry and gravelly, making it easy to slip/slide.
Bring some money to buy the sulphur souvenirs. I know, it’s tourist tat and I have no idea what I’m going to do with mine, but if you think of how hard these miners work, buy one just because. Also, if you go with a guide, you’ll want to tip him! I tipped Nuri IDR100k because he literally held my hand on the way down; Li Ling tipped him IDR50k for reference.
Toilet paper. There are a couple of places on the way up/down where you can use the toilet. Luckily, my bladder held but I did go before we started the journey and let’s just say the bathrooms are rather iffy. And they are squatters and there’s no paper.
Snacks. Li Ling and I were starving and we definitely wish we had something to much on at certain points. But don’t forget to keep your rubbish and to bin them were appropriate.
Lastly, always buy travel insurance. I either use World Nomads/AMEX or my bank depending on how last minute I’ve left it at.
So that’s all I have for now on Ijen Crater, or as its known in Indonesia, Kawah Ijen. I definitely count this experience as a must-do and one that is pure magic!