The highlight of our Indonesia trip, the Kawah Ijen hike was an extraordinary experience. The Ijen volcano is famous from its Blue Flames lighting up the darkness at the bottom of the volcanic crater, the sulfur gases hovering over the turquoise-blue acid lake and the workers with one of the hardest job in the world. It’s an experience that you will never forget. Check what is the best way to climb Kawah Ijen with a tour or without it.
When we were planning our Indonesia 10 days itinerary I knew that I definitely want to visit a volcano during our trip. I’ve always pictured Indonesia like a land of volcanoes covered in the morning mist. And that’s when I found out that one very interesting volcano, Kawah Ijen, lies very close to Bali, where we were planning to go. It’s a place, that cannot be missed.
Table of content:
- How to organize your own Kawah Ijen tour?
#1 How to get from Bali to Kawah Ijen
#2 How to get to the base of Ijen hike
#3 The hike to the top of the Ijen volcano crater
3.1. The timings of the Ijen hike
#4 Going down the Ijen crater & the Blue Flames
#5 The sunrise in Ijen Crater and the acid lake
#6 Meeting the Ijen volcano sulfur miners
#7 How to get to Bromo from Ijen
- Know before you hike Ijen volcano in East Java
#1 Is Ijen hike safe?
#2 What to take for the Ijen hike?
#3 Ijen photography and how to photograph the Blue Flames?
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The most unique volcano
Mount Ijen is a volcano located in the Banyuwangi Regency on the East Java, Indonesia. It is actually a complex of volcanoes lying inside a 20 km-wide caldera. Ijen volcano with its turquoise colored acid lake belongs to that complex.
The hike to Kawah Ijen is very special in comparison to any other the volcano hikes in Indonesia. There are amazing views, stunning geology, picturesque sunrise, acid lake and the feeling of another world. However, what really makes Ijen volcano so different, is a human factor. The experiences from the bottom of the volcanic crater will make you rethink your own life.
I can assure you that the Kawah Ijen tour would be one of the most beautiful and emotional hikes in Indonesia that you can do.
Check out the Ijen hike on the video with real Blue Fire!
How to organize your own Kawah Ijen tour?
It’s not so difficult to plan your own Ijen hike. You just need a bit of orientation, some preparation and you’re good to go. Below, I share with you the full guide to Ijen hike with all the information that you need to make a successful trip to Kawah Ijen.
The plan goes from Bali to Ijen, but can also be done in reverse. If you have some additional time you can connect it with a Mount Bromo hike and a sunrise trip, which we also did on our own. The full itinerary of our 10 day Indonesia trip can be found here.
The prices are in Indonesian Rupiah and valid as for the end of 2017.
Take a Kawah Ijen Tour
If you’d rather do Ijen hike with a tour company, there are many to choose from. Especially the tours to Ijen Crater from Bali. You can go on a one day trip with a hike or even get a private 2-day tour to Ijen from Denpasar and back. As you can see from the text below, it is worth to still get a guide, even though you might think you don’t need one. The guides are usually the ex-mineworkers and they know a lot about the volcano and the mining job. They will also help you to get the best pictures of the Blue Flames without getting suffocated by the sulfur gases. Our guide was really the best and judging by the Indonesian people who I met on our trip – most of them will be great.
Do a Kawah Ijen hike without the tour
I normally prefer to plan things myself and decide as we go. That’s why we decided to organize the whole structure of the Kawah Ijen tour on our own. In the end, we still did the Ijen hike with the guide, which was a great idea.
Below are the steps that you need to take to travel from Bali to Ijen and then to the bottom of the volcano. I also describe the whole Ijen hike, the experience in the crater and the job of sulfur miners.
#1 How to get from Bali to Ijen?
– Take a bemo from Pemuteran to Gilimanuk
The closest town for climbing Ijen from the direction from Bali is Banyuwangi. To get there, you first need to go to Gilimanuk on the west north end of Bali to take a ferry to East Java.
If you do a round trip around Bali, I recommend stopping by in Pemuteran and its black beaches before heading to East Java. You can stay by the beach in a beautiful bungalow. To get from Pemuteran to Gilimanuk you can take a bus (called bemo) or a taxi.
Taxis are quite expensive and we opted for the bemo. There are many bemos running around, you just need to wait a bit by the road and you will see one. Bemos are the small red buses, usually quite old. They don’t have any specific stops, you need to wait by the road and flag one when you see it. In order to make sure that you get on one, try to not to leave too late – they usually don’t run anymore in the late afternoon. We caught one around 1 pm, but we’ve been told they should run up until 4 pm.
The cost of bemo from Pemuteran to Gilimanuk is 40k IDR per person.
– Take a ferry from Bali to East Java (Gilimanuk – Ketapang)
When you arrive in Gilimanuk you will easily find a ferry terminal which is located close to the bus station. From there you can take a ferry to Ketapang in East Java.
The ferry service is very frequent, it usually goes in 30 min intervals. The distance that it covers is very short, but for some reason, it spends a lot of time on the water. We took around 1-1,5h for the ferry ride.
Cost of a ferry ticket per person: 6,5 k IDR
– Transfer from the ferry terminal to the city center in Banyuwangi
In the East Java, you will arrive at the ferry terminal, which is located 15 km from the city center. You can take the bemo (the cheapest), train (takes 30 min) or taxi, which will pretend to be a bemo to the city center. We decided on the taxi as it was only 50k IDR for both of us and we didn’t want to try to look for real bemos.
Cost: 50k IDR for 2 people = 25k IDR per person
Where to stay in Banyuwangi near the Ijen volcano?
We stayed in Kampung Osing Inn in a double room with breakfast. Nice, clean place, located out of the main street, which feels like you are in the small Indonesian village. People are very friendly and the food in the local eatery very cheap and very good.
Cost of accommodation: 130k IDR for 2 people = 65k IDR per person
#2 How to get to the base of Ijen hike
Initially, I didn’t want any guides or organized trips for climbing the Kawah Ijen. I only wanted to find a driver who could take us to the base of Ijen volcano and leave us alone, waiting for when we return. However, it turned out to be a bit more pricey than I expected.
There are several ways of getting to the base of Ijen volcano:
- Motorbike – you can rent the motorbike and drive it yourself. However, with this option, you really need to know how to drive motorbike at night in the mountainous area. I wouldn’t recommend it.
- Ojek – You can get a ride on a motorbike with someone else. It doesn’t really work if you’re two or more people. You also better check the driving skills of your guide as you will be traveling in the dark on the windy roads.
- Car – you can get a driver or try with Grab (Asian version of Uber). For a car, you can get it for 600k IDR per car both ways. For Uber/Grab you can get it for 400k, but you need a lot of bargaining and explaining.
- Organized trip with a guide – prices vary between the companies.
If you are a bigger group, I would suggest you take a car with a driver and share a cost. Motorbikes might also be an option, but only if you are very experienced and you know the way. It’s dark and the road is not the best, with many jeeps going up the hill, so it might not the best experience for a novice.
Until the last minute, we didn’t know how we’re going to get to the bottom of the Ijen hike. Then, while we were walking around the town, we met the local guy who was organizing the trips to Ijen. He gave us the best price possible, so we went for it. If you don’t want to leave it like us for the last minute, you can book your trip in advance.
Our Kawah Ijen tour was departing at midnight from our hotel in Banyuwangi. It included the transport there and back, the guide (who was a former mine worker), gas mask, visit to the coffee plantations and waterfall.
Cost of Kawah Ijen tour: 175 000 IDK per person.
#3 Ijen volcano hike – get to the top of the crater
The timings of the Ijen hike:
- The drive from Banyuwangi to Mount Ijen base takes around 1h 15min.
- The normal start for the hike is around 2:30 or 3 am, but it depends on what time the gates will open this night, which might vary.
- The hike to the top of the crater takes around 75 minutes and to go down to the Ijen crater and the acid lake takes 30 minutes more.
- The sunrise is around 4 am in October. If you travel in a different month, you can check the exact sunrise time on the internet.
Unfortunately, you can’t really get to the Ijen national park earlier to avoid all the other people, as the park gates open at one time. On the board at the entrance, it said that the gates open at 1 am, but when we were there before 3 am we still needed to wait a bit (?).
You then walk in the darkness, trying to imagine what is around you. The hike is not too difficult, a bit uphill but the ground is even. Halfway, you can make a short stop in a small hut, where you can buy additional water or snacks. And then the hike in the darkness continues.
It really depends on your luck for the weather. If the sky is clear and the moon is out, you might be able to see everything around. When we were doing the Ijen hike, everything was covered in the clouds and at one point it even started to rain slightly. I wasn’t really expecting to see anything once the sun is up. Luckily, this changed.
Cost of the entrance ticket to the Ijen National park: 150 000 IDR for foreigners. If you take the organized tour, it is normally included.
#4 Going down the Ijen crater & the Blue Flames
You must be thinking why have we decided to hike in the darkness and not to wait closer to the sunrise? The whole point of the night hike to the summit is to see the famous Blue Flames of Ijen volcano. The Blue Flames are the volcanic sulfur gases that escape from the mining pipes. The ignited gas then burns with a blue flame of a 600 degrees Celcius in a strong blue colour in the darkness. It’s a truly spectacular sight.
When we got to the top of the crater, it was still pitch black, that I didn’t even see the turn to go down the crater. That was where the presence of the guide was very useful. He was leading us to find the best way on the steep path, between the sharps rocks and navigating us in the darkness. Then, he found us the best spot on the side of the mountain inside the crater and told us to wait for the Blue Flames to appear.
The air was stuffy and it was hard to breathe. From time to time the gentle wind would blow a cloud of the sulfur gases in our direction and we would need to close our eyes and put the gas masks on. I’ve read before that you don’t necessarily need the gas mask there. That’s so wrong. You definitely need it. You just might be lucky that the gases are not going your way on one particular day, but if they are, you won’t be able to breathe without the mask. Luckily, when we were there the air was mainly still, so the sulfur cloud covered us maybe once or twice in the darkness. Later on, when it was already bright, it was easier to move around in order to avoid the cloud traveling in your direction.
The Blue Flames of Ijen were magnificent. We were watching them until the light came back and made them disappear.
#5 The sunrise in Ijen Crater and the acid lake
The disappearance of the Blue Flames didn’t make the Ijen crater less interesting. Quite the opposite.
During the sunrise, the light crawled into the Ijen crater and lit up the surreal landscape. The biggest acidic lake in the world had a strong turquoise colour and was surrounded by the sharp walls of the volcanic crater with the bright yellow sulfur rocks lying around. The part of the crater was mystically hidden in the gases coming out of the sulfur pipes. It felt like on another planet.
#6 Meeting the Ijen volcano miners – the hardest job in the world
The Ijen volcano is not only worth a visit due to its picturesque lake or a nice hike to the crater. The main experience is the opportunity to meet the sulfur mine workers. It gives you the chance to better understand Indonesia as the country and even reflect on your own life and job, that you might be complaining about.
The workers in the sulfur mine have one of the hardest jobs in the world. Every day, they go down and up the crater to collect the pieces of sulfur, that then they sell. They often carry the load of around 90 kg on their backs, walking in rubber shoes or flip-flops in between the sharp rocks. But the biggest risk for the workers’ health are the toxic gases coming out of the volcano. Not many of the miners use any protection. This means that the exposure to the toxic gases severely reduces their life expectancy.
The miners’ pay is considered quite big for the local area, but it translates into around 10-12$ a day with usual 2 trips up and down. The cost of a pizza for the job, that most of us wouldn’t probably survive for one day.
So maybe take the Kawah Ijen tour?
This one time, I was glad for the tourism industry to develop in the area of Ijen volcano. Because we took the tour with the guide, we also could contribute to the local community and understand the hard lives of the miners.
Our guide was a former sulfur miner. He told us the terrifying stories of the mining job. Only thanks to his dedication and hard work, he managed to get out of the mine and became the guide instead. Now, he goes down the crater as a guide, which means that he doesn’t need to do it several times a day and without the heavy load. He is also provided with the gas mask by the tour company and he is much happier.
I asked him how it happened that he became the guide and where he learned English so well. His answer was “I taught myself in the breaks between carrying the sulfur up and down. I wanted to do it in order to be able to get out of here, but still be able to provide the income for my family.”
Some of the miners also sell the sulphuric souvenirs to earn extra cash. Even if you are not going to do anything with them, it’s probably good to buy some, at least to support them a little.
#7 How to travel from Ijen to Bromo volcano
If you come to Ijen volcano from Bali, now you can go another way and also visit Bromo volcano. You can read more about hiking Mount Bromo on your own here.
To get to Bromo, first, you would need to take a train to Probolingo, that leaves from the main station in Banyuwangi. The train ride takes around 2 hours. The morning trains can get fully booked, so it’s better to book in advance. You can easily book your train tickets online. We decided to take our time and rest a bit after the sleepless night, so we took the train in the afternoon.
The next step is to get from Probolinggo to Cemoro Lawang, which is a small town in the mountains, located at the base for Mount Bromo hike. The journey from Probolinggo to Cemoro Lawang takes around 2h along the windy roads. Here you can read more about how to travel from Ijen to Bromo.
The extraordinary experience
The experience of climbing the Mount Ijen was one of the most unique things I’ve ever done. The landscape is beautiful, the whole hike feels very adventurous, but what really leaves the most impact is the connection with the miners.
The trip to the crater is not only an interesting hike to chase the beautiful views of the turquoise water, contrasting with yellow rocks and pink sunrise. It’s much more than that. The opportunity to see the conditions of the job environment that some people need to work in will open your eyes to how privileged some of us are and that we should appreciate what we have.
I never made it to the top of the Ijen crater for the sunrise. For the whole length of our stay in the volcano, I was at the bottom of the Ijen crater, talking to and observing the miners, struck by this different and beautiful, yet dangerous world.
Know before you hike Ijen volcano in East Java
Is Ijen hike safe?
Yes, provided that you follow the common rules for hiking and use the gas protection. Have proper shoes, follow your guide, use gas mask and glasses. However, because of the dangerous conditions at the bottom of the crater, if you have any medical conditions, especially connected to breathing, consult your doctor before going.
What to take for the Ijen hike?
Below are the necessary items that you need to have for your Ijen hike:
- Gas mask – this type of mask is the best. If you don’t need it after the hike, leave it to the miners.
- Goggles/glasses – I just used my normal sunglasses
- Hiking shoes or sneakers
- First aid kit – you never know what might happen (like to me in Svalbard), so better be safe
- Torch – the best is a head torch, so you can keep your hands free
- Old clothes (they will most likely smell like sulfur later on)
- Some warm clothes – jumper, light waterproof jacket (for example packable rain jacket) in case of rain, hat, gloves
How to photograph the Blue Flames?
Photographing the Blue Flames of Ijen is extremely hard and you need to either come very close to them or have good camera and tripod. Going close to the flames is not recommended, but some of the tour guides can do it for you. Our tour guide took our phones and got some good photos and videos.
All the photos, that you can see in this post, I took with my Fuji X-E1 mirrorless camera. I used the lens with the low aperture and long exposure settings I can recommend Samyang 12 mm, F 2.0 lens, which is great for landscapes and taking pictures in the low light. You also need to make sure that the camera is stable when you use longer exposures. That’s why the tripod is needed. I use light and portable Manfrotto tripod.
Would you do the Ijen hike yourself even with the toxic sulfur gases? Have you been there before? What do you think about the miners’ job? Let me know your opinions!
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