Dec 26 2011

Kawah Ijen: An Indonesian highlight

Published by at 9:50 am under Java


Climbing volcanoes. It’s an activity that repeats itself regularly on a journey through the Indonesian archipelago. There’s something majestic about those towering masses of rock and ash that calls us to conquer them as if to show them who’s boss. And usually we return with stories of magnificent views and how it felt like being on the roof of the earth. But not all volcanoes are equal.

East Java and the Bali Strait

East Java and the Bali Strait.

Lying deep in East Java is Kawah Ijen. It’s not a classic conical-shaped volcano like you so often see in Indonesia. In fact, it doesn’t even really have a peak and thus is simply labelled a crater (kawah). So if there’s no peak, are there views? Certainly there are. On the trek to the crater, stunning views of the surrounding landscape, including across the Bali strait to West Bali, unfold as you rise higher. There are also incredible views into the crater itself, but it’s not these views that are the lasting impression for most visitors to Kawah Ijen. Instead, people return home with memories of the sulphur miners carting unbelievable amounts of raw material from the bowels of the earth.

Mining sulphur deep in the Ijen Crater

Mining sulphur deep in the Ijen crater.

About 300 metres below the crater rim a series of pipes funnels sulphur gas so that cold water can be used to cool and solidify it. From here, men load up bamboo baskets with their valuable haul and begin the arduous journey up the wall of the crater to the rim, from where a further three-kilometre hike is required to reach the drop-off point, where trucks wait to cart the cargo to Surabaya for export.

Each of the 400 men working on Kawah Ijen earns 625 rupiah (roughly six cents) per kilogram of sulphur delivered to the truck. With the distance between crater and truck being so great, men are encouraged to carry as much as they physically can on their shoulders. They usually haul 65 to 75kg at a time, but sometimes carry as much as 115kg. Depending on the geological activity and resultant sulphur output, most men will attempt two trips per day and earn about double the daily legal minimum Indonesian salary and about four times as much as a typical maid. It really is lucrative work.

Backbreaking work in a hostile environment

Backbreaking work in a hostile environment.

But the conditions are hellish. Some men report that once they commence work they find it very difficult to stop, as they are prone to sickness when inactive. Most men rarely take a break and when they do, it’s a slow process to build up enough strength again to carry the incredible weights they are capable of at their peak.

Even though Kawah Ijen and the men of this volcano are incredible sights to witness, far fewer tourists come here compared to the masses in Yogyakarta and Gunung Bromo. And even then, most people arrive on organised tours originating in Yogyakarta and including sunrise tours of Gunung Bromo and onward travel to Bali. Making this journey independently can be more expensive than a package tour, but has the added benefit of flexibility.

For independent travellers, the best way to get to Kawah Ijen is to hire a return ojek from Banyuwangi for about 150,000 rupiah, a jeep for 400,000 rupiah or self-drive motorbike for about 60,000 rupiah. The route from Bondowoso is an option, but also requires the use of ojeks and is a major detour from the main highway through Java, adding extra time to your trans-Java journey.

Surface of the moon or the road from Banyuwangi to Kawah Ijen

Surface of the moon, or the road from Banyuwangi to Kawah Ijen.

For accommodation in Banyuwangi,  Hotel Baru is popular among travellers, with rooms priced at 40,000 rupiah, or 90,000 for air-con. For Bondowoso our pick of the cheapies is Hotel Slamet, with standards going for 55,000 rupiah and superiors 67,000.

To get from Bali to Java, see here.

Hotel Baru
Jl. MT Haryono 82-84, Banyuwangi
T: (0333) 421 369

Hotel Slamet

Jalan PB. Surdirman 45, Bondowoso
T: (0332) 421 516

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10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Kawah Ijen: An Indonesian highlight”

  1. nathasjaon 02 Sep 2012 at 11:47 am

    Hello,

    Thank you for your information. It helps a lot with planning my vacation.
    But i have a few questions…
    Me and my boyfriend are going backpacking through java. We are going from Malang to mount bromo (the back door) and want to go from mount bromo to kawah ijen.
    Is it easy to go from cemoro lawang to the train station in probolinggo?
    We are taking the train from there to Jember and take the bus to Bondowoso.
    But than….
    We want to go to kawah ijen, and go on to banyuwangi (ferry to bali)
    Is it possible to go with an ojek while you have your backpack on??
    and is it easy to hire an ojek on top of kawah ijen to banyuwangi??

    Kind regards,
    Nathasja

  2. Adam Poskitton 02 Sep 2012 at 1:10 pm

    OK. I can see why you would want to go from Probolinggo to Jember by train and the Jember to Bondowoso by bus, but my advice would be to just take a bus direct from Probolinggo to Bondowoso. This is how you do it from Bromo:

    1) Catch a public bus from Cemoro Lawang to the Probolinggo bus terminal for 25,000 rupiah. It would be best to catch an early bus. There may be tour guides asking you to join their bus for a higher fee, but it isn’t worth it in my opinion if you’re an experienced traveller and are happy to rough it on public transport.
    2) Catch a bus from Probolinggo bus terminal to Bondowoso. There are direct buses, so make sure you get one of those otherwise someone might try to put you onto a bus bound for Bali and then throw you off the bus at a random intersection. Don’t go to Jember.
    3) Once in Bondowoso there is plenty of accommodation. My advice is to stay there overnight unless you really want to be at Ijen for sunrise. But sunrise on Ijen really isn’t necessary.
    4) From Bondowoso it is a bit of a hassle to get to Ijen by public transport and you will definitely have to catch an ojek at some point along the way. My advice is to get an ojek from Bondowoso to Kawah Ijen and then have the ojek driver wait and take you all the way to Banyuwangi. This will be quite expensive because of the terrible condition of the road, but you should be able to do it for about 200,000 rupiah per person (cheaper if you bargain hard). To do it cheaper, catch a bus to Sempol (25,000) and then an ojek to Ijen (30,000) and then an ojek from Ijen to Banyuwangi (100,000 or more if you’re desperate). If you want to see sunrise at Ijen, just catch a bus to Sempol from Bondowoso and then an ojek to Ijen where there is simple accommodation in huts. There are always ojeks at Ijen (sometimes just sulphur miners going home) so don’t worry about that.

    Whatever the case, the trip from Bondowoso-Ijen-Banyuwangi is definitely a good option if you’re happy with ojeks. Ojeks will generally be happy to carry your bag on the bike between their legs.

    It’s great to hear people wanting to take this route. It’s rarely done because most people are on tours and most people don’t know how to do it. But it really is an experience. Make sure you check out the other posts on this blog for more info on the back ways to Ijen and Bromo.

  3. nathasjaon 07 Sep 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Thank you for your information.
    Is it maybe faster to go from probolinggo with the train to banyuwangi?
    we can take the next morning an ojek to the ijen and back, so we can go
    without our backpack. Is it easy to find some one who can bring us up there?

    Another question:
    We are taking a jeep from malang( Tampung) to mount bromo, can the driver bring us al up to our accomodation?
    is there a fee we have to pay on our way to cemoro lawang or only when we go up to mount bromo?
    and do you advice to reserve an accomodation or will there be enough
    rooms free in august.

    Kind regards,

    Nathasja

  4. Adam Poskitton 08 Sep 2012 at 1:01 am

    I can’t remember if it’s faster by bus or train, but the trains run less frequently than the buses. So you might have to wait a couple of hours for a train but the buses depart all the time. It’s likely that the bus will drop you off in the outskirts of town and you will have to catch an Angkot into town. It’s a similar story with the train as the station is not in the centre of town.

    The jeep driver will probably just drop you off with other passengers (if there are any) in the middle of Cemoro Lawang. Cemoro Lawang is tiny and all hotels in town are within 5 minutes walk of each other. This won’t be a problem.

    A fee is payable when entering the Bromo area, but I doubt they will ask you for a fee of you’re coming from the other way. Just pay the fee if you head back into the Bromo area later.

    August is the high season and I can imagine it will be busy in Cemoro Lawang. If you can book your accommodation the day before, that will help to secure the hotel you want. If you don’t book in advance, it’s not like you will have to sleep on the street. It may just mean you will have to grab a room that you didn’t really want.

  5. kenton 09 May 2013 at 4:00 am

    bisa tanya ada trip dari bromo ke ijen buat 2 org . lepas ijen pulang ke surabaya. rapa harga?

  6. Matton 16 Jul 2013 at 9:55 am

    Hi Adam,

    thx for the information above. Lots of good info and Kawah Ijen sounds indeed very interesting. Is there an alternative to ojeks for the trip from Banyuwangi to Kawah Ijen and then onwards towards Bondowoso or Probolinggo to reach Bromo? We are three people so that a car may be better. What would be costs in early August? Also is it worth to reach the crater @ night to see the sulphur flames?

    cheers
    Matt

  7. Adam Poskitton 16 Jul 2013 at 10:15 am

    Matt – Yeah, you can get a jeep for Rp. 500,000 from Banyuwangi to Ijen which drops you back in Banyuwangi, but I’m sure they would take you onto Bromo if you asked and paid them extra. If you don’t want to use motorbikes, just get the jeep to take your from Banyuwangi to Ijen and then ask the driver to arrange onward transport from Ijen to Bromo – there are plenty of agents that would be willing to help out in this regard. It’s also possible to get a tour agent to take you the long way around to Ijen from Banyuwangi, but in my view it’s not worth the extra time required.

    I haven’t seen the blue sulphur flames, but was told that it doesn’t happen every night. I’m sure it would be worth seeing if you could ask someone whether it’s happening at that particular time or not.

  8. Claudiaon 18 Jul 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Hi,
    everybody who is interested in visiting the Kawa Ijen should watch the film Working man´s death before going there….you won´t find it too interesting after having seen this documentary on the extremes to which workers will go to earn a living…really horrible!!!

  9. Charlotteon 19 Jul 2013 at 9:14 am

    The blue flame isn’t really worth it, because you can only see it from very far because you re not allowed to enter the crater and I red on some website that they put it on manually, so that it isn’t spontaneously everyday. If you go before sunset, put on some nice warm clothes and maybe some gloves, because it can be really cold. But it’s really an amazing place to go! One of the most special things I have seen in my life!

  10. Adam Poskitton 19 Jul 2013 at 11:36 am

    Not sure what the situation is at night, but certainly during the day you can enter the crater despite the signs saying it’s forbidden. Simply pay a worker to guide you down to the lake and where the sulphur is coming from. And you definitely do need the guide as it can be dangerous for the inexperienced down at the sulphur outlet.

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