Photo: Quite amazing.

Introduction

Our rating:

The incomparable ethereal volcanic landscape of Gunung Bromo ranks among Indonesian’s most acclaimed and recognised natural treasures, and it is also a stop on the well-trodden Jakarta—Yogyakarta—Borobudur—Bromo–Bali overland route.



The active volcano smoulders at the centre of the Tengger Massif, a vast ancient caldera located in the fertile highlands 40 kilometres from East Java’s north coast town of Probolinggo and more or less due east of Malang.

You’re not in Kansas anymore. Photo taken in or around Gunung Bromo, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

You’re not in Kansas anymore. Photo: Sally Arnold

Gunung Bromo is but one peak within the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, but the name is popularly interchangeable. Within the caldera, alongside Gunung Bromo (2,329 metres), the peaks of Gunung Batok (2,470 metres), Gunung Kursi (2,581 metres), Gunung Widodaren (2,650 metres) and Gunung Watangan (2,661 metres) sit surrounded by a sea of black volcanic sand biding their time until their next violent eruption, although of the group, the classic cone-shaped Gunung Batok is officially dormant, but that hasn’t stopped volcanos in Indonesia in the past. Meanwhile Gunung Semeru (3,676 metres), Java’s highest peak can be seen to the south, consistently puffing out clouds of smoke. A visit to this remarkable and dramatic region is an indelible experience.

The majority of travellers arrive before dawn in order to catch the sunrise over this transcendental, otherworldly caldera. The journey commonly arrives via Probolinggo, passing the near vertical farmlands cultivated in the surrounding districts by the Tengger highlanders, a sub-ethnic group of the Javanese people said to be decedents of the former Hindu Majapahit Kingdom, which ruled most of Java and Bali in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Friendly locals, and yes, it gets cold! Photo taken in or around Gunung Bromo, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Friendly locals, and yes, it gets cold! Photo: Sally Arnold

This remote highland community have preserved their Hindu ways as the rest of Java converted to Islam or fled to neighbouring Bali. Within the caldera a large Hindu temple, Pura Luhur Poten, is the focus of a yearly festival, Yadnya Kasada, which sees thousands of worshippers descend on the area to celebrate and throw offerings into Bromo crater.

Besides hiking to the various viewpoints and climbing the stairs to the rim of Gunung Bromo itself, it’s worth taking a trip to the less visited southern side of the caldera covered in vast swathes of savannah. Here a site locally knows as Bukit Teletubbies (Teletubbies Hill) is a popular selfie stop, yes we’re talking about Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po. This area can be reached via a motorbike or jeep as a round trip from Cemoro Lawang or on the way to or from Malang. An ojek around the crater will set you back about 100,000 rupiah.

Stunning scenery. Photo taken in or around Gunung Bromo, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

Stunning scenery. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Around one hour from Gunung Bromo you can also visit Madakaripura Waterfall, reputed as a fountain of youth and famously a bathing and meditation area for Gajah Mada, the powerful leader during the Majapahit Empire. We were unable to investigate at the time of research in January 2018, but were informed it’s easily reached via Sukapura village halfway between Gunung Bromo and Probolinggo. Ojeks from Sukapura are 75,000-100,000 rupiah to the waterfall. Reports are that it requires a further 20-minute trek and river crossings, but is worth the effort. Note thought it’s often closed to visitors in wet season. For folks who enjoy a bit of culture with your nature, Jiwa Jawa host an annual international Jazz festival in their outdoor amphitheatre.

Many visitors arrive on package tours, most often from Yogyakarta, but Gunung Bromo is easily visited independently for those with a bit of time on their hands. The village of Cemoro Lawang clings to the rim of the caldera and offers a range of somewhat disappointing and overpriced accommodation although there are other options to stay in villages along the road on the way up. From the village it is possible to walk to many of the best vantage points around the caldera, alternatively you can catch a ride in one of the hundreds of jeeps that zoom around the area.

Simple fare. Photo taken in or around Gunung Bromo, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

Simple fare. Photo: Stuart McDonald

As with a place to sleep, eating options are no great shakes, however you won’t starve, Most of the larger hotels have restaurants attached offering up the usual travellers fare including cold beer, with the bonus of many potato dishes in this cooler farming region. Mmmm beer and chips. A handful of local warungs have the noodles and rice market covered too. We enjoyed a tasty nasi goreng at Warung Serdahana along the main drag. A couple of mini markets sell drinks, snacks and sundries.




Orientation
Cemoro Lawang sits about 2,000 metres above sea level and temperatures at night and the early morning are decidedly chilly as it can drop to between 0º–5ºC, pack at least a long sleeve shirt and long pants, but preferably also a jacket. Don’t worry if you’ve come unprepared, stalls and hawkers will happily sell you woolly hats and scarfs and many have jackets for hire.

The weather maters. Plan and dress accordingly. Photo taken in or around Gunung Bromo, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

The weather maters. Plan and dress accordingly. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The best time to visit is during the drier months from April to October when there is less likelihood of mist and clouds obstructing your view. At this time you may wish to add a dust mask to your packing list as the dry volcanic sand turns to dust, and mixed with dried hose manure and sulphur is not the most pleasant when the wind picks up.

Don’t expect a solitary mountain experience at Gunung Bromo, you’ll have to fight the selfie stick wielding crowds especially on weekends and during high season when it’s wise to book your accommodation in advance. Be aware that Gunung Bromo is an active volcano and at times when it’s a little more active, exclusion zones are implemented. The last significant unrest was in 2105 and the last eruptions were in late 2010 and early 2012.

Do take a wander around the countryside. Photo taken in or around Gunung Bromo, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

Do take a wander around the countryside. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The entry fee for the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park for foreigners is: 220,000 rupiah weekdays and 350,000 rupiah weekends; for Indonesians and KITAS holders it’s 27,500 rupiah weekdays and 32,500 weekends. In addition to the National Park fees to visit Gunung Bromo, you’ll have to pay a fee to enter Cemoro Lawang just before the entrance to the village: 10,000 rupiah for foreigners and 6,000 rupiah for Indonesians.

There isn’t much in the way of facilities in this area. Bring all the cash you need as there are no ATMs. As well, be aware that medical facilities are rudimentary should you sprain an ankle or worse. For anything more serious we’d be aiming for Surabaya or Bali. The closest domestic airport is Malang and the closest international airport is Surabaya.

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