Get active on an active volcano
Published/Last edited or updated: 26th April, 2017
Want to see an active volcano up close? Gunung Batur is one of Bali’s two active volcanoes (the other being Gunung Agung). At 1717 metres the mountain offers a shortish and not too challenging climb for the reasonably fit and is a rewarding trek with sweeping views, on a clear day, as far as Gunung Rinjani on Lombok.
The mountain is sacred to the local Hindus, and to protect the hallowed ground, back in 1999 local guides formed an association (PPPGB) that ensured the physical landscape was cared for — rubbish collected and tracks maintained, as well as ensuring funds generated were returned to the local villages. A lot of negative comments have been made regarding the association and their monopoly, but in our experience (we’ve climbed this sucker over 100 times), guides have gone out of their way to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip for all their clients.
Prior to the association, anyone could be a guide, and it was every man for himself — competition was fierce (and aggressive), and little of the funds generated were returned to the impoverished local villages (whose farmland was often trampled by trekkers). Also, the mountain was a garbage dump as no one cared. Today a roster system guarantees a fair distribution of work amongst the guides (who are local and are more likely to monitor increased volcanic activity). Rubbish is collected regularly, and the welfare of local villagers as has improved. While it’s physically possible to climb without a guide, conditions can change rapidly making the climb dangerous, and besides, supporting local guides supports the surrounding communities.
There are two main starting points for the trek, and a number of routes that either lead you up and down the same way, or more interestingly up one way, and down the other, with options of climbing to the summit and / or circling the rim to the more active side of the volcano. We suggest starting at Pura Jati and walking down to Toya Bungkah, as the section near Toya Bungkah is shaded by trees, and much more pleasant than the exposed Pura Jati side when the sun rises. Also, it gives you the option of soaking in the hot springs after your climb.
We recommend wearing comfortable enclosed shoes with good grip although we’ve seen plenty of trekking sandals and socks (the horror!) which loose gravel easily enters and makes for an uncomfortable walk. We’ve even seen one trekker in silver high-heeled sandals (really don’t know how she did it).
It may be cold when you start, but after a short climb, you’ll be pretty warm, only to be freezing again at the summit. Layers are the key — don’t underestimate how cold it can be up top, and then how hot and exposed when the sun rises. Temperatures at the summit range from 5º-15º celsius, depending on the season, but can feel much colder in the wind and rain. Pack a hat, sunblock and sunglasses, as well as a raincoat and warm jacket (and a woolly hat and gloves if you’re a cold frog).
As this is a sacred Hindu mountain, please respect local sensibilities — tank tops and short shorts are inappropriate, and at certain times of the year trekkers are required to wear a sash (this will be supplied). Carry plenty of water, and some snacks (any excuse for chocolate for breakfast huh?). A small first aid kit with blister treatment and antiseptic for cuts and scrapes is useful too.
Most tours offer sunrise treks and while it is possible to climb Gunung Batur starting later in the day, cloud often envelopes the mountain from mid-morning onwards and there won’t be anything to see, and if the cloud stays away, it can be hot and exposed with little shade. Generally climbers start around 04:00 — guides take a maximum of four climbers, and larger groups will use several guides. You will need a torch (it’s dark at that time) — take a head torch so your hands will be free to help you climb.
You will not be alone, and in high season the trail of lights and gridlock of trekkers is like a busy mall at the Christmas sales — this is a popular tourist trail. As well as your guide, you will often be accompanied by drink sellers. These folk work as “unofficial guides”, and will help struggling trekkers and drag you up the hill if necessary. They are often kids trying to earn enough to pay for their schoolbooks before school starts, or older folk with little English who consequently can’t work as guides. They don’t get paid, and may only sell one drink the entire day. Prices, of course are inflated, but in reality are no more than you would pay in your home country for a drink.
If one of the drink sellers helps you, be kind and buy a drink either for yourself or for them (generally around 25,000 rupiah for a small bottle of coke or water). A couple of warungs at the sunrise viewing points sell hot drinks. Water has to be carried up, and prices reflect this (most are around 25,000 - 30,000 rupiah). If you are struggling climbing think of the rewarding coffee at the summit.
From the Pura Jati side, the first 40 minutes of the climb are fairly flat, passing onion and cabbage fields (if you are wondering what the smell is in the dark). Once you arrive at a small shrine, your guide will possibly stop to pray and make offerings to the mountain, after which the track becomes very steep and it’s a constant up up up to the summit, with a few sharp switchbacks. The surface varies from loose volcanic gravel to sharp solid lava flows.
Walk at your own pace. If you feel the guide is going too fast let them know — there is no rush. It starts getting light around 05:00, but don’t panic, you won’t miss sunrise which occurs between 05:50 and 06:35 depending on the time of the year. If you have an excellent level of fitness the ascent will probably take you an hour and a half from the start to the sunrise area, if you’re of a more average level of fitness, two hours or more is a good estimation — remember getting up pre dawn generally doesn’t leave everyone firing on all cylinders.
Note that there are no toilets on the mountain. Previously one of the warungs built some (and carried water up daily), but they were closed by local priests (no pissing on the holy mountain). If nature calls it’s possibly best to answer during the veil of darkness, as the area is very exposed — however, there are a few rocks and low shrubs. Don’t leave toilet paper on the mountain (and apologise to the Gods!).
The lower eastern side of the crater is where most climbers view the sunrise — this is not the highest point of the mountain, but a good place to stop until it gets light. Get yourself a hot drink and have a rest. Beware — evil monkeys will try to steel any food you may have. From this point, on a clear day you will see Gunung Abang, with Gunung Agung behind. In the distance you may be lucky to see Gunung Rinjani on Lombok. If it’s a total white out — there’s always a postcard and it’s about the experience.
Once the sun has risen, it’s possible to climb down a little into the crater where you can see and feel hot steam hissing out of the fumaroles — here locals collect holy water. Don’t expect to see molten lava — it’s all steam and smoke. A short climb down further leads to a cave, with a temple deep within (you wont be allowed in). Be very carful in this area — it’s unfenced and in 2010 a tourist fell to his death nearby. Depending on how tired you feel (and the weather conditions), you can discuss with your guide if you wish to continue to the summit and or the western crater. Don’t forget to snap a photo at the altitude maker nearby.
The walk to the summit is a slow 20 — 30 minutes on loose sandy gravel — it’s one step forward and two back. Not far, but slow. If it’s cloudy, there’s no point but on a clear day you’ll be rewarded with superb views. At the top of the crater the rim narrows, and if you are brave you can continue along the very narrow path with a sheer drop on both sides to the western side of the crater.
Alternatively, return to the sunrise viewing area and continue around to the west clockwise or straight down the eastern side to Toya Bungkah. The western side of the mountain has a more active carter and when activity increases, this side is closed to the public, however when it’s a bit calmer it’s an interesting walk and will add an hour or more to your trek. Remember if the guide says run — it’s downhill fast! (Just kidding — volcanic activity is constantly monitored). The ground here is hot to touch, and guides often cook bananas or eggs by digging a small hole. You can dig out a small hot rock, hold it to your ear and hear it hiss and pop as the steam escapes.
From the eastern sunset viewing point, the walk to Toya Bungkah is steep on sharp lava flows. About a third of the way down, the path becomes less steep, forested and shady. Australians will feel right at home amongst the eucalyptus. This section will probably take you as long down as it did up. If your guide has done an excellent job, tipping is greatly appreciated, as sometimes they only climb once or twice a week.
All up, the walk can take four to six hours, depending on the route and your level of fitness — it’s either a doddle or the hardest thing you’ve ever done. If you have a good level of fitness we would err on the former, but you’ll still huff and puff. The walk is graded moderate, however it is very steep — climb some stairs for practice.
Most trekkers organise tours from the southern parts of Bail which include transport, a guide and all fees, and if you are a single traveller, these are often a good deal, but you are locked into the times and the route. Prices usually start around 650,000 rupiah per person for a shorter trek and often require a minimum of two.
Make sure you check exactly what’s included — some deals include a fancy breakfast (often not served until the summit) and a stop at the hot springs.
If you prefer a bit more flexibility, we would suggest overnighting it in the Gunung Batur area, and either go with a package provided by your hotel, or you can easily do it yourself direct with the guide association, although for a single traveller may end up being a more expensive option. That way you can spend a little time exploring the area too — maybe a boat trip to the interesting cemetery at Trunyan, or a visit to Bali’s second largest temple, Pura Ulun Danau Batur.
Packages from hotels in the Gunung Batur area start around 400,000 rupiah per person. Note there are still some aggressive touts who ride around trying to sell tours when you arrive in the area. They are usually not licensed guides and act more as middle men — you will get better deals elsewhere.
To organise the climb yourself — go directly to the guide association booth near Pura Jati or Toya Bungkah. The price for a guide is 400,000 rupiah plus 100,000 rupiah per person national park fee. Guides can take a maximum of four trekkers. This doesn’t include transport to the start point, parking fees, breakfast or any extras, and would only be an economical option for a small group. The guide association also offers packages with all the extras starting at 400,000 rupiah for a short walk.
Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.