There is no denying that Gunung Bromo and the caldera it sits with in is one of the singularly most spectacular sights in all of Java, if not Indonesia.
It is a purely otherworldly experience—sitting in darkness on the caldera ridge, listening to the jeeps roar across the Sea of Sand below, waiting for the sun to break first light. Then as the light show begins and the mists clear (fingers crossed for good weather) you’re greeted with a smorgasbord of colour and divinity as squat bubbling Bromo and Batok fills the foreground, while Gunung Semeru, Java’s tallest peak and in all ways, the archetypal jurassic volcano of your dreams stands to attention behind, smouldering.
Look into the caldera, the dark sands appear to be smooth as silk from the altitude of the rim (believe us, they’re not!), carved up by ant-trails laid out by the 4WDs ferrying people back and forward from the crater rim village of Cemoro Lawang. Look for the temple sitting at the base of Bromo—an ancient island of Hinduism within a decidedly Muslim realm. Depending on the time of the year, the caldera’s escarpments will be hues of red, brown and black ancestral earth, or, if you’re there towards the end of Java’s punishing wet season, expect deep greens and a wealth of rich olive hues, tapering out to the grasslands which cover some of the sands closest to the rise.
It is a mind-blowingly esoteric experience, which, should you be able to find quiet quarters from which to experience it, can be fabulously satisfying and memorable.
Phew. It really is that good.
But, we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here, and like all good things in life, to get the most out of a visit to Bromo requires some degree of planning, time and money. So here is the nitty gritty of what is involved.
While commonly referred to simply as “Bromo”, the reality is a little more complex—and a little bigger—than A single volcano. The entire volcanic complex forms the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park and the best way to break it down is to start with the name. Bromo is the centerpiece—an active volcano which had its last temper tantrum in 2015. Tengger is the enormous crater which Bromo sits within and on its northeast rim lies the primary accommodation centre of Cemoro Lawang and on the northwest rim lies the popular dawn viewing stations. The last part of the name, Semeru, refers to Java’s tallest volcano (at some 3,676 metres) which actually sits outside the Tengger Caldera to the south.
Other peaks within the caldera include Gunung Batok (2,470 metres) which sits just to the northwest of Bromo, and Gunung Kursi (2,581 metres), Gunung Widodaren (2,650 metres) and Gunung Watangan (2,661 metres) all three of which are clustered immediately behind Bromo. Confused? Look at a map!
You don’t need to do a tour
Now, and this is important, the vast (and we mean vast) majority of people, both foreign and Indonesian, who visit Bromo, do so on an organised tour from somewhere else. It might be from somewhere close, like Malang or Probolinggo, or, from somewhere further flung like Yogyakarta or Bali. The primary reason people do this is because it is fast and people need a fast tour because they haven’t allowed themselves enough time in Java. Because many guidebooks overstate (in our opinion) the difficulties of visiting Bromo there is also an assumption among travellers that visiting Bromo independently is difficult. It isn’t.
So, to be clear. Assuming you have allowed enough time, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to do a tour to Bromo from anywhere other than the crater rim. I could repeat that, but instead I’ll just put it in bold!
So, with that in mind, we’re now going to go through what the classic Bromo experience is and from there you can decide how best to undertake it.
The Classic experience
The classic Bromo experience entails a series of activities—commencing with a very early start—how early depends on where you are are starting from, but from Cemoro Lawang, you should be out the door by 4am at the absolute latest—count backwards from there.
Assuming you are in a jeep (more on this below) once you reach the crater rim at Cemoro Lawang you’ll need to pay admission (on busy times, the time wasted here queueing can be significant) then you drive down into the crater and right across the caldera in darkness to the western rim where you drive back up, out of the crater to watch dawn from a number of possible locations along the northwest caldera rim, the most popular with the selfie-stick squad being the highpoint of Gunung Penanjakan (2,782 metres), though when we visited in early 2018, this location was closed “for renovation”—don’t worry there are plenty of other viewpoints in the vicinity.
Once dawn has passed, you drive back down into the caldera, drive back across the Sea of Sand, then you climb Bromo itself (on foot with the final slog up a steep staircase, though ponies are available for a section of the trail), and look into Bromo’s crater.
After Bromo, depending on the tour you are on, you might visit the Hindu temple and perhaps scoot around to Bukit Teletubbies which is about half an hour to the south of Bromo, but still in the caldera, then it is all over red rover, back to Cemoro Lawang and onwards to where ever you started from.
Ex Cemoro Lawang the above can be wrapped up in as little as four hours and it is not surprisingly a crowded, rushed experience of a site which is strongest and most rewarding by taking it slow and finding space for yourself to appreciate the splendour. Even in low season when we visited in early 2018, there were well over 100 jeeps entering the caldera for dawn, each loaded with six to seven passengers, all of whom would be heading to the sunrise viewpoints. In high season, the crowds can be completely bonkers.
What about if you don’t want to do a jeep tour?
If you are time poor and resource rich, then a jeep tour is an easy way to cram all of Bromo in before breakfast. If you’re the opposite though, one who has time to slow down and smell the coffee, then there is no need to go anywhere near a jeep. Read on.
The trek to King Kong Hill
If you want to avoid the worst of the crowds, it is possible to follow a trail from Cemoro Lawang all the way to King Kong Hill, which is one of the more popular viewpoints—there is no admission fee payable for this. Find a spot to hide from the worst of the crowds and enjoy sunrise. Then, after dawn, as everyone else drives off in their jeeps to race across the Sea Of Sand, walk back down the same trail. This should avail you to some excellent viewpoints without insane crowd levels (because the only way to get there is to walk). The walk from Cemoro Lawang to King Kong Hill should take around two hours depending on your fitness level—you will need a torch and do not attempt it alone at night.
To reach the trail head walk right through Cemoro Lawang till you reach the caldera rim and the Cemara Indah Hotel is on your left. Follow the road around to the right, and just keep going. Eventually it starts to get a bit steep (though is still sealed), just keep going and you’ll reach a small concrete seating area in an amphitheatre style. The sealed road stops here (some watch dawn from here, going no further) but behind the seating there is a dirt trail which scampers up the ridge, eventually delivering you to King Kong Hill. The trail is reasonably clear—we climbed it on an afternoon and saw just one other person the entire time.
Walk all the way back into town, grab a coffee and some breakfast and then enter the actual park, paying admission and then walk to Bromo, walking across the Sea Of Sand (you can also hire an ojek in town for this if you don’t want to walk—expect to pay around 100,000 rupiah there and back including waiting time). This would be a very confusing walk at night (we don’t recommend you try it at night without a guide), but in the daytime it is quite straightforward. During the wet season the black volcanic sand remains firm underfoot, but in the dry it can be a veritable dust bowl, particularly when the wind picks up. Throw in a scarf or dust mask and wear sunnies. Allow an hour each way. Once at Bromo, grab another coffee (there are plenty of warungs) then climb it and take a look and perhaps visit the temple.
The Savanna and Bukit Teletubies
While many concentrate on just the dawn viewpoint and Bromo itself, on the far (southern) side of Bromo the caldera is given over to beautiful fields of almost waist-high in places savanna. The grasslands run from the base of the volcanoes all the way to the caldera escarpments and are truly beautiful, offering a terrific counterpoint to the sandy moonscape to the north. When we visited in early 2018, at the height of wet season, the caldera’s cliffs were a rich green and as low clouds were overhead, we felt bottled into the caldera—it was a breathtaking and unforgettable experience.
After passing through the savanna for a while, on your right you’ll eventually see signs announcing your arrival at Bukit Teletubbies—a cluster of small hills which look vaguely like Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po may be hanging around—we investigated but were unable to find them. There is another Bukit Teletubbies up on the Dieng Plateau. Don’t miss it we say!
If you want to see Bukit Teletubies, you could conceivably walk it (just follow the trail) but it is a long walk, at least an hour each way from Bromo, probably more. We’d hire an ojek from Bromo to take you there and back, but it would make for a beautiful walk for those with time on their hands. If you do walk, be sure to take sufficient water.
If you are planning on travelling by jeep from Cemoro Lawang to Malang (ie., by travelling through the crater) the drive will take you through this area of the caldera—do keep an eye out for Tinky Winky.
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.
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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