We’ve recently been writing about travelling in Java, the island immediately to the west of the tourist mecca of Bali. One of the great things to do in Java is to climb volcanoes and there are many as you traverse the island, such as Kawah Ijen, that are very accessible. Without exception, the most popular volcano for foreigners to visit is Gunung Bromo, located at a chilly 2000m above sea level and about 120km southeast of the capital of East Java, Surabaya.
The cool and fresh air of the 7km wide Tengger Caldera (remnants of a collapsed volcano) in which the real Gunung Bromo sits is a pleasant change from the stifling heat of nearby Surabaya and popular Yogyakarta. So cool and fresh, in fact, that long pants and a jacket are a must. The walls of this vast caldera in many places tower a jaw-dropping 500m above the surrounding landscape while at the town of Cemoro Lawang, the caldera wall is only about 100m above the caldera floor, allowing easy access for vehicles and those hiking on foot.
The main reason most people visit Gunung Bromo is to witness sunrise over the moon-like Tengger Caldera from a nearby mountain, Gunung Penanjakan. The views from this vantage point are absolutely breathtaking with Gunung Batok in the foreground, the smaller Gunung Bromo behind it and the tallest mountain in Java, the ever-active Gunung Semeru, in the far distance, completing an astonishing scene.
During a trip here most visitors use the services of the local transport association, which holds a monopoly on taking passengers by jeep to the sunrise viewpoint and then onto Bromo itself. Depending on which agent or hotel you buy your ticket from, the price per person is 80,000 to 100,000 rupiah with the association making sure as many people cram into the jeep as possible — at least this has the advantage of solo travellers not having to charter an entire jeep for themselves. Before we arrived at Bromo, we baulked at utilising this service as it sounded like a cheat’s way of climbing a mountain. But having travelled by jeep, we think it is the best way for most people to see both the sunrise from Gunung Penanjakan and the inside of Gunung Bromo.
Once finished watching the sunrise, most jeeps wind their way down into the caldera and across what is commonly known as the Lautan Pasir (Sea of Sand) to the base of Gunung Bromo, where a tiring walk to the summit of the volcano awaits. Those with weary legs can choose to make all the other tourists eat their dust by galloping on a horse to the base of the final stairs, but this is generally more popular among local tourists than foreigners.
At the top of Gunung Bromo is a narrow path — one side an abyss, the other a steep slope down to the Lautan Pasir. Along this path are swarms of people trying to get their photo taken in front of the abyss while flower sellers offer their wares for 50,000 rupiah a pop, or 5,000 if you choose to negotiate.
An alternative to hopping in a jeep is to walk from the town of Cemoro Lawang, where most tourist accommodation is located, to the peaks of Gunung Penanjakan and Gunung Bromo. It’s a 3km, one-hour walk to Penanjakan and the same again from Cemoro Lawang to Bromo — and those with legs of steel could easily climb Penanjakan for sunrise and then Bromo during a mid-morning stroll. Each to their own, I guess.
The whole area is surreal and we cannot emphasise enough how fantastic a natural wonder the Tengger Caldera is. Either taken as part of a tour from Yogyakarta or done independently, Gunung Bromo is a must see on any trans-Java journey.
By Adam Poskitt
Last updated on 29th November, 2014.