Kawah Ijen is one of the stunning highlights of a trip through Java and is a regular stop on many tours departing from Yogyakarta and ending up in Bali. The usual way of getting to Kawah Ijen on a tour involves heading to the inland town of Bondowoso and making your way up to the crater’s carpark via the rutted road and returning the same way. Independent travellers usually catch an angkot from Bondowoso to the final town before the crater which is serviced by public transport and then make the final ascent by ojek. But we here at Travelfish.org believe there is a better way for independent travellers to access Kawah Ijen if coming from or heading to Bali which saves time by using the access road leading to Banyuwangi, right next to the port from where ferries depart to Bali.
Since Bondowoso lies inland in the hills 30 kilometres from the main highway which travels along the north coast of Java and Kawah Ijen is a further three hours from there, it takes much longer to travel via Bondowoso when travelling between Kawah Ijen and Bali than the alternative Banyuwangi route.
With this in mind, if travelling from Bali it is possible to hire an ojek in Banyuwangi for the journey up to Kawah Ijen, have the ojek driver wait for you to climb up to the crater. The ojek can then to take you onwards to the bus terminal in Bondowoso or to a waiting angkot in the first town on the way down from the crater that is serviced by public transport, Sempol. This way you can avoid having to backtrack and waste time.
The same is true for those travelling in an easterly direction from places such as Gunung Bromo. Buses from dusty Probolinggo on the coast below Gunung Bromo will take you directly to Bondowoso, where most will stay overnight before taking an angkot to Sempol early the next day. From Sempol it is possible to hire an ojek who will take you to Kawah Ijen, wait for you and then take you onwards to Banyuwangi or a further six kilometres to the ferry port for onward travel to Bali.
The road from Banyuwangi to Kawah Ijen starts off in great condition, but as you get closer to the top, it deteriorates into something resembling the surface of the moon. It’s steep, rocky and even cars have trouble traversing it. But that’s part of the adventure of travelling this way. After a few voluntary motorcycle dismounts and some involuntary near dismounts, you arrive at your destination a good few hours ahead of most other travellers choosing the more circuitous route via Bondowoso.
Whichever route you choose, the utlimate prize is witnessing Kawah Ijen — and that makes everything worthwhile.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.