Visit Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen Without An Expensive Tour

Posted on August 12, 2015

My first visit to Indonesia started in the small town of Surabaya about halfway through the island of Java. I didn’t want to start in Jakarta and decided on missing Jogjakara and winning a few days further down the line. There isn’t that much to do Surabaya apart from going to the excellent restaurant Domicile and to take in the culture, religion and the people (I stayed at Hotel 88 and was very happy there). All and all Surabaya can be a bit of a culture shock, especially for women traveling alone. Soon after my arrival I started planning my month’s stay in the country starting with the famous Java volcanoes, Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen.

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Not a lot is known about visiting these volcanoes as a solo (female) traveler or about visiting it without a tour. Next to that, there are not a lot of local women traveling by themselves (which is usually the case in countries with the Muslim religion), resulting in a lot of weird looks as I couldn’t answer where my boyfriend or travel partner was and some very expensive price offers. As information about visiting it myself were difficult to find and it was seemingly impossible, I approached some tour companies with the following lovely response:

“Rate IDR. 6.400.000 FOR SINGLE TRAVELLER

Including services :
– private tour
– private car with air conditioner
– bromo and ijen entrance ticket
– 1 night in ancala inn bromo
– 1 night in ijen view hotel
– private jeep for mt. Bromo
– daily breakfast
– driver
– local guide trekking for mt. Ijen
– mineral water”

Recalculated an organized tour of three days would end up costing me 430 EUR. As Indonesia, and Java in particular, is quite an inexpensive place, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There are two reasons why this trip would cost me so much, first of all, I was traveling alone and they would arrange a separate car to drive me to both destinations. Second, you have no control over what the money goes towards and in general that means you are overpaying a great deal. As traveling South East Asia is generally quite easy, I decided to visit skip the tourist agency and do it by myself. It took quite a lot of research and even more questionable looks from the hotel staff. In the end I managed to do it all by myself and ended up saving more than 300 euros. I only spent 93,2 euro for the normally costing 430 euro three day trip. Here is a breakdown of my costs:

Transport
Train + car to Mount Bromo: 10 euro
Train + car to Mount Ijen: 12,5 euro
Accomodation
Mount Bromo (Café Lava): 5,40 euro
Mount Ijen (Kampung Osing Inn): 4,60 euro
Entrance fees
Mount Bromo: 16 euro
Mount Ijen: 10,70 euro
Food
30 euro

Here is how I did it. As I was coming from the west, I first visited mount Bromo and then continued on to Mount Ijen. The cheapest and easiest way to travel on Java is by train, the trains are comfortable and clean so it is actually an enjoyable ride. If you know in advance when you are planning to do this trip, I can advise you to book your tickets in advance because trains can get quite full. I always did it on the day itself and was lucky, but I also had some friends that had to wait for hours because certain trains were full.

To get to Mount Bromo, you’ll want to leave early morning in Surabaya (I took the 8.50am train) and go to a town at the base of the center called Probolinggo. From there on there is a good chance that you will meet other travelers with whom you can split the costs. There are several trains coming in per day so if you don’t meet anyone on the train, you can always wait until other travelers show up. At Probolinggo I met four other travelers and therefore all private transport costs for this mountain trip were divided by five, which cut the overall cost by a great deal. From Porbolinggo take a small bus to Cemoro Lawang but you have to go from the train station to the main bus station (or a tourist office). There are private taxis that you can take or the local bus. We opted for the private taxi so we could go up the mountain straight away in an air-conditioned car instead of waiting a long time for a non air-conditioned crappy looking local bus (which will get you to your destination as well). The only reason, however, that we could do this of course, was because we were a group of 5.

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Cemoro Lawang is the name of the town at the base of Mount Bromo and where you will sleep overnight. We stayed at Café Lava as it is the most inexpensive option, especially when you can share one of their low-level rooms with another traveler. Once you arrive you will notice that everyone is being carted around by jeeps. These are the organized tours, they will be staying either in the same hotel as you, but with an overpriced breakfast included and around 5 am, they will all head out to the same sunset spot which is the summit of Pananjakan mountain.

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We’re not going to do that. To go to the vulcano itself you do not need a car. If you do this when you arrive, you will practically have the vulcano all to yourself. All the tours will visit the vulcano straight after the sunset and will be gone by the time you arrive in the afternoon. Another means of transport that is offered on site are horse rides. However such as it is usually with tourist animal attractions, the horses aren’t taken care of properly. They are dragged up and down the mountain at a speed that could break their legs, the owners carve into the ears of the horses to mark them and plainly treat them horribly when they are waiting for customers to come. Don’t support this type of business.

As I already said, everybody visiting the mountain will want to see the sun come up and I do have to admit it is quite special. However in stead of going to the same spot as everybody else, ask to be taken to King Kong Hill. There might still be one or two tours but that is nothing compared to the hundreds of people you will find at the summit. To go to King Kong hill we arranged a jeep via our hotel, Café Lava. With some negotiation and the fact that it was five of us, this only cost us a fraction of what the tour would. I have also read that you can walk up the mountain but as you are getting up really early, expect a challenging walk. As you get up for sunset around four or five am, you’ll be back at Café Lava around 7am to take the same taxi or public bus back down. Because you already visited the mountain the previous day, you’ll win a lot of time in getting to Mount Ijen.

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To go from Probolinggo (the base of Mount Bromo) to Mount Ijen, there are two possible ways. The most popular and the one taken by all tour companies is going through Bondowoso and then taking a taxi or public bus to Sempol. From there on you can arrange transport up to the base of Mount Ijen. Sempol and the way to Sempol however is the beaten track and therefore you will be paying extra just because you are a tourist in a touristy place. I chose the other option and approached then mountain from the other angle, via the town of Karangasam. If you are, like me, traveling to Bali after Mount Ijen, this is the perfect spot for you to be as it is only half an hour drive from the public ferry (which is cheap as chips).

In Karangasam you can find a lovely but basic little home stay called Kampung Osing Inn. Before you arrive here, send the owner Ganda an e-mail and he will help you get to the hotel. They will arrange a free pick-up at the train station and can organize a jeep or ojek (motorcycle taxi) to the entrance of Mount Ijen. Most of the time, there is already a truck going up to the entrance and you can share the costs with the people already hiring the car (it will cost you 125.000INDR or 8EUR per person if the car has five or six people in it). This will make it a lot cheaper and comfortable. Another option is taking an ojek, which will cost you 200.000 IDR (which is 13 EUR). But be aware, the ride is about two hours and if you’re coming from the sunset trip at Mount Bromo, getting up at midnight and taking the ojek will be quite exhausting.

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After a short sleep, the chosen means of transportation will get you to the bottom of the mountain. There you will find several local guides offering their help. They are sulphur miners picking up the sulphur in the volcano and carrying it up. As they earn less than a minimum wage for this, they try to pick up a few tourists along the way and help them up. I have to admit, I was very happy to have this help, especially because you’re not getting that much sleep during these days. If you have a nice guide, they will also give you one of their gas masks to cope with the intense sulphur fumes. The walk is quite challenging but straightforward so if you don’t want to hire a guide, there is absolutely not reason to do so. The reason you’re leaving before the sun comes up is so that you can catch the blue flames (of which I didn’t manage to get a decent photo) in action. Stick around long enough to see the sun go up and enjoy the crater lake. Walk back up and notice how much beautiful nature is around you which you absolutely could not see on the way up. If you had a guide, make sure you pay him. The wages of the sulphur miners is beneath all standards and the conditions in which they work is quite appalling (read more about it here). Take it all in, the beautiful nature, the working conditions of the miners and the strong intense smell and sting of the sulphur.

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A short recap if you’re going on this trip:
Mount Bromo
– Go to Probolinggo by train
– take bus/taxi to Cemoro Lawang
– Stay at Café Lava
– Share a truck or walk up to King Kong Hill at sunrise
Mount Ijen
– Go from Probolinggo to Karangasam
– Sleep at Kampung Osing Inn
– Share a truck or take an ojek
General tips
– Eat at the local warungs (the name for a local cheap restaurant)
– Take a sweater and rain jacket for both volcanoes
– Take a mouth mask and possibly wet it to help with the sulphur fumes at Mt. Ijen

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