My travels through Indonesia started in the city of Surabaya (about halfway through the island of Java). Coming from Vietnam this time around, I skipped busy Jakarta and Jogjakarta and its crowd of tourists. Starting my Indonesia travels in Surabaya would also save me a few days of travel and I could cut straight to the point: Seeing Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen!
I had a month planned in Indonesia but wanted to get a lot done. On the island of Java, I only wanted to focus on Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen. Both Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen are active volcanoes that are a completely different experience. Mount Bromo is part of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park and is a very dusty and black volcano. Mount Ijen is about 200km further east and involves a night hike up. Once you make it into the volcano, you will see the blue flames (only visible before sunrise), the sulfur that the volcano produces and a crater lake. Both super cool and worth your time!
After my visit to the volcanoes, I ferry hopped across to Bali for some much-needed beach time! I quickly discovered that the tours to Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen had a hefty price tag attached!
I wanted to visit Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen without an expensive tour, departing in Surabaya, but could not figure out how.
I’ve added a table of content below for a quick overview of the article. Feel free to jump ahead if you’re looking for information on a specific topic.
Visit Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen without an expensive tour
The price of a regular tour to Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen
When I visited the volcanoes, not a lot was known about visiting these volcanoes without a tour. In addition, I found it hard to find information on how to do it myself because I was a woman traveling alone. A female solo traveler is quite uncommon in Java and therefore I was charged extra because I did not have a travel partner.
To gain information about visiting Bromo and Ijen without a tour, I asked a few quotes from local tour companies with the following response:
“Rate IDR. 6.400.000 FOR SINGLE TRAVELERS
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
– local guide trekking for mt. Ijen
– mineral water”
Recalculated an organized tour of three days would end up costing me 430 EUR/ 685 AUD/ 485 USD. Below you can see a few that run at the moment and prices are still around 380 USD, which is similar to the above price. The difference is probably due to the added extra for being a solo traveler.
Java is an inexpensive destination. Therefore, I was surprised to see the prices these tours are running for. There are two reasons why this trip costs 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.
Having traveled through many countries by myself, I told myself this price was not an option for me at the time. I set out a plan to travel from Surabaya to Mount Bromo to Mount Kawah Ijen without a tour! (Please do note, that I do not mind taking tours if I think they are fairly priced for what you are getting.)
Step By Step: How to visit Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen without an expensive tour
Travel from Surabaya to Mount Bromo
There are three options to get from Surabaya to the base of Mount Bromo, called Probolingo. You can take the train, the bus or a private cab/Uber.
I chose the train as it was the cheapest and fastest option as a solo traveller. The trains are comfortable and clean so it is an enjoyable ride. I advise you to book your tickets in advance because the trains can get 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.
While I booked my tickets at the local train station, I’ve been told it is much better to book in advance online. I found this website which allows you to view the train tables in English and actually book your train ticket online! (I have not tried the website myself, so I would recommend double checking the website before booking anything.)
Update: A reader also recommended using the Traveloka App to book the trains. I have not tried this app, so feel free to give it a go and comment below whether it worked!
Update: Another option is to take an Uber from Surabaya to Probolinggo and sharing it with a few travelers you met in your hostel. They went this way in June 2017!
It will take you between 3 and 4 hours to get from Surabaya to Mount Bromo. Therefore, you’ll want to leave early morning in Surabaya (I took the 8.50am train) and go to Probolinggo (the base of Mount Bromo). The train ride will take you only 2h and will cost between 30k IDR and 200k+ IDR. I’m unsure why the prices are so variant, but you can see exactly how much I paid at the bottom of this article.
Try to meet other solo travelers on the train or at the station so you can split the costs for the cars/accommodation. 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. I met four others at Probolingo and shared the costs of a private car from Porbolinggo to Cemoro Lawang.
Cemoro Lawang is the start base of all the tours that head up to Mount Bromo and is walking distance from the volcano. Exactly what we want!
There are shared buses (no aircon and slow) that go up the mountain to Cemoro Lawang. However, if you can pool together, I would recommend getting a private car (added benefit of aircon) as it will save you lots of time. Prepare to negotiate your best price! These private cars are easily found at the main bus station or at a tourist office. Expect to be in the car/bus for about 1,5h.
Visit Mount Bromo without a tour
Where to stay in Cemoro Lawang
Most of the places in Cemoro Lawang are local homestays where your best bet is to rock up and ask whether they have a vacancy. Be very careful when booking a hotel on online platforms such as Booking.com as they may be further than walking distance from the rim.
We stayed at Café Lava, which is a well-known budget option for many people visiting and writing about Mount Bromo. as it is the most inexpensive option, especially when you can share one of their low-level rooms with another traveler.
The perfect time schedule for your visit to avoid the masses of tourists
The means of transport here is 4-wheel drives organised by tour companies. These passengers 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.
We’re not going to do that. I recommend climbing the volcano and the rim as soon as you arrive in the afternoon. Crossing the plain is quite breathtaking and expect a lot of dust and fog. We ended having to go up twice as we could not see anything on the rim the first time around. Ask around what the best timing is for that period of the year and what the weather is looking like on the rim.
The big attraction of the mountain is sunrise over Mount Bromo. The bulk of the tourists from the organised tours get dropped at the same spot, which is the summit of Pananjakan mountain. We did not want to join the 100s of people here!
After some research, we found out about King Kong Hill. There might still be one or two tours but that is nothing compared to the main viewpoint.
We arranged a 4-wheel drive to take us to King Kong hill via our hotel, Café Lava. Leveraging our group of five, we were able to strongly negotiate the price of our car. It ended up costing 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.
Do not ride the horses at Mount Bromo
A popular tourist attraction on Mount Bromo is the horses that will ride tourist up and down. I never support animal tourism. Especially not if I saw with my own eyes how wrong it is. The horses 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 treat them horribly when they are waiting for customers to come. I was brought to tears watching this happen in front of me and I will repeat it over and over again, DO NOT RIDE THESE HORSES. You have legs, walk up the hill yourself, it’s really not that hard.
Travel from Mount Bromo (Probolingo) to Mount Ijen
Ok, you’ve made it. The first part of the journey is behind you. Now let’s head back down the mountain and make your way from Probolinggo (the base of Mount Bromo) to Mount Ijen. Again there are two possible ways.
Mount Bromo to Mount Ijen via Sempol
The most popular and the one that is taken by all tour companies. They go 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 on the beaten track and therefore you will be paying extra just because you are a tourist in a touristy place.
Mount Bromo to Mount Ijen via Karangasem
I chose to approach the mountain from the other angle, via the town of Karangasem. I chose Karangasem for two reasons. One, Karangasem from here to Bali is only half an hour drive from the public ferry (which is cheap as chips). Second, I noticed that accommodation in Karangasem was cheaper than Sempol as it has less organised tours.
The train ride from Probolingo to Karangasem will take around 5 hours which is why you will want to leave straight after sunrise.
There are a few options for accommodation in the area and they tend to be more basic. Find one that will pick you up from the train station (should be for free if you booked accommodation). The accommodation will help you in organising a car to the entrance of Mount Ijen for you.
Stay in Banyuwangi/Karangasem
We stayed at the basic, but good homestay of Ganda called Kampung Osing Inn. This is a great budget option if you are looking for a good host and a homestay that knows what they are doing. They fed us a basic breakfast, tea and we had a fan in the bedroom. Prices start as cheap as 11 AUD/ 6 EUR/ 8 USD. Check your dates to see the exact price.
Another very affordable option, for only a few dollars more, is Mango Tree House which has excellent reviews and is closer to the town centre.
If you are overly exhausted from the long journey and want to add an extra night on to your itinerary to recover from all the early morning hikes, you may want to stay somewhere more luxurious. For 50 AUD/ 31 EUR/ 35 USD you can book Maharani Homestay which is the current favourite amongst visitors of the area.
Visit Mount Kawan Ijen without a tour
Getting to Kawan Ijen at midnight
To hike Mount Ijen, you need to find transport that leaves in the middle of the night. It should drop you at the start of the hike at least 4h before sunrise.
Most of the time, the accommodation you booked will have other guests that are doing the hike. This will allow you to share the costs of the truck with the other guests. The car will cost 125.000INDR or 8EUR per person if the car has five or six people in it. This is the most affordable and comfortable way I could find to get there.
Another option is taking an ojek (a taxi motorbike), 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.
Our pick-up was organised at 1 am so we could get a little bit of sleep in between sunrise at Mount Bromo and hiking Mount Ijen. After a bumpy car ride (I recommend taking midnight snacks) of 1,5-2h we arrived at the base of Mount Karaw Ijen. The “Paltuding” (hike starting point) opens at 1 am to start the hike.
What to expect hiking the volcano Kawan Ijen
The hike up to the rim of Kawan Ijen will take you about 2-3 hours straight up in the dark, depending on your fitness level. The walk is quite challenging but straightforward, you just have to keep climbing, step by step. The reason you’re leaving before the sun comes up is so that you can see the famous blue flames in action.
Pack a headtorch and a (wet) facemask for your walk up. The torch is to prevent you from tripping. If you have hiking poles, it’s definitely worth bringing them as well! This walk is very steep and uneven. But why the mask? As soon as you get close enough to the top, you will notice the burning smell of sulphur immediately.
Going into the crater, the smell will only become stronger and stronger. All the way at the bottom, the yellow fumes can be quite intoxicating and disorientating. If you get stuck a sulphur cloud, you won’t be able to see anything and it burns everywhere.
Stick around long enough to see the sun go up and enjoy the crater lake and its gorgeous pale blue colour. Walk back up and notice how much beautiful nature is around you, something you missed in the dark. It’s kind of perfect as you won’t have time to focus on your surroundings to begin with.
The Sulphur Miners of Mount Ijen
Upon arrival at the entrance gate, you will immediately notice a few local guides offering their help. They are sulfur miners picking up the sulfur in the volcano, carrying it up and back down to get paid per kilo. The sulfur miners of Kawan Ijen earn about 900 IDR or less than 10 cents per kilogram of sulfur carried out of the volcano. This means that they have to carry 80 kilograms out to make a measly daily rate of 144k IDR or 80USD.
A lot of tourists try to carry the load of the miners and fail to walk a few steps. Let alone up the crate edge and down the steep mountain and back up. The conditions these mining workers worked in was beyond shocking to me. Guiding tourists and lending them their gas mask is a way for them to make extra money.
At the height of the tourism season, more than 1000 visitors visit the volcano on a daily basis. As the hike is quite hard to do on little sleep, I was very happy to have this help. If you don’t want to pay a guide, then kindly decline. However, if you do accept their help, please make sure you pay him.
Before you leave, take a moment to take it all in; the beautiful nature, the working conditions of the miners and the strong intense smell and sting of the sulfur.
The price of traveling from Surabaya to Mt Bromo to Mt Kawan Ijen without a tour
Wow, that was a bit of a read! To recap the trip, I’ve written down exactly what I paid during my journey from Surabaya to Mount Bromo to Mount Ijen. It took quite a lot of research and many questionable looks from the hotel staff.
In the end, I managed to do it all by myself and ended up saving more than 300 EUR. I only spent 93,2 euro for the normally costing 430 euro three-day trip. Here is a breakdown of my costs:
Train + car to Mount Bromo: 10 euro
Train + car to Mount Ijen: 12,5 euro
Mount Bromo (Café Lava): 5,40 euro
Mount Ijen (Kampung Osing Inn): 4,60 euro
Mount Bromo: 16 euro
Mount Ijen: 10,70 euro
Download the itinerary!
A Quick Guide to Surabaya
Surabaya, or Suroboyo in Indonesian, is not a tourist hub like Jogjakarta. It’s also not a massive city such as Jakarta. However, being the second biggest city in Indonesia, it does have almost 2.8 million inhabitants! So you’ll find that there is plenty to do.
Surabaya has a massive port and is thus more well known as a busy port city with a lot of export and import happening here.
What to do in Surabaya
1. Have a swim in the beautiful Majapahit Hotel.
A night at the Majapahit Hotel will set you back around 100 AUD/63 EUR/72 USD, but this is not the only way to experience the hotel. You can simply visit the hotel for some a dip in the pool and some traditional English tea.
Built during the English colonial times, this is a beautiful historic building. In 2018, the hotel charged only 80.000 IDR/8 AUD/5 EUR/6 USD for access to their pool. A steal in my books to spend the afternoon in such a beautiful place!
2. Suroboyo Carnaval Park
The carnival park might seem like a childish activity for the night, but I can guarantee that nothing is more fun than riding carnival rides with a bunch of people you just met in the hostel. Plus you can take a cool Coachella-esque giant ferries wheel shot like this!
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HARI INI TERAKHIR! Spesial DISKON 50% buat kalian yg beridentitas JAWA TIMUR! Yukkkk hariini ke Suroboyo Carnival, cuma 30rb aja yg membawa foto copy identitas Jawa Timur kakkk, sudah bisa bermain semua wahana, kecuali: area dolanan, perang laser, gokart, animal hunter, candyland, cooking class dan vr ride! _ Yukkk abadikan juga momen terindah Anda di Suroboyo Carnival dan tag ke instagram @suroboyocarnival _ Tag teman kalian yg ikutan promo ini! _ Repost photo from: @haighani _ Jl. Ahmad Yani No.333, Surabaya 031 8483131/ 031 8472014
3. Have a stroll through Taman Bungkul park
If you’ve had your fill of urban life, head to Taman Bungkul park for some much-needed greenery. The locals tend to hang out here during the day and the evening as well, so why not socialise!
4. The Submarine Museum
It is not often that you get to go inside the Pasopati, a Soviet-made submarine that you can explore on the inside. Read more on how the submarine ended up in Surabaya here. Plus this location gives you a good chance to check out the river.
Where to eat in Surabaya
When I’m travelling I usually tend to stay away from Western food and surrounding to the local cuisines. I’ve noticed that the best food can always be found in the small local diners and to this day I’ve never gotten sick.
Every now and again I miss western cuisine while travelling. I was craving pasta so bad in Surabaya! I was ecstatic when I discovered Domicile. The food was so good that I ended up going back here for a total of three! times during my visit -obsessed much?-.
Domicile is a very popular restaurant amongst the local cool kids and Instagram lovers because of the ace interior. I didn’t expect this kind of restaurant at all and loved coming here (over and over again).
Because it is a high-end restaurant, you should expect higher than normal prices compared to other restaurants in Surabaya. But if I still remember the truffle ravioli, you can take my word it’s worth the extra funds.
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At @domicilesby #foodgasm #foodporn #foodie #food #vscocam #vsco #l4l #vscofood #feedfeed #realfoodz #heresmyfood #foodpornshare #gloobyfood #tagsforlikes #buzzfeed #goodlife #eatandtreats #soulfeed #thekitchn #buzzfeast #eattheworld #f52grams #eater #beautifulcuisines #huffposttaste #foodgawker #onthetable #foodpornshare #sonyimages @buzzfeedfood @foodvsco @food52 @beautifulcuisines @thefeedfeed @_foodstories_
l. Sumatera No.35, Gubeng, Kota SBY, Jawa Timur
Open 11am-1am every day
2. d’Gunungan – Mountain Dining & Lounge
Looking for that truly Instagram worthy spot, head to d’Gunungan, Mountain Dining and Lounge. As it does serve international cuisine, you can expect higher prices, but it looks so pretty!
d’Gunungan – Mountain Dining & Lounge
The Sagamore Hills – The Taman Dayu
(Diatas Club House Taman Dayu/Waterpark Naik)
No list of food on this blog would be complete with a section on street food! My research on Surabayan street food showed that a lot of the dishes were meat heavy. As I don’t eat meat myself, I’m just going to link this elaborate article to provide you with more info and reading fun! Find more restaurants in Surabaya here as well. And if you are looking for vegetarian-friendly local restaurants (my pick), have a look at this list.
Stay in Surabaya: Hotels
After a busy few weeks through Vietnam, I wanted to reset in Surabaya and ended up in Hotel 88. As one of the nicest budget-friendly hotels, I was super happy with the location. It is walking distance from Domicile, a shopping mall called Plaza Surabaya (with food and supermarkets) and the train station. The staff to be super friendly and the room was all I needed at that moment. Find out whether it is available during your stay here. Prices start at 35 AUD/21 EUR/24 USD for a double bed which really is super good value for money.
Hotel Majapahit Surabaya
As mentioned before, the hotel Majapahit Surabaya is a gorgeous hotel priced at around 100AUD. Staying here would be a bit of a luxury, but after backpacking for so long, sometimes it’s worth it. Find the exact price by putting in your dates.
Looking for a quirky experience? Surabaya has a capsule hotel! Only a 3-minute walk from the submarine monument, it could be good fun for a reasonable price. Have a look at what the capsules look like here.
The JW Marriot is obviously a safe choice and would probably be one of the most booked hotels in Surabaya. They have a pool, a spa, an airport shuttle and spacious rooms. Prices start at 147AUD/91EUR/104USD, but have a look at your dates to get an exact price.
Stay in Surabaya: Hostels
There are only 8 hostels registered on Hostelworld (the app I usually use for my hostel bookings). I can’t say that any of the hostels look amazing, but I did go through the reviews to give you the two hostels I would pick. This is what I look for when I choose hostels!
- Krowi Inn: I prefer wooden bunk beds over metal ones as they are generally less noisy. They are well endorsed on their location, their staff and the atmosphere. I also looks like the most modern hostel in the city.
- Ikiru To Live: Great review on Hostelworld. Seem to have super helpful staff, they get awesome ratings on their cleanliness and it looks like they have a good breakfast.
Getting from Java to Bali
From Karagasem, the ferry is a short drive away. The public ferry is super cheap and will take around 30 minutes to get across from the island of Java to Bali.
Make sure that you time your ferry well and don’t wait too long to get on. The public buses on the Bali side stop at a certain time and it’s best to avoid having to pay an expensive taxi to your end destination.
Is it safe to visit volcanoes such as Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen?
Both volcanoes tend to be safe to be visited by tourists all year round. However, both volcanoes are active. You are going up at your own risk and it is up to you to inform yourself of the status of the volcanoes. Always ask around whether the volcanoes are open and safe to visit before making your way out!
Remember that the safety rules in countries such as Indonesia are different from other countries. You will have to be extra careful if you want to be certain.
A note on negotiating your way around Java
While this trip is very doable by yourself, try and find strength in numbers by meeting people along the way. This area is very touristy and therefore there will be plenty of people looking to make an extra buck.
They will tell you buses have already left or are full when they are not, they will tell you some buses don’t exist any more, etc. Don’t believe anyone without checking for yourself. Do your research (like reading this post) and stick to your guns.
Don’t be rude. I know, it’s super frustrating when you know someone is trying to rip you off. However, remember that these people will still have it worse off then you and just continue to ask around to find out the best solution for you to reach the top. Never take one answer for truth and ask different people that you are sure are not working together to take your money.
If you are not comfortable doing this, look into booking a tour anyway. Sometimes high levels of stress are not worth saving money.
Female Travel & safety in Java
The main religion on Java is Islam. While I usually respect each and every religion wherever I travel, I forgot to cover my shoulders or wear a long skirt in Surabaya. I kept getting honked and whistled at and could not figure out why… until the penny dropped.
What you need to remember is that Surabaya is not a tourist hub and is therefore not used to women either travelling by themselves or walking around in tank tops and shorts.
If you are travelling by yourself through Java, remember to cover up depending on your surroundings. Respect another religion and customs at all times and leave your shortest shorts for when you arrive in Bali (where they are more used to tourists).
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Update: Due to the popularity of this post, I’ve decided to republish it and revamp it completely. This keeps the post to date so that it is the most useful for your travels. The original post date of this blog was the 12th of August 2015.