Don’t be fooled: Volcanoes are dangerous things. Yet it’s not that common – at least not in Indonesia – to find a place where you can watch lava flowing down the slopes at close range. From far, you see gentle white plumes of smoke shaped like angels and it could appear like it’s snowing on a perfectly warm day. Get close enough, they rain down acrid flakes of nostril-clogging ash which obscure your vision and deliver enough sulphuric gases guaranteed to make your lungs very unhappy.
My friends and I went on a 3D2N journey to see two stunning volcanoes in East Java – Mount Bromo and Mount Semeru. These two neighbours may be next to one another but they can’t be more different.
From Singapore, it’s a short 2.5 hour flight to Surabaya, a popular base in East Java where adventure seekers and hiking enthusiasts go off to bag some volcanoes. Think of Bromo as your eager-to-please photo-friendly destination, and Semeru as a gruelling scale-me-if you dare royal challenge.
We wanted to fit our trip into 3 days – but if you have more time, go ahead and plan a more breathable itinerary. We landed in Surabaya at around 9.30am and reached Cemoro Lawang via airport transfer (courtesy of our hotel – SM Bromo) by 2.30pm. With the relatively smooth traffic, it took 4.5 hours to reach the hotel. Instead of waiting till the next morning for the sunrise, we opted to see Bromo at sunset.
We set off around 3pm and walked 5km from our hotel to the entrance of Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, a mostly-uphill walk that took us 45 minutes. We were treated to some pretty scenery of onion fields and rice patches like this one here.
We stayed at SM Bromo Hotel and had a wonderful experience. We paid 200k IDR per person for one night’s stay. For this price we had hot water & good pressure in the shower, freshly prepared hot breakfast with tea/coffee included, plus great service, new and clean facilities and the smooth and efficient airport transfer. So I would say it’s more than value for money! The trade off is that it can be quite far from the entrance – this 5km can be done by Jeep too – so you decide. Note that there are a few hotels that are directly next to the entrance, which is a mere 5-minute walk to the entrance, but I read too many negative reviews to risk staying at those.
As of June 2015, the Bromo entrance ticket costs us 217,500 IDR (around 15 EUR) per person per day as it was a weekday. The weekend rate is an additional 100,000 IDR. A little after the entrance, there is a lookout point where we could see Mount Bromo and the perfectly conical Mount Batok with its deep grooves and ridges running down its symmetrical slopes. Mount Batok is not climbable, but I wish it were. I could barely take my eyes off its flawless symmetry. It looked like a yummy green canelé – the caramelised French pastry with grooves around the side.
A vast expanse of the slate gray ocean of sand separated us from the three volcanoes in the horizon ahead – Bromo, the one to the left with a broken crater lip, Batok the beautiful cone and Semeru behind the pointy tip (hidden from view in above pic).
Fresh from watching Mad Max: Fury Road, we felt like the brave warriors crossing the desert when we were traversing the Sea of Sand or Sand Sea. If you have no issues walking, resist all temptation at first to ride the little horses or even take the ojek (motorbike). The soft feeling of the ash and sand beneath my feet and watching the black diamond-like sand sparkle in the late afternoon light are both highlights of my Bromo visit.
There are also photo taking moments aplenty here. We were greeted by a few other travellers on our way there and at that moment I felt like we were fellow nomads journeying across an endless desert.
The final bit as our group approached Bromo was a zigzagging slightly uphill climb…
…before the straight flight of steps that led us to Bromo’s crater. It looks insanely long due to the angle but it is doable as long as you keep a good breathing pace and take it easy. I wanted to run all the way up but in the end it was too difficult – I had to take 3 pauses before hitting the top.
The jagged lip looked like it was blown off quite violently and we peered into the bottomless blackness to see a steady plume of smoke puffing out. There was a fair bit of flowers and offering-type items being strewn into the crater. There is a barricade to prevent us from falling into the crater, but the area around the crater was cramped and narrow and we had to be careful not to fall off the cliff on the opposite side from the crater. I could only imagine that there must be a traffic jam around here in the morning with the sunrise tours, but in the late afternoon, we were only one out of three groups of people on top. We took our time to enjoy the panoramic view down toward the Sea of Sand before it started to get chilly and we hurried back down.
On our return trip, we decided to go with the ojek – also to save some battery for our Semeru hike. After some bargaining three of us got onto one motorbike for 10k IDR per person, and the ojek guy deftly ferried us across the dusty sand ocean back to the entrance.
Initially I was a bit hesitant to visit Bromo for sunset but it turned to be really amazing! If time is a bit tight for you to do the sunrise tour or you’re simply not a morning person or you are looking for something different, it’s actually pretty cool to come in the late afternoon and of course there is always the golden hour to catch. ♥
p.s. All the beautiful photos in this post are taken by my talented friend Etienne Rodriguez. Merci beaucoup pour les photos!