Climbing Volcanoes on Java Without a Tour

While most flee to Indonesia for some hardcore beach time, there are also quite a few volcanos to explore. We were able to break away from the beaches for a few days to trek Bromo and Ijen. We also rented a motorbike and trekked to Kalibiru National Park, which was basically untouched by western tourism. Most places want to get everyone in with a tour, but it’s so much more expensive. The tour agencies know this, so they make it a pain in the rear end to maneuver around without an expensive, crowded tour deal. Our three day adventure to Bromo and Ijen wasn’t easy by any means, but it was well worth the hassle.

Mt. Bromo

We hopped on an 8 hour train from Yogyakarta to Probolinggo. Once we arrived in Probolinggo, it was absolute chaos. The streets were so jam packed with motorbikes, you couldn’t even hardly squeeze through. All the commissioned tour agents were yelling “Bromo! Come here! Come Here!” We waved them off and said no thank you. After squeezing our way through about 50 motorbikes, we reached the other side of the street and started walking towards the bus station. A bemo (small doorless cab) picked us up to take us to the bus station. While in the bemo, we had a moment to realize that the group of people we latched onto while exiting the station was actually a group that we had met in Malaysia. We would also run into them for a third time on Gili Air Island. The driver tried to drop us off at the tourist agency and we had to tell him that we wanted to go to the bus station and that we wouldn’t pay them unless we got there. So we get to the bus station and the bus drivers yell to us “Oh! Ten! We have ten! Let’s go!” We walk over to the bus, only to be told that we actually need fifteen people and if we want to leave now, we have to pay for all of the empty seats. We waited. Luckily after a few minutes another group showed up and we were able to leave. One guy had been sitting there for three and a half hours waiting for the bus to fill up. After two hours, we finally reached Cemoro Lawang (where Bromo is). We found a guesthouse, ate dinner, and went to bed. We had to be up at 2:45 AM to hike to the top of Penanjakan, which was the viewing point for Bromo outside of the park. All of the tours would go inside the park and we’d have been smushed in with 500 people all trying to take a picture. From our viewing point, there were maybe 20 people, plus we didn’t have to pay the entrance fee. The sunrise was breathtaking and well worth waking up for.


Made it Up in Time


Moon Shining Over the Hills


Sun’s Coming Up


The Valley Lighting Up


Mist Around the Crater


Mist Over the Valley


Steam Rising from the Volcano




Sun’s Finally Coming


Feeling Accomplished

After the sunrise, a small group of us decided to try and get into the park via the Sea of Sands. We had read that people who didn’t have part of a tour package could walk into the park and climb the crater without using the main entrance. We knew that the $20 entrance fee never made it to the park and would just be pocketed by the guys outside. We almost made it to the volcano, when we were stopped and told we had to pay. A few decided to pay and go hike into the crater, but we decided to turn back and not pay the entrance fee. We felt satisfied with what we did see and the sunrise was really lovely and quiet compared to what we’d have seen in a tour.


Heading Down into the Sea of Sands


Making Our Way Towards the Crater


This is as Far as We Got


Back up to the Valley

Ijen Crater Lake

Unfortunately, getting to Ijen without a tour wasn’t much different in terms of hassle. The bus drivers wanted to charge us double what the locals would pay to travel there. They claimed the bus was “direct, no stops” while it had many stops. The hotel tried to charge us an extra night for being late to check out, even though we had asked them in the morning if we could be late to check out and they said yes. It was an ordeal. But once again, the wonderful view and lack of crowds was well worth the hassle. A guy we had met from England and a girl we had met from France decided to go with us to Ijen. We rented two motorbikes and started out on our journey to the volcano. We had to decide between going for sunrise, where we’d see blue flames coming up from the lake, or going during the day. We didn’t really want to wake up for another sunrise and we’d also be able to avoid the crowds. We reached the base of the volcano and started to hike. The road was incredibly steep. I kept having to get off the back of the moped and walk up further while curt half walked the bike up. I was getting irritated at that. It was one of the more difficult climbs I’d ever done in my life once we reached the base of the crater. I was amazed that the sulfur workers had to do the climb multiple times per day with hundreds of lbs on their back or pushing wheelbarrows. Each trip they’d make around $5-$10. They mine the sulfur out of the acidic lake and walk it down to the base of the mountain. It was incredibly sad to think about. They didn’t wear masks to protect themselves from the sulfuric acid. They’d carry these massive piles of sulfur down a very steep hill all day. They made such little money for it. I definitely had a lot of first world guilt while making my way up the volcano with my large bottle of water, climbing up for pure recreational purposes.


Hopped on our Rental Mopeds


Steep Walk up the Hill


Sulfur Worker Carrying Sulfur down the Hill


View of the Valley


Burnt Trees on the Way Up

Once at the top, I couldn’t have possibly imagined the color of the lake. It almost looked like paint. It seemed so thick and perfectly calm. Sulfuric smoke rose out of the mine, and the sheer size of the crater was absolutely intimidating. All we could do was stare in amazement at the lake. We did some walking around atop the crater and looked at a few different viewing points, which were all amazing. I had a laugh with the French girl about Mt. Bromo. She had told me about buying a Lord of the Rings replica ring and how she carried at all through her travels with the intention of dropping it into Bromo’s volcanic crater. Once she got to the crater, she felt she couldn’t part with it. I guess at that point, it had become her precious. I thought that was so funny and still laugh to myself when I think of it.


Completely Mind Blowing


Huge Trail Around the Crater


View of the Trail We Walked Up


The Color Doesn’t Seem Real. It’s so Incredible


Steam Coming Up from the Sulfur Mine


View of the Crater Lake

Kalibiru National Park

My travel companion had come across some photos of people sitting on a tree stand over a beautiful landscape. After a little research, he realized it was taken at Kalibiru. There isn’t much else there aside from that attraction, but we thought it would be really cool to get the picture taken, so we rented a motorbike and headed that way from Yogyakarta. It was about an hour drive. Along the way, it was really beautiful to drive through the countryside away from tourism and western influence. Endless rice paddies and modest homes flooded our views. Once we biked as far as we could up the mountain, we walked the steep road up to the top. There, we were the only western looking people. We saw the views and stood around waiting in line to climb up on the treestand where we could get our picture taken. The whole process was maybe an hour or two, and then we returned back down the mountain. It was a fun little day trip, and it was nice to be in a place that was untouched by many of the hassles of tourism. The only issue was that it was so local, it was hard to find anyone who spoke enough English to help us maneuver the tree stand and pictures!


Back on the Bikes


Rice Paddies we Drove By


More Rice Paddies


Walking to the Tree Stands


Some Local Tourists Getting Ready for their Picture


Tree Stand and View


My Picture from the Tree Stand

The few days we spent trekking through the volcanoes were exhausting, but we knew we’d be at the beaches of Bali soon. I was glad we chose to go without a tour. It would have maybe been less of a hassle, but we’d have lost some of the magic by being shoved in buses with hundreds of other people trying to get the perfect picture. I would definitely recommend avoiding tours for most of the major sites in order to have a really unique and quieter experience. We were able to build the trip around our own time frame and the freedom to explore on the motorbikes was also really nice. I could never have imagined how beautiful the views would be of Bromo and Ijen. They are truly highlights of Indonesia and I’m so pleased to have been able to see them.

Onward and Upward,


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