Indonesia lies in between the Pacific Ring of Fire and the Alpide Belt, that together account for 95% of the world’s earthquakes as well as all but 3 of the 25 largest volcanic eruptions in the world. Situated in such an area, it’s no surprise that the Indonesian landscape is dominated by volcanoes. It’s the country with the highest number of active volcanoes – 76 out of 147!
Coming from regions of the world where volcanoes are scarce, our first volcano sighting was in Tagaytay in the Philippines. While we did enjoy seeing the Taal volcano and the surrounding lake, it was from afar. This time, we wanted to get up close and intimate. It was our opportunity to trek up and into active volcano craters! There were a plethora of volcanoes in Indonesia to choose from, but the most accessible ones were Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen in eastern Java.
Normally we opt to plan our own itinerary, but in this case, attempting to reach the remote areas of Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen by ourselves would have only prolonged the already grueling journey. So we booked an all-inclusive tour leaving from Yogyakarta, the cheapest option out there. Here was the ambitious itinerary:
7am: Pick up from our hotel in Yogyakarta and start the 13-hour drive to Probolinggo (base for Mount Bromo)
8pm: Arrive at our hotel in Probolinggo, sleep
3:30am: Pick up by jeep up to the viewpoint on Mount Penanjakan for sunrise
6am: After sunrise, trek up to the crater of Mount Bromo
11:30am: Start the 8-hour drive to Sempol (base for Mount Ijen)
7:30pm: Arrive at our hotel in Sempol, sleep
1am: Pick up by jeep to the beginning of the trek up the crater of Mt. Ijen
2am: Start the 3km steep trek up to the crater of Mt. Ijen
8am: Drive to the Kentanpang port to catch a ferry to Bali
Needless to say, those were three days of long drives, sleep deprivation and exhaustive moments – all well worth it though!
As promised, we were picked up at our hotel at 7am on Day 1 and proceeded to pick up the rest of the people that joined the tour that day. In an hour or so with a packed van, we started the journey towards Probolinggo. For the foreigner tourists in the van, the driving was completely reckless with dangerous overtakes and some quasi-crash moments. For the driver, however, it was a typical day of completely normal driving as he assured us to relax on multiple occasions. The ride was too bumpy to sleep or read, but thankfully we had other people to talk to, which made the long hours in the van pass by much faster!
Almost 13 very long hours later, upon arrival in Probolinggo, we were shuffled and assigned different hotels for the night, as well as a different van and jeep for the morning. It was one of the most chaotic and disorganized times ever. Our hotel happened to be half an hour further away from Mount Bromo than the other ones, so just like that, we lost another half hour of sleep.
After a restless night, we crammed into the jeep that would take us to Mount Penanjakan (2,770m) to see the sunrise over Mount Bromo at the ungodly hour of 3am. The road wound up the hill of the local village, leading to an expansive field where dense fog combined with darkness completely obscured everything. I’ve never seen such low visibility – it was impossible to see anything. We are still unsure how the driver found his way (he must have just driven by memory), but we made it to the viewpoint an hour before sunrise.
Despite the early hour, the road leading to Mount Penanjakan was already packed. We walked by endless lines of jeeps parked on the side of the road towards the viewpoint, anticipating the crowd we would inevitably face at the top. Luckily, we secured a good spot by the fence on the lower right side of the main viewing area. The next hour was spent waiting in the dark and trying to keep warm – time passed by excruciatingly slowly. As dawn began, we were more than ready for Mount Bromo to reveal itself.
The landscape was the definition of a desolate beauty, with rugged and barren volcanic peaks and gravel plains. It was other-worldly. Composing the picturesque landscape were Mount Bromo, with sulfurous smoke belching from its blown off top, Mount Semeru, the tallest volcano in the distance, and the sea of sand (completely covered by fog at this point) that surrounded Mount Bromo inside the massive 10km wide Tengger Caldera. The fog definitely added a sense of mystique, as if we were looking at volcanoes that rose above the clouds.
Unexpectedly, Mount Semeru erupted once in a while every 20 minutes or so, and we managed to capture the cloud of smoke and ashes coming out of its crater in this shot.
In those moments on Mount Penanjakan, we forgot all about the past stresses of getting to this point. Watching Mount Bromo and the Tengger Caldera appear in front of our eyes was an enchanting revelation. We’ve seen much in this past almost year of travel, but we’ve never beared witness to a dance of shadows in the rugged volcanic landscape. It was captivating.
When the sun was high enough in the sky, we hopped back on the jeep to head directly to Mount Bromo this time. We stopped along the way to take a few more pictures of the caldera from different angles.
In the light of morning, we saw that the impenetrable fog earlier was the sea of sand surrounding Mount Bromo that looked like clouds from up above. The jeep parked in a designated area while we started walking the flats towards the volcano’s base. We passed by the mysterious Poten Hindu temple on the way, a strange sight amidst the sea of sand with Mount Bromo as a backdrop.
At the base of the volcano, a steep ascent culminated in a long set of stairs up to the top of the crater.
Many locals offered us a horse ride part of the way up, but we chose to walk ourselves. It was surprisingly tiring on the sandy surface and all the dust lifted by passing horses didn’t make it any better. We were huffing and puffing by the time we reached the top.
Of course, it was totally worth it when we looked inside an active volcano for the first time. The smoke cloud rising out of its depth was huge, accompanied by a powerful sound.
Volcanoes are yet another of nature’s humbling reminders of how insignificant our lives really are in the grand scheme of things. We walked around the rim of the crater, trying to soak in the view of both the crater and Mount Bromo’s surroundings.
Trekking an active volcano was hands down, one of the coolest experiences of this whole trip. It only made us even more excited for the next day to come at Mount Ijen.
For more pictures from Mount Bromo, please visit the gallery!