Indonesia has around 150 volcanoes scattered around its territory and, among those, quite a few gems. We decided to
trek climb Kawah Ijen and it was both the most beautiful and the most moving experience of our trip.
Kawah Ijen is an active — I know, I’m fearless — volcano located on the island of Java, right across Bali. Its name means “green crater” because of its bright blue-green-ish lake. Now you might be thinking “oh a beautiful lake, let’s take a dip” except that it’s the most sulfuric lake on, well, planet earth.
Kawah Ijen’s miners
That color is given to the lake by the solfatare in the crater, from which miners go extract sulfur. Those miners go up and down the crater up to 3 times a day, most of the time wearing just flip flops or rubber boots and no face protection whatsoever, with big blocks of sulfur that can weigh up to 90 kilos (200 lb.). Not to mention the caustic gas emanating from the crater.
Just to give you an idea, we went up and down the crater once, carrying nothing but a tiny backpack with water and wearing gas masks, and it took us a few hours of intense leg pain. Most of the slopes of the crater range between 40 and 60 degrees, which makes it more of a climbing experience than a trekking trail. So yes, these guys are heroes.
Trekking Kawah Ijen was a very ambivalent experience: on one hand it was absolutely gorgeous and unique, really the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, but on the other hand it broke my heart to see those miners working their asses off to support their family.
How to organize your hike
We slept at the Ketapang Indah hotel, very close to the volcano. The hotel is really great value for money, the gardens are beautiful, the rooms are comfortable and the restaurant serves really good Indonesian food.
About the trekking itself, it goes as follows: you go up to the top of the volcano, then down into the crater where you can see impressive blue flames (from the sulfur). Then, to have the best view for sunrise, climb (yes, climb) back up the crater to the top of the volcano again. There, you’ve earned the most beautiful sunrise of your life.
A few practical info for your ascent:
- Book a driver for 24 hours: you’ll need someone to take you to your hotel/the volcano, then wait for you while you’re trekking, then take you back to your hotel and/or to your next stop.
- Eat light the evening before. Trust me on that, you don’t wanna wake up after 90 minutes of sleep in the middle of your Nasi Goreng digestion. No, you definitely don’t.
- I know it sounds pretty obvious, but pack cookies, water, (sun)glasses and tissues in your backpack. The trekking is pretty hardcore (reminder: 60-degree slopes) so you’ll need something to nibble while watching sun rise after a few hours of sweating. The tissues and glasses are for the gas, you might have sensitive eyes and cry a bit when going down the crater.
- Start trekking at 1:30 am. I know, it’s early (or late, depending on how you see it), but it’s the only way you’ll have enough time to go up to the top, then down into the crater, then back up on time for sunrise.
- You don’t really need to plan your trekking, there are quite a few local guides there. We just joined a random group of people with a guide and gave him a good tip at the end.