Once I saw how easy it was to watch the sunrise over Mt. Bromo without a tour (read my post here), I figured Kawah Ijen without a tour could be done just as easily. The two are usually packaged together in a three day, two night uncomfortable and sleepless package of tourist-crammed outlooks. I think it would be hard to enjoy the beauty of such wonders while a hundred camera flashes are going off in the complete dark because nobody knows how to use a camera, not to mention view with their eyes and enjoy the experience.
Anyways! We took a different approach, as usual…
To avoid the crowds and spoiled views of the famous blue flames of Kawah Ijen, we rented motorbikes and drove up at a comfortable 10 am. Most of the tours begin at midnight and stay at the crater of Kawah Ijen until 8 am, so we bypassed everyone. And, by doing this, we were able to see the Kawah Ijen crater during the day and spend time exploring the area at our own pace with nearly nobody around. Did I mention we were able to get a good night sleep before too? Of course, we were not able to see the blue flames but if you really want to see them, it would be just as easy to leave earlier.
We drove the motorbikes through town and up the mountain to the main parking area which is about 32km from Banyuwangi. Some parts of the road are ridiculously steep and make you question the people who engineered such a road, but a good part of it has been recently repaved and is in good condition. Unfortunately the scooters we rented didn’t have enough power to take two people up, so one of us had to get off and walk some parts. The guy at the rental shop assured us they would be fine, but the slipping transmission on the way back said something else, that’s another story.
Right from the start of the trail, much like the road, the path is fairly steep but is only about 3km to the top. The initial view was literally breathtaking as a large sulfur cloud filled the air.
Taking a quick hike around to the left side of the Kawah Ijen crater offers amazing views of the turquoise colored acid crater lake with out any of the hazardous sulfur clouds.
On the right side of the crater is the trial leading to the sulfur mine where we watched miners carry 80kg loads out of the crater. The miners often work without masks and sometimes without shoes, carrying these baskets 3km out of the crater and 3km down to the base two times a day! Hiking down to the actual mine is very dangerous and I would not suggest going without a proper gas mask and clothing to protect your skin!
Visit Kawah Ijen Without a Tour:
Take the public bus to Banyuwangi. If you are coming from Probolinggo (Mt. Bromo), the Probolinggo bus station is overrun by some sort of bus mafia. The bus should cost 35,000 IDR, but will likely cost 75,000 IDR for tourist. Haggle, but be careful, they can get aggressive.
Rent a proper motorbike in Banyuwangi for around 65,000 IDR per day. The off-road appearance of the scooters we rented didn’t have the power for two people and may have struggled with one. Fuel only cost about 10,000 IDR total.
Drive to the parking lot at the base of Kahaw Ijen from Banyuwangi, about 32km.
Normal entrance fee for tours is 150,000 IDR but we only had to pay 100,000 IDR.
Make sure to bring a mask or cloth to cover your mouth to protect you from the sulfur gas. We wore bandannas but stayed clear of the sulfur clouds and did not climb into the crater. Don’t trust the cheap dust masks they sell at the base, they will not protect your lungs.
Always have Travel Insurance – you’ll be hiking and it will be dark (that is an affiliate link to the company that I get my insurance through)
The road is quite steep, rent a proper motorbike that can handle the roads.
Kawah Ijen’s crater is massive and you can walk around most of it. I suggest going to the left as you approach the crater and walk as far as you can, the view is spectacular!
The sulfuric gas is toxic! Stay out of the clouds and don’t trust one of those cheap dust masks that they sell at the base, they are almost worthless.
The trail is really dusty, a bandanna is nice to cover your mouth at times.
Get your camera set and snap some photos, but don’t watch the sunrise through your lens the whole time, enjoy it with your eyes!