Emptiness, desolation, silence, void… some words that are not enough to describe totally the feeling inspired by the landscape that surrounds the Ijen Volcano, which activity contributes to producing high quantities of sulphur, a mineral that is collected from the bottom of the crater by men.
Since early morning these miners, carry baskets on their shoulder with the big blocks of sulphur, which shiny yellow color contrast with the monochrome landscape. This concentration of sulphur is also responsible for a phenomenon called the “blue fire” only visible during the night, that is the combustion of the gas released by the volcano. Due to the recent eruption (March 2017) the crater is filled with smoke and the visitors are not allowed to go down, so the “blue fire” is not really visible.
The fire is not visible but the smoke that comes out from the crater, slowly start to irritate the throat and the eyes, making the breath heavy and leaving an intoxication sensation, that increase at dawn, when the air starts warming up. It’s strong enough to force anyone to use the gas mask, making your breath an audible experience that reminds Darth Vader, where the almost desert landscape creates a hash scenario.
Workers don’t use a gas mask but I think is more an option, maybe due to the lack of awareness of the impact of sulphur in health, than by economical reasons, as the same miners hang around selling mask to the visitors. But these miners suffer from the sulphur expose that reduces their life expectancy to less than 50 years.
But the Ijen has much more to offer: Kawah Ijen, another crater filled with water that due to the concentration of sulphur results on the most acidic lake in the world.
As the sun comes out behind the mountains that surround Ijen, the mist that fills the crater starts to slowly dissipate, revealing the fantastic colours of the lake, that goes from the greenish to a bluish color, with a milky appearance. Something hard to describe as everything looks unreal and illusory. And is not just the lake… as the soft first light of the day illuminates the sky, a fantastic landscape starts to show up, revealing a scarce almost all burned by the acid steam that comes from the lake, and a soil where the erosion of the acid waters brought by the rain leaves deep marks like ditches made by a gigantic claw.
The soil on the top of the Kawah Ijen also gets unusual colours with yellowish traces resulting from the acidic lake waters.
But the most remarkable moment from this visit, was the hike just before the sun rises up, where the dawn light, still dim to light the path I was walking, but strong enough to cut out the shape of trees and bushes which naked branches create phantasmagoric black figures against the dark blue sky. The absence of sounds, the immobility of the air and the fantastic landscape wrap us in a surreal reality… like a dream coming from another dimension.
How to visit Ijen Volcano:
- You gonna need transport from Banyuwangi to Pos Paltuding the entrance of the Ijen Park: rent a motorbike or get an ojek (200.000 Rp return). If you want to see the sunrise and reach Ijen by ojek you need warm clothes as the trip is made around 2 a.m. and is really cold, even if at Banyuwangi is a warm night. If you drive a motorbike, go with plenty of time, as a few parts of the road are in bad condition… is a long way to the top made in darkness, so you must feel confident as a scooter driver. The way down is steep and a bit danger!
- You gonna need a gas mask… really!!! It will cost 40.000 Rp at the entrance. The sulphur gas can be strong, depending on the winds, irritating the throat, lungs and eyes, making the hiking more difficult… although you just feel it nearby the crater and on the way to the lake. Around the lake, thesulphur is not significant.
- You need to buy the entrance ticket: 100.000 Rp. At the weekends and public holidays, the ticket costs 150.000 Rp.
- You do not need a guide!!!!! The doors open at 3:00 a.m. and everybody that arrive by a tour start hiking at the same time, so you just need to follow the crowd… and anyway the path is wide and very clear, as it used by the miners to transport the sulphur stones in hand cart. This hike takes about 90 minutes to reach the “blue fire” crater.
- You gonna need a flashlight!!! The stretch between the blue fire crater and the Ijen Lake is not so clear and probably you’ll do it still before dawn, and at this point the tour groups will split a bit and there’s not a crowd to follow. If you don’t travel with one ask at your guesthouse.
- Warm clothes. When you reach Pos Paltuding the temperatures are low during the night is even more on the top around the crater, maybe 10 degrees C. But with the hike quickly you’ll be sweating and need to get rid of some layers of clothes to put them on again when you reach the top. But on the top, around 8 a.m. is still very cold, and at that time my hands were almost without sensitivity.
If you choose a tour, they all stat from Banyuwangi around 1:00 a.m., moving around to pick others tourists and arriving at the Ijen park entrance (Pos Paltuding) around 2:30 a.m. There you find eateries with snacks, food and drinks… and some warm clothes.
The gates open at 3:00 a.m. with all the groups moving at the same time.
The visit usually ends around 7 or 8 a.m., depending on the guide and the speed of the group… I arrive at Banyuwangi around 9.30 h.
Due to the recent eruption (March 2017) the crater is filled with smoke and the visitors are not allowed to go down, so the “blue fire” is not really visible, and doesn’t make much sense the tours start so early (1 a.m. from Banyuwangi)…. but this information is not released by the people that are organizing or selling the tour and not even by the guides.
This city, at the most eastern point of Java, doesn’t offer much to see or to do and basically serves as a base point to visit the Ijen Volcano. Most of the people arrive here during the day, sleep a few hours and after visiting Ijen leave to Bali or Bromo.
Banyuwangi is also a waypoint for those traveling from Bali to Java, by ferryboat, that means from the Gilimanuk to Ketapang (Java) located a few kilometers from Banyuwangi.
I walk a bit around but couldn’t find anything that catches my attention, but the people are very friendly and smiley, making this uncharacteristic place a warm welcome to Java!
Where to sleep in Banyuwangi:
I stay at Pepito Guest House, that isn’t a remarkable place but has a good price, with a room with toilet costing 100.000 Rp, and with a delicious breakfast (Javanese style) made by the “auntie” that lives next door (maybe the best memory from Banyuwangi). Friendly staff that will help you to move by local transportation and that can also arrange a tour for a “not-so-expensive” price… 300.000 Rp, including transport, ticket and mask…. and a guide that you don’t need!
Pepito Guest house
Address: Jalan Jaksa Agung Suprapto No.159, Banyuwangi
Some rooms can be a bit noisy, and others without windows, so check the options available… and don’t trust much when the reservation sites say that there is “just one more room free”… if you arrive after noon probably all the rooms will be free, as most of the people just check out on the same day that visited the Ijen. You can call them if you want to book!
Where to eat in Banyuwangi:
Along the Jalan Jaksa Agung Suprapto, there are many eateries that sell food, the usual variation of nasi. Just next door of Pepito Guest House there is also one shop that opens after 5 p.m. selling food packed in paper cones.
A meal in one of these places costs around 10.000 Rp and is usually tasty and spicy.
ATMs and Money exchange in Banyuwangi:
I couldn’t find moneychanger at Banyuwangi.
But during my search, one helpful and friendly man drove me to the BCA Bank, at Jalan Jenderal Achmad Ysani. Usually, the banks don’t offer an attractive rate but the BCA at Banyuwangi, gave me a good deal and doesn’t charge commission. It takes more time, as you need to fill a form, show the passport and wait for your turn, but the friendly staff made all this very smooth.
How to go from Banyuwangi to Cemoro Lawang (Bromo Volcano)
- Bemo number 8 (yellow bemos that pass by Jalan Jaksa Agung Suprato) from Banyuwangi to the Karangasem Train Station, the trip takes about 5 minutes and cost 5.000 Rp
- Train from Karangasem to Probolindo. Is better by the ticket in advance otherwise, you probably will not find economic ticket. I got mine one hour before the train departure and only found a seat in business class (120.000 Rp). There’s one train departing from Karangasem at 9:15 a.m. that arrive at Probolingo at 13:15. Watch out: Probolingo is famous for scams!
- In front of the Probolingo Train Station, you’ll see a yellow bemo waiting that goes to the Bus Terminal Bayu Angga. You need to wait until it get’s full and the trip costs 10.000 Rp and takes 15 minutes. Along the way, the driver stopped several times trying to push the forigners out of the bemo, saying that in that place we’ll catch the bus to Cemoro Lawang, but these are the private buses or private cars. The public buses (very old and in bad condition) are waiting a bit south from the Bayu Angga Terminal, in front of some warungs. The driver will spot you as everybody that arrives here go to “Bromo”. The ticket costs 35.000 Rp and you need to wait until the bus is full, that means 15 people. If after a while there are not enough people, the total cost of 525.000 Rp will be divided by the number of passengers
- The 37 km until Cemoro Lawang are made along a bumpy road with nice views passing along rural areas. It takes 1.5 hours.
- The bus drops you at the end of the road, or before if you ask, as there is not exactly a center of the village, very close from the starting point of the hiking to reach the sunrise viewpoint.