The mesmerizing Ijen crater had been on our must see list long before arriving in Indonesia. Located on the far east of the island of Java, it had been described as a completely unique experience. Witnessing the miners hauling huge baskets of sulfur out of the crater on their backs, seeing the blue flames shoot into the air due to the chemical reactions and seeing the sun come up on an eery, almost lunar landscape sounded like an adventure we just couldn’t miss out on. Hiking Ijen is the holy grail of adventurous trips around Bali.
Getting To Kawah Ijen
After spending an afternoon in a Canggu coffee shop looking at our options for getting their from our location in Bali - 180 kilometers and a ferry ride away - we concluded we had two choices.
The all Inclusive tour of Ijen
You can find an all inclusive organized tour from the main hubs in Bali very easily. Remember this is a round the clock trip with almost no sleep involved. Tours costs anywhere from 2-3 million IDR per person and frankly was way out of our budget. Also, we were continuing our journey from Ijen deeper West into Java to hike mount Bromo. Therefore, the all inclusive tour just didn’t make sense. This option is definitely to be considered if you’re in Bali on a shorter holiday (10-14 days let’s say) and are pressed for time.
If you do opt for an all inclusive tour to Ijen, keep in mind that transport from Canggu or Seminyak and back will make for a REALLY long and rough day.
A great option to cut down on transit to Ijen is staying for a night or two in West Bali. We recommend checking out the Sumberkima Hill retreat who organize Ijen tours from their amazing villas. We loved our stay there and if we do go to Ijen again, we’ll definitely try their tour!
The DIY Ijen Volcano option
This brings us to our DIY option, the logical choice for budget and (sometimes) adventurous folks like ourselves. Since we feel there’s a real lack of good and accurate information out there at the moment, here’s exactly how we went about our journey. If you’re just here for the pictures, continue onto the next section 🙂
From Canggu (or anywhere on southern Bali), we hopped in a Grab to the Mengwi bus terminal. This is the most confusing part so we’ll try and keep it simple. All the buses in the terminal are large voyager / VIP buses that will not take you to Banyuwangi on Java, which is the gateway to Ijen crater. To get to Banyuwangi for cheap, we caught a very local, smaller and rundown bus operated by CWM which picks you up right outside the Mengwi terminal, across the street from the entrance and has Jember as a final destination on Java. This is the cheapest option and can drop you off at the bus station in Banyuwangi. Make sure you notify the driver though, or else he may not stop. The ticket costs 85K per person as of November 2017 and includes the price of the ferry crossing.
We left Canggu at 11 a.m. and got on the bus at 12:45 p.m. but only took off at 1:45 after filling up with as many customers as possible. We finally arrived at Banyuwangi at around 7:30 p.m. Java time (which has a one hour time difference with Bali).
Once we got dropped at Karangente bus terminal, we were picked up free of charge by our guesthouse, who really made the rest of the journey a breeze. We however won’t put the name of said guesthouse in this article because as helpful as they were with our tour, the bed we had was about the worst we’ve experienced in Asia so far.
Finding a tour in Banyuwangi
Once in Banyuwangi, you still have quite a few options to get to the main attraction for sunrise. We chose to go with the tour organized through our guesthouse. After crunching the numbers, doing it ourselves without a guide would have costed us nearly the same amount. For 300K IDR per person, we got transportation to the crater, entrance ticket (just this alone costs 150K), gas masks, flashlight, tour guide & extra tour to twin waterfalls once we descended from the crater, which we ended up skipping because we were so tired. Our guesthouse also dropped us off at the same station the next day free of charge so we could continue our journey onto Probollingo.
Climbing Ijen: What to expect
At midnight, we were picked up with another couple staying at our guesthouse by a thirty year old Toyota Land Cruiser. After the lack of tour organization typical of Indonesia which resulted in us waiting outside an Indomaret for 45 minutes waiting for the two last hikers to join us, we set off on the nearly one hour drive from Banyuwangi to the base of the trail.
After being given a flashlight and the chance to buy some hot coffee and snacks, we headed up in the pitch black just after 2 A.M., with about a dozen others and two local guides. Due to the combination of the exhausting local bus, terrible bed at our homestay and an onsetting cold, it was a really rough hike for Yasmeen and resulted in us climbing at the pace of a very elderly couple. If we were feeling our usual selves, the hike would have taken just over an hour but on this occasion it took us over double that.
The good news is even after braving her physical woes and declining to be taken up in a wooden cart pulled by two Indonesians for 20-30$ (and yes, people actually do take this service) we got to the crater rim with still more than enough time to see sunrise. Now at this point, we had lost our group and guides and with Yasmeen still feeling very weak we decided to not descend into the crater to witness the blue fire given off by the sulphuric lake from up close.
Instead, we walked around the crater rim to witness the early morning light breaking over one of most majestic landscapes we’ve ever seen. The powder blue color of the lake, the mountain peaks which rise all around and the huge cloud of smoke rising from the depths of the crater come together to make you question whether you haven’t just been dropped on another planet.
Photography at Kawah Ijen: Making the most of your time
As with any sunrise, you’ll have a limited time to take advantage of the best lighting conditions at Ijen. We’re really happy with our decision not to go down into the crater. For the most impressive pictures, we recommend heading from the end of the trail directly to the opposite side of the crater. This adds about another twenty or so minutes to the hike.
After reaching this spot, cloud cover and the direction of the cloud of smoke, on which you obviously have no control will unfortunately greatly influence how awesome you photos will turn out. On the morning we climbed, the sunrise wasn’t great. To make matters worse, the cloud of smoke came right across the lake towards our position. This made visibility quite poor and the sky pretty bland.
We were thankfully able to still grab some pretty impressive landscape shots with our drone which was able to get up high enough to get around the smoke (see picture above). We realize many of you don’t have this luxury, so our suggestion if you’re stuck with this same problem is to just keep walking along the rim until you get better visibility on the bright blue lake below and bring a flashy item of clothing, such as a bright raincoat or sarong, to really make your subject pop against the volcanic landscape. Ironically, due to the poor conditions our favorite picture from the trip (below) ended up not even being of the lake!
Getting Back: Ijen to Canggu
After taking about an hour to get back down to the parking lot, the most economical way back to Bali is just to follow the steps outlined in the fist part of this article in reverse. Once the tour drops you back at your accommodation, you can get your guesthouse to arrange transport to the ferry terminal where you can grab a ticket back to Gilimanuk which is only 6k IDR for passengers on foot.
Once you’re off the ferry, you’ll have the choice of getting on a private van which can take you straight to your accommodation in Canggu, Ubud or Kuta for around 400k IDR, or waiting for a local bus which cost us 80K IDR as of November 2017. The bus took about six hours and will take you to the Mengwi terminal north of Canggu. The bus picked us up right in front of the security check point at the exit of the ferry in Gilimanuk.