Home to 147 volcanoes, Indonesia may be one of the most volatile places on Earth, but on the plus side, it is blessed with spectacular landscapes that my own country (Malaysia) lacks. Luckily for us Malaysians, Indonesia is just a few hours’ flight away if we suddenly crave some volcanic adventures.
One of the most famous volcanoes in Indonesia is Mount Bromo, an active volcano located in East Java (the island next to Bali). The volcano, which is part of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, is 2,329 meters (7,641 ft) above sea level. It lies in the middle of a huge sand-filled crater called the ‘Sea of Sand’, along with 4 other volcanoes.
Best Time to Go
The National Park is open to visitors all year round. However, the best time to visit is during the dry season, which is from April to October. Bearing in mind that this is an active volcano, it is best to check with the Bureau of Meteorology before visiting.
How to Get There
The nearest airport to Mount Bromo is Juanda Airport in Surabaya (SUB). It is the second busiest airport in the country, with frequent flights to Jakarta and other major Indonesian cities, as well as some direct international flights including Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Hong Kong, and Taipei.
From Surabaya, you can either take a private taxi/car all the way to Cemoro Lawang (the nearest village to Mount Bromo), or take public transports to Probolinggo:
If you’re from Surabaya Airport, take the DAMRI Airport Bus to Bungurasih (a.k.a. Purabaya) bus station. The ticket costs Rp 25,000 (as of January 2020). And from there, take a Patas express bus to Bayuangga Bus Terminal in Probolinggo, which will take about 2 hours, depending on traffic, and cost around Rp 30,000.
If you arrive after 16:00, it can be difficult to fill up the entire minibus, and you may have to negotiate with the group. It is possible to get the whole minibus for Rp 300,000. However, if you’re the only passenger, it might be cheaper to get a private car instead. The journey from Probolinggo to Cemoro Lawang should take about 1.5 – 2 hours.
From Cemoro Lawang to Mount Bromo
Most people stay overnight in Cemoro Lawang to climb Mount Bromo before sunrise. Mount Bromo is a 45-minute walk from the village. You can also rent a motorbike or a 4×4 jeep. Alternatively, check with your hotel to see if they organize group tours.
What to Bring
- Warm jacket, especially if you’re climbing in the morning before sunrise. In any case, the village in Cemoro Lawang is also quite chilly, if you’re spending the night there.
- Raincoat, if you visit during the rainy season.
- Flashlight. The trail can be extremely dark before sunrise.
- Hiking shoes, preferably, but I survived with strapped sandals.
- Water and snacks. There are few vendors in the national park.
How Fit do You Have to Be?
Although Mount Bromo is 2,329 meters high, don’t let this scare you. You won’t actually be hiking 2,329 meters. The base from which you will begin your trek is already high above sea level. Depending on your fitness level, the actual trek to the summit should take only about 20 – 30 minutes.
You don’t need to have prior hiking/mount-climbing experience to hike Mount Bromo. The hike is not difficult although the sandy slopes can make it a little tiring, as your feet keep sinking into the sand. If you’re as unfit as I was, you might have to scramble on all fours at some parts.
There are villagers will offer their horses to take tourists to the top of the volcano, but I urge you to think carefully before taking up on this offer. Carrying a full-grown adult to the summit can be really tough on the horse.
Mount Bromo Entrance Fee
Before entering Cemoro Lawang, you will need to pay a conservation fee of Rp 10,000 to go inside the village.
The entrance fee for Mount Bromo National Park is as follows:
- Indonesian: Rp 10,000/person
- Foreign (Weekday): Rp 220,000/person
- Foreign (Weekend/public holiday): Rp 320,000/person
My Experience Hiking Mount Bromo
I visited Mount Bromo in May 2011, just a few months after it erupted. The trip was unplanned. My original destination was Bali, but since flying directly to Bali from Kuala Lumpur was a little beyond my budget, I decided to fly to Surabaya instead, and continue overland to Bali.
It turned out I had an extra day to spare, so I tried to fit in a side trip to this famous volcano. From Surabaya airport, I took a bus to Bungurasih and another one to Probolinggo. It was past noon when I arrived and there was no other passenger available to share a minibus with, despite waiting for almost an hour.
I was hoping to continue my journey to Bali that very evening, and not wanting to wait much longer, I finally decided to take a motorbike taxi. The 1.5-hour journey felt much longer on a motorbike, because I wasn’t used to being on one and kept asking the driver to slow down at sharp corners.
There were a lot of sharp corners on that winding uphill road. The motorbike made weird sounds every time it braked. Several times, it almost skidded into the ravine as we tried to make way for trucks and vans that seemed to come out of nowhere. I wasn’t even given a helmet.
As we ascended, the air gradually got cooler. The view that accompanied us managed to melt away some of my anxiety. Green, misty valleys and terraced rice fields were dotted with farmers with their legs knee deep in the mud. There were kids running around in the small village we passed by.
The last stretch of the road was the narrowest and steepest before we reached the parking area. Upon arrival, I was already greeted by the view of Mount Bromo. The looming hulk of the volcano looked ominous against the grey sky. Its mouth was still continuously spewing ash and smoke since the eruption earlier that year.
There was a Hindu temple that seemed abandoned. Everything was covered by inches of grey volcanic sand. I didn’t see any other hiker, as most people usually only climb during sunrise and sunset to get the best photos.
We then began our climb. Every now and then, the volcano would make thunderous rumbling sounds, followed by a spray of ashes that would rain on me. According to my guide, these ‘mini eruptions’ are to be expected after a major one, much like aftershocks following an earthquake.
Apparently, there used to be a proper walkway and steps leading up to the crater rim, but they were all buried in ash after the eruption. The ground we stepped on was soft from ash that hadn’t settled. My feet kept sinking and slipping with every step I took. It certainly didn’t help that I was only wearing sandals — I had packed for the beach, not the mountains.
After just a few minutes, breathing became difficult. I don’t know if that was because of the altitude or because I was plain unfit. Still, I made it in under 30 minutes.
Thick grey smoke emanated from the deep crater, so we were only able to see a few meters ahead of us. My guide and I only stood at one spot. You could actually walk all the way around the crater, but with no safety railing in sight, I’d rather not.
This was how it looked like inside the crater:
Suddenly, I felt a drop of something wet on my arm. It was black. Before I knew it, there were more and more. For a moment there, I had no clue what was happening. What was this black liquid? I heard the rumbling sound again but realized that this time, it was really thunder. I also felt the wind getting stronger and colder.
It had started to rain — a few fat drops in the beginning, which quickly turned into a torrential shower. The rain was black because it had to go through the ash clouds that were hovering in the air. It was practically raining mud!
We hurried down and found the motorbike covered with a thick layer of mud. After wiping the seat with our bare hands, we made our way down the winding path back to the village. My guide had lent me his jacket as I only had a blouse on, which was already drenched.
- Although East Java is rich with natural attractions, its tourism infrastructure is still pretty much underdeveloped. Getting around by public transports takes a lot of time and effort. I do not recommend taking public transports if you have a tight schedule, or a plane to catch.
- Probolinggo is rife with scammers who would try to rip you off at every chance they get, especially if you don’t look like a local. I’m a Southeast Asian who could speak Bahasa with a passable Indonesian accent, and still almost got scammed.
- The view of Mount Bromo is best seen at sunrise. This means waking up at 3:30 a.m. Be prepared with warm clothes and a torchlight.
- Organized tours by bus or jeep are available, but climbing Mount Bromo is easily doable on your own.
- Another popular option is to climb Mount Penanjakan. The viewing platform offers magnificent views of the caldera, but gets busy with tour groups in the morning. However, most of the tour groups leave soon after the sunrise.
- Mount Bromo is very popular among local tourists and school students. Time your visit so it doesn’t coincide with local holidays.
Have you been to Mount Bromo? Share your experience in the comments section below.