Into the Fire: How to Climb Mount Ijen

Of all the things I had planned when I first set out for Southeast Asia there were few that I looked forward to more than the chance to climb Mount Ijen. I’ve climbed my fair share of mountains but summiting one of two sulfuric volcanoes in the world amidst liquid yellow sulfur and mesmerizing blue flames was certainly a new and interesting challenge! This wasn’t the most physically demanding hike I’ve done, but it was without a doubt one of the most extreme and allows access into a natural environment literally unlike any other in existence on earth. To see the sunrise from the volcano’s rim while overlooking the most brilliantly turquoise lake, standing on a mountain of yellow sulfuric rock, is truly something out of another world. Here’s a complete guide on how to climb Mount Ijen.

Mon Overlooking Mount Ijen

Save time, energy, and stress…book a local private guide for cheap!

I booked my accommodation and hike + transfers + guide through Kampung Osing Inn, whom I found on Tripadvisor. My girlfriend and I along with a friend from back home split the guide fee and the room was only $7.50 a night for all of us! It’s a true to definition homestay, fans rooms with shared bathrooms and only a handful of guests. After the experience I can honestly say that you couldn’t replicate the same amazing and authentic trip for less money doing it on your own. Kampung Osing and the locals operating the homestay were amazing and showed us how to climb Mount Ijen the right way!

 

CJ Overlooking Mount IjenBudget for  Kawah Ijen at Night

-Accommodation $2.50/person

-Food $6/person

-Private Guide & All Fees $26/person

-Total Cost $34.50

At under $35 USD a person we had our accommodation, private transfer to/from Mount Ijen, climbing fees, gas mask, and guide all paid for. Banyuwangi, the town nearest to Ijen, is a small town and tourism infrastructure is slim to none so having everything planned ahead of time was a huge help. While the climb itself is a very straightforward, the logistics of getting transported to Ijen from the town, getting gas masks, etc is next to impossible especially if you’re on a tight schedule!

 

Hiking Mount Ijen at Night Itinerary

12:00 Midnight: Wake up, eat a quick breakfast and be on the road by 12:30 for a 45-60 minute ride to the base of Mount Ijen. Prepare yourself for twisting, winding roads and lots of bumping around!

Mon poses with Ijen sulfur miner
Mon with one of the miners! Super nice guy

1:30am: Headlamps on or flashlight in hand, likely wearing a long sleeve or light jacket, begin the climb 3 kilometers to the top. I love hiking at night, it’s as if you’re being lead to your destination blindfolded and the light slowly reveals the beauty of the hike to you! Starting off in total darkness you’ll share the trail with laborers who walk up and down carrying massive chunks of sulfur from the mine at the top of the volcano. Their loads weigh upwards of 150lbs and will make you feel that much more out of shape from all the seafood and pastries in Bali as you huff and puff while they pass silently by!

CJ holding sulfur baskets
My very weak attempt to lift the worker’s load

3:00am: The trail begins in the woods before quickly clearing the treeline and giving way to a desolate, barren landscape. About 1.5-2 hours in you’ll pass by a small outpost where you can take a breather and get a cup of coffee, have a snack, etc. You’ve hiked the majority of the incline at this point!

miner carts3:30-3:45am: The trail takes a left turn towards the center of Mount Ijen and out of nowhere a large number of seemingly out of place metal carts appear. Still in the dark, carefully descend for 30 minutes down loose boulders into the basin towards the sulfur vents spewing out yellow gas and the blue flames lighting up the darkness at random. Gas masks on!

 

4:00am: Depending on the weather and wind things can get very intense at this point as sulfuric gas and rock particles blow about in the air in massive yellow clouds. It’s unavoidable, so be sure to prepare yourself! Scrambling up over the sulfur vents and onto an exposed ledge above the acidic lake (at your own peril) nets the best view of the blue lava as it fires off into the night in brilliant shades of blue and purple.

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4:45am: Begin heading back up to the top of the rim to see the sunrise over the lake, quickly before the sunrise!

5:30am: While the rest of your group lazily waits at the trailhead for sunrise, put in the extra work to scramble up to the veryyyy top of Ijen for an awesome view! I did this myself and the extra 5-10 minute climb netted me a sunrise view entirely alone!

-At this point you could also walk along the rim of Ijen 40 minutes down to the water’s edge for an up close look at this metal munching lake. Highly recommended!


12325363_10205836814895981_528996660_n6:00am: Began heading back down the trail, make sure to stop and check out what the miners-turned-craftsman are selling. Many hand carve incredibly detailed sculptures out of the sulfur, an amazing souvenir to remember the climb. We also ran into some local teenagers doing the climb, they were as excited to say hello as we were and asked up for a picture!

 

 

12767267_10205836814015959_508765859_n7:00-7:30am: Hop in the jeep and head home!

Our original plan was to make the 9 o’clock train headed to Probolinggo (then on to Mount Bromo) but this is simply impossible unless you skip showering and going back to your accommodation to pack up (which you will have to do as the sulfur smells of raw eggs and has at this point permanently stuck to your clothes). This is a hike you want to take your time on, not go for record speed. My advice would be to take your time and take an afternoon train or bus to your next destination!

 

Top 5 Tips for Mount Ijen Hike

  1. Wear clothes you’re prepared to throw away! The smell of the sulfur is everlasting and not particularly pleasant, I didn’t throw away my shirt from the hike and to this day it still smells! Luckily you’re in Indonesia so getting some cheap clothing is no problem! You will be fine with shorts and a t-shirt once you get moving but at the beginning of the hike it’s a bit chilly!
  1. Blue flames of Mount IjenDo it at night! The famous blue flames are only visible at night, not too mention the added bonus of hiking up to the rim for a spectacular sunrise. It’s easy to do this way as most of the public transportation to Banyuwangi will arrive in the afternoon, you can hike same day!
  1. Get a private guide! do some research on your own but I found that there was little money to be saved by planning it all out on your own! I would have probably had to spend another day in Banyuwangi to sort out the transfers to and from Mount Ijen and that extra cost of living would cancel out any savings! Not too mention you’re helping the local community as most guides are miners who are now too old to haul the massive loads up and down Ijen!
  1. Sulfur sculpture Mount IjenIf you buy a sulfur sculpture, mail it home! There are several locals who carve really unique sculptures out of the solidified sulfur, they sell them for $1-5USD and they’re totally worth it! That being said…make sure to mail them back home or take the risk of having them confiscated at the airport. Mine were snatched at security as sulfur can apparently be used in explosives and it’s considered a highly flammable material (oops). Oddly enough my friend flew all the way back to Chicago with some in his carry on, no issues. So go figure…Thanks TSA
  1. Be prepared for anything! Our hike was blessed with perfect weather and conditions at the top weren’t too crazy so luckily the sulfur clouds were bearable. That being said the sudden gusts of wind and the toxic smell of the gas can make the situation a bit stressful at times, we met some guys in Cambodia who had made the climb in extreme wind and said it was a bit chaotic J. Prepare yourself to get out of your comfort zone!

 

How many days to allocate?

This trip can be made in an action packed 36 hours. If you leave first thing in the morning from Surabaya or Bali you can make it to Banyuwangi before the evening, do the hike the same night you arrive, and be on the road to your next destination the middle of the next day without rushing too much. If you’ve got a bit of time you might consider spending a second night in town to recuperate but I decided I would rather sleep on the bus and keep on moving!

 

To and From Mount Ijen

Internationally: Get yourself to Surabaya or Bali. From either international airport you can easily make your way via train/bus/ferry to Banyuwangi, the town closest to Mount Ijen.

From Bali: The bus is the only option other than a flight. Leaving from Denpasar Station it’s a pretty scenic ride and provides a chance to interact with the locals. Although it’s scheduled it’s best to get there a couple hours early and wait around as routes are often delayed/moved up without any notice. Check out a bus timetable here. The ticket will include the ferry ride over from the edge of Bali to Banyuwangi as well so don’t be scammed!

From Surabaya: I would highly recommend the trains, for just a $1-2 USD more than the bus fare you get incredibly clean, spacious seating and they’re hardly ever full! Here’s a timetable for the 3 daily routes. The bus is always an option as well, though it’s quite the opposite of the train!

*Note: The bus provides an incredibly wild, death-defying ride during which you will interact with the locals on a whole other level. We are talking sideshow “vocalists” and musicians, 6 year olds smoking cigarettes, everything from pastries to old comic books being sold by individuals who hop on the bus to ride between 1-2 stops, it was madness and it was awesome! We took the bus from Banyuwangi to Probolinggo as we missed the train and it turned out to be an unforgettable ride. That being said if you’ve done it 1-2 times you might prefer to take the incredibly clean train for just $1-2USD more!*

Have questions or want to know more about how to climb Mount Ijen? Leave a comment and let me know what I didn’t cover!


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