Conquering Kawah Ijen, Indonesia

As we took the ferry from Gilimanuk to Banyuwangi and touched down on our third Indonesian island, Java, we were already planning our visit to the famous Kawah Ijen.

Kawah Ijen is famous for its blue sulphur lake and the magical blue flames which appear in the crater at night. We had read that this was a phenomenon only visible in a few places in the world so something we, of course, absolutely could not miss!

In true traveller style we had read tons online about getting to Ijen and some ‘nightmare’ stories of the climb (Charlotte of course worked herself up into a mild panic!) but we’re here to tell you to ignore all that! Actually, Kawah Ijen is one of the best things we have done so far, and is definitely not to be missed!

Climbing Ijen can be done pretty easily either by yourself or as part of a tour. We had planned to go it alone and hire a moped, as this is usually the cheapest way, but after meeting a random man in a cafe who offered us a price so cheap we thought it too good to be true we couldn’t really refuse. For 100k we would be picked up from our hostel and driven to the entry point of Ijen, provided with gas masks for the crater, given a local tour guide, be picked up and transferred back to our hostel with stops at a coffee plantation (yes, another one!) and waterfall along the way.

Was it worth it? Well, first of all we were extremely dubious after handing over 100k to a man in cafe (which he said he owned) and getting a handwritten receipt on the back of a menu (sounds familiar to our Batur story…If only we’d learn!!) but after waiting nervously at 12.30am to be picked up he finally showed at 1am. Phew! In other respects, whilst the guide was pretty much pointless, as he disappeared on up the plateau and we didn’t see him again until sunrise, we were glad we had booked the tour if only for the transfers and gas masks. The road to Ijen is pretty steep and unless like our driver you know the roads well could have been one hell of a difficult ride with two people on the back of a moped! On our way up, the road was so foggy that at times you couldn’t see each other in the car let alone the road outside! – in fact, this was probably the worst part of our whole Ijen experience! Anyway, we survived.

Note to anyone doing it – We met a French dude who trekked up to the car park in the day (hitchhiking and walking) and then simply put his tent up and camped. Clever. He wasn’t the only one either, so this is a cheap very feasible option!

The climb itself is a well beaten track and relatively easy. The first part takes you from the car park to the top of the plateau – its around an hour and a half climb which is steadily uphill the whole way with some steeper bits in places. You are, however, walking on even ground and so it really isn’t too challenging.

If you are planning on climbing down into the¬†crater to get a glimpse of the blue flames but aren’t sure then…having done it, its a must! We cant say it’s not dangerous because in truth it really is. Its pitch black other than your own and other hikers torches, the rocks are jagged and can be slippery and the sulphur fumes are very strong. However, the sight of the blue flame is once in a lifetime stuff and for us far outweighed being the guys stood at the top regretting not going down!

Once you have retraced your steps back up the ‘path’ its time to race across to the other side of the crater to catch a glimpse of the most incredible sunrise over the¬†sulphur lake! Try to tear yourselves away from the flames as this really is worth catching too! We sat legs dangling, looking down into the beautiful turquoise lake with the clouds below us in the distance. The sun rises up behind you so that we really didn’t know which way to look; one way at the blazing orange sun coming up into a perfect blue sky or at the pink clouds over the turquoise water. I mean…It was like something from a dream and the view certainly didn’t look real! The only thing to break the beauty was probably us chowing down on our healthy breakfast of fake oreo’s and some squidgy chocolate buns! The pictures can really do the talking here and on our Ijen photo blog

Just the easy walk back down to the car park was left, so we decided it was about time to find our guide (which we managed with 2 minutes to spare…great!) and head down. Mission very much accomplished!

Out of all of the mountains/volcanoes we did whilst in Indonesia this was by far our favourite just because it is so different from the rest and just so beautiful! So, don’t read everything online, just take the plunge and we are sure you will not be disappointed either!

C & J

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