What to expect when visiting Mount Bromo, Indonesia
“Looking down the crater of an active volcano is a thrilling experience. But Mount Bromo, in Indonesia, is much more than just that.”
I have not always been a volcano-nerd. In fact, before visiting Central America, I had never really considered the possibility of hiking a volcano. News of the eruption of Etna or Stromboli, in Sicily, reached me regularly. It looked like quite a show, but a far away one that I wasn’t meant to enjoy from up close – despite the fact that it only takes one hour to fly from Sardinia to Sicily.
Then, I traveled to Central America, and volcanoes became part of my every day life. In Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, I woke up to the gorgeous view of 4 volcanoes, and every night I would see clouds gather around their crater, and a lightening show that was fascinating to observe. In Antigua, Guatemala, I could observe Volcan Fuego throwing smoke every half hour or so.
Other travelers I had met in Guatemala mentioned that they had been on a volcano hike, and the fact that volcanoes were so easily accessible convinced me that I no longer had an excuse not to hike one. That’s how I went on my very first volcano hike, on Pacaya.
To read more about my experience on an active volcano, read my post “What to expect when hiking Volcano Pacaya, Guagemala.”
Eventually, I moved from Guatemala to travel further south. Driving across El Salvador on my way to Nicaragua, I stared out the window, fascinated by the huge mountains that proudly rose in the middle of nowhere. But it was only when I reached Nicaragua that, once again, volcanoes became an every day reality.
After the incredible experience on Pacaya, I had resolved to go on more volcano hikes and Nicaragua was perfect for that. But when I asked around about volcano hikes, I was told I could actually go volcano boarding on one of them. I had little idea of what that implied, but that sounded adventurous enough for me. In fact, it turned out to be an exhilarating experience.
To read more about my experience on Cerro Negro, check my post “What to expect when volcano boarding on Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.”
With all these incredible premises, it’s easy to see why I am always keen to hike more volcanoes. Imagine then my excitement when I got an invitation to visit Indonesia and later on realized that the country is packed with volcanoes, and that not only I’d be seeing a few, but I would also be hiking one.
Indonesia and its volcanoes
I didn’t know much about Indonesia, other than the fact that Bali is part of it. But when I received an invitation to visit, I accepted eagerly. It would be my first time in South East Asia – or shall I say, Asia altogether – and I was happy to see a different part of the world. The itinerary of the trip didn’t matter much to me. The avid traveler in me just wanted to go, regardless.
It was when I took a closer look at the trip itinerary that I realized that I’d be visiting the crater of two extinct volcanoes, and that I’d also be going on a volcano hike. This was meant to be one of the most fun things to do in Indonesia.
To read about the other attractions of Indonesia, check my post “Fantastic things to do in Indonesia.”
When I finally took time to read more about Indonesia, I learned that there are many volcanoes scattered around the country, a few of them in Bali. Indeed, Indonesia is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, with no less than 127 active volcanoes listed in 2012, the most explosive one being Mount Merapi, called Gurung Merapi in the local language and located close to the beautiful city Yogyakarta.
But it was Mount Bromo that I would be hiking. At 2329 meters, this isn’t the highest peak of Indonesia, but it is its most well known volcano. Its name, Bromo, derives from the Javanese pronunciation of Brahma, the Hindu creator god.
Mount Bromo is part of the Tengger massif, together with Semeru, Batok and Widodaren. It belongs to the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park and it is located in a plain called the Sea of Sand. It is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Indonesia, to the point that seeing the sunrise on Mount Bromo and then walking up to its crater are almost rites of passage.
My visit to Mount Bromo was quite eventful, and I have already talked about it in another post. The following is a shorter recollection, with a few tips on how to organize a visit to this spectacular volcano and make the most of it.
Seeing the sunrise on Mount Bromo, Indonesia
A typical tour of Mount Bromo consists of viewing the sun rise over it, and then going all the way up to the crater. The overall experience can be really enjoyable, provided one knows what to expect. Remember to keep one word in mind: “crowds.” This will help in understanding what to expect.
The best viewpoint to see the sunrise over Mount Bromo is that of Mount Penanjakan. Jeeps and cars usually drop passengers off as close as possible to the entrance to the park, from where they have to walk all the way to the viewpoint.
This would hardly be an issue, where it not for the fact that, although it is still completely dark outside, the area is incredibly crowded already, with cars and jeeps parked on each side of the road, forcing pedestrians to walk in the middle of the street. All the while, more cars, jeeps and motorbikes (the latter offering an additional taxi service to the entrance) drive by, completely disregarding the presence of pedestrians.
Once at the entrance of the park, a footpath leads all the way to a viewpoint, where the crowd cheerfully sits and waits for the sun to rise, selfie stick ready. I suppose it is possible to spend the night over there, because I can’t otherwise explain why, arriving no later than 3:30 am, the place is already packed and it is hard to find even a small place to sit or stand, not to mention to place a tripod.
A good thing to keep in mind when planning to visit Mount Bromo, then, is that given how popular an attraction this is with the locals, it is probably better to go during the week and to avoid Indonesian national holidays.
Another thing to consider is that the weather is quite unpredictable, and the sun may or may not make an appearance. When I visited, I waited in vain for the sun to show up and eventually gave up – there was no sign of Mount Bromo on the horizon. Luckily, as the jeep was making its way towards the Sea of Sand, the sun finally came out and we were able to stop along the way to enjoy the view and snap a few pictures.
Walking to the crater of Mount Bromo
Having crossed the Sea of Sand, the crater of Mount Bromo is actually within easy reach. It takes about 45 minutes to one hour to walk all the way from the point where the jeeps drop passengers off to the crater.
Once in the parking area, there’s lots of men offering horse rides all the way to the staircase that leads to the crater. However, I really recommend not riding one. Indeed, the horses aren’t kept in good conditions. They are incredibly thin and in visible distress, and they are whipped hard so that they move faster, even when they are carrying tourists that may well be heavier than they are.
It is a really sad sight, and it is infuriating to know that the same tourists that eagerly ride those ill treated horses come from countries where animal welfare is part of the culture. Sure, Mount Bromo is far from being listed among the cruelest animal attractions, but I’d like to think that we care for horses as much as for elephants and lions.
The walk to the crater isn’t hard in and of itself, but the fact that the floor is sandy and that most people ride horses to the top, means that there’s a lot of dust flying around. That’s why most people wear masks or a bandana or scarf on their face, to protect their nose and mouth.
Once at the top, the sulfuric gas emanating from the crater impregnates the air, with its typical rotten egg stench. This is the case for all volcanoes, actually. Yet, it is quite impressive to look down the crater of an active volcano and see smoke coming out of it.
Mount Bromo is located in East Java, at around 4 hours drive from its capital Surabaya. A good access point to plan a trip to Mount Bromo is Probolinggo, a lovely village which, considering how busy and crowded Indonesia feels, appears to be in the middle of nowhere. Jiwa Jawa Resort Hotel is a good place to stay.
Sunrise, Sea of Sand and Mount Bromo Crater tours usually depart in the early hours, when it is still completely dark outside. Mine left Probolinggo at 2:15 am.
The benefit of going on a guided tour is that it makes the most of the time available, so it is better for people who don’t have much time to spend in the country. If picking to go on a guided tour, make sure it is with a responsible company – respectful of the environment and not offering rides on horses that are ill treated.
It is possible to visit Mount Bromo independently, using public transportation. Needless to say this requires a bit more planning and way more time, especially if wanting to see the sunrise and then also walk to the crater.
Whether going alone or with a group tour, once again allow me to stress that in order to make the most of Mount Bromo, it’s necessary to avoid visiting at weekends or during national holidays, when it is more likely that it will be even more crowded than usual.
Gearing up for Mount Bromo sunrise and crater tour
- Bring a torch or a head lamp: when the jeep drops people off at the entrance of Mount Penanjakan it is still dark.
- Wear layers: it’s actually freezing cold at Mount Penanjakan. Wear a cotton shirt and a thermal shirt, a thick sweater, a pair of hiking pants and a good, warm jacket. Add a wool hat, a scarf (which can be used to protect against the dust later on) and gloves too. I promise it is not too much.
- Wear good hiking boots: the soil on the way to the crater of Mount Bromo is sandy, and good ankle support means easier, smoother walking.
- Wear sunglasses: it’s so dusty that sand may easily get into the eyes, and that is painful.
- Carry a small daypack: it will come in handy to put all the warm clothes once the sun is up and it warms up, and to carry some water.
- Don’t forget to carry a camera: the scenery is amazing and it would be a pity not to have a photo of it.
- Carry a tripod, it helps getting better pictures.
- Do not carry a selfie stick. There’s already enough around.
Want to know I normally put in my backpack? Check out “My ultimate packing list.”
Have you ever visited Indonesia? Did you go to Mount Bromo, and what was your experience?
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