Mount Bromo is an active volcano in East Java – it is set within some of the most otherworldly landscapes I’ve seen. Technically, the vast area below the crater is called the Sand Sea (what a cool name) but it looks more like the landscape from an alien movie. Getting here wasn’t all fun and games though!
The journey to Cemoro Lewang – the last town before the volcano, entailed a 9 hour train ride from Yogyakarta. This meant a 5am start to the day and catching an Uber Moto (scooter) to the train station. Riding on the back of a scooter with a backpack and a daypack is a little hairy but I got to the station in one piece (for only R6!). The 9 following hours on the train weren’t fun – I was squeezed on a bench seat opposite a woman and her baby and literally could not move! Our knees were touching each others the entire time! Weirdly, business class and economy class train tickets tend to be similarly priced so if you catch a train here, try to avoid the no leg room economy! Be warned, however – this is Indonesian Railways, not Emirates, so manage your expectations accordingly when it comes to ‘business’ class.
Eventually, I got to Probollingo – the town from which you need to catch a mini bus to Cemoro Lewang. Corruption and bribery is rife with the taxi and bus drivers here, each trying to make a quick buck by lying to you about available buses, charging you ridiculous prices and wanting payment before you have even arrived at your destination. Exercise proper caution here – everyone will try to rip you off.
I paired up with 7 other backpackers I’d met at the train station and we exercised our ‘power of numbers’ to eventually get a bus to Cemoro Lewang after being told the bus will only leave when it was full. Bearing in mind, we were the last train for the day, there wouldn’t have been any other tourists arriving to fill up the sodding bus.
The bus ride was a shocker – winding, steep, country roads in disrepair in the dark of night, in the rain with a maniac driver – not cool. Thankfully, we arrived in one piece and crashed almost instantly upon arrival. 12 hours to go less than 300kms!
The next morning was an early one in order to attempt and see the sunrise over Bromo. This entailed a 1 hour hike along a very clear road/path to the viewing area – don’t believe everything you read on TripAdvisor – it’s hardly a challenging walk – you’ll be just fine!
Being in Java at the end of the rainy season meant luck wasn’t on our side and we never saw much of a sunrise. Fortunately though, the weather made a good recovery for the rest of the day which made exploring the crater and the Sand Sea incredible.
If you are heading to Bromo – there is an unofficial free ‘sneaky’ way into the national park that will save you from paying the 220,000 Rupiah entrance fee. Ask around (or ask me) and I’ll give you details. It effectively means walking down a donkey trail which is easy enough. It also means you walk right across the gigantic Sand Sea which is stark, baron, desolate and stunning. I love these flat, sandy, smooth sand landscapes. It’s like a scene from the Mad Max movies.
Having eventually crossed the gigantic Sand Sea and jumping over ravines and cracks in the earth, we climbed the million stairs to the edge of the crater. The sound hits you before you see it and it is just something else.
When you cast your eyes into the abyss, coupled with the violent sound, pungent sulphurous fumes and strong wind, you realise just how monumentally powerful this volcano is. What makes it more incredible is this thing is part of our earth and is capable of such extreme destruction. I was just blown away. My mouth hung open in wonderment. Chatting to an English couple I met at Bromo afterwards, we all agreed that the moment of seeing the crater for the first time is easily one of the most incredible things we have all experienced!
Having seen everything that was on offer in the national park, we made our way back to Cemoro Lawang, a village best described as a tourist outpost. The next day would see us getting to the eastern most tip of Java, a town called Banyuwangi, from which I’d explore the Ijen Plateau.
Cheers for now.