Five hundred million people worldwide live within the vicinity of active volcanoes, thanks to the fertile land and natural resources that come with the area. On the island of Java, Indonesia, alone, there are 45 volcanoes. Though they can be destructive, they are also beautiful to see. Many are even accessible to tourists. Here are three otherworldly and unique Java volcanoes you won’t regret visiting.
An ethereal and almost mystical view awaits at the so-called White Lake. Steam rises from the milky turquoise lake, circling the bare branches of scattered trees growing out of the yellow mud. Behind the lake sits a comparatively lush and green hill, contrasting starkly with the barren crater lake.
Potentially hazardous sulfuric fumes are strong here, so I recommend a face mask. There are people in the parking lot ready to sell you one – definitely negotiate on the price (we paid about 1000 for ours and our guide said this was the right price).
You only need a half hour here to explore and take photos. Official signs recommend less time due to the fumes.
- How to visit: Day trip from Bandung
- Cost: $28 USD
This incredible volcano is photogenic on a National Geographic-worthy scale. The sunrise here is worth waking up for. It’s possible to visit solo but much easier with a guide (and still at backpacker prices).
From Sapikerep it takes about an hour in a 4×4 to get to the drop off point on Mount Penanjakan overlooking Mount Bromo. From there, it’s another 15 minutes walk to the view point.
As the sun rises, the light reveals three volcanic cones, all sitting within a crater. Plumes of smoke and ash puff from the top of the furthermost volcano. The rays of light coming from the left illuminate the parallel ridges on Mount Bromo, the front-most cone. Meanwhile, the sky dances from purple to pink to blue as the day awakens before your eyes.
This is worth losing sleep over.
After sunrise, if you’ve arranged a tour, you’ll walk down the hill to meet your driver. You’ll then head to the seemingly endless sandy basin (Laotian Pasir or Sea of Sand) in which the three volcanoes sit. From here, you have the option of ascending Mount Bromo.
For a fee, tourists can “rent” horses for a partial ride up the mountain. Tim and I prefer to avoid animal riding of any kind (though we are guilty of having ridden elephants, horses and camels in the past), and Tim is allergic to horses anyway. Our obvious recommendation is to walk up the mountain.
If you decide to climb the volcano, prepare for about an hour long hike up and back again. You’ll likely inhale clouds of sand, horse dander and volcanic fumes. Don’t worry though, it’s worth it. Once up to the crater rim, you will be able to able to peer directly into Bromo’s steamy caldera.
Admittedly the view out over the expansive desert impressed us more than the one into Mount Bromo’s crater. From that vantage point it is easy to see why it was called a “Sea of Sand”. The scene looks simultaneously like something out of the Old Testament and like the setting for a post-apocalyptic YA novel.
- How to visit: Hire a driver/guide from Sapikerep
- Cost: $70 USD
Get ready for more National Geographic-like moments when you visit Mount Ijen
It’s another night of short sleep, as your driver/guide for Mount Ijen volcano (2368m) will likely pick you up around 2am to drive to the volcano.
This volcano is unique, but not just because its acidic crater lake is the largest on earth or that its more caustic than battery acid. It’s one of the last active sulfur mines on earth, and one of only two places in the world where you can see blue flames.
The awe-inspiring view is deceitful. The work that happens here every day in the mine is not just physically difficult, it’s life-threatening due to the constant exposure to poisonous gasses.
The miners start their work in the middle of the night when the air is cool. They hike the approximate 3km steep climb to the rim of Kawah Ijen’s crater, and then descend another 600m into it. The sulfuric steam billows around the mine, revealing in its oscillations the vibrant blue flame that results from a chemical reaction between the sulfuric gasses below and oxygen above. This otherworldly scene is their office. For hours they chip away at the hardened sulfur. Once they have 150-200 lbs, they load up two wicker baskets held together with a bamboo rod, which is also used to carry the load on their shoulders. Then, it’s a steep climb back out of the crater to drop off the load before climbing back down to do it again. With two loads per day at about $5 each, miners are considered well-paid and well-respected in their communities.
Up on the crater rim, tourists can buy knick knacks the miners carve from smaller chunks of sulfur crystal to make a little extra money. For a lot of extra money (one guide we met said 1 million rupiah, or about $70 USD), tourists can hire miners and local guides to rickshaw them up the steep mountain in the same carts used to bring the sulfur down.
The blue flames of Ijen, created by the mining activities, draw in hundreds of visitors each morning. With these numbers, the tourism industry is becoming more lucrative than the sulfur that started it all to begin with.
It’s a steep hike up to the rim, and from there you could see the hazy blue glow over the mine. There is also the option to hike down into the crater to the mine, but in the complete dark the path will be treacherous. People often fall.
If you do choose to go down into the crater, you’ll get a close up look into the mining activities and the blue flames.
Up on the rim, you’ll get to watch the sunrise. As the sky brightens, the blue flame disappears and a more beautiful site reveals itself. The volcano and its lake are some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever seen. Sunrise shows off a perfect pinkish purple, complementing the gray of the rocks and the milky aqua of the acidic lake. The colors are so calming and peaceful – a dramatic contrast with how volatile and active this place actually is.
- How to visit: Hire a driver from Banyuwangi
- Cost: $170 USD
If you want to visit Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen, I recommend booking a tour that includes your transportation and hotel accommodations as well as the tours of both of these Java volcanoes. This will be much easier than booking each step separately and still cost effective.
We booked our tour from Surabaya to Bali via the two of the Java volcanoes mentioned here with Discover Your Indonesia. We had heard that some of the online tour companies are actually fake, but this is a reputable and trustworthy one if you want to make your arrangements before arriving in Java.
There are many other Java volcanoes you can visit as well! Have you been to any not mentioned here, or any volcanoes elsewhere in the world? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!