It’s a 2am start for the second day in a row. The jeep will leave at 2.30am, though I’ve already seen and heard at least 15 of the same old Toyota land cruisers making their way passed the hotel and onwards to King Kong Hill which will be the first stop off point today and where we’ll watch the sunrise over Mount Bromo.
The day is centred around Mount Bromo. It’s an active volcano in the Tengger Semeru National Park in East Java, Indonesia. It lasted erupted in 2015 but despite its active nature, Bromo is a popular tourist attraction not only for the views of it at sunrise but also because you can also climb to the crater rim and stare into the void below.
King Kong Hill (Bromo Sunrise Viewpoint)
The viewpoint over Bromo is an hour’s drive from where we were staying, though many will choose to stay much closer and some even walk in the early hours to the viewpoint.
Luckily I can sleep on just about anything that moves, plus it was 2.30 in the morning so I got in the jeep, closed my eyes and was essentially teleported to the car park.
I say a car park, it’s the side of the road. Jeep after jeep after jeep line the road. I had watched a video of someone that visited on the weekend and she had said that the crowds were nightmarish. Luckily this wasn’t the weekend so whilst there were lots of jeeps, it didn’t feel overly crowded.
Waiting for sunrise
Just before the actual viewpoint and a short walk from the road are the obligatory tourist shops and cafes/restaurants that cater to those waiting for sunrise. We had arrived at 3.30am so there was an hour wait, filled with drinking tea and huddling by a tiny fire to keep warm. Word of warning: do not be an idiot like me and not only wear shorts, but also forget your trainers. Your toes will not forgive you.
There isn’t any entry fee to the viewpoint so you’ll only need cash if you want some breakfast or tea whilst you wait.
Clear skies and clouds
We made our way to the viewpoint for sunrise. Many will stop at the end of the paved path down which forms a sort of platform. However, you’re better off making your way up a small path on the side of the hill to reach the top. Here there is not only a flat piece of ground but it also offers slightly better views of Mount Bromo. It’s less than 5 minutes to the top and you’ll avoid the crowds who fail to venture that extra bit.
On a good day you can see Mount Bromo, Mount Batok as well as much of the Tengger Mountain Range that sits behind. There was a girl there who was back for a second time – the day before she had come for sunrise but due to the weather she could barely see the the side of the hill she was standing on, let alone the volcanoes kilometres away.
The clouds and mist were teasing us. The sunrise itself produced a classic orange/red glow on the horizon, though Bromo remained stubbornly hidden. We would get glimpses of the volcano as the cloud appeared to clear, only to be completed blanketed in cloud 15 minutes later. It’s not exactly warm up there so by the time that sun had fully risen at 6am, people started to head down.
Much like mount Ijen, our persistence paid off. We were the only people left on King King Hill wondering whether our persistence was actually stupidity. Luckily though, the weather decided to clear up for 30 minutes, giving clear views of Bromo and Batok though not of the surrounding mountain range. Regardless, the low hanging cloud created an incredible view which was made that much better in the knowledge that everyone else had cut their losses too early.
By the time the clouds rolled back in it was still only 6.30am, so we headed back to the 4×4 and headed down the hill to the Sea of Sand.
Bromo’s Sea of Sand
Often viewed as more of a necessary transit point to the base of Mount Bromo, the Sea of Sand was actually something that I was really looking forward to.
It’s a vast sandy plain that surrounds Mount Bromo and makes up part of the larger Tengger Caldera. I had seen pictures/video of the place and it looked surreal – a peaceful and isolating, desert environment before Bromo. Unfortunately though, the first half of the Sea of Sand is pockmarked with countless jeeps that have parked up for a photo opportunity. Sure, I took a photo but I had been expecting to walk across this alien landscape a little more.
We hopped back in the jeep and drove to the main car park which is about half way across the Sea of Sand. It’s a bizarre sight – literally hundreds of the exact same model of Toyota Landcruiser parked side by side. Apart from a few motorbikes I don’t remember seeing any other make or model of car……perhaps I’m the only one that found that to be a little strange.
Regardless, we got out and started the 3km walk to Bromo. Perhaps this would be the peaceful, silent walk I had been anticipating?
Absolutely not. It’s hardly a carnival, though there is a constant stream of people and horses making the journey back and forth from Bromo. It definitely isn’t peaceful and felt more like a procession. Was I disappointed? Slightly. Was my disappointment bad enough to impact my mood? Nah – it is what it is. The Sea of Sand wasn’t the main attraction, it was the crater rim and the volcano itself that I was more interested in.
By the way, if you want to take a horse instead of making the walk, it’ll cost you 50,000 Indonesian Rupiah each way (about $3.50 USD). It’s pretty darn cheap, though the owners aren’t afraid of using the sticks they carry to keep the horses in check.
Climbing Mount Bromo
That’s a misleading title. It’s hardly a climb.
The volcano is just over a 100m in elevation compared with the Sea of Sand so after a short stretch of about 500m at the bottom of the volcano, you then climb a couple of hundred stairs to the crater rim. Regardless, you’re at the top and this is the reason you came.
There’s a path that leads around a good portion of the crater rim which I would highly recommend you follow around to the left (after the stairs). You only need walk a few hundred meters to escape the crowds that dare not venture past the concrete rails that have been erected – the path is relatively thin but unless you have trouble walking down a normal street I doubt you’ll risk falling into the crater!
Bromo’s Crater Rim
The caldera at Mount Bromo is something else. It has steep drop offs on either side, though obviously the side that leads down to the crater below. Much like every volcano I’ve visited, the scale is inexplicable. Whilst there wasn’t any lava in the crater below (unlike Masaya volcano in Nicaragua), it emits a thick cloud of sulphur gas accompanied by the obligatory and constant roar of a volcano.
If you’ve never seen an active volcano, it’s incredible. The size, scale and sound of Mount Bromo is much more impressive than mount Ijen. Ijen is amazing in its own right, but the turquoise lake, sulphur miners and blue fire are the primary attractions. Mount Bromo is more of a classic volcano – a huge crater that spews out gas and noise.
It’s also an incredibly active volcano having last erupted in 2015. As such, the surrounding landscape is other worldly. The side of the volcano are covered in countless mini ravines, presumably formed by the flowing lava which turn into the aforementioned sea of sand that stretches for maybe 10 kilometres.
Finally, and as if that wasn’t enough, you also have Mount Batok standing proudly beside Bromo. It’s an inactive volcano, seen by the vegetation that covers its slopes. It stands in contrast to the rumblings of Mount Bromo – as a cinder cone volcano it almost looks fake in its symmetry and flat top.
In terms of Bromo as a stand alone attraction, the only real cost is going to be Jeep hire. There aren’t any entry fees that I’m aware of and if you’ve got a scooter you could probably do this trip yourself. The Sea of Sand might be a little challenging but it’s fairly hard packed sand – it’s not like driving across a beach.
Guesthouses are pretty darn cheap in the area, you only need to look on Booking.com to see places in the $10-$20 range.
Most people seem to be part of group tours or with their own driver so the cost is really going to depend on where you’re coming from (i.e Surabaya, Yogyakarta or Bali).
Is Mount Bromo worth visiting?
Is Mount Bromo as impressive as Masaya Volcano? No. The lava at Masaya is something very special indeed. Has everyone seen Masaya ad therefore have this comparison? No. Even if you have, should it stop you from visiting Bromo (and Ijen)? No.
Maybe I have a thing for volcanoes now. I can admit that.
However, for a trip that lasts 3 days and offers such a different experience from the more postcard images of Bali’s beaches, I couldn’t recommend it more. It is expensive coming from Bali (at around $350 USD for a private tour) though you also have the option of flying to Surabaya or Yogyakarta and making your way over from there. Certainly if you’ve never stood on the rim of a volcano and experienced looking into what feels like the centre of the earth, Bromo and Ijen should be added to your list.