Ok so technically it’s not in Bali… BUT it’s pretty darn close! Mount Ijen is located in East Java, close to the town of Banyuwangi. The dormant volcano is also known as “Kawah Ijen”, kawah meaning “crater” in Indonesian. We visited Mount Ijen as a quick trip from Bali. We left our place in Canggu on an early Wednesday morning, and were back home before sundown the next day. We spent less than 24 hours in East Java, stopping at three different locations, but Mt. Ijen is the one that definitely stole the show. By far the best hike I’ve done in Indonesia, here’s everything you need to know before visiting this beautiful volcano.
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Hiking Mount Ijen is so special because it not only offers an incredible view at the end, but it’s also one of only two places in the world where you can see a natural phenomenon known as “blue fire”. It has to be pitch black to see it (hence the early wake up), but it is amazing to see. The blue fire is caused by the burning of high pressure sulphuric acids. You can then head over to the lake, which is the world’s biggest highly acidic contained body of water in the world. Surprisingly, you can touch the water. Just don’t let your hand stay in there too long. They say 5 minutes is enough for the skin to be melted off your bone, and after 10 minutes even plastic starts to disintegrate.
After this, you’ll hike back up to the ridge for sunrise where you’ll get to one of the best views of your life. While the sunrise itself is blocked by the neighboring mountain, the view of the lake and the reveal of the beautiful turquoise water is stunning.
We woke up at midnight, left at 12:15am and were at the gates right at 1am. It cost 100,000IDR to enter. We’re in pretty good shape and were able to make it to the top without stopping – minus a quick stop for tea and snacks right before we headed to the fire. Total time up was about 2 hours, then another hour to get to the blue fire. After the fire, we walked another hour to the ridge to see sunrise, and then the walk down took just under 2 hours.
The cheapest way to get there (and the way we did it) is by motorbike! We drove our Vario Beats (110cc) scooter from Canggu to the Ferry port in Gilimanuk. From there, we took the ferry over and drove another hour and a half to the homestay, located not too far from the base of the mountain.
The condition of the ferry varies greatly. On the way there it was as if we were on a mini cruise ship. There was air conditioning, a snack bar, comfy seats, and even places to lay down! On the way back, however, we got a pretty bare-boned ship. No AC and only benches, but the ride was still doable. The ships leave every 30(ish) minutes, and takes just under an hour to cross.
The entrance to the Volcano opens at 1am, and you want to get there as close to that time as possible. The road there used to be bad and required 4×4, but they’ve recently paved it so we were just fine with 2 people on our little scooter.
The drive from Canggu to Gilimanuk took about 3 hours going there, but due to afternoon traffic on the way back it took us about 4.5 hours to return.
An important thing to note: Police Checks in Bali are becoming very common. They check for two things – helmet usage and international driver’s license. If you don’t have either, they will try and fine you. Whatever price they say doesn’t matter, if you end up in this situation you can get out of it by giving them 100,000 Rupiah. BUT if you’re planning on doing a lot of driving and/or staying for a long time, it’s definitely something worth looking into. We got ours online for about $45 dollars.
This hike wasn’t as difficult as I thought it’d be! The first hour is a constant uphill climb on relatively stable rubble. The road is clearly marked though, as it’s the path all of the hundreds of miners use to wheelbarrow up and down Sulphur.
Unless you have a physical condition stopping you from doing so, most people should be able to complete the hike. There are a lot of spots to stop on the side. There are many miners offering “taxi” services but please don’t be that person. They literally carry you on their shoulders and while it might sound “fun” it is incredibly tough work for these guys and the amount of labor being put in is not safe or comfortable for other people to see. You can do it on your own, I promise.
As for clothing, it didn’t get that cold. I wore leggings, sneakers, and a light sweater with a windbreaker on top. It does get a little windy so wearing either a rain jacket or windbreaker on top of an insulating layer is definitely a good idea.
Our guide provided us with gas masks, but we only really needed to wear them when seeing the Blue Fire. Be very careful if it’s windy or when getting close to the clouds of gas as it will BURN your nose, throat and eyes, even with the mask. It was one of the most uncomfortable feelings I’ve ever felt, but is quite easily avoidable by not getting too close to the smoke.
"Do I need a GUIDE to hike Mt. Ijen and see the Blue Fire?"
Technically.. no. You don’t “need” a guide to hike Kawah Ijen. The path is pretty direct, and there’s a good amount of people there you can follow.
HOWEVER, I 100% do recommend getting a guide! Most of the guides are also miners, and not only know the mountain like the back of their hand, but also can give you some amazing insight into the mining and politics around it that are going on.
Above all, it is absolutely worth paying for a good cause. The work that the miners have to do is such hard human labor, and they suffer just to get paid next to nothing.
While on the hike, you’ll see the miners carrying the sulphur in two bamboo baskets balanced on a wooden stick across their shoulders. The weight of each load will weigh around 75-100kg. Keep in mind, most of these men don’t weight much more than 50kg themselves. They do this after having to bear the fumes of the Sulphur (most without a mask I might add since the company doesn’t supply it for free) and get paid a whopping 1,000 rupiah per kilogram of Sulphur. That’s less than $7 US for hours and hours of intensive HARD manual work. The weight of the load is so heavy, that all of the workers have permanent callouses and scars on their shoulders, which they call “the original tattoo”.
The craziest part of the entire hike, to me, was when we asked about why they didn’t put in any machinery to help. The response was always a frantic “oh no.. this is how we make money. Hundreds of us come here to work so we can eat and our children can go to school. The machines will take our jobs away. We don’t want that. We need this to survive.”
The miners actually went on strike about a year ago. They demanded a pay raise from 1,000 to 2,000 Rupiah per kilo. However, the company did not budge, and the workers slowly returned as they needed food to eat for both them and their families.
THIS is where tourism can help transform an area – and also why you should get a guide. A lot of the miners are learning English so that they can take tourists through Ijen. Our guide charged us 150,000 , and by doing this was able to make more than he would at a day of work, doing something much more enjoyable. We ended up giving him much more, as he went above and beyond, and even showed us a secret waterfall in the area. We stayed at his family’s homestay as well.
So even if you don’t feel you need a guide, your dollar goes a very long way, and I absolutely suggest getting one. Okay, rant over. Moving on now!
Where to Stay
We stayed about 40 minutes from the base of the mountain in a homestay called Ijen Miner Family Homestay. While it was moderately basic, it was extremely clean and had everything you could need. The family was so nice and accommodating. We got one of their bigger rooms that even had a hot water heater! We paid 200,000 rupiah for the night, and it included a huge breakfast after the hike of a very filling Nasi Goreng. We also had Mie Goreng the night before at the homestay and that cost us 20,000.
**Make sure to stay hydrated! While we were able to not use plastic water bottles all throughout Bali and Kuta, this was one of the few places we could not find a spot to fill up and had to buy water. A big water bottle cost us 5000 Rupiah, but I still recommend always having your own reusable water bottle.**
Cost Breakdown (for 2 people)
The entire trip cost us US$58.32 together, or US$29.16 per person! Absolutely worth the 36 hour adventure. Here’s what our expenses were:
- Bike Rental from Bali: $7.20 (100,000IDR for 2 days) – that’s daily rental price. We rented monthly for 700,000IDR.
- Fuel for Bike: $5.76 (80,000IDR) – 1 full tank each way
- Roundtrip Ferry Ride (per bike): $3.60 (50,000IDR)
- 1 Night Lodging w/ Breakfast: $14.40 (200,000IDR)
- Guide + 2 masks: $15.84 (220,000IDR) – masks cost 50k each but are worth it.
- Food + Water: $4.32 (60,000IDR)
- Mt. Ijen Entrance Fee: $7.20 (100,000IDR)
Other Things to Do in the Area
We managed to fit in 2 additional stops during our 36 hours in East Java. On the first day we took a boat out and went snorkeling on Tabuhan and Menjangan island closer to Bali right after getting off of the Ferry. Then, after hiking, we somehow had enough adrenaline in us to stay awake and visit a nearby waterfall, about 25 minutes from both our homestay and the base of the mountain.
While I recommend going to Tabuhan island if you want to get in the water, I can’t recommend going to Menjanan Island – especially not from the Banyuwangi dock. The price to get to Menjangan Island is more than 5x more expensive, and then you have to pay another hefty park fee once you get there. The thing is, there’s not much to do on that island except snorkel (which you can do at Tabuhan). Regardless, even though the water is beautiful, the snorkeling isn’t that good. Indonesia has so many AMAZING snorkeling and diving spots with beautiful coral and stunning life, this is not one of those spots.
But if you want a quick island visit, I highly recommend Tabuhan Island. The price is by boat and includes a boxed lunch of rice and some type of veggie and protein (you’ll find this almost universal for all Indonesian day trips). We got the price down to 220,000 for 3 people. (The price to go to Menjangan was over 2,000,000 Rupiah, and then an additional 200,000 park fee per person. Totally NOT worth it).
We came here because our guide was so sweet and said there was a waterfall nearby he wanted to show us. We had never heard of it and weren’t expecting much. The entrance fee was 5,000 rupiah, and after a quick 2 minutes of walking we were greeted by the first two waterfalls with swimming pools that were beautiful and EMPTY. We arrived around 10am and there was not a single other person in sight. It almost seemed like a little park with benches and shaded areas all around.
A little further though there was a sign that said “waterfall”, so of course we went and followed it. After about 5 minutes it led us to an amazing powerful and tall waterfall. We came straight from hiking so unfortunately I didn’t have a bathing suit with me, but it would have been amazing to get in the water! It was a beautiful little gem, and definitely worth a stop if you’re in the area.
And that’s it for our quick little trip to East Java! We were so impressed with how easy it was to get to and how beautiful everything was. Mt. Ijen (also known as Kawah Ijen) is definitely a hike of a lifetime and well worth it!