One of the most popular places to visit in Java – and all of Indonesia, for that matter – is Mt. Bromo. Bromo is actually just a part of a bigger chain of volcanoes, known as the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park.
This also includes Mt. Batok and Mt. Semeru, which at 3,676 meters is the highest mountain in Java. Perhaps the most iconic image of Indonesia is the sunrise over these three mountains, which has graced the cover of Lonely Planet and is on many a postcard.
Although just about every travel agent in Java will happily arrange a trip for you there, we much prefer to do things on our own. For those backpackers out there who are just as insane as we are, here’s a guide to how we managed to pull off a DIY Mt. Bromo adventure.
Yogyakarta to Ngadas Village
From Jogja, we took an overnight train bound for Malang. Although it’s possible to access Mt. Bromo from Surabaya – which most travelers do in fact do – we opted for Malang so as to take the back route to reach Bromo. This way passes through a stunning savannah and across the “sea of sand” and then you head out the other way towards Probolinggo after your visit. Arriving in Malang at around 4 AM and having barely slept sitting up on a train all night, we were pretty beat.
Alas, the journey had to continue.
We piled into an angkot (local mini-bus) and headed up to the bus terminal in town. Rubbing the sleep out of our eyes, we noticed that the locals all seemed quite surprised to see a couple of bule (foreigner) backpackers. From there, we had to wait around for a while to take yet another angkot. Thankfully there was some mie goreng and coffee in a little stall to tide us over and wake us up a bit. There was yet another angkot ride, making it three in total, but we still had quite a ways to go to get to our intended destination.
There was a guy with a pretty sweet 4×4, but obviously his asking price was a bit high. We decided to sit around, wait it out, and mull it over a bit. Eventually, we agreed on a price and set our bags in the car. Just when we were ready to leave, some other guys offered to take us on their motorbikes for much cheaper. It wasn’t going to be comfortable, but we needed to save the money. We piled our bags on two motorbikes and took off up the hill.
Finally, we arrived in Ngadas – the highest village in Java. There isn’t much to speak of in terms of tourism infrastructure here, but there are a few houses that offer rooms for rent. A super nice and excited family welcomed us into their home, where we finally got to drop our bags and relax a bit. Exhausted, we hit the bed and took a much needed nap.
Rested and showered, we headed to the roof to take in the stunning views. With bellies rumbling, we hit the streets in search of some food. Having seen another travel blog about visiting Ngadas, we knew there was a place that had great views and tasty mie bakso. As it’s a tiny village, it didn’t take long to find. The meatball soup and coffee were delicious, but unfortunately for us the clouds rolled in right before we sat down.
That evening, we hung out with the family so I could practice my mediocre Indonesian and their daughter could try her hand at speaking English. Staying with a local family in a small village and speaking Indonesian was one of the best cultural experiences of our trip, and we were already happy to have skipped out on the organized tour. Once again, we took to the roof for a beautiful sunset to end our long day.
Ngadas to Mt. Bromo
The next day, our host asked us how we were getting to the mountain. To be honest, we weren’t quite sure. He and his friend offered to take us on their bikes, and we obliged to make things easy. Once again, we piled our large backpacks onto small motorbikes and took off towards Bromo.
Along the way, we had to stop to pay the entrance fee for Bromo. Having read that the ticket was around 70,000 Rupiah, we were shocked to see that it was actually 217,000. We were lucky to be there on a weekday, as it is now 317,000 on the weekends. That’s right, just before our visit the ticket price more than tripled! We didn’t have much choice but to suck it up and buy the ticket, however prospective travelers should take note. Many people are now cutting Mt. Bromo off their Java itinerary entirely to boycott the greedy officials who enacted such a drastic price increase. For us, at least, the show had to go on.
Despite being a bit sour about the newfound hole in our wallets, the panoramic views of the lush savannah below almost made up for it. Our drivers cruised us along a busted up road down into the huge field, where we stopped for a while so Rachel could ride a horse.
Next up was the perhaps the most exciting and terrifying ride of our lives. After the savannah comes the “sea of sand,” where our drivers had to floor it to avoid wiping out. On numerous occasions, the bike I was on swerved back and forth, nearly toppling over at least twice. Realizing that I could very well be meeting my maker any moment, I decided to hold up my GoPro to snap some pictures. If I was going to die out here, I at least wanted people to be able to retrieve a few awesome shots of my final moments.
For visiting the volcano, the best place to stay is Cemoro Lawang – a small town nearby with a few hotels and restaurants. We checked into the Cafe Lava, had a little lunch, and then headed out to walk up to the top of the crater.
See what the insane motorbike crossing over the sea of sand looked like in Part Two of the short video series:
Visiting Mt. Bromo
It’s about a 45-minute walk from the town to the mountain, but there are plenty of enterprising locals who are ready and willing to take you on their motorbike or horse if you’ve got the rupiah for it. Having just come off of that insane motorbike ride to get there, we opted just to walk and enjoy the incredible landscape. For a guy from a flat town in Michigan, walking up to the top of an active volcano was a pretty incredible experience.
Staring down into the steaming crater was an image I’ll never forget – it reminds you of the sheer power going on just beneath the Earth’s surface, and how tiny and insignificant we are standing on top. Off in the distance, we could see local sulfur miners walking along the narrow path around the volcano. Not thrilled at the prospects of potentially slipping and plunging to our untimely deaths, we decided to take in the views behind the barrier.
Back in the town, we got some much needed rest in order to get up and tackle the famed sunrise hike. In the middle of the night, we set out with our headlamps and a few snacks to begin the 2-hour walk to the viewpoint. It was a rough hike to say the least – in the pitch black, attempting to follow the narrow and unmarked trail.
Finally, we made it to the viewpoint, where a few locals set up stands selling coffee and instant noodles. With a hot cup in hand, we crossed our fingers that the early morning fog would dissipate and provide us with that postcard-worthy view of the volcanoes in the distance.
Unfortunately for those of us who made the hike that day, that never happened. The clouds stayed put, and suddenly it was morning. There was no view to speak of, which was a bit disheartening considering all the effort we had put in to get there. Exhausted, cold, and defeated, we headed back down the trail. On the way down, we marveled at how we even made it up the thing in the dark of night in the first place.
Not wanting to head all the way back to town without at least getting a decent glimpse of the national park, we sat and waited at a lower viewpoint. Eventually the clouds began rolling, providing us with a few decent views. It wasn’t cover of Lonely Planet worthy, but it was better than nothing. Check out the third and final video to see how it all went down:
Back in the town, we were left with a few choices – we could stay another night and attempt the hike again, pay a high price for a jeep ride up there, or just give up and continue our trip. After the epic journey we had had to get there, a great night in the village, and an awesome hike to the top of the crater, we were satisfied enough and decided to power on to our next stop – Kawah Ijen.