Mt Bromo (2,329m) is what everyone talks about and goes to see in East Java. I wouldn’t say Mt Bromo itself is very impressive at all really. It’s just a small smouldering crater below the perfectly shaped Mt Batok (2,470m) and the towering Mt Semaru (3,676m). Together though, within the vast caldera that they call home, this volcano group makes for some stunning scenery surrounded by Tenggerese villages.
I realised that I’d dawdled too long in Surabaya and headed off around lunch time to hike Mt Bromo by myself. Solo Bromo! It is the thing I came to East Java to see after all.
A quick taxi ride to Bungarasih Bus station and it was easy to find the patas (express) bus to Probolinggo (just 30,000IDR). The ride took about 2.5 hours.
The attendant ushered me off the bus, but I didn’t have my wits about me because I soon realised I was standing with my bag on the street and not at the Probolinggo bus station. The lady had deliberately left me stranded at what must have been her friend’s tour agency with extortionate prices in excess of 1,500,000IDR just to see Mt Bromo.
My advice: Never ever trust any taxi drivers, tour agents or touts in Indonesia. Treat them all with suspicion and assume that the price can be halved at least.
So after a pointless attempt at negotiation I paid a guy 10,00IDR to take me to the actual bus station just 4km down the road via motorbike. There I found the green minivans that take tourists up the mountains to Cemoro Lawang for Mt Bromo. The minivan seller claimed the ride would cost just 40,000IDR and that more tourists would join later after other buses and trains arrived. I figured I had time so I went for a wander.
I found a tour agent, Mr Toto (who I later found to be dodgy too), and negotiated a transport only package for 300,000IDR from Cemoro Lawang to the Ijen Crater in the far east with a lift back to Probolinggo. This seemed like the best option since public bus connections needed to be supplemented with taxi or motorbike rides. It was about 12-15hrs of driving in total so it seemed fair.
The minivan still wasn’t ready. The same French Canadians that were there before me were still waiting. We waited another three hours until 6pm when I started trying to convince them that we should buy out the bus. They were very reluctant because they’d been travelling everywhere by ultra cheap bemos. So for them, paying 400,000IDR between the three of us was not a fair deal, but I didn’t see the point in not going to Mt Bromo because of a few measly dollars. So in the end I paid half the fare to make it happen and let them split the other half.
We arrived at possibly the worst guesthouse I’ve ever seen about an hour later. Tired and not caring anymore, I paid 170,000IDR for a queen room just to get it over and done with, though I read that Cafe Lava down the road had rooms for 135,000IDR.
I woke up at 3am to begin the hike up towards Viewpoint 2 (both viewpoints are clearly marked on Google). The road starts to the right of the Cemara Indah Hotel under the two communication towers. Walking this way avoids the 350,000IDR scam tax that is imposed on all the “rich” tourists who can afford to go by motorbike or jeep. From everything I read, this fee is not legitimate and the only entry fee needed is the 10,000IDR per person to enter Cemoro Lawang village.
The road passed by some farms and then up steeply. The first thing you will find is a fenced lookout with market stalls and parked cars, but this is not Viewpoint 1. This is where the locked gate prevents the jeeps from continuing (hence all the others go left at Cemara Indah Hotel and take the main road through the vast caldera). Keep walking for about 30mins more and you will find Viewpoint 1, but honestly it’s not that good, keep going. Take the stairs and continue up towards Viewpoint 2 and then later the paved path disappears and you start to follow a track. It’s overgrown, but it’s clear enough.
Eventually the dirt track will come to a balcony which you will have to climb over to access a paved viewpoint. Heaps of tourists will be here because it is near to the parking for Viewpoint 2. If you follow the paved path it will go up first and then down towards the main road. At this point, I realised that going to Viewpoint 2 was a bad idea. Hundreds of jeeps and motorbikes could be heard and all of them queuing back down the mountain trying to get to Viewpoint 2. Sigh! Apparently they start arriving at 4am (it was 4:40am at this point).
As luck would have it two guys stopped me and told me it was a waste of time to go up to the top. They offered to guide me to Kinpung Hill (spelling could be off) and pointed to the hill above balcony area. I assume they wanted money, but given it was right in front of me I just thanked them and went on my way. The best way I can describe it is that about halfway up the paved path (between the end of the wider viewing area and the top of the hill) there is a dirt track in the bushes to the left. Follow this and it winds up to the top of the hill.
This was the best thing I could have done! There were only five other people (two of which were guides), not 500 or 5000 – just 5. The top of Kinpung Hill is in line with Viewpoint 2 and Mt Bromo so the view must be identical. I was too late for star photos, but it was stunning to watch the sunrise and the mists roll in and out of the caldera below.
Afterwards I made a bit of a dash back down to Cemoro Lawang. My pick up was 10am, but I figured I could at least make it out to Poten Hindu temple in the Sea of Sand. There is a goat track just to the right of the Cemara Indah Hotel. This again allows you to dodge the scam ticket point and sneak down into the caldera. It actually only took about 25mins to walk to Poten Hindu.
Since there was still time I headed up to the Mt Bromo volcano rim. I don’t think I’ve ever been this close to an active volcano before. The vent was too deep to see any lava, but a steady smoke plume rose from the centre. The rim was lined with people as well as offerings.
I guess what we were walking on was actually a fine ash and not dirt since Mt Bromo is an active volcano. Either way, the rain had carved beautiful lines deep down the sides of the volcano cone and down into the caldera below. It’s quite a bizarre landscape, grey lifeless plains across to the caldera walls which are so richly green and vegetated.
I scurried back to the horrorhouse, guesthouse, same thing. I even had time to have a wash from the dribbling tap they called a hot shower. Our friendly minivan guy did in fact come back to get us as promised. I have to say I wasn’t sure he actually would be there given we’d handed over all the money already. He apparently called Mr Toto and had organised for his company to take over my transport. I guess I misjudged his helpfulness, but certainly not extortion skills.
From here the bus took us back down to Probolinggo where we were dropped at the tour agency.