With two Java volcano hikes already in the bag, it was time for possibly the most impressive of them all. Visiting the Kawah Ijen (Ijen Crater) to see the volcano’s mesmerising blue flames was a massive highlight of my Indonesia trip. Here’s how to hike Kawah Ijen while experiencing one of the most incredible natural phenomena.
How to Hike Kawah Ijen Volcano to See The Incredible Blue Flames
What is Kawah Ijen?
Kawah Ijen (Mount Ijen or just Ijen) is part of the ancient volcano complex in eastern Java. It offers some of the most spectacular views in Indonesia thanks to its turquoise acid lake, the largest highly acidic lake in the world, beautiful volcanic scenery and, of course, the incredible blue flames. The natural phenomenon occurs as sulphuric gases rising to the surface ignite upon contact with oxygen. Kawah Ijen is also home to a sulphur mining operation with locals carrying heavy baskets (up to 100kg) up to the crater rim and down the mountain. It is one of the most impressive sights in Indonesia.
Getting to Kawah Ijen
Unlike our visit to Mount Bromo, getting to Mount Ijen was pretty simple. Most visitors do so via a tour from either Banyuwangi in the east or Bondowoso in the west. Most organised tours include air-conditioned car transport with driver, entrance fees, local guide, flashlights, hiking sticks, gas masks (more on that later) as well as water and snacks. They also usually include stopovers at Jagir waterfall, which you can read about here. The price we were quoted was 1,050,000 IDR for 2 pax (£55/$73).
We didn’t fancy an organised tour but decided to compromise. We paid 500,000 IDR (£26/$35) for return car transfers from Banyuwangi (approximately 1 hour each way), entrance fees (usually 100,000 IDR on weekdays/150,000 IDR weekends) and gas masks for two. It is possible to hire a car or a bike and do Ijen independently, but the savings won’t be huge and you will need to negotiate twisty mountain roads at night. It is also possible to stay in Sempol, the closest town to the volcano but it requires additional travel by bus from either city.
Getting to Banyuwangi: Banyuwangi makes for a great base for those wanting to visit Kawah Ijen. The city’s Ketapang ferry terminal has round-the-clock crossings between Java and Bali making it ideal for a stopover. Trains serve Banyuwangi from Surabaya and Probolinggo (access point for Mount Bromo) and are pretty reliable. Get off at Karangasem station. There are plenty of accommodation options in the area.
Getting to Bondowoso: Bondowoso doesn’t have a train station. It’s accessible by buses from Probolinggo or Jember, which also has the nearest airport.
Overall, I would recommend basing yourself in Banyuwangi as it’s easier to get to and has a few other reasons to linger.
Where to stay near Kawah Ijen?
We stayed at Didu’s Homestay in Banyuwangi. I genuinely can’t recommend this place enough. From its traditional bungalows with open-air showers and comfortable beds to its large garden, kitchen and social area, Didu’s is worth unwinding in for a couple of days. The super friendly host, Maya, will help arrange transport, tours, food and basically cater to all your needs. It’s a great place to relax in after a Kawah Ijen hike.
Eating near Kawah Ijen
The parking area near the entrance to Kawah Ijen is flanked by loads of small warungs and stores selling snacks and drinks. These are open throughout the night so you can easily stock up if you forgot to bring food. If you are on a tour, food and water will likely be provided. Alternatively, stock up near your accommodation – there are plenty of convenience stores in Banyuwangi. The hike isn’t too onerous so as long as you have water, you’ll be ok.
Kawah Ijen Hike
I travelled to Kawah Ijen only a few weeks after toxic sulphuric fumes led to 27 people requiring medical treatment in March 2018. Following the incident, Kawah Ijen was closed to tourists and when it reopened, it wasn’t possible to hike until 4 am. This meant that majority couldn’t make it to the crater rim and then down to see the blue flames before sunrise.
“Well, did you see the blue flames?” I hear you ask. The answer is…”YES”. However, we were only two of about six people that got to see them out of hundreds hiking that day. We had to get up to the rim and down into the crater in under an hour to have any chance of striking gold. We managed to get up in 50 minutes and then down in another 10. This meant minimal time to catch our breath and walking at a brisk pace. You don’t need to be super fit to complete the hike. However to do it in under an hour (most guides suggest 1.5-2 hours) is tougher. Do remember that the mountain is usually open earlier than 4 am – this was only due to the authorities placing restrictions following the incident. Do check before you hike though!
In order to have a chance at seeing the magnificent blue flames, you need to start hiking no later than two hours before sunrise. If you are doing a tour, the logistics should be sorted by the company. If hiking independently, make sure to check when sunrise is and what time you can start the hike.
The hike to Kawah Ijen is pretty straightforward. Reaching the top of the crater doesn’t require a high level of fitness and can be easily done in 1.5-2 hours max. There aren’t any technical sections but the first half of the hike involves a steady uphill climb. You will be zigzagging for a while on softer ground which can be slippery and muddy after rain. The trail evens out for the second half and leads to the crater rim of Kawah Ijen. At this point, signs warn visitors that descending into the crater is prohibited but it being Asia and all, no one’s going to stop you from continuing on should you wish to do so.
Inside the Kawah Ijen crater
The path down into the crater is unmarked and not always easy to follow (especially in the dark). The loose rocks mean that you need to watch your footing at all times. Be extremely careful and mindful of people in front and behind you. Also bear in mind that this is an active sulphur mining site – be considerate of the local miners and give way as this is their workplace.
This is the time to get your gas mask ready. The clouds of sulphuric gas around you can affect your breathing and sting your throat and eyes. If you suffer from breathing difficulties, think hard whether this part of the hike is appropriate.
Seeing the blue flames
If everything goes to plan you will find yourself at the bottom of the crater. Here ceramic pipes channel the sulphuric gases from within the volcano. If you have arrived before sunrise, you should witness one of the most incredible natural wonders as the gases ignite and blue fire dances across the rocky landscape. The smell can be overpowering so make sure those gas masks stay firmly on!
After seeing the blue flames, it’s worth exploring the area. We explored the shore of the 1-km wide lake but resisted sticking our hands in its hot acidic waters. We also watched miners load their baskets with slabs of sulphur and carve small souvenirs for tourists. This is a good opportunity to support the locals who earn very little from their labour-intensive work.
The miners of Kawah Ijen
As we began our climb back up the rim, we watched the miners do the same balancing their sulphur-laden baskets on their shoulders. Locals are paid as little as US$0.08 per kg of sulphur. Most do not make more than $10 a day. We saw one of the miners pause halfway up looking exhausted and shared our water and snacks with him. He asked us where we are from and we talked about his family and work.
Back at the crater rim we saw more enterprising locals selling carved sulphur mementos and tourists looking over the caldera. The rim of Kawah Ijen is a great place to watch the sunrise and those who didn’t manage to see the blue flames settled for the next best thing. We enjoyed great views of the crater and the green-covered slopes of the mountains around us.
We made our way down to the bottom and treated ourselves with drinks before a winding drive back to Banyuwangi, passing rice fields, small villages and beautiful landscapes. Not quite as beautiful as those dancing blue flames though…
Top Tips for Hiking Kawah Ijen
#1 A Kawah Ijen hike isn’t too strenuous and can be completed at any time of day – trees provide shade during the steeper sections so it IS doable even during the hot daytime hours.
#2 If you don’t fancy heading down into Kawah Ijen, you can still see an amazing sunrise from the crater rim.
#3 Bring a tripod if you want to capture a good shot of the blue flames.
#4 Kawah Ijen is an active volcano. It’s impossible to predict the conditions for your hike so make sure to check with your accommodation before you book.
#5 Sulphur smells. Bear this in mind when choosing your clothes for the hike. They will likely smell afterwards, even after multiple washes.
Kawah Ijen Hike – Essential Info
What: Kawah Ijen is a crater of an active volcano in eastern Java, Indonesia. It’s part of an ancient volcano complex. It’s a popular tourist destination, thanks to its famous blue flames.
Where: Kawah Ijen can be reached independently or by tour from Banyuwangi, Bondowoso or Sempol. See detauls above.
The Hike: The trail is easy-moderate and can be done in around 1.5-2 hours even with those of below average fitness. Heading inside Kawah Ijen is tougher as there is the path is steep, there are loose rocks and the sulphur can make breathing difficult. It’s about 4 km from the trailhead to the bottom of the crater.
For more hikes and things to do in Indonesia check out these posts:
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