Gunung Lawu, sometimes known as Mount Lawu, is a huge stratovolcano on the border between East and Central Java. Unlike Mount Merapi, few international visitors come to climb Gunung Lawu. Yet if you have the chance you should! The view from the top of the volcano on a clear morning is just beautiful; the clouds lie below you like a fluffy blanket. Here and there the summit of volcanos poke through the clouds like islands in a vast ocean.
If you want an unusual Javanese holiday adventure you should definitely add climbing Mount Lawu to your Indonesia bucket list. To help you visit the volcano we created this guide to climbing Gunung Lawu. It covers how to get to the volcano and what to expect from the hike. Let’s get started!
How to get to Gunung Lawu
Gunung Lawu is in the highlands of Java. The two closest cities to Gunung Lawu are Surakarta in Central Java and Madiun in East Java. It’s easy to reach the volcano from either city. From Surakarta you follow the busy main road through the lowlands. The traffic quickly disappears behind you as the road rises into the highlands.
From Madiun you don’t need to worry about the traffic. The roads are never very busy and it’s an easy drive. Whichever direction you come from take your time to enjoy the scenery. Chances are you’ll be mostly by yourself as you drive along the gentle s-bends towards Gunung Lawu.
When I climbed Gunung Lawu we left from Yogyakarta. The journey took around 3,5 hours on a motorbike. You’ll know you’re getting close to Mt Lawu. You’ll see lots of strawberry sellers on the side of the road. There are also plenty of small restaurants just before the basecamp that serve rabbit sate, which is a speciality of the area.
Climbing Gunung Lawu
There are two base camps on Gunung Lawu. One is on the Central Java side and the other is on the East Java side. They are only 200 meters apart. We started hiking to Gunung Lawu from Cemoro Kandang basecamp, which is in Central Java. We descended from the summit through Cemoro Sewu basecamp in East Java.
It’s an easy seven hours to climb from the base camp of Gunung Lawu to the peak. Less if you’re in a rush. The climb is broken up into five sections. At the end of each section you’ll find a small station (coffee houses/ shops). The stations are a few hours hike from each other (see below).
- Cemoro Kandang to Station 1 (Taman Sari Bawah) is a one hour hike.
- Station 1 to Station 2 (Taman Sari Atas) is another 1-hour walk.
- Station 2 to shadow station around 30 minutes walk.
- Shadow station to Station 3 is a 2 hour walk.
- Station 3 to Station 4 is a 2 hour walk.
The Climb to Station 4
We started our climb from Cemoro Kandang in the morning just after 9 am. We walked slowly enjoying the scenery. Sometimes (very often actually) we stopped for a while to rest and adjust everything. We arrived at Station 4 just after sunset. It sounds like a long time, but we weren’t in a rush and could have been a lot faster.
It’s a really beautiful hike. There so many beautiful things to see along the way; the scenery, the sunset, the sea on the sky and all the wild flowers… We finally arrived at Station 4, just after the sun had set. From Station 4 it was a short walk in the dark to Mbok Yem’s Warung. This is a really special place in Gunung Lawu. Some hikers joke that Mbok Yem place is a resort on the top of the mountain. After a long day of walking the Warung can feel like a resort.
Mbok Yem’s is a small wrung with a fireplace where you can order hot drinks and eat some basic, but tasty food. There’s even a simple wooden house where you can sleep if you haven’t brought your own tent. Oh, Mbok Yem is an old lady who lives on Gunung Lawu. I simply adore her.
Sunrise on the Summit
The highlight of the Gunung Lawu hike is watching sunrise from the summit of the volcano. You’ll want to wakeup an hour before sunrise. From warung Mbok Yem to the summit takes only around 30 minutes and is an easy climb. The view from the summit is also amazing. You can see the lines of the mountains in Java. Gunung Merbabu, Merapi, Sundoro, Sumbing and Slamet. You could probably see Semeru as well from here.
Returning to Basecamp
After enjoying sunrise and eating breakfast, we descended to Cemoro Sewu at 9.45 am. Along the way down we met a lot of local people, not hikers. These people had another reason to climb the mountain. It was not for the beautiful scenery. Why do I know that they weren’t hikers? It was because they all looked the same.
The pilgrim were male and middle-aged, wearing black clothing and mostly white shoes. They wore batik java scarves for headbands and only brought a bottle or two of water. Some of them brought unique things, like a pink suitcase. Yes, a pink suitcase. Oh, sometimes they would communicate with birds as well.
I realised that these people had come to Gunung Lawu on a pilgrimage. Even though they did not say this when we asked them. This is one of the spooky things that I totally forget about when I climbed Gunung Lawu. Thanks to the beautiful surrounding, I beat my fear! We arrived safely at Cemoro Sewu before 2 pm, safely, but with sore legs.
Climbing Gunung Lawu is one holiday idea I know you won’t regret. One piece of advice, if you are planning to climb Gunung Lawu, bring warm clothes. I ended up shaking all night because I only had a very thin sleeping bag. Apart from that, just make sure to have fun. The views are amazing and on a clear day you’re sure to be rewarded with an incredible sunrise.
Have you ever climbed Gunung Lawu? What did you think of the climb (and the view from the top)? Share your thoughts with other travelers in the comments below.