Ijen is an active volcano and the largest sulphur mine in Indonesia. The volcano is 2,600 meters above sea level with a turquoise crater lake. For decades miners have entered Ijen crater to mine the dazzling yellow sulphur that bubbles out of the hot vents. Travellers from all over the world join an Ijen Crater Tour to see the blue flames that flicker at night and the surreal yellow and turquoise landscape of the crater.
The last time I joined an Ijen tour it was the early morning and I never got to see the blue flames. I was so glad that I had decided to make the trip a second time. Here’s a guide to the Ijen Volcano Tour so you can plan the trip for yourself. Let’s get started. Here’s a guide to the Ijen Volcano Tour so you can plan the trip for yourself. Let’s get started.
Where to Stay
There are two ways to get to Ijen crater. One route is from Banyuwangi, which is by the coast. The other route is from Bondowoso, which is in the highlands. You can find a quick review of the different options below. Based on my own experience I’d recommend staying in Banyuwangi.
Banyuwangi to Ijen
Ijen is a one-hour drive from Banyuwangi. There are a lot of hotel options available in and around the town and several restaurants where you can get food. You can get trains to Banyuwangi from Surabaya and the ferry from Bali docks at the port in the town. There are also more company’s offering Ijen crater tours. For these reasons I found Banyuwangi is the most convenient place to stay.
Bondowoso to Ijen
Some tourists visiting Ijen choose to stay just outside of Bondowoso. Personally I do not recommend this option. The city is further away from Ijen than Banyuwangi (it’s a 90-minute drive from Ijen). There aren’t as many hotels either. On the plus side it is a beautiful area. The highlands around Bondowoso are covered in tea plantations.
The Ijen Crater Tour
There are lots of company’s around Banyuwangi and Bondowoso offering tours to Ijen. The most popular tour is the Ijen Midnight tour, with pickup at 1 am and drop off some time after sunrise. Many company’s also offer sunset tours, which start around 3 pm with drop off back at the hotel at around 8 pm.
I’ve visited Ijen for sunrise, during the day and for sunset. Based on my experiences I’d recommend joining the Ijen Midnight Tour. On the Midnight Tour you’ll get to see the blue flames of Ijen, more about that later, sunrise over the crater and then finally the crater itself. The sunset tour is not as good (though you can still see the blue fire and you will get a good nights sleep).
Highlights of the Tour
Ijen is probably one of my favourite tourism destinations for first time visitors in Indonesia. The landscape is out of this world. One of the highlights of visiting Ijen is the blue flames, which you can only see at night. The flames appear at the base of Ijen crater and are caused by sulphuric gas catching fire. You can find an article about the flames in the National Geographic here.
One of the other things that brings people to Ijen is the landscape. The volcano is an active sulphur mine. The liquid sulphur comes out of the vents with the gas and spreads out over the floor of the crater turning everything around it yellow (and the crater lake a beautiful and unnatural turquoise). The effect is out of this world and makes for amazing photographs.
The miners that collect the sulphur have become another part of the tourist attraction. These miners lead a difficult life. They carry 70-90 kg or more of sulphur on their backs all the way from inside the volcano crater to the base. It’s an easy two hour walk. The miners get paid just Rp 1,000 a kilo. I tried to lift one of these baskets up and barely managed it. There’s a really interesting article about the sulphur miners of Ijen here.
Preparing For the Tour
The Ijen Crater Tour is hard. The tour takes about 6 hours from start to finish. You’ll be hiking for almost 4 hours uphill and downhill. It’s a lot of exercise and you’ll feel it in your calf muscles. Unless you are a very active person I would recommend doing some exercises leading up to hiking Ijen. You can find some other recommendations below.
Things to Remember
- If you are coming from Bali to Ijen make sure to change the time on your watch before you go to sleep at your hotel. Java is one hour behind Bali time.
- The smell of the sulphur gas in Ijen volcano is really strong. Make sure to bring a piece of cloth that you can wrap around your mouth for when you enter the crater.
- Sounds obvious but bring a flashlight for the climb up Ijen volcano.
- Make sure to bring some warm clothes, especially a windbreaker, as it’s cold on the top of Ijen.
Before you even start to hike Ijen you need to buy a ticket. The ticket costs Rp 100,000 per person for a foreigner. It is Rp 150,000 on the weekend. The price for Indonesian’s is a lot less, something like Rp 15,000 per person. You should buy the ticket from the office at the entrance of the car park. You can see a photo of the office above.
The first part of the Ijen crater tour is the climb. There are two sections to the climb. The first part is the ascent. The path is not too steep, but it is a long climb. Once you get near the top of the volcano the path loops around the rim of Ijen crater. It takes between 1-2 hours to climb the volcano depending on how fit you are. You don’t really need a tour guide to climb Ijen. The path is easy to follow and there will be lots of other tourists climbing at the same time as you.
When you arrive at the top of Ijen volcano you will be met by locals who are renting gas masks. The gas masks are for the climb into the crater. Although they will tell you that you need to rent a mask to enter the crater you don’t. A piece of cloth around your mouth should be enough. If you have asthma or breathing difficulties I’d recommend renting a mask.
Entering Ijen Crater
From the top of Ijen crater you can see the crater lake and a flicker of light. It takes about 20 minutes to trek to the bottom of the crater. The path is steep and slippery. In many places it is just large enough for one person. If the wind is blowing in your direction plumes of sulphur will cross the path making it difficult to breath. It’s disorientating and it’s easy to get lost (I’d recommend going with a guide).
When you get to the bottom of the crater everything is calm. You don’t smell the sulphur, because the smoke all goes up in the air. This is the best bit of the Ijen Crater Tour. When I visited I spent about 2 hours sitting in the crater. It didn’t feel like a long time. It’s not cold in. The crater is sheltered from the wind. The view of the blue fire is really amazing and there are always lots of interesting people that you can meet and talk to.
If you don’t want to stay long in the crater you can leave your hotel around 2 am. This gives you enough time to see the blue flame and also watch the sunrise. It’s a popular option for a lot of tourists who join an Ijen crater tour. While you can do this, I recommend arriving earlier to avoid the crowds and get a good view.
Sunrise at Ijen
Sunrise is around 5 am. The best place to see the sunrise is from the top of the crater. It takes about 40 minutes to climb out of the crater. If you want to watch sunrise overlooking the lake start climbing back up around 4 am. When the sun does rise over Ijen it happens very quickly. In just 10 minutes the sky turns from a light grey and the colours appear. It’s the best time for photos.
I spent at least an hour at the top of the crater after sunrise walking around and taking photos of the area. It was a really nice way to end the Ijen volcano tour. If you have the energy you can enter the crater again for a closer look at the crater lake. It’s worth the effort as the landscape is unreal. Everything is coloured yellow because of the sulphur and you have the bright turquoise crater lake in front of you.
Trekking Back to Base
The last part of the tour is the walk back down the hill. It took me about 30 minutes to reach the bottom. By the time I reached the bottom of the volcano I was exhausted. My muscles ached and I was having trouble walking (I passed a lot of people who couldn’t walk any further and were paying the miners to cart them down to the bottom). It’s a tough hike, but you are rewarded for the effort by the beautiful views.
I really enjoyed the Ijen crater tour. The Midnight Ijen Tour a lot more interesting than the Ijen day tour. Seeing the blue flames and sunrise over Ijen Volcano is really quite special. Although it’s a long night and it can be cold I would recommend the Ijen tour to anybody visiting East Java for the first time. It’s a really unforgettable experience.
Have you ever visited Ijen volcano? Did you see the blue flames? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!