Midnight hike up Kawah Ijen, the heavenly volcanic crater

Midnight hike up Kawah Ijen, the heavenly volcanic crater

Who doesn’t love to see a turquoise blue lake, shining with radiance when the first rays of sun descends on it? When we first saw pictures of Kawah Ijen or Ijen crater as it is commonly known, we were head over heels in love too. So when Singapore Airlines offered a steal deal to fly to Surabaya we immediately grabbed our tickets for the long weekend. Then came the blow! The hike to see this beautiful landscape is supposed to be challenging and happens in pitch dark in the middle of the night. Yikes! For the record, K and I have never done a “proper” hike together. As a person who runs out of breadth climbing a flight of stairs, I was totally stumped. The memories of my struggle during the — hikes in Taiwan came haunting back. Nevertheless we decided to rise up for the challenge. If not now, when? Right? Looking back this was one of the best random decisions we made.

Onward journey

On reaching Surabaya, we took a domestic flight to Banyuwangi, highly recommend this option if you are short on time. It takes 7-8 hours on the road/train which can easily tire you out. Just make sure you go to the Domestic terminal which takes 20-30 minutes by a free shuttle service. After a short flight journey, our pickup was waiting for us with a cute placard in the tiny airport and we comfortably reached our homestay, home for the next 2 days. An absolutely beautiful place in the midst of country life, lovely hosts and wild chickens, check out Didu’s Homestay if you are heading to Ijen through Banyuwangi.

Didu's homestay 1
S enjoying the green paradise that surrounded us!


Didu's homestay 2
A relaxed setting taking us to the midst of country life.


Didu's homestay 3
That sweet lounge which connected us to the fellow travelers and was perfect for curling up with a book.

After lounging around with other travelers and hearing about their experiences, we couldn’t wait to see this beauty for ourselves. So off we went to bed at 6 PM, as our next day had to start at 1:30 AM. Our guide of the night Agus knocked at our door right on time and we started our 1 hour long journey to the basecamp. On reaching I was amazed at the number of people waiting. Ijen is getting more and more popular guys, plan your trip fast! 🙂

The next two hours was strenuous and exhilarating at the same time. The total hike is claimed to be just 3 km but the altitude makes it seem much longer. Following the light from a tiny torch and the bright moon above, we made our way to the top of the volcano. At the mid way point we were greeted by a resting place with some food and drinks. A word of caution, there are no toilets in the hiking route so keep an eye on what you eat and drink. There were stretches which were quite steep that I had to take a breather once every few minutes. But overall we did really well on time! So proud 🙂 I am glad that I didn’t have to resort to taking one of the “taxis” which is basically sulphur miners pulling you up on a trolley.

Journey to the top At the top

Once we reached the top, Agus pointed us to where we could usually see the blue flames erupting when sulphur fumes come in contact with air. However due to recent volcanic activity there was too much smoke coming out of the crater that we were not lucky enough to see the blue flames. Moments like this make us realize that how much ever we plan, if nature is not ready to show her beauty there is nothing we can do. As travelers, it is important that we realize this and not complain when things don’t go our way. So, we made an other 1.5 km hike along the rim of the crater to reach the best spot for viewing the crater lake when the sun rises. That moment when the smoke started clearing up and the sheer beauty of the lake was lit up by the sun’s rays, truly magical!

Kawah Ijen top view
The beauty which pulled us all the way to Kawah Ijen from Singapore!

We owe the beautiful color of the lake to the sulphur content, infact the lake itself is extremely acidic and one of the largest sulphuric acid lakes in the world. Kawah Ijen is still an active volcano and this ensures that the sulphur deposits here don’t deplete. Apparently the reason for a stagnant lake in the middle of this active volcano is the Dutch who ruled this region for a short while – our guide told us that a dam was constructed in one end of the lake to contain this acidic water within the volcano. Fascinating!

SK_Kawah Ijen
S & K overlooking the beautiful crater lake at Ijen crater. The dense smoke in the background comes from the volcanic activity and that’s where the sulphur mining happens!

Now, to the disheartening part of Ijen – the conditions of sulphur mining. Each worker carries almost 80-100 kg on their shoulders from the centre of the crater to the rim, around 1 km steep hike. The money they get paid for this is totally peanuts, about 6 Euros for 100 kg. Each worker hopes to carry 300 kg on an everyday basis to be able to have a normal living. I had read about the short lifespan of these workers but Agus assured us that it was not true, infact the age of workers ranges from 20 to 67. Still, the toxic fumes from the volcano can be quite dangerous. Me and K were given gas masks while the workers who work day and night in this condition wore no protection. Life is indeed unfair!

After Kawah Ijen we continued our journey to an other famous active volcano in this East Java region – Mt. Bromo. Hit Subscribe to get updates on our next blog posts and do comment below on your thoughts about this article.

Signing off,
S & K.

PS. The last 2 pictures from the top of Kawah Ijen was taken by a sweet Thai couple whom we met during the hike. As K had forgotten the camera batteries we couldn’t take any pics in our DSLR. However we have a lifetime of pictures stored in our brains captured through our eyes 😉

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