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Visiting The Volcanoes of Java

Saying that you can find lots of volcanoes in Java or Indonesia would be an understatement: Indonesia is almost entirely made of volcanoes!

I had the luck to wander in this nature-rich country a couple times, and discovered some of its volcanoes – and climbed a few of them in both Java and Bali. In this article, I will focus on the volcanoes I found the most mind-blowing on the island of Java, so it can give you some idea for your next itinerary.

Also bear in mind that by definition, volcanic areas are always changing, so by the time you visit these places some things might look different than on my pictures.

For example, I have visited Mount Bromo right after an eruption, but it probably looks greener now. Same thing with the Merapi Volcano, it was active when I climbed it, and has been regularly active since then. The crater may or may not look exactly the same.

I know for sure that Mount Kelud doesn’t look the same as in my pictures anymore after its last eruption. I got to see an intriguing lava dome in the middle of the crater. Now it’s all gone and it made way for a crater lake. Kawah Ijen probably still looks about the same.

No matter what volcano you choose to visit, always check what the local authorities are saying about visiting the volcano, make sure you’ll be safe. Anyway, let’s get started!

Sunrise on Mount Bromo

Mount Bromo & The Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park

The national park bears the name of two volcanoes – Mount Bromo Volcano and Semeru Volcano. The Semeru Volcano is the highest of Java. It almost constantly has an eruptive activity. Climbing this volcano is said to be a little challenging, but I would really love to attempt it one day!

Tengger is the name of the massif that Mount Bromo is part of, and the name of the 10 km (6.2 mile) wide caldera – Java’s largest – that you see in all the pictures of this area.

The national park covers a huge area. Most of the time, you will focus on the Mount Bromo Volcano and the Tengger Caldera. I suggest you to stay at the village of Cemoro Lawang like I did, on the edge of the caldera, offering you some splendid views. This village offers some small hotels/homestays.

The one thing not to be missed is to wake up very early to go watch the sunrise over Mount Bromo and the whole Tengger Caldera. This is a truly spectacular sight, a must-see. In the early morning, the caldera is filled with mist.

This mist slowly vanishes mid-morning, chased away by the sun. From such an elevated viewpoint, you are able to witness the power that volcanic forces have to shape spectacular landscapes. Seeing this smoking crater from a distance was an irresistible call to explore the caldera.

A quite surprising place you will come across is a Hindu temple, built really close from the active volcano, at the bottom of the caldera! It was built by the Tenggerese people, a Hindu community who came to this inhospitable place to escape the Muslim invasion of Java.

Past the temple, the landscape was totally desolated, with an almost post-apocalyptic feeling. The whole area is covered with fresh ash, and all plant life around the crater has been exterminated by the eruption.

Around the crater, it’s a mix of dead trees, of dunes of fine and sticky ashes. The stairs going up the volcanic cone up to the crater rim had also been completely covered with a thick layer of ash, and had recently been cleared. This display of the destruction power of the volcano is the kind of atmosphere that makes you humble…

VIRTUAL TOUR – Mount Bromo

Watch the sunrise over the caldera and climb to the active crater of Mount Bromo (2 panoramas).

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

Kawah Ijen Java

Kawah Ijen

Along with Mount Bromo, Kawah Ijen is one of the most sought-after spots of Java and Indonesia. It is famous for its acid lake and its sulphur miners.

Visiting this volcano was a really striking experience that will remain one of the most memorable in my whole traveler’s life.

I will always remember the moment when I finally reached the end of the trail going up the volcano, to the crater rim, dicovering this incredibly turquoise, mesmerizing acid lake at the bottom. My jaw genuinely dropped.

Going down the crater was irresistible, but I quickly realized it wouldn’t be as easy as it seemed. The toxic smoke is everywhere. At times I had to walk through really thick smoke, burning my eyes. I had to breathe through my shirt.

But that’s OK, as a visitor I had no right to complain, given that I was sharing the space with some of the bravest men in this world: the sulphur miners.

At the bottom of the crater, it’s a little like hell on Earth. A lake made of pure acid on one side, and a massive cloud of toxic smoke on the other side, depositing huge amounts of sulphur. That’s where the miners work, everyday.

They use bamboo baskets to carry really, really heavy sulphur rocks up the slope, taking them out of the crater to a place where it will be weighed, and where they will get paid. They make relatively good money compared with other Indonesians but as you can guess, their lifespan is greatly reduced by the toxic environment they work in.

In any case, Kawah Ijen is a highly recommended stop in your Indonesia itinerary.

You can also read the full article here: Experiencing The Toxic World of Kawah Ijen.

VIRTUAL TOUR – Kawah Ijen

Follow the sulphur miners down the active crater of Kawah Ijen and get close to the acid lake (1 panorama).

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

Merapi Volcano

Merapi Volcano

From the small touristic town of Borobudur (known for its famous temple), in Central Java, I could see this mysterious volcano and thought it would be a cool experience to climb it!

Climbing this volcano was quite like the other mountains I have climbed, organization-wise. You leave in the middle of the night, in order to reach the summit just on time for sunrise.

It was an otherwordly experience to hike on lava rocks and ashes in the middle of the night with a sky full of stars above my head. As sunrise was nearly there, me, my guide and the friend I was traveling with kept climbing the steep, unstable slope.

At the top, we were rewarded by a truly magical moment. The pink light of the sunrise was suddenly hitting our faces, revealing a sea of clouds all around below us. We were like suspended in the air, as if we had our own private viewing platform high in the sky.

We spent quite some time walking along the edge of the impressive, deep crater. All around, other cone-shaped volcanoes were emerging fron the clouds, creating an amazing scenery.

Going down was pretty straighforward, sliding on the layer of ash from the latest eruption. We got back to Borobodur, totally exhausted but happy with the experience.

The Merapi Volcano remains active and is not always safe to climb, make sure to check the volcano’s activity before you go!

Update March 2020: The Merapi Volcano is erupting.

You can also read the full article here: Climbing The Merapi Volcano.

VIRTUAL TOUR – Merapi Volcano

Climb the powerful Merapi Volcano and arrive at the top for sunrise (2 panoramas).

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

Mount Kelud

Mount Kelud

Together with the Merapi Volcano, Mount Kelud belongs to the club of the most powerful volcanoes of Indonesia. Its eruptions have always been very explosive and very large.

From the snaky road leading to the crater, you can’t miss the bizarre-shaped huge rock, actually part of the crater rim. The crater used to be home to a lake, but it completely disappeared with the last eruption.

In late 2007, the Indonesian authorities evacuated tens of thousands of people before the eruption. In the following weeks, a lava dome was pushed out from the lake, ending up covering the whole lake as it grew in size. That’s the surprising rocky “hill” you can see in the above picture or in the virtual tour below.

But in 2014, Mount Kelud erupted, changing the geography of the place once again. The landscape is of course much less green after the eruption has killed the vegetation. The access to the crater is now limited and you can’t go as far as before. The lava dome visible in this panorama is of course gone after the eruption and a new crater lake has appeared.

This volcano is much less visited than the super famous Mount Bromo or Kawah Ijen, but it is worth stopping by its crater.

Kelud Volcano is not very easy to reach. You will either have to be renting a car like I did to go around Java, or arrange a transportation from your hotel in nearby cities like Kediri, Blitar or Malang.

VIRTUAL TOUR – Mount Kelud

Get immersed in the impressive crater of the Kelud Volcano, as it used to be before its last eruption (1 panorama).

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

Wrapping Up

There are countless volcanoes in Java and in the whole of Indonesia and many can offer you amazing memories! In this article, I wanted to share my own 4 recommendations. I have personally experienced visiting and climbing these volcanoes and I know they are great.

Remember that volcanoes are potentially dangerous places and make sure you are properly equipped for the hike (good hiking boots, proper hiking clothes, good headlamp if you ar climbing by night, etc.).

And if you haven’t climbed a volcano yet, by all means, do it! But be careful, you might become addicted 🙂

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