At twelve midnight we started our ascent, I perpetually pause to catch my breath, trekking beneath a narrow ribbon of sparkling stars that twine around the crest of the gorge. Three hours after, there, in the silence pierced only by the wind that had made this great crater on the planet, I climb on what seemed like a surface of a planet millions of years back in time. The canyon walls that clad us are reminiscent of the Earth’s creation, and it is rather amazing to see how we are dwarfed by nature.
I like places that remind us we are merely a fraction of the universe…like Mt.Ijen, where a tourist standing on the foreground looks pretty much like a tiny dot. Extending in its incomparable majesty for several kilometers, Ijen volcano complex cuts an awesome course across Banyuwangi on East Java, Indonesia. Yes, there are much more famous volcanoes in Indonesia, but by far, none to my eyes is more gorgeous than Ijen.
Aside from its Instagram-worthy topography, what makes Kawa Ijen (Mt.Ijen) special is, the blue fire. Its mouth has been sporadically belching plumes of toxic sulfur over some parts of its caldera. Sulfur gases ignite into blue flames when they collide with air, and at night, like glowing sapphire tributary, they gush down into wondrous, shattered canyons lighting up the night sky. This surreal phenomenon, seduces curious tourists, who hurry like ants to reach the caldera before the fleeting moment fades away.
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At the first light of the day, the electric blue flames turn red. Meanwhile, the toxic sulfurs are collected by local miners. Ceramic pipes installed at the caldera’s wall reroute sulfur gases which condenses into liquid sulfur before they are hardened, collected and broken down into pieces. The solidified sulfur are usually placed in huge baskets and carried by local miners.
Imagine carrying 70 to 90 kilograms of these deadly chemicals up and down a volcano? It is a hard-earned money for the sweating miners who are paid by a nearby refinery for about IDR 173,000 ( Php 600/ USD 13) a day. So if a local miner offers to sell you molded sulfurs for IDR 10,000 (PHP 35/ USD 0.75), I encourage you to buy one since that money will go a long way.
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At sunrise, tourists turn their attention to Kawah Ijen Crater Lake. According to National Geographic, it is the world’s largest body of water filled with hydrochloric acid, reason why it is shamrock green.
Going back on used-trails in blazing sun, we encounter many other beautiful sights; like the morning mist that drifts past the mammoth Mt. Merapi overlooking a highland wilderness rich in history, in mineral resources and scenic beauty. Without a doubt, Kawah Ijen is an epitome of nature’s surreal beauty and prowess.
HOW TO GET TO IJEN FROM BANYUWANGI
From Bali, you can take a ferry from Giliminuk to Ketapang Port in Banyuwangi. They have trips every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day. Fare is around IDR 8,000 /PHP 28 / USD 0.60 and travel time is about 45 minutes.
From Ketapang Ferry Terminal, there are regular yellow colored bemos and shuttle buses to downtown Banyuwangi. You can hire 4×4 jeep with driver at Banyuwangi for about IDR 500,000 PHP 1,750 / USD 38 good for 5 persons to take you to the base camp of Kawah Ijen crater. Travel time is 1.5 hours.
The climb will take roughly 2 hours to the rim of Ijen and another 1 hour down to the crater if you wish to witness the blue fire. I recommend hiring a guide if you wish to see the blue fire for your own security because the climb down to the crater is steep not to mention you are helping the local economy.
If you are alone, best to just book a tour package with a travel agent. You can scout for the best tour rates to Ijen at the city center in Banyuwangi where travel agencies abound. Shared group Kawah Ijen tour rates usually start at IDR 300,000 /PHP 105O/ USD 23 per person which includes 4×4 jeep with driver, mask, headlamp and guide.
Alternatively, you can fly to Banyuwangi Airport from Bali and hire a 4×4 jeep with driver to take you to Kawa Ijen’s base camp for the trek or book a tour package with a travel agent or your hotel.
WHERE TO STAY IN IJEN
TRAVEL TIPS WHEN CLIMBING KAWAH IJEN
⊗ The hike to Ijen volcano should not be taken lightly, but it does not mean you have to be an experienced mountaineer to do this trek. Wear winter clothes such as thick jackets, gloves, bonnet and hiking shoes because it can get pretty cold.
⊗ There is no toilet on the volcano trail, so before the climb, you can use the comfort room at the base camp for IDR 2,000 / PHP 7 / USD 0.15.
⊗ If climbing at night, remember that the trail to Ijen crater is dark, so wear headlamps and bring flashlight.
⊗ If you are not an avid mountaineer, bringing a climbing stick for the ascent can help. If you run out of breath, just pause for a few minutes.
⊗ If you plan on heading down the crater for the blue fire and you are not an experienced hiker, I suggest you hire a guide as the rock track is pretty steep.
⊗ Although some tour operators give out surgical masks to tourists before the climb; that is not enough if you wish to go near the blue flame. Locals rent out gas masks at the rim for IDR 50,000 / PHP 175 / USD 4.
⊗ The entrance to Ijen volcano trail opens at 3:00 AM. So if you plan to see the blue fire, I suggest starting the climb at 12 midnight to ensure you have enough time to reach the rim. It will take roughly 2 hours to climb the rim and another hour to go down the crater for the blue fire. The blue flame fades once daylight appears, around 5:00 AM.
⊗ Local miners work at Ijen even at night time, carrying 70-90 kilograms of sulfur. If you see a miner coming your way, please make way for them and let them pass first.
⊗ Local miners might also offer you small figurines made from sulfur as souvenirs for about IDR 10,000 / PHP 35 / USD 0.75 per piece. I recommend buying from them since it is additional income for these people. Some airlines though prohibit sulfur on checked-in luggage.
⊗ If you want a hassle-free tour, aside from booking at Banyuwangi, you can also avail of tour packages to Ijen from Bali, Surabaya, Probolingo and Yogyakarta where the package usually includes a Bromo tour.
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SAMPLE BUDGET/EXPENSES FOR CLIMBING IJEN
|4X4 Jeep with Driver||IDR 500,000 /PHP 1,750 / USD 38 (good for 5 persons)|
|Guide Fee||IDR 100,000 – 150,000 / PHP 350 – PHP 525/ USD 8 per group (5 persons)|
|Entrance Fee (Foreigners)||IDR 100,000 / PHP 350 (Monday to Saturday)|
IDR 150,000 / PHP 525 (Sunday)
|Gas mask rental||IDR 50,000 / PHP 175 / USD 4|
|Headlamp rental||IDR 10,000 / PHP 35 / USD 0.75|
|Gloves (for sale)||IDR 10,000 / PHP 35 / USD 0.75|
|SHARED GROUP TOUR||IDR 300,000 /PHP 105O/ USD 23 inclusive of jeep, guide, headlamp and mask.|
Special thanks to my friend KENNETH OF KENNETHSURAT.COM for guiding me throughout the climb to Ijen.
Special thanks to Tourism Indonesia for making our trip to Ijen possible.
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