Hiking Mount Bromo

by Michael Satterfield

When most people think about traveling to Indonesia, the first thing that comes to mind is Bali. It is always at the top of must-visit destinations in the world, the ideal tropical paradise for a honeymoon or just a relaxing vacation. But there is much more to see and do in Indonesia, just across the Bail Strait is the island of Java, home to the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta and one of the most interesting places I have ever traveled.

Java is the most populated island in the world and is home to several amazing cities like Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Bandung, as well as several national parks like Ujung Kulon National Park and Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. But many travelers to Java never venture out of a handful of major cities and never really experience the natural beauty that is the Javanese interior.

Getting to Mount Bromo can be a little difficult, while there are public transportation options but you are better off hiring a driver to take you from Surabaya or Malang. If you are adventurous you can rent a car and drive yourself with rental cars offered at the airports and ferry terminals. To the village of Putus or Cemoro Lawang, it is easy to get confused because their addresses will be listed under the city of Probolinggo which is 35 km away. Depending on where you are starting out you can generally book a reputable driver through most decent hotels if you are going to rent your own car be sure to have booked it well in advance and that you have your international driver license, also keep in mind that Indonesia is a Right-Hand-Drive country. Expect to spend between $50-$100 a day on a rental car with insurance.

If you are looking to take public transportation you will need to start in Surabaya, you can take the train to Probolinggo for around $5.00 for a 1st class ticket, but if you are cheap you can enjoy the non-airconditioned 2nd class cars for around $3.00. Once you get to Probolinggo you will need to take a taxi to the Bayuangga Bus Terminal, its 7 km and a taxi should be less than .50 cents per-person. The bus terminal will be a bazaar, while there are organized buses for around $7 that do run a fairly regular schedule you can also hire a private driver to take you to Cemoro Lawang for under $15 a person. If you get there in the late afternoon a private car might be your only option.

Being a major tourist destination means that the village of Cemoro Lawang is filled with a number of different hotel options. From inexpensive backpacker hostels to luxury resort properties. When looking to book your hotel ahead of time, remember, all the hotels will show their city as Probolinggo on booking websites, just verify the location on the map before you book. While the romance of a $10 a night hostel has its appeal, I prefer something a little nicer and booked at the Jiwa Jawa Bromo.

The resort overlooks the valley and offers views of the mountains once the fog clears. An Executive room is around $190 a night while a suite comes in at just under $400 a night. They also have residence style flats with rooms for up to nine people. I like the fact that after a long day of travel the resort not only had an excellent restaurant that served both a Javanese and Western menu, but that they also had music, and even a very nice art gallery. I didn't feel like going off property because I would be getting up at the pre-dawn-hours to watch the sunrise over the valley, a very popular attraction I was told. A driver would pick me up in the morning to take me to the base of the mountain where I would then hike to the summit where the viewing platform is. 

4AM came early, but just as promised my driver was waiting to take me to the location where I could hike to the viewing area. The entire road was packed with Toyota FJ-Cruisers, all filled with other tourists headed out to watch the sunrise from Mount Penanjakan. The walk is steep and crowded, FJ-Cruisers park along the side of the road while motorcycle taxis ferry people too tired, too old, or too lazy to walk the few kilometers up to the viewing area. Upon arriving at the top it is packed, you have to dodge a gauntlet of selfie-sticks as so many prepare to capture the moment. Instagram photo snapped the crowd quickly makes their way back down the road to their waiting SUVs.

Hanging around until the sun filly rises showcases the stunning beauty of the mountains peaking through the clouds before the sun melts away the marine layer. I make my way back down to my waiting Landcruiser and we head to the valley below so I can hike to the top of a still smoldering volcano. 

The drive through the valley is a mix of old and new, the 1970's Land Cruisers and the Tenggerese horsemen of Bromo who eek out a living offering rides and carrying bags for tourists visiting the mountains they have called home since the 15th century. They claim to be the descendants of Jaka Seger and Roro Anteng Hindu Prices from the Majapahit Empire, who retreated to the mountains as Islam took over the island of Java. Life at the base of one of the world's most active volcanos is difficult as the flow of tourists depends on if the volcano is erupting, which it has nine times since 2004.

I opted to take the FJ to the base of the volcano because with the crowds and cold morning, it can be a few hours of hiking to get there, and I am looking forward to breakfast back at my hotel. The air is still wet, dust mixed with ash is stirred up by the combination of 4X4s and galloping horses. The thickness of the air makes breathing difficult, bring a scarf or bandana so you can at least filter some of the dust as you make your way to the trail.

For a few bucks, you can rent a tiny horse to ride to the trailhead, but I opt to walk through the sea of horses and tourists, snapping pictures as I go. People negotiate the prices for a ride to the base of the volcano, others just want to take a photo sitting on the horse for a small gratuity. To say you "hike" the volcano is a bit of a stretch, yes you do climb from the base to the top of the rim, where you can look down into the smoking crater, but you do so via a large staircase. Still, the view once you get to the top is worth it an expansive valley that has been wiped clean by a previous eruption, contrasting against a blue sky and green mountains.

If you want to plan your own visit to Mount Bromo head over to the official tourism site Wonderful Indonesia.