Kawah Ijen is easily one of the most fascinating volcanoes on the planet. Famous for its electric blue flames that are only visible at night, this trip makes for an unforgettable hike and stunning sunrise. Below are some tips on how to make the most out of your experience to see this blue-flamed beauty.
Why Go? Go
So what makes Kawah Ijen volcano so special? I’m glad you asked. Kawah Ijen is an extremely rare volcano that actually erupts electric blue flames from its crater. But the catch is, it’s only visible at night! That means in order to see it, you have to wake up in the middle of the night, drive to the base of the volcano, and hike up in complete darkness. It’s completely worth it though, and I would recommend anyone and everyone to see it.
Curious as to what makes the blue flames well, blue? Read THIS post on why Kawah Ijen is so unique.
Getting to the Town
There are no hotel accommodations at the base of the volcano, so the two best options are to stay either in Banyuwangi or Bondowoso.
If travelling from Bali, it makes the most sense to stay at a hotel in Banyuwangi, and use that as your base. This is the direction I was travelling from. I took the Gilimanuk ferry from West Bali to Ketapang in East Java, and from there hired a taxi to the hotel. The ferry was actually quite nice, and I was able to catch a beautiful sunset over the water.
If travelling from West or Central Java, it would make more sense to stay in Bondowoso where there are also many hotel choices to accommodate you.
From your hotel you can hire a driver or a tour to take you to the volcano. I opted for a private driver since I’m not a big fan of tour companies. Depending on where you come from, the ride takes roughly an hour to 2 hours to reach the base of the volcano.
What to Bring
– Warm clothes – Dress in layers, its cold hiking at 2am!
– Comfortable shoes – It’s not necessary to buy expensive hiking boots, but it can get steep hiking down into the caldera so you’ll want something stable
– Gas mask – You don’t want to breathe in the toxic gases
– Headlamp or flashlight – this is a must, there are no lights along the trail
– And of course…photography equipment 😉
Getting to Kawah Ijen Volcano – A Midnight Excursion
Since the blue flames are only visible at night, you have to begin your journey very early. I had a 1 AM pick up from the hotel in Banyuwangi to the base of the volcano. The drive took roughly an hour, arriving around 2am. The driver stayed at the volcano base parking lot (along with other drivers and tour company buses) and waited until I completed the hike.
The Trek Up the Volcano
At the trail entrance there are guides available for a fee. I personally did not use a guide, however I would recommend it. I was a bit nervous I might get lost, since you hike at night with only the stars and your flashlight as lights. If anything, a guide would have been there to give me peace of mind. Thankfully though, when in doubt, there were plenty of other hikers around that I could just follow.
Since there are no public toilets along the trail, I recommend using the bathroom before starting the hike.
It is recommended to allow 1 – 1.5 hours to hike to the top of the crater.
You will likely pass the sulfur miners along the path and it is always good etiquette to stop and let them pass you. Their job is extremely labor intensive due to carrying heavy loads of sulfur on their backs.
The Trek Down into the Caldera of the Volcano
*Caldera = a volcanic crater, formed by a volcanic eruption or collapse
Once at the top of the crater, the next step is to hike down into the caldera. It is not marked and can be a rough path, so be carefully where you are stepping. It is important to be safe and go at your own pace. If other hikers are wanting to move faster, kindly stop and let them pass you. This is way better than feeling pressured to walk faster. If you feel uncomfortable going all the way down to the crater, you will be able to see a glimpse of the blue flames from a higher distance.
When hiking down into the crater, it is highly recommended to wear a gas mask or some sort of protection over your mouth to protect against these dangerous gases. It’s important to note that staying too long or too close can be extremely damaging to your camera equipment due to the harmful effects of the sulfur dioxide.
At the bottom of the crater there is an area where it levels off. You can watch the blue flames to your heart’s content, and experience the magic of one of the rarest volcanoes in existence. You can get extremely close to the flames, and many of these photos were taken only a few feet away! However, venture at your own risk. There are no park rangers patrolling the area if you do something foolish.
One thing to be aware of is, as the wind changes, the sulfur clouds can blow in your direction.
Sunrise at the Crater Rim
After you’ve gotten your fill of the flames, it’s time to hike back up to the crater rim to watch the sunrise over the mountains. I didn’t expect it, but this was my favorite experience of the whole trek! As the sun began to rise and illuminate the world around, you can see the stunning turquoise waters of the Kawah Ijen Crater Lake amidst the pink and purple backdrop – it’s just absolutely breathtaking! I’ve seen many sunrises, but this one is at the top of my list.
Trek Back Down to Base Camp
From here it’s a breezy hike back down to the base camp. Don’t rush though; it’s a treat to see the views surrounding the volcano in the daylight. Overall the experience was truly magical and one that I cherish as a travel favorite!
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Have you hiked Kawah Ijen volcano? Love to know in the comments below!