The memory of the beautiful pink sunrise sky in Bromo captured at Seruni Point got me wondering about how almighty it could be the sunrise from another altitude. The next thing I know, I was hooked on Google looking for a reference of travel guide Kawah Ijen (Ijen Crater). One of my best friends, Yessi, who by any chance happens to be my recent travel mate along with her husband, Rian, suggested us to join the tour package with starting point from my hometown, Surabaya. She could find the tour package as low as IDR 300,000 each person for the trip to Kawah Ijen. The trip is including the return transport by car from Surabaya to Kawah Ijen, guide, entrance ticket, breakfast, but no stay at the hotel. I am not a fan of tour package, but when I compared the offered price with the budget that I foresaw if we manage our trip by train and include the hotel, the tour package was quite tempting.
But that was just too good to be true, they charged IDR 100,000 more for foreigner. Anyway, my foreigner friends agreed with the price. This good price was eventually attracting more travel mates to join. Then we were 7 persons confirmed to visit Kawah Ijen together.
Surprisingly, knowing that we were 7, the tour organizer decided to use their business greedy rat’s brain to work. They increased the price IDR 50,000 more per person. I was furious, it is not about money, it is about commitment. We have more persons and we are charged more? This is ridiculous. That’s not how to make your business sustainable, Dude! So I told Yessi that me and the other friends cancelled the tour, we would rather to go on our own with more flexibility. In the end, everyone cancelled the trip with the tour organizer.
Lesson learned: When you’re too greedy, you will end up with nothing!
1. Getting Here
There were back four of us willing to arrange the trip on our own when suddenly my colleague, Max, requested to join us. So finally we were 5 persons from different starting points independently managed our own trip.
Yessi and Rian started from Surabaya Gubeng station took the morning Economy Probowangi train to Karangasem station, one station before Banyuwangi. With Probowangi train, the journey is 7 hours with price IDR 56,000 per person. Another Economy train is Sri Tanjung with price IDR 94,000. While for Business and Executive trains serving the same route is Mutiara Timur Siang (day) and Malam (night). The journey with Mutiara Timur will take 6 hours 20 minutes and the price ranges from IDR 100,000 – IDR 200,000. Going by bus is also possible but it will take more time and you will arrive in Banyuwangi bus terminal, which will require you to take another transport to reach Karangasem.
My initial start was from Jakarta and I took a plane to Bali, but I spent some time in North Bali first before heading to Kawah Ijen. From Lovina, I took a bus direction to Gilimanuk Harbor which costs IDR 50,000 per person for 2 hours ride.
Max also took a start from Jakarta and stayed in Kuta (South Bali) so he ordered an ojek (motorbike taxi) up to Ubung Terminal Bus. From Ubung he took a bus to Gilimanuk Harbor. The bus trip lasted for 3-4 hours with price IDR 30,000.
Me, Max and the other friend met in Gilimanuk Harbor and we took a ferry departing to Ketapang Harbor of Banyuwangi. The ferry costs only IDR 6,500 per person and the trip is 30 minutes. As soon as we arrived in Ketapang Harbor, everyone was coming to us to offer the transport. Gosh, I need a break! The public small car (angkot) driver offered us a ride to Karangasem for IDR 75,000 in total. You gotta be kidding me, if I take angkot, I want to pay a normal passenger’s price. So we ended up taking taxi up to Karangasem. It costs only IDR 72,000 for a nice, comfortable, air-conditioned 15 minutes ride.
Five of us finally met in Karangasem station and were welcomed with a bad news. Our plan was to rent a motorbike to go to Kawah Ijen, but as it was a weekend, all motorbikes were booked. After several discussion and negotiation with the warung’s (small shop) owner, we made a deal for a transport to Kawah Ijen by car with IDR 150,000 per person which makes IDR 750,000 per car. It’s lucky that we were five so that we had the car only for us. If we were less than 5 we would have to mix with another group.
2. Getting Around and Attractions
Once we made a deal for the transport, it was still 1 o’clock in the afternoon so we had 10 hours to spend before heading to Paltuding. Paltuding is the post where the trekking to Kawah Ijen started. The warung’s owner name Agus suggested us to spend our time to relax at Kampung Luwak, a place managed by his brother, Bagus.
Kampung Luwak is a small luwak coffee plantation within a walking distance from Karangasem station. If you are a coffee lover, you must have heard of kopi luwak (kopi = coffee). Kopi luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world which is mainly produced in Indonesia. Luwak or asian palm civet itself is an animal that is able to select a good coffee bean, eat it and then digest it. So where does the coffee come from? It literally comes from the poop of luwak.
In Kampung Luwak, you can taste the kopi luwak for only IDR 50,000 per serve. I swore I never wanted to drink that coffee as it comes from the poop, but I gave up and would try anything for the first time. In fact, I enjoyed the strong taste of coffee luwak more than Ijen local coffee.
So yeah, it was really 10 hours well spent in Kampung Luwak. We had our lunch, dinner, played with Luwak, shower and a quick nap in the small gazebo.
PS. They serve a really strong, fresh and delicious homemade sambal (chili sauce).
Time tickling to 10:30 pm; Yessi woke me up from my short nap. We took all the preparation we needed for trekking in Kawah Ijen: sulphur mask, medium heavy coat, rain coat, headlight and our proper footwear. At 11:00 sharp, our car was ready to bring us to Paltuding.
All the way in the dark to Paltuding, we saw some motor bikers heading to the same destination. The challenge to ride a motorbike is “tanjakan erek-erek”, an almost 70 degree sharp incline. Even one car before us was having a difficult time to pass this sharp incline.
One hour later, we arrived in Paltuding. As we were going to spend the rest of the night trekking, Yessi and I wanted to really empty our liquid bank, so we went to the public toilet. The queue was so long.
Next, the tickets for 5 of us were purchased with some arguments. Eventually, unlike in any other tourist destinations, KITAS holders are not entitled to get the local price in Kawah Ijen. It was quite an argument for us with the officer in Kawah Ijen and it was not just us, there was also a Canadian who stood by us in the argument. Sigit, the officer that we had an argument with, in the end couldn’t explain exactly why it is different in Kawah Ijen. For this situation, I was really curious that I contacted Dinas Pariwisata and BBKSDA to ask the same question; still I don’t get the answer up to now though.
Moving on from the ticket price, we started our trek together, five of us and our new Canadian friend. It is said that the trek is 3 km but I feel that it is more than that. The trek is much more challenging than what we had in Bromo. At the beginning we could catch each other step, until then the 60 degree incline happened. Yessi and Rian were gone behind us. Me, Max and the other friend kept our rhythm with hope to be the first batch to catch the Blue Flame.
It was around 2:00 when we reached the crater’s mouth, the sulphuric gas was not a lot yet. From the crater’s mouth, we had to go down into the crater to watch this famous blue flame clearly. The trek for the blue flame seriously requires an extra concentration. It is rocky, uneven, sharp, not to mention it was dark when we went down. Forty minutes after, we were already inside the crater witnessing this blue flame phenomenon.
After 20 minutes adoring this blue flame phenomenon, we hiked up again to catch the sunrise. Unfortunately, there is only one same track to go down and up from the blue flame spot so it was kinda traffic to hike back up. Unexpectedly on the way back up, we were passing by Yessi and Rian on their way down. Yeah, slow walker!
The temperature in Kawah Ijen was super cold, even worse with the wind, so we took some time to hide from the wind and rest inside the cracked ground. The sulphuric gas was slightly increasing by the time caused the visitors hesitated to go down to the blue flame spot.
Just about the sunrise, we continued trekking to the sunrise spot which is located around 1.5 km away from the blue flame spot. It was 3 of us without any sign of appearance from Yessi and Rian. We patiently waited for the sky turn into brightly red.
Then slowly the sun was rising under the reddish sky. That moment, the ocean started to be visible to our sight. We were just standing there, gazing at the first sunset in East Java.
Facing to the opposite side of the sunrise, we gradually saw the real color of the crater under the pinky sky.
As the sun made its way up higher, the darkness were gone and left us speechlessly praising the exotic turquoise sulphur lake inside the crater.
It was a breathtaking moment; our trekking had finally been paid-off with a beautifully noble panorama.
On the way back down to Paltuding, the crater was emitting more and more sulphuric gas and the blue flame was invisibly hidden by the gas. We made a stop for a hot tea at the sulphur miners’ office in hoping to catch Yessi and Rian on their way down. Even after tea and instant noodles, there was still nothing of them, so we continued our journey to Paltuding. As soon as we reached our car in the parking area, I just fell asleep while waiting for Yessi and Rian to be back.
Air Terjun Jagir (Jagir Waterfall)
So back 5 of us on the way back to Karangasem station, our driver offered us to make a stop at Air Terjun Jagir, of course we said yes.
There were not many visitors, I rephrase, there was zero visitor going inside the waterfall, so it was kinda a private waterfall for us. Imagine how refreshing it was to wash your sulphuric smelly body in the waterfall. Unbelievable!
3. Travel Tips & Cautions
- Bring a complete gears for midnight trekking as minimum as a headlight, raincoat, medium heavy coat, proper footwear and sulphur mask. For sulphur mask, if you rent when you are still in Karangasem (we rented it from the transport provider) you can get cheaper price than if you rent at the crater’s mouth. We negotiated and spent only IDK 50,000 for 4 masks, while at the crater’s mouth we were offered IDR 50,000 per mask.
- If you plan to go by motorbike, use a minimum 125 cc motorbike. Tanjakan erek-erek is a serious danger. Consider to head to Paltuding by motorbike during the day to be safe. An average price to rent motorbike is IDR 60,000 per day, if you go on weekend it is better to make an advance booking for motorbike rental.
- You can take your time to reach the mouth crater but not too much if you aim to see the blue flame. The visitors and sulphur miners go down and up from the same way, if you come late, you will have to be stuck in queue. Yessi and Rian were stuck in queue and in the end they couldn’t make it to the bottom like 3 of us because from time to time, the sulphuric gas will be emitted more and more intense. It was too risky to reach the bottom with such intense sulphuric gas.