Travel Without a Tour: Bali to Kawah Ijen
April 1, 2019
by Kelsey Chong
One of only two locations in the world, the phenomenal “Blue Fire” can be seen inside the volcanic crater of Kawah Ijen, a mountain situated in the far eastern region of Java, Indonesia. Climbing down the steep slopes of the crater, one can witness the sulfuric gas emit blue flames, only made visible in the darkness. Hearing so much about Ijen from travelers and locals alike, I dove headfirst into getting their myself and without a tour.
Why Travel Without a Tour?
- A sense of adventure
- Experience local transportation
- Freedom to change plans
- Get out of your comfort zone
- Usually the cheaper option
For whatever reason you decide to travel without a tour, the journey will become so much more a part of the whole experience than just the final destination. A rewarding an enriching adventure awaits those who dare to take the road less traveled. Here I will detail my own experience as well as a few other options to get you to Kawah Ijen and view the breathtaking sights for yourself.
Bali to Banyuwangi
From the Ubung Bus Terminal in Denpasar, you will first need to reach the ferry port connecting Bali and Java. As soon as I set foot on the bus station grounds someone immediately approached me asking where I wanted to go. If this isn’t your same experience ask around an tell them you’re going to Gilimanuk and follow suit as they direct you to the correct bus. The bus ticket shouldn’t cost more than 40k rupiah.
The bus ride will be approximately 4 hours with frequent stops and bumps along the way. Because Gilimanuk is the last bus stop I just say back and enjoyed the scenery. Once you reach the harbor you will follow the signs for ticket purchases. As of 2018 ferry cards are being issued which cost 20k rupiah. The actual ferry tickets only cost 6,500 rupiahs but the cards cost 10k with an additional 10k minimum balance charge.
The ferry comes every 30 minutes so no matter when you arrive you won’t have to wait long. From Gilimmanuk to Ketapong it is about 1/2 an hour, and the boat ride is likely to be full. Seeing as there were no available seats I just sat on my backpack, and trust me you won’t be the only one sitting on the ground.
Exiting Ketapong there will a single road leading into Banyuwangi. Small minivans painted blue or yellow and gutted out for seating will line the roadway. Typically called a bemo or angkot these vehicles function as the local inner city buses and shouldn’t cost you more than 10k rupiah per ride. Ask around and you’ll find one heading into the city. The bemos have a fixed route so just asked to be dropped off along the road closest to your hotel. In such situations, I usually have google maps open and when I see the little blue dot nearing a crossroad to my hostel I motion the driver to stop.
Most of the hostels and hotels are located in the city center making it easy to navigate your way around. On the low end, you can find a hostel for 35k – 50k rupiah a night. For 75k -100k rupiah you can get a modest single room. If your travel plans only include staying one or two nights don’t be picky as you won’t be spending much time in the room.
For those who want to visit Ijen as a day trip from Bali without booking a room, it is possible but I do not suggest it. After hiking Ijen I was happy to have a place waiting for me where I could take a long nap.
Bangyuwangi to Kawah Ijen
You will soon find this out from the hoards of people hiking up Ijen an alongside you, but Kawah Ijen has been gaining high tourist traffic within that last few years. Which means there is no shortage of hired transportation. From private cars to group excursions shop around for what best suits you and your plans. I originally wanted to rent a scooter and drive myself up to the mountain base which would cost around 60k – 70k rupiah per day, but in a strange turn of events, I met a group of Indonesian women going up the same day and hitched a ride with them. The drive from Banyuwangi to Ijen is approximately 1.5 hours and while the roads are not bad, driving at midnight then hiking 4 hours and driving back alone is not ideal. If you have someone to share the drive with this can be a good option. You can also use Ojek, a motorbike taxi service, to drive you up and down the mountain for probably 250k rupiah, if you have the diver wait for you. You can cut costs with this method by hiring a driver up the mountain and once finished, look for another driver at the car park. A private car will cost 500k rupiah and if you are in a group this is the best option.
Group rides are also offered and can be arraigned at your hotel or hostel, this will cost you about 150k rupiah and you don’t have to sit on the back of a motorbike for an hour and a half. However, you will have to adhere to the groups’ schedule.
Kawah Ijen, You Made It!
Well, not just yet. To see the blue fire you will leave Banyuwangi around 12:00 am reaching the car park before starting to hike at 2:00 am. Tickets cost 100k rupiah for foreigners and 5k rupiah for locals. I rented a gas mask for 25k rupiah, I met people along the way who were fine using a scarf or a medical mask but once that sulfuric fog hit me along the ridge I was glad to have a proper gas mask. Because you are hiking in the dark a headlamp (ideally) or a torch is needed. I actually had brought a torch with me but halfway up the batteries ran out! It was a bit difficult but I just closely followed those in front of me who had working lights.
Although it is dark the entrance to Ijen is clearly marked. Before starting you can purchase your ticket in a cabin to the right as well as any rental equipment you might need in a hut further down the path beyond the ticket lodge.
The hike is a gradual incline that steadily increasing until the last kilometer before the ridge, this will take around 1.5 – 2 hours depending on your fitness level. Until here the path is spacious and easy to follow. From the lip of the crater, you will begin a 30-minute descent to where you can view the blue flame. This path is steep and rocky so be careful. I spent a good 30 minutes inside the crater viewing the blue flame, acidic lake and milling around to watch the miners.
To view the sunrise I walked out of the crater and continued along the eastern side another 20 minutes until the pathway opened up. You will want to reach this spot no later than 5:10 am to catch your breath and view the sunrise in its entirety.
From here you can either keep walking around the volcano ridge, view inside the crater with daylight, or simply hike back down the mountain; without a tour, you’re free to go at your own pace.
Hiking Kawah Ijen is an amazing experience that I suggest anyone do, with or without a tour. That feeling of accomplishment, standing on the edge of a volcanic crater; it’s a feeling like no other.
What To Bring
- Warm jacket and a hat, it gets pretty cold up there (available for rent)
- Headlamp or torch (available for rent)
- Gas mask, medical mask, scarf (available for rent)
- Shoes with a grip
- A camera for all those spectacular pictures
- Bus: Denpasar to Gilimanuk 40k rp
- Ferry: Gilimanuk to Ketapong 20k rp
- Bus: Ketapong to Banyuwangi 10k rp
- Hostel: 35k – 75k rp
- Hotel Room: 75k – 100k rp
- Ojek: 250k rp (to and from)
- Motorbike rental: 60k – 70k rp
- Car rental: 500k rp
- Shared car: 150k – 200k rp
- Gear rental: 25k – 50k rp
- Ticket: 100k rp (foreigner)