Ultimate Guide to hiking Mt Ijen an active volcano in Indonesia

I was originally going to do this solo but I now believe this is an experience where you should always have a guide with you and NOT do this solo. Having a guide was one of the best things I did and I’ll explain why below.

Sunrise over Mt Ijen

THE FACTS

Kawah Ijen, on the island of Java Indonesia, is an active volcano and has a large labour intensive sulphur mining operation in its crater. These miners work all round the clock. They primarily work at night time so it beats most of the hot day. They have to carry 80-100kgs of hard sulphur rock up out of the crater than down 3kms to where they get paid roughly $9 AUD for 60kgs worth.

Inside the crater of this active volcano, is where you will find the largest blue flame area in the world. You must wear a gas mask because the toxic sulphur fumes are overwhelming if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction.

Sulphuric Acid in liquid state is released by the volcano at a temperature of 600 celsius. When it becomes in contact with oxygen, it forms a chemical reaction where you see these blue flames that can reach 5 metres in height.

The Sulphur is processed and used mainly in beauty products. The demand for Sulphur is currently increasing.

The Blue Flames in the crater

HOW TO GET THERE

If you’re coming from Bali, check out my 2019 edition on how to get from Bali to Java by bus.

If you’re coming from the west side, for example Surabaya/Probolinggo, it will be super easy for you to get a train to Karangasem Station and disembark there.

Sunrise on the top of the crater

ACCOMMODATION

I stayed at Nitha Homestay which is directly opposite Karangasem Train Station. This is a great place with strong and solid wifi and the Homestay runs a Warung called “Warung Lestari” out the front so you’ll always have cheap and yummy food available.

I was able to get this vegan meal of noodles and veg by handing over a translation card of what vegan meant and she understood and cooked this for me.

It’s basic accommodation with no hot water (but you don’t really need it in that climate) and I paid 260,000 IDR ($26 AUD) for a double bedroom with private bathroom for 2 nights.

When I arrived, I said to the owner Agus, that I would like to see Ijen tomorrow morning and he went and got a piece of paper with the details below and said I can do a private tour for 400,000 IDR or a shared tour for 350,000 IDR and I asked whether there were others going tomorrow morning so I could do a shared one and he said “oh yes, we have people going every night!” So I chose a shared one so I could meet other travellers.

The schedule
The 80kgs of Sulphur the miners carry with the blue flame in the background

THE MORNING OF THE HIKE

At 12am Agus knocked at my door “hello Natalie?” And I was already up and ready to go. I had a couple of hours sleep before the start of my night.

There was an English couple leaving from Nitha Homestay too and we chatted for awhile before the 4WD picked us up.

Then we drove about 50 metres down the road and picked up 4 more people so there was 7 in our group.

We left at 12:30am and arrived at the entrance around 1:40am.

We were guided into a small building and were given gas masks, torches, a bottle of water and home cooked fried banana! There was a lady cooking them for our group in the building. We were then introduced to our guide Dedi.

Me and Dedi. After the hike. My pants covered in Sulphur

OUR TOUR GUIDE-AN EX SULPHUR MINER

Dedi was an ex sulphur miner at Kawah Ijen. He was 21 years old and had to stop mining because he said he wasn’t strong enough and it hurt him.

He was able to get a tourist job.

Four times a week he takes tourists up Ijen.

He never went to school.

He would like to be a policeman but he can’t because he hurt his finger in a motorcycle accident.

He can’t attend any education because it costs too much money.

Everyone who works in the volcano are Muslim.

His grandfather was a miner, so was his dad. His uncle is still a Sulphur Miner.

His uncle cannot give up the mining because if he doesn’t mine that day, his family don’t eat.

His uncle has a very bad back with welts and sores on it because of lifting the heavy baskets.

I walked 3kms down the volcano with just Dedi and myself and I’m forever humbled to have met him and learnt his story.

THIS is why I feel it is so important to have a guide on your trip to Mt Ijen. If I had been doing this solo, I never would have learnt everything I have.

A miner coming up from the crater with his load

STARTING THE HIKE

At 2am our group walked to the beginning of the path and started trekking up. This was one of the toughest things I have ever put my body through but I’m so glad I did!

The first 2kms is a steep 50 degree angle. To be honest, I’m not fit, it was a struggle but I was never going to give up. A good level of fitness is essential and if you have any knee, back or hip problems, this is NOT for you.

The next 1kms is mostly flat so it helps you recover from that 2kms of hell haha.

Once you arrive at the top of the crater, your guide will inform you that next you’ll be going down into the crater to see the blue flames. You only need to put your mask on if you smell sulphur and your guide will tell you when.

Me inside the crater

INTO THE CRATER

This is dangerous. No doubt about that. It’s dark, there is no clear path, it can be slippery in places and there are unstable rocks everywhere. Your guide will help you the whole way down. A strong headlight/torch is essential.

You’ll occasionally see a miner coming up with his load. All the guides yell “Miner! Miner!” and that’s when you must move to the side and give him as much room as possible. They are respected in this area because of the hard work they do.

Once you’re down, there are miners working and the blue flame is there. It was very big when I went and Dedi said we are lucky because it was only small the night before.

We started trekking out of the crater at 4:30am.

The sun coming up over the horizon

THE SUNRISE

This is one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever experienced. It was amazing. The colours, the clouds, the views.

I sat there by myself in awe, just soaking it all up and thinking I’m so incredibly lucky to be experiencing this.

At 6am we began the trip back down. Some of the group had gone ahead and some were behind. So I walked the whole way down by myself with Dedi. That’s where I was able to ask questions about who he was and his life and the miners. He was so young and such a gentle soul and I’m so grateful I crossed paths with him in this life.

After the sun has risen, looking down into the crater

ESSENTIAL TIPS AND INFORMATION

– Buy a really strong headlight to wear. I bought an energizer headlight from Woolworths in Australia that was 200 Lumens and weatherproof. It was perfect.

My headlight

– Wear clothing that you’re happy to either chuck away or can be worn at home or around the garden. If the wind changes and you get a heap of sulphur on you, people have found its very hard to get out of clothing. So don’t wear anything super expensive.

– A warm jacket! Hiking up, you won’t need these warm clothes because you’ll be sweating, but when you’re at the top of the crater waiting for the sunrise, it gets very cold!! So chuck a jacket and beanie into your backpack.

Shoes with grip! Do not wear sandals or thongs (flip flops).

– Don’t get caught up in taking hundreds of selfies. Please take a moment to just sit and breathe and admire the view.

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5 thoughts on “Ultimate Guide to hiking Mt Ijen an active volcano in Indonesia

  1. Wowza Natalie! What an amazing (although I guess stinky!?) experience! I love volcanoes, and getting up to see the sunrise, so this sounds right up my street.

    It’s really good to hear about the guides as well. Goodness, I am glad Dedi managed to get a job as a guide, but it’s pretty shocking to hear about the working conditions the miners face.

  2. Wow! This sounds like such an amazing and crazy experience. I think I’d be too scared to hike Mt. Ijen! I like that you also learned a bunch about your guide. It’s always interested to listen to their story.

  3. This was such an interesting post to read. I have never heard of being able to access an active volcano before, thanks for sharing this. I also believe that when you have a tour guide with you, you learn much more.

  4. This sounds like such an amazing adventure and absolutely worth the tough hike to get there. You’ve definitely convinced me that having a guide is the way to go. It sounds like it’d be very difficult to do without one. It must’ve been such an amazing experience to watch the sunrise there too. Thank you for such helpful information ☺️

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