I first heard about Mt. Ijen’s blue flames from a British biologist who hiked Bromo with me. Thinking it would be impossibly far away I was happy to hear Mt. Ijen is on the way back to Bali from Mt. Bromo!
To save money I took a public bus to Bangyuwangi and found a group tour for about 200,000 IDR ($20). Ijen tours cost over $300 from Kuta but you can spend a fraction of that by taking public buses and staying in a local homestay. If you want a private tour it will cost you upwards of 1,000,000 IDR ($100).
The driver picked me and 2 European couples up around midnight so we could start hiking by 2am. The blue flames are only visible from about midnight until sunrise so its worth an early morning trek. Even if you can’t make that happen the caldera is absolutely stunning and well worth a daytrip.
Hiking past hidden giants in pitch black reminded me of Dinosaur Ridge 3am hikes with Seoul Hiking Group. Thankfully the path up Kawah (Indonesian for mountain) Ijen was much friendlier than that 15 hour beast of a trail. It takes about an hour before you reach the rim of Ijen. There are about 7 or 8 steep stretches of trail along this 3km journey. Taking appropriate breaks this hike is certainly achievable for any fitness level but it is by no means and EASY trek.
Getting to Mount Ijen
Option 1 – Book a private tour for over $300 per person from Bali
Option 2 – Take public transportation to either Bangyuwangi to Bondowoso on Java
Coming from Yogyakarta? Check out this blogger’s experience on Mt Bromo before Mt. Ijen!
Descending into the crater gets a little hairier but as long as you go slow its easy enough. Walking down the path you’l start to see local miners coming up the trail carrying as much as 70kg of sulfur on their backs!
Always yield to the miners, remember that you’re here on vacation while they are doing backbreaking labor for a measly $14/day! This is their job and they willingly endure some of the worst conditions on Earth because the average salary in the region is $2/day. Their sacrifice feeds their family but sadly gives them an average lifespan of 45 years. The least you can do is let them pass. If you want to take a photo give them a tip and they’ll gladly take a break.
Once inside the crater you should to wear a gas mask. The only reason there is blue fire is because of the sulfurous gas coming out. You’ll be happy to wear this wartime apparatus when puffs of sulfurous smoke billow towards you but even happier when the blue glows appears!
Inching closer blue flames become clearer and the source of the flames turns out to be a giant sulfur pit. An azure light sparkles in front of you dozen spots all at once. This magical phenomenon left me jaw dropped in wonder and is certainly one of mother natures most surprising sights. The blue pyre feels like a live action Japanese Anime that only airs later at night on top of a mountain.
Next to the blaze you’ll find a dozen or so miners tirelessly carving out chunks of sulfur. Too poor to afford filters for a gas mask I can’t even fathom how they work in these conditions. Noxious gases seep through my mask and sting my throat leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. In those awful moments when the wind shifts your eyes water and burn. Stay in if you dare but in the moment I tried to snap a photo I was forced to crouch low and shut my eyes praying for the winds to change. Truth is those photos weren’t even that great so I don’t recommend venturing into the smoke.
Before heading out of the crater be sure to check out the sulfurous lake. In the light it shines a beautiful turquoise but if you were there for the blue fire the lake will have an eerie midnight hue. Steam comes off parts of this pond and you can touch the edge but beware this poisonous pool is the largest highly acidic lake in the world!
It will take 30-60 minutes to climb back up to the ridge and if you hurry you’ll watch the sun rise majestically over the ocean. Turn left and follow the ridgeline for a kilometer past Ijen’s peak and the sun will creep up over the horizon reflecting in the Indian Ocean.
Stay for a few hours and have a picnic or head back down. Either way Mt. Ijen will certainly be a highlight of your trip to Indonesia. Had I known about it when writing my bucketlist it would have been at the top and should be on your bucketlist! I’ll never forget the blue glow of this fantastic volcano!