Blue Flames of Kawah Ijen Volcano – Java, Indonesia

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._DSC6695-001

Mt. Ijen Panorama-001

During the day Mt. Ijen is a beautiful hike. Its worth bringing a picnic and spending the day on this beautiful mountain. Head there at midnight to see the blue flames!

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!

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Meet Sunarto, he’s a local sulfur miner at Mt. Ijen. His nights are spent doing backbreaking labor for about $14/day in conditions that I couldn’t even take for a few seconds. He’s a hero for his family which makes him a hero to me.

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!

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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.

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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.

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Sunarto and his friend Salim are often too poor to afford filters for their gas masks so they don’t even wear them. The miners have setup a series of ceramic pipes to collect sulfuric liquid from the smoke. It solidifies as is cools and they carve it out.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Sunarto and some of the other miners carve figurines into the crystallized sulfur and try to sell them to tourists.

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Miners are working 24 hours a day. A strong miner can do 2 or 3 trips in a night carrying over 70kg. Sadly this work takes its toll as the average lifespan of the Kawah Ijen miners is only about 45 years old.  If you take a picture please tip them.  It’s the least you can do and honestly no amount is too small.  Who knows, if they get enough it might even mean they don’t have to go back into the volcano tonight.

 

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Mike Still
Mike is a travel enthusiast, photographer and teacher. He loves adventure travel, meeting the locals and exploring new culture. As an outdoor enthusiast you can often find him hiking mountains or exploring forests trying to capture the beauty of mother nature. In 2013 he founded www.LiveTravelTeach.com as he left his home in America and has been teaching or traveling around the world ever since!

31 thoughts on “Blue Flames of Kawah Ijen Volcano – Java, Indonesia

    1. It was humbling indeed. That is, in fact, probably a huge understatement. These miners work for a tiny fraction of what us tourists pay to visit Indonesia. Most of us stroll past and ignore them like the average beggar. Yet, they are so physically and mentally strong and successful men. It really puts the success and privilige that I have had as an American white man into perspective.

      I’m glad you read the captions and hope that if you do visit Mt. Ijen that you take a moment to brighten the miners’ days with a small tip and conversation. The mountain is absolutely stunning at any hour of the day and such an awesome natural wonder that it should be on everyone’s bucketlist!

  1. Hi Michael,

    Sunarto is a freaking beast.

    I watched men in their 60’s with ripped abs, built like Bruce Lee (almost) lugging huge bags around in the rice fields around Ubud for 10 hours a day. Always smiling it seemed too. Just accepting of their experience in this life, I guess.

    I admire the Indonesians and all folks from around the globe who blast through physical limits.

    Cool post dude!

    Ryan

  2. I have travelled a lot and sometimes I think I have seen a bit and then I see photos like this and I realise there is so much incredible stuff I have no idea about. This is mind blowing! Well done!

    1. Abhinav, you would love Indonesia if you are an outdoor enthusiast. Be sure to also check out Mt. Bromo. You can read about it here livetravelteach.com/2016/08/13/mt-bromo-javas-magnificent-volcano/

  3. Incredible place – I don’t think I’d heard of the blue flames. You really get a sense of the power of mother nature from seeing something like that. I really respect those brave guys who have to work there, I’m sure that theirs is often described as one of the worst jobs in the world.

  4. I am stunned see your pics. I had read about blue flames before but never expected it to be this stunning! But so sad that they have such short life span due to this kind of work.

  5. Gorgeous pictures. The blue fumes do sound fascinating. The volcano reminds me of Mount Kelimutu with its blue volcanic liquids. Of course, there were no blue fumes but the clouds over it were just fascinating. Glad you managed to get here and discover some amazing stuff.

  6. Wonderful images, have never been close to a live volcano. Sunarto looks cool, esp with that cigarette. I have been near a vew hot water springs and other sulpherous water bodies. I know it is hard to surivive even for a few seconds. So, my respect to those miners.

  7. Wow your pictures are really beautiful…and your post is really well detailed. Anyway I don’t know how these poor people can do this kind of insane work for 14$ per day. When I was climbing up on Huangshan (yellow) mountains I saw many men doing the same…but On a Volcano is insane. A part of that, great guide, thank you 🙂 I’ll use it for sure.

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