Blue Flames of Kawah Ijen Volcano – Java, Indonesia

by Mike Still
Blue Flames of Kawah Ijen Volcano – Java, Indonesia

The Secret behind the Blue flames of Ijen Volcano Java

The fascinating fact about Ijen Volcano Java is that it emits Blue Flames. Many people are curious and excited about these Blue flames and visit this group of composite volcanoes, just to have a glimpse of it. These Blue Flames are due to burning Sulphur. This group of volcanoes has large Sulphur deposits and one can not visit here without a proper gas mask.

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).

Mount Ijen was picked as one of the hikes in Asia.
Scroll down to see why!

The driver picked me and 2 European couples up around midnight so we could start hiking by 2 AM. 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. It’s 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 3 am 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 it is easy enough. Walking down the path you’ll 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 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 wear a gas mask. The only reason there is blue fire is that 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 the 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 set up 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 bucket list it would have been at the top and should be on your bucket list!  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!

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33 comments

Natasha August 18, 2016 - 3:27 pm

This looks pretty amazing! I will have to give it a try the next time I find myself in Indoensia! 🙂

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ronda August 20, 2016 - 7:07 pm

Incredible! I would love to see this one day 🙂

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Shannon - SoleSeeking September 9, 2016 - 7:32 pm

What an amazing adventure! It must have been very humbling to watch the locals undertake this hugely demanding and financially unrewarding work.

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Shannon - SoleSeeking September 9, 2016 - 7:34 pm

What an amazing adventure! It must have been very humbling to see these locals undertake such hugely demanding and financially unrewarding work

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mike.j.still@gmail.com September 9, 2016 - 7:45 pm

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!

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Ryan Biddulph September 10, 2016 - 6:58 am

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

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Jesper, The Biveros Effect December 14, 2016 - 11:32 pm

The work for some that other of us cannot even understand that they accept doing. Impressive willpower to continue in that environment. Hopefully the conditions will improve for them one day. 🙂

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Dane December 15, 2016 - 11:10 am

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!

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Abhinav Singh December 18, 2016 - 9:48 pm

I have heard so much about volcanoes of Indonesia that I can’t wait to be there. I am an outdoor enthusiast and will love it there.

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Mike Still December 20, 2016 - 10:49 am

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/

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Sridhar @InterludJourney December 18, 2016 - 11:09 pm

Planning Indonesia in 2017. Looking at your photos inspires me to add it to my adventures list. love the way you tell about this place. It’s amazing information the places with wonderful pics.

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Mike Still December 20, 2016 - 10:48 am

Indonesia should be in everyone’s plans for 2017!

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Wanderlust Vegans December 19, 2016 - 3:26 am

Wow what a crazy place to visit. I feel sorry for those workers having to deal with those conditions. I had no idea crystallised sulphur was something that is mined. Looks like a heavy job.

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Mike Still December 20, 2016 - 10:48 am

Yeah it is definitely an intense job

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Chantal @ Translating Traveler December 19, 2016 - 7:52 am

This place looks unreal! I’ve never heard of this place before but I’ll definitely put it on my bucket list now! Sad to see, though, that so many people still have to work in such unhealthy conditions…

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Mike Still December 20, 2016 - 10:47 am

It is such an unreal destination! Definitely bittersweet when you meet the miners though

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Emily December 20, 2016 - 3:36 am

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.

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Mike Still December 20, 2016 - 10:00 am

Emily, You’re absolutely right. Mining in Kawah Ijen has to be one of the worst jobs in the world

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Adam, Bite of Iceland December 20, 2016 - 4:16 am

Great post! Blue flames look wonderful 🙂 Respect for these guys, it’s very sad to hear about their working conditions.

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Mike Still December 20, 2016 - 9:59 am

So much respect for them. They give it all just for their families to have a better life.

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Travelpeppy December 20, 2016 - 11:33 am

This is an amazing post. Blue flames looks amazing. My heart goes for these guys.

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Indrani December 20, 2016 - 11:44 am

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.

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Ami December 20, 2016 - 12:45 pm

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.

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Mike Still December 20, 2016 - 1:58 pm

I just googled Kelimutu and now I want to go there too! It looks so beautiful!

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Call of Travel December 20, 2016 - 9:02 pm

What an amazingly interesting place to visit! I really like how you took the time and dedicated much of your post to talking about the hardship these workers endure.

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Loredana December 20, 2016 - 10:39 pm

Impressive! I’d love to see these lights up close! Wonderful photos!

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Jitaditya Narzary December 21, 2016 - 4:06 am

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.

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Brown Gal Trekker December 21, 2016 - 4:32 am

I visited Ijen and the crater lake was just amazing. Unfortunately, the work that locals do there is quite tough with such low pay. Nature in that part of the world is quite unique.

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Stefano uTravelshare.com December 21, 2016 - 6:41 am

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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Christina December 21, 2016 - 11:31 am

Wow what an unique experience! The blue fires are amazing. I had never heard of them until now. Thank you for the tips and post about your experience!

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Christine Maguire (@thetraveloguer) December 23, 2016 - 1:58 am

I’ve only recently heard about the blue flames of Kawah Ijen Volcano, I wish I had’ve known about it when I was in Indonesia! Looks amazing 🙂

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40 Best Hikes in Asia - Picked by Travel Bloggers - Live, Travel, Teach February 12, 2018 - 9:01 pm

[…] blue fires of Mount Ijen are quite possibly the most amazing natural sight I’ve ever seen.  Walking up the rim of […]

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Kawah Ijen Tour April 3, 2018 - 4:31 pm

hi Mike,
I’m Hendri, I’m very interested in your review of ijen crater, the blueflame view looks amazing.
here i would to bridge your friend or all people who to visit bromo or ijen, we have special package, we hope we could help to make your ijen bromo tour easier, just email me or visit our web kawah ijen tour. do not hesitate if you need more information or any assistance..thanks Mike

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