Ijen Merapi has gained popularity over the last 5 years thanks to the rise of Instagram and its proximity to Bali, it has taken on a whole new level of tourism. I first visited Ijen back in 2015 and again in July 2019 and I can certainly see a huge difference between the 4 years since my last visit. Mass boom in tourism aside, the place is absolutely amazing and to see the beauty of the place you have to brave the elements and the thousand + people that climb every night. The natural beauty of this place can’t be denied and it is absolutely incredible.

I visited Ijen in July 2019 and September 2015 so here is my account of the last trip.

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I had been to Ijen already in 2015 when I was on my way back from a failed attempt at climbing Semeru. A major forest fire had stopped me in my tracks so I had no choice but to turn around and come again another time. The saying is true that the mountain isn’t going anywhere and the 2nd time around I was on the summit some 4 years later. It was like dejavu because I was leaving Semeru behind and heading straight back to the amazing Ijen volcano complex.
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The change in 4 years is quite stark with the major difference being the absolute hordes of tourists coming to visit this place. It seems to me that the majority of people visit Bromo and then head on towards Bali and visit Ijen on the way.

IjenI took the train from Surabaya all the way to Banyuwangi, the major town close to Ijen and the ferry port to Bali from Java. The train trip cost me 175,000 rupiah and the total journey took around 6 hours. This is a very pleasant trip and the trains on Java are a great way to travel the island. The trains do book out days to a week in advance so if you know your schedule its certainly best to arrange the train tickets before hand. I was short on time and didn’t have a set plan so I kind of winged it. I went to the train station at 7am and bought the last ticket for the 9am train. The online tickets seem to sell out quite fast so my Indonesian friend told me to just go to the station and ask if they had tickets there. I took 3 trains during my time in Java and had to go to the station on every occasion. I was lucky on all but 1 occasion and had to take the bus. That experience shook me enough to not want to take the bus ever again. The train is by far the way to go.

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I arrived at the train station in Banyuwangi and was immediately surrounded by touts and motor bike taxis annoying me and trying to get me to go with them. It must be noted that no Gojeks are allowed to enter the train or bus stations so it can be very frustrating trying to get around and not be over changed. Most of the time you just have to go with the touts unless you want to have a long walk with a backpack on. 
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I had pre arranged via watsapp to rent a motor bike for 24 hours so I could ride to Ijen the following morning for sunrise. I took the ojek directly to the motor bike rental place and paid 75k rupiah to rent the bike for 24 hours. There are rentals available right at the train station if you need but then you will have to go back there to return it so I thought it would be easier just to rent it from the town instead. 
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To rent the motorbike you don’t have to leave your passport or anything like that. I left one piece of ID with a photo and they took a picture of my passport for collateral. The motorbikes are in really good condition and are powerful enough to get you up the hill safely. I rented off Banyuwangi Rental Sewa mobil dan motor. They have dirt bikes, scooters and cars for you to rent and are incredibly friendly.
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I rented a room for the night in the town and got an early night because I had to get up early to make it up the mountain for sunrise. Most people start the climb at 1am to see the blue flames in the crater and because I had already been down to see it in 2015, I didn’t feel the need to go down there again so I had a sleep in and left the hotel at 2am. The ride up the hill is 30kms and takes around an hour. The road is a little bumpy in places so be sure to go slowly and not speed as it is a winding road. The road goes all the way from sea level to 1900m and it does get very cold. I had to wear gloves, a jacket and ski pants to keep warm.

Ijen

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I arrived at the car park at 330am to find it full of tour buses and cars. There were some guys at the front sitting around a fire burning out of rubbish to keep warm. The sky was clear and the stars were shining bright but I had bought my rain jacket along just incase. The weather forecast had called for rain so I knew that it could be a possibility. 
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Just in the car park there is a ticket booth for foreigners and one further along for locals. I paid 100k for a one day entry and as I passed the local ticket counter the price read 5k rupiah. I wasn’t really in that much of a hurry so I stopped and talked to some guys at the gate that check the ticket. They told me that more than 1000 people had already gone up and that they started the hike up at 1am. I was late but they had a nice warm fire so I chatted for about 15 minutes before proceeding up. 
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The trail is like a one lane road and in quite good condition. Since Heinz Von Holzen and the Swiss government donated some trolleys to the sulphur porters the road has become much better. 
 

 Heinz Von Holzen Story

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I met Heinz in 2015 when I was creating Bali Adventure Guide. I had an interview with him and he explained to me that he had been to Ijen in the east of Java and had seen the terrible conditions that the sulphur porters had to endure. They would walk 3km to the crater rim before descending 300m into the crater itself. They would load their baskets with 70+kgs of sulphur. climb back up to the crater rim and then descend the 3km to the base of the mountain. They would do this 2 times a night for around 10 USD a day. Back breaking labour, literally, for just $10 a day. 
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Heinz devised a plan to make carts so that the porters didn’t have to carry the sulphur so far. He got the Swiss government on board and together they made and donated over 100 trolleys to carry the sulphur to the sulphur porters. This would make their life much easier and they would be able to carry even more loads of sulphur down the hill.
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Fast forward to present day Ijen and the sulphur porters trolleys have taken on a new life. With the mass boom of tourists and the porters being very clever they have turned the trolleys into “taxis”. This involves putting a padded base and back rest so that instead of having a trolley full of sulphur it is now fit for humans who wish to pay to either go up the mountain or come back down. 

 

 
I was at the crater rim after a short 40 minute walk. The path is very good and isn’t that steep at all so you can just walk up the hill normally without too many issues. 
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Once at the crater rim there are a few options that you can take.
 
  • Go down to the blue fire and into the crater rim
  • Walk clockwise around the crater (head left)
  • Walk anti-clockwise around the carter (head right)
 

The first time I went I arrived before a soul had even made it to the crater. I descended to see the blue fire and talk with the sulphur porters. The experience was a good one to have alone but as I was leaving literally hundreds of other people were descending into the crater and with their head lights and camera flashes it ruined the whole experience.

Ijen

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This time I opted for the clockwise route and found that the increase in tourist numbers means that you now have to go quite a ways around the crater until you can have some space to yourself. My plan was to circumnavigate the entire crater back to the starting point, however I made it 3/4 of the way around and discovered that the rock was of pretty bad quality so I turned back and took in the views on the far side of the crater.
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Just as I was about to leave the rain started. Luckily I had bought the rain clothes as it came thick and fast. After a short 20 minute drenching the rain subsided and I made my way back to the base.
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Those trolleys or carts that I talked about earlier – they were out in force at this point taking paying tourists down the hill who were just too lazy to walk. 


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Would I recommend this hike?

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There is no doubt that Kawah Ijen is a highlight an anyones trip to east Java. Since the first time I came back in 2015 until now, in August 2019 there has been a huge change. The amount of tourists is quite honestly astounding. I feel that the place is like a big circus and a huge money grab from the people that work here. In saying that if you are up to brave the crowds and are willing to walk a bit then you can certainly find areas where no one else goes and have some peace and quiet to yourself. If you want to get to the blue flame before anyone else then you will have no option but to run up the hill. The gate opens at 1am and the first time I went I had the blue flame all to myself for 20 minutes before the hordes with their headlights and cameras descended down into crater. 
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Logistics for the trip

How to get there

Ijen
For the exact starting point of the hike click here.

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I stayed the night at Hotel Oyo right in Banyuwangi town centre. I got up at 230am and made the hour ride up the hill to the car park at the base of the mountain. After that it is a short 40 minute, 3km walk to the crater rim where you can then either descend into the crater or walk around the crater to see the sulphur and the sunrise. 
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Where to Stay

Banyuwangi is certainly the best place to stay if you are heading over to visit Kawah Ijen. I used booking.com to find my accomodation whilst I stayed in the area. I chose to stay at Hotel Oyo right in the centre of Banyuwangi. My room was just off the main street and right near the hardys shopping centre. There are a lot of mosques around in Banyuwangi so if you need an early wake up call this is the place.
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You can choose to stay closer to Kawah Ijen if you like to save yourself from the 1 hour night time journey. There are a number of hotels and guesthouses close to the start of the hike that you can book. You will need transport though because they aren’t close enough to walk to. Considering that I would suggest staying in Banyuwangi central as there are a lot more options and you have to get up early anyways so for me the choice over the 1 hour travel at night is worth it. 

How long is the hike

 The hike to the crater of Kawah Ijen is 3km, 300m of elevation gain and around 40 minutes if you just cruise and don’t take too many breaks. If you crank it you can be up in under 30 minutes and if you cruise then an hour may be more like a realistic time. The 3km is only to the crater rim so if you go all the way around the crater like I did the distance will be much further. The hike is very easy and I would rate it as extremely beginner. You are pretty much walking on a road the entire way up with zero chance of getting lost and zero chance of ever being alone.
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Gear

  • Small backpack
  • Head Torch 
  • Rain proof jacket and pants (the weather may be clear but you want to always be prepared. Mountain weather is unpredictable) 
  • Breakfast and snacks 
  • Warm Jacket 
  • 2l water minimum 
  • Camera
  • Hiking boots or trail shoes with really good grip
  • Gloves
 Do you plan to hike Ijen? Let me know in the comments below.
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