I had heard about Mount Bromo during my last time in Indonesia and I wanted to ensure I visited this trip. This active volcano is one of the most popular tourist haunts in Eastern Java and is situated inland west of Bali. It emits heavy plumes of sulfuric clouds of smoke but hasn't erupted or had volcanic tremors recently.
The most populous tour is to see the sunrise from the nearby viewpoint towards Mount Seremu followed by a daylight visit to the crater. Keep in mind that the volcano has an elevation of 7,641 feet so it gets cold and wet at night and you need to acclimatize if you intend to hike – especially if you are sensitive to altitude as I am!
This tour has gotten really sought-after and you should expect about 200 other people during your visit. While the area is spacious, the best spots are rather small and everyone will have the same schedule so it will feel more crowded than you'd expect it to.
To get to the mountain you have a number of choices including flying to Malang or Surabaya and then making it a day tour. This will require a midnight departure to the nearby village in the national park. You may also take a bus or private car up to the village and stay there for 1-2 nights. I flew into Malang and stayed there for 2 nights.
Your next choice is to either hike up the hill or take a jeep/motorbike ride. The hike seems very doable but do keep in mind you will need to do it in the dark if you intend to get there for sunrise and you may need a local guide for it. Also the elevation can be an issue for the uphill hike – don't underestimate the sudden elevation change if you just arrived.
For the jeep/motorbike ride, there is no shortage of 4WD vehicles around town and you will find lots of locals willing to take you up the hill for sunrise and to the 'Sea of Sand' and the crater.
I called up a number of tour operators in Malang and had no luck to join a hiking tour. The best offer I received was to pay $120 for a jeep tour with the entrance fee and light snacks included (as well as return transport to Malang). While more expensive than expected, the daytime return took 5 hours so I was driven by two drivers sharing the total of 8 hours of driving. I joined an existing group for the jeep ride.
It's helpful to know that you can rent or buy jackets when you're there – in case you didn't pack any for your trip. Night temperatures were in the lower 40s and daytime highs in the 60s with a strong sun making it feel much warmer.
The sunrise viewpoint gets a lot of overly joyous crowds and plenty of fog in the morning. Ideally you should travel there in the 'dry season' which is July/ August, as the chances of a pretty sunrise are better.
For me, the fog only cleared partially for a couple of seconds during sunrise – but it was better than nothing. The locals said that it wasn't as bad as other days.
The 'Sea of Sand' is a dune-like area that leads you right up onto the crater's edge. It's pretty but the excessively busy horseback jockeys that try to convince every tourist to sign up made it way less fun than what I expected it to be. Once you clear the area though and reach the crater's edge, the reward is high. The views are fantastic and I was excited to be in such close proximity to an active volcano and its sulphur smoke.
If you stay in the village it might make sense to go back to the volcano later in the day, perhaps for sunset – you have the whole place to yourself then.
In conclusion, I really wanted to see one of the many volcanoes that Indonesia has to offer and I really liked the tour that I chose. I think that Mount Bromo is your best bet. However, it may be a good idea to stay in the village for a couple of nights as you then get more chances of better weather and you will enjoy pretty views every breakfast. Nevertheless, you should prepare for basic budget accommodation and no real internet connectivity as well as very average food.
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