We have all seen it, the iconic image of a sunrise filtering through a vast cloud filled caldera with Mount Bromo, Mount Batok, and Mount Semeru stoically puffing away. Nicely packed into a picture perfect shot, this is the ethereal Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park.
This park covers a whooping 800 square kilometres, lying 2,100 metres above sea level. What we see now dates back to around 450,000 years ago, though it is part of a larger, more ancient volcano.
For travellers, these volcanos are the most photographed and the most known above all others. The convenience and ease of visiting Bromo draws in the masses, as there are no needs for an exhausting eight-hour hike to see this spectacle. Unfortunately the popularity has brought with it an overwhelming cohort of unfair and exorbitant tourist profiteers. I’m looking at you – tour operators, hoteliers, and jeep drivers.
It’s such a terrible shame because a visit to Bromo should not be laden with overpriced jeep rides and hotel rooms. The Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park is an utterly beautiful display of the power of nature, and we should be able to marvel, explore, contemplate, and admire without a driver on a time schedule. The scenery is too spectacular to whizz by in a jeep, and what a pity it is for the majority of visitors to miss out on the true beauty of the complex because of the domination of fly-by jeep tours.
I implore everyone to visit Bromo and experience the magic of the park, and the best way to do that is to walk. Bromo is easy to explore on foot, not only is it easy for those with a moderate degree of fitness, but also a must do as the wintery temperatures of the complex make for a pleasant walk. All walks are based on using Cemoro Lawang as a starting point.
This volcanic cone emerges from the crater at 133m. Bromo is one of the most active volcanos in Java at present, while inside Bromo’s cone is a beautiful turquoise acid lake, with acidity levels up to 25%. Don’t let the appearances fool you, as one intrepid mountaineer told me, “It’s enough acid to take your hair off”.
Walk straight past Cafe Java Hotel towards the park office, this road will take you all the way down to the sea of sand and you will see Bromo ahead. Walk straight to the staircase which leads up to the rim, just three kilometres and about 45 minutes.
It is possible to walk around the entire rim of Bromo and to a lookout point on the second adjoining volcanic cone, which takes approximately one hour. Though be careful because the path is narrow and the safety barrier is in disrepair. Also, don’t attempt the walk when the weather is anything but perfect, since rain or heavy winds make a walk around too dangerous.
Starting off at 3 am is plenty of time to make it to the viewpoint. Take the road that leads past Cemara Indah Hotel and simply follow all the way up. The road leads through the village and gets very rocky as you start the climb up Mount Penanjakan.
Jeeps going to viewpoint two will stop and park half way where they will drop passengers. There is a small stall selling refreshments, and locals offering horse rides also ply the route. The distance is five kilometres and takes about one hour and a half. Bring a warm jacket, as it does get quite cold waiting for the sunrise, and a torch is useful to miss the potholes in the road (flashlight app works well, too).
The walk back down to Cemoro Lawang in the early morning light is breathtaking; quaint village houses are set by small vegetable crops. Sometimes locals see you walking by and invite you in for coffee and a chat, if so, a small donation is expected.
The path starts behind the toilet block; it is just soft volcanic ash and is very dusty. Three quarters of the way up, the climb gets very steep and unstable in some parts; follow the little red and white flags tied to the trees to make sure you stick to the path. In some places, grabbing hold of small shrubs is necessary to lift yourself up.
At the top, PLEASE make sure you mark where the path ends, because there is no marker and you can easily get disorientated and go down the wrong side. My friend made that mistake and came down covered in so much dust he looked like an offensive actor wearing blackface. It’s a 45 minute climb to reach the top, bring sunscreen and enough water. Climbing Mount Batok is challenging, but you will be rewarded with stunning views over the complex.
The Tengger Caldera is the only place in Indonesia to have a sea of sand. It really is something special watching the dust blow over the huge expanse while horses gallop across the grey sand. Walking across the sand sea felt like walking across a lunar desert, with the crater rim towering around casting shadows and clouds floating over the ripples of sand.
The walk to and from Bromo, as mentioned, is easy and quick, so to really immerse yourself in this landscape, there is a long eight kilometre walk across the Laotian Pasir to Ngadas, from where you can then get to Malang or walk a further six kilometres from Jemplang to Ranu Pani at the base of Semeru . Take a left where the paved road ends and circle the southern left side of Bromo.
Semeru is the highest volcano in Java at 3,676m, and very active; there are mini eruptions every 30 minutes. Climbing Semeru is a tough three-day trek that needs advanced planning and only recommended for experienced climbers. Guides are necessary and can be arranged in Ranu Pani.
Midrange hotels abound, Cafe Java and Cemera Indah are popular choices. Also every other house seems to be a homestay with basic rooms, starting at IDR 150,000 for a double.
So if you are planning a trip to Bromo, why not put those hiking boots to good use and spend the day to jalan jalan around the most ethereal landscape we have here in Indonesia.