Mount Bromo and the Ijen crater are two of Java’s biggest highlights. Both feature beautiful sunrise viewpoints and good hiking. But they’re out on a limb on the eastern part of the island — well away most travel itineraries. Travel agencies throughout Java will try to convince you that they’re only possible to visit on a tour. In reality, it’s fairly straightforward, and much cheaper, to visit Bromo and Ijen without a tour. In this post, I’ll walk you through how I did it — and how you can too!
Why visit Bromo and Ijen without a tour?
I have to admit — doing Bromo and Ijen without a tour isn’t the easiest way. It sure is convenient to hand over your money to a travel agency, get picked up from your hotel, and have everything else taken care of. So why opt for the harder option?
For one, it’s a whole lot cheaper. Starting from Yogyakarta, the cheapest tours I saw started at around 1,500,000 rupiah ($112) for three days, not including food or tips for guides. By traveling to Bromo and Ijen independently, I spent a total of 1,089,000 (under $80) for three days — including everything.
Second, you’re better able to get away from the crowds, especially at Bromo. Instead of going to the main viewpoint, I was able to hike to a much more secluded spot where there were maybe 50 other tourists. The day before I hiked for sunrise, I was able to take an afternoon stroll around before hordes of tourists showed up. It was harder to get away from the crowds at Ijen, but I managed to skip the (way overcrowded) sunrise point in favor of walking directly to the crater lake, which most tour groups don’t do.
Third, you can travel in a good deal more comfort than the minibus tours afford. Y’all, Indonesia’s trains are amazing (read more about getting around Indonesia in the Destination Overview). Instead of spending 12 hours in a cramped, overheated minivan from Yogyakarta, I was able to get most of the way to Bromo in an air-conditioned rail car with comfy seats. Real talk — a Bromo/Ijen trip is exhausting. I mean, you’re climbing two volcanoes in the middle of the night on back-to-back nights. Don’t make it worse by draining your energy on miserable transport.
So if you’re the kind of traveler who doesn’t mind sacrificing convenience for a better, cheaper overall experience, read on!
You can base yourself in any number of cities to visit Bromo and Ijen without a tour.
Starting from the west (visiting Bromo first), Surabaya is the most convenient base. You can fly there from many cities across the archipelago. It’s also on the main train line from Jakarta.
Many backpackers start in Yogyakarta. This works too, but you’ll have to pass through Surabaya. You can also start from Malang.
If you visit Bromo first, you’ll end in Banyuwangi. From there you can pick up a ferry to Bali.
In the opposite direction, you can start your journey from anywhere on Bali. You’ll head to Ijen first, then continue on to Bromo. You’ll almost surely have to spend a night in either Malang or Surabaya after you visit Bromo, before continuing to Yogyakarta the next day.
Since I started in Yogyakarta and ended on Bali, I’ll cover the route in that direction in this post. Heading the other way, just reverse the directions.
Step one: Yogyakarta to Probolinggo
Your journey to Bromo and Ijen without a tour starts in Yogyakarta. This fun student city is worth a couple days in its own right — don’t miss the nearby temples of Borobudur and Prambanan.
A couple days before you want to leave for Bromo, ask your hotel to help you book train tickets to Probolinggo. There are two trains each day — a day train and a night train. Take the overnight one — if you take the daytime one, you’ll end up stranded in Probolinggo (not a nice place) for a night. The price is around 300,000 rupiah.
If you’re like me, though, maybe you didn’t plan so well and all the train tickets are sold out. But don’t despair! You can take a train as far as Surabaya and pick up a bus the rest of the way. Trains to Surabaya cost 250,000 rupiah. You’ll need to take the 3 am train –painful, I know, but you can sleep on the way. Once you get to Surabaya, walk from the train station up Jl Pemuda for about 15 minutes. You’ll see a bus stop on the right side of the street. From there, a local bus will take you to the bus station (called Purabaya) for 5,000 rupiah, from where you can pick up a bus to Probolinggo (2 hours, 25,000 rupiah).
If you really didn’t plan well in advance, it is possible to take a bus to Probolinggo as a last-minute option. You’ll need to take an overnight bus. It theoretically takes 7-9 hours, but will probably take closer to 12. It should cost 150,000-200,000 rupiah. For most travelers, this is the last resort.
Step two: Probolinggo to Cemoro Lawang
The next phase in your journey to Bromo and Ijen without a tour is to get to Cemoro Lawang — the village at the base of Mount Bromo. Minibuses run up the mountain from Probolinggo — a miserable, scam-riddled town. Do your research and keep your wits about you and you’ll be fine, but try at all costs to avoid getting stuck for the night.
It’s easiest to arrive in Probolinggo by bus. Even buses that are just passing through stop at the bus station. As you exit the station, take a left and you’ll see a row of dark green minivans — you can’t miss them. These are the minivans to Cemoro Lawang.
If you arrive in Probolinggo by train, you’ll need to take Angkot D (a clearly labeled minivan) from the train station to the bus station. Touts at the train station will try to usher you into taxis or onto motorbikes instead — don’t let them. People might lie to you about where Angkot D goes — don’t listen to them. The conductor may try to overcharge you for the angkot ride — don’t pay more than 5,000 rupiah. The driver may try to unload you at a tour company, claiming it’s the “bus station” — before you get out, look around and see if you can identify buses coming and going. If not, don’t get out of the angkot. Some people I met experienced none of these hassles; others experienced all of them.
Once you find the minivans to Cemoro Lawang, you’re safely out of scammer territory. The minivan drivers were all exceedingly honest.
Here’s the deal with the minivans: The entire vehicle (15 seats) costs 450,000 rupiah, regardless of whether 1 person hires it or 15 people hire it. Passengers trickle in at a rate of 4-5 an hour. If you get lucky, you’ll arrive just as a van is nearly full. If you get unlucky, you may have to wait awhile. But, if you get sick of waiting, you and the other passengers can split the full cost of the van — it just means your seats will be more expensive. I arrived at 11 am and waited an hour and a half until 10 people showed up, and we decided to go.
Here’s the catch: It’s much harder to fill up minivans later in the day. If you arrive after 4 pm, you have basically zero chance of catching a shared van. If you arrive later than 2, it’s a stretch. That’s why it’s super important to leave Yogyakarta/Surabaya in plenty of time to get to Probolinggo in the morning.
The trip to Cemoro Lawang takes about two hours. Make sure your vehicle runs all the way to Cemoro Lawang — some stop in the closer towns in the afternoon instead.
Step three: Watch the sunrise over Mount Bromo
Whew, you made it to Cemoro Lawang. Stage one of your trip to Bromo and Ijen without a tour is complete!
Now, find a place to sleep for a few hours. The most popular option is Cafe Lava (rooms from 175,000 rupiah). It also has a good restaurant and is the major gathering point in the evenings. Alternatives include Tengger Indah (200,000 a night) or any of the dozens of homestays. Standards are lower than elsewhere in Indonesia for the price — don’t expect WiFi or hot water. Remember, where you sleep doesn’t matter a whole lot, because you’re going to wake up at 3 am anyway.
If you came all this way without a tour but still want a ride to the sunrise point, you can arrange that in the village. A motorbike runs about 50,000 rupiah, or a seat in a minivan costs 100,000.
But if you’re in it for the adventure, why not walk to a viewpoint? You’ll need to start early (3:30 am). Bring a torch, some snacks, good hiking shoes (like these), and something warm to wear.
Pick up the path at the fork in the road in Cemoro Lawang. Head up past the Cemera Indah hotel and continue along the road. The first hour or so is relatively flat, although there are a few steep sections. After that, the sealed road ends and you’ll hit Viewpoint #1. If you don’t like hiking in the dark, stop here — you’ll have a beautiful view and it won’t be overly crowded.
However, the most beautiful of all the viewpoints (according to the locals), King Kong Hill, is another half hour away, along dirt paths. This hike gets difficult in places — especially in the dark, when you’re stumbling over rocks. My group couldn’t find the trail at first, so we scrambled 20 meters straight up the rocks! But for all that work, you’ll be rewarded with a to-die-for view. You won’t be the only person there, but it’s not overwhelmingly crowded either.
Then, sit back and enjoy the view.
Step four: Bromo to Banyuwangi
No rest for the weary — your journey to Bromo and Ijen without a tour continues after sunrise. Hike back down the mountain, grab some breakfast at Cafe Lava, and head to the junction in town to pick up your minibus back to Probolinggo.
Since most people at Bromo are on roughly the same schedule, leaving after sunrise, you won’t have to wait long for a minibus to fill up. It only takes an hour to get to the bottom of the mountain. The minibus drops you at the Probolinggo bus terminal.
The next step is to get to Banyuwangi. If you can book tickets in advance, I highly recommend taking the train. It’s hassle-free, goes through beautiful countryside, and it’s fast. But it leaves just after 11 am, meaning if you linger too long in Cemoro Lawang, you could miss it. And if you don’t book in advance, it’s often sold out.
Alternatively, you’re stuck with the bus — and another round of Probolinggo scams. This is the one big downside of doing Bromo and Ijen without a tour. When you enter the bus terminal, try to locate your bus without asking for help (there are signs) and get onboard without talking to anyone. You can buy your ticket on the bus. It should cost 50,000 rupiah, but you’re unlikely to get it for less than 100,000. The ticket collector on my bus tried to throw my luggage off the bus in the middle of nowhere when I tried to pay just 50,000. Not cool.
Step five: Banyuwangi to Ijen
Okay, I know you’re starting to get tired from all the travel in this Bromo and Ijen without a tour adventure. Maybe you’re really feeling the lack of sleep from the previous night. Your muscles might be sore. But don’t stop now — power through all the way to Ijen.
The ideal base for a trip up to the Ijen crater is Kampung Osing Inn. It’s in a quiet neighborhood near the bus station. The owners can organize transport to Ijen and provide a great breakfast afterwards.
Unfortunately, there is no way to go to Ijen on public transport. So you’ll have to choose between a minibus seat or a motorbike ride. I chose the minibus — for 350,000 rupiah (in a group of 5), it included a guide, transport, and a gas mask. A motorbike driver costs 250,000 but you have to rent your gas mask and hire a guide separately, so it doesn’t end up being much cheaper. (Read more about what Ijen is like and why a guide is helpful here.)
Try to go to sleep as early as possible — your wakeup call is between midnight and 1 am to start the trip to Ijen. It’s about a two-hour drive up a pretty bad road. From the parking lot, you have to hike up a very steep paved path for an hour and a half. Then, you walk on a flatter dirt path for a bit. If you want to see the blue flame and the crater lake, it’s another 400 meters down a very steep and pretty dangerous gravel/stone path. Stay tuned for a full post about hiking Ijen.
Check out the blue flames, meet the sulfur miners, and watch the sun rise. Then, hike back out of the crater and down the mountain.
Step six: Go to Bali and take a long nap on the beach
After an hour drive back to Banyuwangi and a solid breakfast, you’ll be ready to catch the ferry to Bali. This marks the end of your journey to Bromo and Ijen without a tour.
After 2-3 ridiculously early mornings, you can finally sleep in and relax. You’ve earned it!
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Still have questions about visiting Bromo and Ijen without a tour? Any other tips to share? Leave a comment!
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