Mount Bromo – Hike Without A Tour

Mount Bromo is a place I have wanted to visit ever since I saw the first too-good-to-be-true it-can’t-be-real photo of the volcanic craters. I can tell you it is real and  even more surreal and beautiful than you can imagine.  The challenge, however, is navigating a travel route that has yet to be fully trotted-down  and carved out for backpacking ease. But don’t worry. It’s simpler than it looks.

After an overnight in the overwhelmingly large and bustling city of Surabaya, Lex and I left early the next morning to the Surabaya bus station to head on our way to Cemoro Lawang. Several hours and one bus to minivan transfer later, we were ascending steep mountain roads lined with local homes and shops that blended into the greens of the mountain. I got to witness the air become seeped with rain-thick clouds  and the landscape turn into rows and rows of crops planted in rich volcanic soil at severe mountain angles.

Once we had settled into our homestay, we appreciated a hot ginger tea and nasi campur while looking out at the surrounding mountain rims from the balcony of the Cafe Lava Restaurant. We then headed back for an early nights sleep so we could be fresh and rested for our 2 a.m. wake up the next morning.

Shaking off our sleep, we headed out of our homestay and up the road to begin our viewpoint hike (see details section for more information on this hike). Groggy with an empty stomach, we began our hike up the dark dirt road, not completely sure if it was in the right direction. We quickly found respite at the first trail-side warung to fill our bellies and get our caffeine fix. Energized, we carried on (about 45 minutes in total) to the first viewpoint to await the sunrise.

The sunrise was as gorgeous as we could have imagined and not nearly as crowded as we thought. We enjoyed the view from several different points, had yet another coffee, and took too many photos, before finally heading down towards the town. The walk back after sunrise was stunning as the golden morning light struck the mountainside and fields of luscious green crops. It was so nice to see the beauty, simplicity, and greenness (can’t emphasize that color enough) of the trail that we had first hiked up in that mysterious complete darkness.

After a hot breakfast (and a short nap) we decided to take a horse trail that would lead us directly down into the national park and the sand sea (see details section for more information.) We then walked across the sea in the direction of the temple and caldera. The temple adds volumes to the dreamlike nature of the surroundings as you see one ancient building set in the middle of the vast area of rugged nothingness.

We then hiked up a steep set of stairs to the top of the caldera. At the top there is only a small 1 ft. high railing to keep you from falling into the volcano that was billowing sulphurous smoke, leaving a strong harsh smell in the air.The path was barely wide enough for two people to fit comfortably across and the far side had no railing at all.The narrow walkway added a little adrenaline and thrill to  the adventure without really feeling too dangerous. The pit was more impressive than I had expected and definitely worth the long walk over the fields of volcanic sand.

Having traveled through Bali, Java, and Sumatra, this place remains one of the highlights of my trip to Indonesia. If you are willing to brave a destination a bit off the beaten path, I guarantee  Mount Bromo is a place that will not disappoint.

Highlights

Sunrise view of Mount Bromo: This is one of the most beautiful views I have seen in my life. With the sun peaking out over distant mountains on one side and the blanket of clouds dissipating and unveiling a beautiful view of Mt. Bromo on the other. The view is captivating from any angle. See the details section below for all the information you need to hike to the viewpoint without a guide or tour.

Mount Bromo Caldera: After the sunrise view, a hike across the sand sea to the Mt. Bromo Caldera is an impressive continuation of the surreal-scapes this area has to offer. The hike through the sand sea felt like walking into a fantasy world or onto another planet. See the details section below for more information on national park ticket fees (which you don’t need to pay if you are planning to hike!) and the trail we took to enter the park.

Lowlights

Negotiating Travel: While a big perk of visiting Mount Bromo is that it is yet to be overrun with crowds of tourists, the downside is that there isn’t clear information to go off when planning your travels and treks. As a result, I felt I had to stay on my guard when trying to figure out who was being helpful and who was trying to scam me into paying extra money.

One reason I felt particularly on edge was that on our bus ride to Probolinggo we had already been scammed. At the Surabaya bus terminal several men pointed us in the direction of a bus they claimed to be an AC bus to Probolinggo, but was in fact a non-AC bus that should have costed 15,000. They told us the bus would be 20,000 rupiah which had sounded reasonable. Overwhelmed by the crowds and men pointing us towards the bus, we felt pressured into making a quick decision. Once on the bus and down the road, the ticket man tried to make us pay 25,000 each (to scam us on top of the scam) but finally relented and accepted the 20,000 rupiah payment. The bus was uncomfortable, over crowded, and made frequent stops en route to Probolinggo, nonetheless we were still happy when we arrived safely at our destination.

Dangerous Driving: One of the most uncomfortable parts of all of our travels in Indonesia was our time on the road. Our first taste of Indonesia driving was traveling from Surabaya to Probolinggo on the non-AC local bus. All of the roads were two-lanes wide, but were treated like 4-lane highways with cars/trucks/buses/bicycles passing each other on both shoulders. At one point, as I was completely distracted by the fact our giant bus was passing a large truck with inches of space between them. At the same time Lex witnessed another bus trying to simultaneously pass ours and tip onto two wheels before crashing back down to the ground. This was one of the most hair-raising moments on the road during our whole trip.

Getting In and Out

Surabaya to Probolinggo: In order to get to Cemoro Lawang and Mount Bromo from Surabaya you’ll need to make a transfer at the city of Probolinggo. The bus station at Surabaya is quite a trip  in itself. After walking down a long hall you’ll end up at a long line of parked buses where you can expect to be stormed by a crowd of men trying to point you in this or that direction. When we arrived we were easy targets since we were the only two foreigners in the entire station. Don’t expect to see any time tables or ticket booths. Unfortunately you have to rely on the crowd of men haranguing you to find the bus you need.

Buses leave from Surabaya to Probolinggo very regularly. All you need to do is show up and take the next one to arrive. You should be looking for a an AC Patas bus to Probolinggo that will cost you 30,000 rupiah. These buses should have the words Patas labeled on the bus. People may try and trick you (as they successfully tricked us the first time) to get on the non-AC bus and pay AC bus prices. So take your time and don’t let anyone rush you into jumping on the first bus you see. The other option is a non-AC bus for about 15,000 rupiah that will be less comfortable and make frequent road-side stops. You should only have to pay once the bus is already rolling. There is a ticket/refreshments person on every bus who goes around to receive money and hand you your ticket.

We have heard from other travelers that sometimes buses will try and stop at a tour agency instead of the bus station in Probolinggo. If there aren’t several other big buses around and not everyone is getting off, you’re not at the bus station. Be persistent. From the tour agency it would take half a mile to walk to the bus station. The bus trip to Probolinggo will be 2- 3 hours long.

 Probolinggo to Cemoro Lawang: After arriving in Probolinggo, you will need to get to the main road where the tourist minivans are parked. This means when the bus drops you off, face the terminal and then take the road on your right hand side. Walking 200 meter down the road will lead you right to the main road. Once on the main road walk to your left and you will see green minivans about 200 meters down the road. The price for the minivan is 35,000, but this is only the case of a completely full van. We got lucky with our van when we arrived as we completed a full van, but others on the van said they had been waiting two hours to leave.  You don’t want to get into Probolinggo much later than 1 or 2pm because it becomes increasingly difficult to find a tourist van that will fill completely. If you arrive after 4pm, likely you will have to pay extra in order to convince the van driver to leave without a full van.

The ride to Cemoro Lawang was 1 hour. If you have reserved a place to stay already, you can tell the bus drivers the name of your guesthouse or hostel. If you are looking to do the Mt. Bromo sunrise viewpoint without a tour, a good place to ask to get dropped off at is the Cafe Lava Hostel. This hostel is located right at the top of a hill, a short walk to the entrance of the national park and a short walk to the start of the trail to the sunrise viewpoint.

After the hike down from the sunrise viewpoint, their will already be a line of minivans at the top of the main road in town ready to start filling up their minivans to take visitors back to Probolinggo.

The Details

Sunrise Mt. Bromo viewpoint without a tour: I read several other blogs myself before heading up to the sunrise viewpoint. Several other bloggers mentioned having organized a map to the viewpoint. They also said their would be warungs open for visitors making the early morning trek. I have 2 important things to share when giving my own details about hiking to the viewpoint without a tour. 1. There is no need for a map in order to make the trek. 2. There is food being served, but only coffee, hot chocolate, and cups of noodles, and only midway up the trail.

The best way to get to the trail is to walk towards Cemara Inda Hotel. When you’ve almost reached Cemara Inda Hotel, take the last (and only) right you see. It will be the only trail headed in that direction. You will see hikers, motorbikes (that might ask to take you to the top for some money), and jeeps taking the road up to the viewpoint. All you need to do is keep following that same road all the way up. The road will eventually turn into a set of stairs that will lead you to the first view point. Make sure to bring a flashlight! There are rocks and small ravines in the trail you’ll definitely want to avoid stepping over. It is also very cold high up on the mountainside before the sun rises. We thought we could do it without a heavy jacket and I found myself curled in a ball for warmth until the sun’s heat finally reached us.

Hiking to the Mount Bromo Caldera: The most important information I can give is that you do not need to pay the pricey national park ticket fee of 21,500 rupiah if you are entering by foot. You can either take the horse trail as we did or walk straight past the gate. Watch out because people will try and trick you into paying for the ticket. If you book a tour and walk by foot, insist on paying for the entrance fee later yourself and they shouldn’t ask you again.

The horse trail allows you to bypass the front entrance altogether and head directly down the mountain and into the sand sea. This trail is on the right side of Cemara Inda Hotel.  The head of the trail is to the right of some stone benches and next to a tree. It is easy to spot since it is the closest trail to the hotel. The hike to the sand sea is quick, only 30 minutes downhill,but it is a relatively steep hike on the way back up.

Where we stayed: The homestay we stayed at and recommend is a simple, clean homestay close to the national park entrance called Ana Tengger. It is on the main road leading up the mountain about 200m before you reach the final the fork in the road (see pic).  This homestay was the best option around. Five others from our  van also ended up staying here after browsing several places themselves. A room with a communal bathroom costs 150,000 rupiah a night.

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