Hello travelers and adventurers! In this blog you will find my guide to hiking Ijen Crater – known as the blue flame of East Java, Indonesia. Before I get into this amazing volcano complex, allow me to introduce myself.
I grew up in Central Massachusetts, United States of America and used to lead a very “normal” life. I got good grades, went on family vacations to Florida, attended college, secured a good job and then found a better one. I didn’t question any of it until I started facing severe vacation dread.
You know, when you take a week off work to go somewhere and instead of enjoying it you dwell on the fact that you have to be back at work the following Monday. In 2015, I was on a longer vacation in Australia and every member of my Scuba Diving certification class was traveling long term.
They were having incredible experiences and meeting new people. They didn’t have a job to go back to. I realized then and there that that would be my next move. There is too much to see in the world and not nearly enough vacation days. I knew I would run out of time if I didn’t take action.
My life hasn’t been normal since that summer of 2015 when I left my job and boarded a plane to Africa, Kenya to be specific. That was the first time in my life when I had the feeling that I was doing exactly the right thing.
30 Amazing Days in Indonesia
Something you should know is that my travels are often random. I left a toxic job in 2019 and knew I wasn’t ready to make life decisions anytime soon. Travel helps me clear my head. So I knew I would go somewhere and I chose Indonesia based on a gut feeling (best decision ever)!
I didn’t really plan anything. I knew I could go to Indonesia for 30 days visa free. I bought a one way ticket to Surabaya with the intention of visiting Mount Bromo. Afterwards, I decided to visit Ijen Crater. Then I took buses and trains west across Java and stopped in cities that sounded interesting.
I ended up heading to Sumatra after a couple of weeks and spent the remainder of my 30 days trekking and spotting wild orangutangs in Ketambe. A few weeks later, I returned to Indonesia and visited Flores and Bali. I can’t wait to return because the country has so much to offer.
Overview of Hiking the Ijen Crater
I flew into Surabaya with the intention of visiting Mount Bromo. I was aware of Ijen Crater from blogs that I read and I love hiking – so it seemed like a worthwhile stop while I was that close. I studied chemical engineering and my inner nerd was drawn to the idea of seeing the blue flames!
Hiking Ijen Crater was something I wanted to do but spontaneous in the sense that I didn’t make any plans until I reached Indonesia. In order to reach the blue flames, there is an ascent and descent. The initial ascent is fairly steep but takes less than 90 minutes to reach the rim of the crater.
You descend into the crater on a narrow path with makeshift steps (about 90 more minutes). It’s dark out and important to move cautiously to assure proper footing with each step. The sulfur gas and wind gets unpredictable as you near the base of the crater, and the fumes become overwhelming.
Once we reached the bottom of the caldera, it was amazing to see the blue flames. But even with the safety equipment, the toxicity of the gas was overpowering. The biggest challenge was trying to move up and out of the crater and away from the gas while others were descending into the crater.
The blue flames are cool and all, but my favorite part of Ijen Crater was taking in the sunrise after hiking out of the crater. There were some beautiful, pastel colors. The crowd dissipated and there was a sense of calm that had been missing just hours before. It’s also the coolest feeling to have a sense of accomplishment for the day before the sun has even risen.
Taking a Tour to the Ijen Crater
I joined a tour which Agus Hidden Homestay (the place I was based at for the hike) was able to arrange through their friends in the village. While you definitely don’t need a tour as it’s a very busy hike with one clear way up and down, I was glad I joined a group for the following reasons:
- Transportation to the base of the trek: I didn’t want to be responsible for sorting out a ride to the starting point in the middle of the night. I was picked up at 12:30 am and it was easy knowing that that was taken care of, especially since I was staying outside the main tourist area.
- They provide all safety equipment: Believe it or not, I didn’t come to Indonesia with a gas mask, safety goggles and super charged headlamp. It was nice not to worry about sorting out those items.
- Support from the local guides: The hike was super crowded. It was the largest number of tourists I had seen on the whole island of Java. While trying to exit the crater there were people trying to enter and there is only one way which caused major traffic jams. The guides looked out for the people in their group and assured that no one got left behind. They also helped with time management and hiking speed as the blue flames are no longer visible after a certain point in the night when the sun is starting to rise. These local guides were of invaluable help.
- The price for the tour is quite reasonable: Additionally, while I can’t remember exactly how much I paid, I recall thinking the price for the tour seemed fair and that I wouldn’t have saved that much money doing everything independently. I would have had to pay for transportation, an entry ticket and safety gear separately.
Where to Stay while Hiking Ijen
I stayed at a wonderful homestay while hiking Ijen Crater that I can’t rave enough about. It was called Agus Hidden Homestay in Banjar village. You can find them on Instagram (@agushiddenhomestay) and they have booking links through Airbnb and a couple of other booking portals.
Most travelers stay in Banyuwangi while hiking Ijen. Yet, I am so thankful I came across this homestay in a tiny village of 1000 residents. Agus offers a private guest house and his wife prepares the most amazing breakfast.
Agus is a wonderful host and takes the time and care to teach you about the village and the culture. He will bring you around and introduce you to the local people. I loved the authenticity of staying in the village. It was one of the highlights of my time on the island of Java. Highly recommended!
Need to Know Before you Go
The first thing to know is that it can get cold. Dressing in layers is important! It’s also a popular place. I recommend moving at your own pace and not worrying too much about the people behind you on the descent into the crater. Your safety should remain a priority while hiking Ijen Crater.
Fumes from the gas are potent and can burn and sting your eyes and throat, even with the safety equipment. It’s crucial to limit your time near the blue flames because of this. Make sure you use the bathroom before you hike, as there aren’t many obvious points to stop along the way.
Lastly, the crater is closed on the first Friday of each month for maintenance. This may have changed given the way the past year has unfolded but it’s worth noting! Thanks for reading my blog everyone and enjoy hiking the incredible Ijen Crater in East Java!