Kawah Ijen aka Mount Ijen is the stratovolcanoes and the home of the phenomenal blue flame. Ever since it was mentioned by National Geographic that the Kawah Ijen blue flame is one of the only two spots to witness this natural phenomenon, it has attracted many mid-night hikers to catch a glimpse of this extraordinary blue flame. According to the gas geochemist, such blue flame is a rare phenomenon which can only be seen in two places in the world, one is in Iceland, and the other one is at Kawah Ijen, Indonesia.
Getting to Bangyuwangi, Indonesia
In general, there are two main ways to get to Kawah Ijen. One of the most popular routes is via Bali, Indonesia, but this route is long and tough, which I don’t really suggest. From Bali, you will need to hire a vehicle from Kuta, Bali and drive up to 195 km, approximately 5 hours of journey to Gilimanuk, the western port in Bali. There, you will change to ferry to Ketapang, Bangyuwangi, the Java mainland. The ferry crossing takes about 30 mins to cross over, and I would strongly suggest taking a rest at Bangyuwangi before the climb.
In my opinion, the easiest way, of course, is to fly in directly to Bangyuwanggi via Surabaya. 🙂 From Bangyuwangi, it will take about 1.5 hours of driving to Kawah Ijen.
Many asked me what is the best time to attempt this climb? Well, I would say, in general, the dry season from June to October is the pleasant time to visit this region. You wouldn’t want a muddy and slippery climb on Kawah Ijen, it can be really dangerous.
Get sufficient rest before the hike
You probably took a long time to get to Bangyuwangi. Make sure you have ample rest before the climb. The phenomenon blue flame can only be seen during night time. Usually, people head towards Kawah Ijen blue flame at midnight, because the entrance only opens at 1am. At times, due to a rise in volcanic activity, it can be delayed or even remain closed for the safety of tourist.
I would highly recommend climbers to have an early dinner and get a good rest before attempting the climb.
Getting to Kawah Ijen
It’s 12am midnight and people are getting ready in their respective resort/hotels to set off to Kawah Ijen. It takes about 1.5 hours to get to the entrance of Kawah Ijen.
As you head towards the Kawah Ijen, you are literally moving up the altitude and feel the drop in temperature. So if you have altitude or motion sickness, be prepared for this. It will not be a long journey up to the entrance, though.
Prepare yourself and the necessary equipment
Once you arrive at the entrance, you need to get ready for the Kawah Ijen blue flame climb. First, queue up at the toilet and clear your business first. There won’t be any toilet available for quite a few hours. Next, a few tips to share with everyone on the things you need for this climb.
- Torch lights: The walking path is dark, extremely dark depending whether you have the mercy from Moon reflecting those glimpse of lights you need. The torch is a must and a need, not a luxury! 🙂
- Backpack with water: It will be a strenuous 6 to 8 hours journey (up and down). Consider you are actually climbing a mountain, think about the amount of water you may need. There are no convenience store available in the mountain except for a small local warung (small local cafe) for coffee and tea break midway of your climb. And it’s not open yet until you descent after sunrise. That being said, you certainly do not wish to carry too much stuff up as well. Just bring whatever is sufficient for your own consumption.
- Dress warmly: Did I say we are climbing a mountain? Kawah Ijen is 2799 meters high, hence it will be cold up there. To me, I felt it was like the same feeling when I climbed Eiffel Tower in Paris during winter time. You sweat internally, but the external environment is cold.
- A good pair of shoes: There’s a saying, “A good pair of shoes will take you to good places.” You are climbing a mountain, not so much about fashion anymore when you are up there. Need I say more?
- Gas mask (rent from the vendors at the rim of the crater): The Kawah Ijen blue flame is described as the “Most toxic places on Earth”. The largest amount of Sulphur emitted from the volcano and the highest acidic crater in the world. So, seeing the blue flame without any protection gear is a heroic and epic-ly foolish attempt. You don’t have to purchase a mask on your own. Usually, the guide will rent you, or you can rent it from the locals at the rim.
- Watch: Having a watch with you is necessary. It motivates you and gives you an indication how long you have climbed and approximately how long more to go. 5am is the latest target time to see the blue flame before it “disappears” and when the sun rises from the East.
Also read The Ultimate Male Packing List! 🙂
The strenuous climb
Now you have everything in place. You can’t wait to set off and ascent. Remember, the most important thing you need besides the preparation above is Motivation and Perseverance! The trek will take about 2 to 3 hours to climb up to the rim of the crater. From there, you may catch your breath and descent to the crater for another 30 to 45 minutes.
It may take up to a total of 3 or 4 hours to reach the crater where you can see the legendary Kawah Ijen blue flame from the entrance. So, remember to pace yourself well. As you climb higher, you have lesser oxygen and thinner air available due to the fact of nature! At night, the thick forest is fighting oxygen with you. If you have a medical condition, remember to consult your doctor before attempting this climb.
Caution: From the rim, the descend to the crater has no proper route or path. It’s just random boulders and rocks which you would need to carefully walk a step at a time to reach the crater. Not to scare you, but there were twice I almost fell off the rocks. There were many people trying to descent and ascent at the same time, plus it was really dark, the visual is limited even with your torchlight. Unfortunately, this was the only hazardous path you can take to see the blue flame. Rule of thumb, just be careful.
The magical Kawah Ijen blue flame
Finally, after a strenuous trek, you arrive the crater and witness the legendary Kawah Ijen blue flame!!! The usual place where you can get close to the blue flame is about 50 meters away. There are local guides there to caution you not to go too close.
Somehow, the day when I climbed Kawah Ijen, the sulphur gas was really thick and smoky. So, what I did was not a smart thing, but I am blessed not to have many problems besides getting sick after the climb. I went closer to the blue flame by climbing some thick muddy rocks filled with thick volcanic ashes and mud! Which allowed me to get really close and have great close up shot with the blue flame! A great sense of achievement, especially when I was running a fever, I pushed myself really hard to make it before dawn! 🙂
I wouldn’t suggest doing that because even though I got close to it and manage to get a really great close-up photo with the legendary blue flame. It was kinda stupid. There were a few times I was really afraid. I was choked by the thick sulphur gas a couple of times due to changing wind direction. To the extent, I couldn’t breathe in oxygen at all. So, please DO NOT go so near to the blue flame!
The hardest job in the world – The sulphur miners
Something worth mentioning here. When you are descending to the crater, you are bound to pass many sulphur miners with baskets of yellow stones, which are actually the sulphur, some call it “devils gold” on their shoulders and each of them weight 70-90 kilos. Imagine that amount of weight on their shoulders! They are doing these trips from crater to the rim a few times a day. So please… if you see a sulphur miner along your way, please be kind enough to move aside and let them pass safely. Remember the path is small and rocky, is really a very tough job. Just trekking down and up the crater to the rim can be a very tough task for most of us. Not forgetting they have that massive amount of weight on their shoulders.
National Geographic and BBC Human Planet have programs to show the tough and hard life of these sulphur miners. To us, we were there for leisure and to see the magical blue flame, but to these hard workers, this is their survival and for their families! Sulphur mining is their livelihood. Sadly, they are working one of the hardest jobs on earth for a salary that doesn’t seem impressive to us, which is less than $15USD per day! 🙁
So why are these sulphur devil’s gold? Don’t forget this is the most toxic places in the world, and also the most acidic crater lake in the world. While it’s beautiful, it emits an enormous amount of poisonous sulphur gas. Braving horrific conditions, these workers breathe in highly noxious gases without masks while they risk their lives carrying loads of up to 70kg up steep quarry walls. Hence, the health aspect of these miners is alarming, many of the sulphur miners cannot live more than 30 years into this job. 🙁
A little suggestion, something I would suggest doing, do prepare some little candies or chocolate for energy and sugar. If you would like to give them little tokens of money, you may do so. Just be thoughtful and polite to these poor workers and I believe they will appreciate you for it.
Things to check out beside the blue flame
Even though the blue flame is the main reason why people climb Kawah Ijen, there are also many other awesome things to check out too.
- Crater Lake: Remember to check out the crater lake! It is one of the largest and highly acidic volcanic crater lake in the world! Colours are pretty with the steam and gas makes the scene magical! 🙂
- The Sunrise: Honestly, the sunrise and the blue flame are the two major highlights. Thing is, logically you can either catch the blue flame or the sunrise. Firstly, you can only catch the blue flame before sunrise at 5am. Once the sunrise you will not be able to see the blue flame, but you need roughly 45mins to an hour to climb up to the rim of the crater to catch the sunrise. Unless you have a cheat code to teleport otherwise, it will be tough to catch both phenomena. haha Hence, for the first time, I need to borrow a photo from my fellow Indonesian travel blogger friend! 🙂
- The Sensational Scenery: Kawah Ijen has a lot to offer besides blue flame and sunrise, you have this truly sensational scenery to enjoy (see photos below).
Sun is up, and you have taken all the “lifestyle” photos, finally is time to descent to the base. You may think life is easier but hey, descending is tiring and requires strength too! haha
As mentioned earlier on, there is a small local warung for coffee and tea break, on your way down, you may stop by and have a break before continuing your journey to the base.
The continuous visual treats from the scenery may slow down your pace and distract you away from your descent to the base! haha
Methods to detox after breathing in the sulphurs
Don’t forget to detox after this adventure of a lifetime! Some of the good food to recommend you to detox your lungs after breathing in the sulphurs: Apples, Ginger, Berries, Grapefruit or Pomegranates etc.. which has anti-inflammatory properties, minerals and vitamins that help remove toxins from respiratory tracts.
Some friends asked me is it really safe to climb Kawah Ijen? Well, probably not, especially the experience of breathing in the toxic sulphur air and got choked a couple of times like crazy, despite having filter mask! But maybe it was exactly this incident that made this adventure special and unique. Especially seeing the Kawah Ijen blue flame! I was actually running a fever when I did the climb, but it was kinda worth it because I told myself “is now or never!”. There was a lot of unpredictability in this trek. What you see is depending on the mercy of Mother Earth! BBC described it as the “In the jaws of health” and “One of the most toxic places on Earth”. So there are risks involved. I would recommend following the guide if you have no confidence and take things easy at your own comfortable pace. Be alert and watch out for yourself, this adventure of a lifetime experience will be very rewarding.
“Better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times.” – Asian Proverb
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