If you love hiking and spectacular sceneries, this one is for you. Maybe you regret not being able to climb Mount Agung, already climbed Batur or feel Rinjani (in Lombok) is a bit too much.
Ijen is definitely worthwhile, and not only for the hike itself.
Let me break this into pieces:
Ijen is a volcanic mountain in East Java (Indonesia). In 2014, it was featured in National Geographic, for the sulphur mines, where the blue fire burns, the deadly smoke pours and the unprotected workers earn their livings. Since then, it became increasingly touristic and mining was kept more as a tourist show than an autonomous economical activity.
It’s more crowded in the dry season but very feasible on rainy season, as well. Avoid weekends if you can.
Coming from Bali, you’d get Gilimanuk ferry, which takes minimum 45 min, but can be much more, if the docks are full. If you’re driving, remember to bring your International driving license and other relevant documents as they will be checked.
Once on Ketapang, in Java, you have two options for staying: One is around Licin, south of Ijen, and other is in Blawan.
I stayed in both and both have pros and cons:
– Licin is nearer, from the ferry (a bit over half an hour) but further away from Ijen basecamp. Ijen Miners Homestay is inexpensive, typical, cozy, has this “jungle” feeling, and awesome, caring staff. However, toilets are shared (on the lower stage) and the wood made building creaks under your feet (if you happen to have a room on the first one, as you climb the stairs). Access to this homestay is terrible, and it’s better to fill your tank before arrival, as there ain’t many places around. From there to the basecamp is minimum 50 min, but expect one hour, as the road is often slippery and sometimes crowded.
If you want to enjoy the full experience and avoid the crowds (as much as possible, not entirely), arrive at your homestay early afternoon. Sleep until dinner, which would be around 7:00 pm. Try to rest or sleep until midnight. Bring warm clothing even if you believe it’s gonna be warm – it won’t! It’s always cold and windy, as you’re waiting for sunrise at the rim. You will be lucky if it doesn’t rain. Also bring mountain boots (specially if you intend to go down to the crater).
Arrive to the basecamp around 1:00am. There will be people renting you masks for 50.000 rp. If you didn’t rent it at your homestay, already, pick one that is breathable and made for chemicals (not for dust). The mask will not protect you 100% from the sulphur fumes, neither it will protect your eyes. At night, no one will know where you are or care for you! Be wise.
Buy your ticket (counter should open by then), and start your climbing. For a “normal” person, it would take you a bit over 2 hours but likely less than 3. So you reach the rim while still dark, and can have a glimpse on the blue fire, if the wind blows on the right direction.
Assuming you’ll want to see the fire from close, and the miners in action, take the narrow stone path down to the crater and acidic lake. For some reason it was still saying “forbidden” or something alike. If the wind is blowing the smoke away from the path, all will be ok. If not, get yourself a guide, follow a miner, or wait for a change in direction. The path is not marked and it’s easy to get disoriented and lost on the way down. If the cloud of smoke gets you, with or without the mask, you will be in trouble. Breathe as slowly as you can, close your eyes and wait.
If all was good, you will reach the crater half an hour to 45 min later. Time to see the men in action, take some pictures, sit and enjoy the views for a while. By then, you’ll see more and more people going down to where you are, to the point it can become dangerous. Return to the rim while you still can. Then, eventually circle it going South to find the perfect spot for sunrise – it’s a magical experience. Enjoy it, and return to your homestay for a late breakfast. You’d probably want to rest until lunch.
Around Ijen there are acidic (and fresh water) waterfalls, picturesque villages, green fields and minor volcano cones. It should keep you entertained for the afternoon, should you opt to stay for another night.