The mesmerizing trek up volcano Mt Bromo including a 16hr bus and a 2.30am wake up call, Indonesia

We had never heard of Mt. Bromo before heading off to Asia and unlike many big experiences it wasn’t etched onto our Asia bucket list for years! We had been staying in a homestay in the hills of SaPa in rural Northern Vietnam, huddled around a fire and drinking rice wine to stay warm when our fellow travellers began sharing stories. The one we heard from a travelling couple from Denmark, of long buses, early rises, chaotic transport, true adventure, live volcanoes and breathtaking landscapes sounded like the sort of exploration we thrive on! From that point forwards we dreams of the mountainous expanses of Java and couldn’t wait to head off on yet another unforgettable adventure full of craziness and confusion as always but that inevitably ends in an experience worth the hassle! Here’s how we did Mt Bromo without a tour!

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Mt Bromo without a tour… over Eid!

As always we wanted to go it alone instead of taking a tour and make it more of an adventure. Well, we just about chose the wrong time of year with our travel dates falling over Eid. This made it more expensive, longer travel and more limited options. Luckily the guys are our hostel, Ostic House, rang around for us to several hostels, hotels, bus companies etc etc and helped us immensely do Mt Bromo without a tour.

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In the end what I surmised from attempting to organise this trip was that firstly Indonesia is the most frustratingly unorganised country ever! Even the tours in the leaflets were unclear and confusing about what they actually offer for the price. In truth after trying to book places to stay, transport, figuring out prices and how to actually get to the volcano and then onwards to either Bali or Ijen I was ready for just booking a simple tour. But even that wasn’t an option! It almost felt like they were purposely making it hard work whilst at the same time desperately trying to get people over to visit to see these very things!! In the end we thought the best way was to stick to doing Mt Bromo without a tour!

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Getting to Bromo from Yogyakarta

The first stage of the adventure was another hellish minibus journey, this time from Yogyakarta to Probelingo, the nearest large town to the volcano. This was supposed to take a mere 12 hours squashed up together and get you into the town in time to have some food, a shower and a few hours sleep. However in our case due to the Eid celebrations and chaos on the already insane roads it took us around 16 hours. This meant a super late check in, instant noodles for a meal and just 2 hours sleep before being awoken at 2:30am! By this stage I was beyond being enthusiastic about doing Mt Bromo without a tour or even with!

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We had tried in vain to get tickets for the train, a journey which would have been more comfortable and much much quicker and a similar price! We also looked at buses and coaches, all too booked out. So in the end we booked the minibus through the tour companies who had a reasonably priced option to be just taken and dropped off in the town rather than continuing with the tour!

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Organising transport with the accommodation and the inevitable chaos at 2:30am!

So, Probelingo is over an hour from the closest village to the mountain, which is Cemoro Lawang. So you need transport over there if you are doing Mt Bromo without a tour. During the day there are bus services but we were assured that this is not necessary and it would be ok to be picked up in the morning and taken to the trail for the mountain in time for the sunrise for 300,000 Rupiah. This was already a steep price especially for Indonesia and also given that there was a fee for the mountain area too! So we made sure we had this money before and agreed this was what we could afford.

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Roll on 2:30am, tired and seriously not in the mood for messing around we were greeted by a man asking for twice that amount… of course, we love Indonesia but it is rife with price gouging and scams and at 2:30am with no one from the hostel around this sure looked like the case! We were torn between potentially having wasted time and money getting here and then missing out and also really not being in the mood for getting scammed. This was yet another point when we questioned whether doing Mt Bromo without a tour was a good idea!

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There were two Indonesian women from another part of the county in the car already, apparently having paid over 1million Rupiah for the entire trip. The driver told us it was just 300,000 Rupiah each for the car to Cemoro Lawang and then another 300,000 Rupiah for the jeep. This wasn’t what we had been told the night before and we really didn’t know what to think and didn’t have anyone to confirm this was right or not! In the end after much arguing and messing about we told him to just take us to the point where you get the jeep and we could walk from there!

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Now, later on we where speak to people who told us that the price the guy was telling us was the going rate and, in true Indonesian style, there had been a miscommunication!

Reaching the viewpoint in time for sunrise after a tiring and stressful morning!

After a stressful morning we were glad to just be on our way up to the mountain and figured that we are fit enough to do the rest ourselves and we will just have to get back when we’ve finished, a real advantage to doing Mt Bromo without a tour! The drive in the darkness seemed to take forever, there was an air of awkwardness too and we were cramped up in the boot on some makeshift chairs with the AC blowing fiercely on to us. No one spoke a word our way!

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Reaching the ticket check point we had been told several accounts. The official price was supposed to be 350,000 Rp each for foreigners and on a tour you are guaranteed to have to pay it as an extra. Some had told us how their driver had gone around or that there is a trail you can take to avoid the booth if you do Mt Bromo without a tour. Our driver pulled over and asked for 150,000 each. I suspect that he had just driven through and taken the money for himself, but at this point what could we do. If we say anything we will just end up having to pay twice as much!

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We were hastily dropped off on the road in the pitch black and escorted to a jeep. At this point we were unsure on what was going on and it was pretty chaotic scenes with many others also being dropped off with jeeps and cars everywhere. Next thing we know we are in the back of the jeep that we hadn’t paid for. The Indonesia women at this point begin speaking to us and it turns out they were lovely. They said that it was all paid for anyway and it didn’t really effect them so we can just jump in for the ride! We made a point to explain that we had been told a different price and the whole thing was a misunderstanding! Turns out doing Mt Bromo without a tour is just one adventure after another both good and bad!

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The jeep ride itself was even less comfortable than the car, but who were we to complain at this point! We trundled at a snails pace up the steep tracks with fumes from the line of jeeps becoming suffocating. At a certain point they all parked at the side of the track and told us to walk the rest of the way. From here there were several viewpoints and most people congregated at the lower ones or took one of the horses up to the last section of path before it became a scramble. We decided to carry on walking, wading through bushes and climbing over rocks until we could no longer see anyone else.

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We were there alone as the sun began to rise over the valley below. After an exhausting couple of day this was what it was all about. The burning red rays shone perfectly over the billowing Bromo crater as a layer of cloud lingered mysteriously over the moon like plaines around the cluster of volcanos. The sight was surreal and the atmosphere just magical. Sitting there by ourselves as the sun danced along the ridge lines of the peaks poking up above the swirling clouds we couldn’t have picked a more perfect day. The colours changed from subtle greens and greys to burning orange and reds as the sun rose higher, we could have sat here all day. But we knew there was another adventure awaiting!

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Heading over to Mt Bromo itself and climbing this live volcano!

Now it was time to get back in the jeep, once we actually managed to find ours, and head over the to the 2,329 m (7,641 ft) crater of Mt. Bromo itself. The ride across from the lush green area where we had witnessed sunrise was over the Segara Wedi  or the “Sea of Sands”. A vast and barren wasteland where nothing grew, covered in layers of thick and fine ash that made anything but a 4×4 a dangerous mistake!  Even if you do Mt Bromo without a tour you still need to take a jeep across this section. 

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Reaching the steep path up to the top of Mt. Bromo we were already covered in the dust that surrounds the area and had a relatively short but exhausting trek up its steep sides to go. By this point the purpose built steps up the side were gridlocked and we had already traversed the deep ash towards the base of the climb in longer than we intended as was the difficulty of the conditions. We decided to go off-piste and take to the jagged edges of the peak to skip the queues alongside some other adventurous folk! Standing out in the sea of Indonesians we were regularly stopped for photos, perched on the precariously steep side of a volcano for a selfie! But we didn’t mind stopping to catch our breath. 

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As we approached the top we could hear a roar, what we presumed was the noise of the jeeps below or helicopters in the distance soon became evident it was something more worrying! The vast open crater with its deep and open edges was billowing thick smoke with a vibrating sound like nothing we had heard before. The heat emanating from the centre of the crater that stood hundreds of feet away was feverous and intense. To tell you the truth this amount of activity took us by surprise and wasn’t exactly conducive to a relaxing time at the summit. We took our photos, took in the spectacular views but felt keen to get back off this rumbling volcano!! 

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We returned to the homestay for around 10:30am, had a shower and a couple of hours sleep before jumping on the train in the afternoon to head off to climb Mt. Ijen… But that’s another story!

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Reflections on the experience and what we would do differently!

Visiting Mt. Bromo has to stand out for us as one of the most memorable things we have ever done and a real adventure not only for the fact that this is one of the most active volcanos in the world but due to the nightmare it took to actually get it done! In hindsight it always seems that those things you really have to go out of your to sort out to make it possible are all part of what makes the trip so much of an adventure, the uncertainty always makes the outcome so much more intense and we don’t regret doing Mt Bromo without a tour.

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However, with that being said there are somethings we would do differently that would, in our opinion, make the experience more enjoyable, cheaper and more self reliant if you do Mt Bromo without a tour.

Firstly we would advise on taking the train over to Probelingo and organising that yourself at the station, this is quicker and if you opt for the lowest class pretty cheap too. Then take a bus and stay up in the village of Cemoro Lawang.

From Cemoro Lawang it is possible if you have a decent level of fitness to hike up to the view point from here. I would actually skip the sunrise and head up a little later (Not a lot later though!). This way all the crowds have gone, the volcanos are in full sun and you can easily walk around the ticket booth to save some more money. This also means you can take your time and do it on your own schedule which is the real bonus to doing Mt Bromo without a tour.

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Getting over to Bromo itself from the view point is a little challenging due to the distance over the ash covered terrain. However this is where you could invest in a jeep which later in the day and just to and from the crater might be negotiable for a cheaper rate. Again, going later on that most do will mean that it is much quieter.

How much it costs and practicalities:

Price for 2 people that we paid:

Transport on a mini bus from Yogyakarta to Probelingo: 380,000 Rp / £20.96 / $28.04

1 night at Clover Homestay: 200,000 Rp / £11.03 / $14.76

Car from Probelingo to Cemoro Lawang and Jeep: 300,000 Rp / £16.55 / £22.14

Entrance fee: 300,000 Rp / £16.55 / £22.14

Total: 1.180,000 Rp / £65.09 / $87.08

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Bear in mind if we did it this way and paid the full amounts we should have done, which is a possibility then it would have been an extra 300,000 for the jeep and 450,000 for the entrance fee, though it is also a possibility we might not have had to pay the entrance fee at all. So these prices are very variable:

Best case scenario using our method: 880,000 Rp / £48.54 / $64.94

Worst case scenario: 1,930,000 Rp / £106.46 / $142.44

Also bear in mind the price for the car/ jeep is 600,000 and the price we got was shared between 4 people, so in theory the price could be a LOT higher if you went it alone or a bit cheaper if you get a couple more people!

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Have you ever climbed Mt. Bromo?

Next up catch our climb up Mt Ijen which we did alongside this just the day after, bloody tiring!

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Nicola Hilditch-Short

Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.