Mount Bromo is probably Indonesia’s most famous active volcano and sits at the Eastern end of Java between Surabaya and Yogyakarta. It's part of the Tengger massif and in the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park.
We knew the next leg of our trip might be interesting with some uncertainty sprinkled in as we were determined to go to Mt Bromo independent of any organised tour.
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Quite often Mt Bromo is lumped in as part of a tour heading out of Surabaya or Yogyakarta and usually, this involves taking a private van or bus with other tourists and staying in accommodation that has been pre-booked. The van will make multiple stops at pre-arranged eateries and rest stops and the guesthouses may or may not be what you expect it to be. You will be at Mount Bromo for the sunrise, where dozens of other vans arrive with loads of tourists who will leave shortly after for their next destination.
The web is full of accounts of people swarming up the side of Mt Bromo, churning up an unbearable dust cloud in the process and generally all leave having a less than stellar experience. Typical Two Day One Night Tours from Yogyakarta can be found from IDR 1.1 to 1.5 mil (about USD 100) per person.
If you would like to make this into a more exciting and authentic experience (and save a bit of money in the process) you can fairly easily do it by yourself. However, if you are pressed for time, you should know that there’s always a risk of a train or bus running late and you may need to add a day extra, just in case - as we were to discover!
We resumed our travels from Surakarta (Solo) where we had spent a few days exploring the city.
The train from Solo to Probolinggo is best described as an arduous 8-hour journey via Surabaya – all the while knocking knees with the people sitting across from you. Being somewhat taller than the average Indonesian, I found it a HUGE struggle to sit for 8 hours in such a cramped space on a bench seat.
There was only one class of train available for this trip but our advice would be that if you EVER have the option - rather pay a bit more and sit in a proper seat with more legroom. The cost of our tickets were IDR 96 000 per person (USD 6.50) and we bought some pretty good nasi-goreng from a vendor on the train for slightly inflated but still reasonable IDR 20 000 (USD 1.40).
Our train was scheduled to arrive in Probolinggo during the afternoon and we hoped to still make it to Cemoro Lawang from there before nightfall. Half-way through the trip it became glaringly obvious we were running horribly late and there would be NO chance of getting a ride at that time of day. Besides, it was raining when we pulled into Probolinggo train station and after the long day, we’d had we instantly changed our minds and decided to rather stay in town for the night.
From the Probolinggo train station, small yellow mini-buses run set routes around town - this is the cheapest way (IDR 5 000) to get to the Bus Depot Marinda. This Bus Depot is just past the Terminal Bayuangga bus station from where the green ‘Bison’ minivans depart to Cemoro Lawang. Your first challenge will be to make sure the driver of the yellow van will drop you off at the correct place – the driver might tell you that ‘there is no more transport at this time’ or ‘there is a better way to get to Bromo’ and he will want to stop at a ‘bus station’ which is really just a travel agency so that you can be persuaded to make use of their services. My advice would be to arrive with some cash in your pocket and EXACT knowledge of where you want to be. Load MAPS.ME on your cell phone or use Google Maps to pinpoint the location of the Marinda Bus Depot. Once you get here look for the slightly larger green ‘bison’ mini-busses departing for Cemoro Lawang.
At the Probolinggo Train Station, we called Lava Lava Hostel & Resto to check whether they had a room available – they are mere minutes walk from where the Bison busses depart – and for IDR 250 000 (USD 17) for a double en-suite with breakfast included we could hardly say no. Lava Lava even opened their kitchen for us and we had a lovely, relaxed dinner right there. The rain continued and we were very happy with our choice not to move on straight away.
After breakfast the following morning we made our way to the bus stop – eager to get an early start! Only to discover that the first bus in line will depart as soon as there are EITHER 15 passengers to share the IDR 525 000 fee (IDR 35 000 per person) OR when the waiting passengers are willing to share the total among them.
Usually, this isn’t much of a problem as there are plenty of people making use of the service but it was 31 May 2016 – less than a week before the start of Ramadan. This meant there where FAR fewer travellers than the norm. After an hour’s wait, another couple arrived and another hour later, we hopefully eyed 4 young guys making their way down the road towards us. Finally, we had enough people to make the journey affordable and agreed with the driver to depart for Cemoro Lawang. We ended up paying IDR 65 000 per person one-way but we arranged with the same driver to collect us from Cemoro Lawang the following day to bring us back at a discounted price.
After we had to help push-start the van we were finally off!
Sitting up front we were able to have a chat with the driver and he told us how the system works. From my understanding of what he said there are around 70 of the green public bison vans that go to Cemoro Lawang. Each bus takes a turn to make the trip and once back they have to fall in at the back of the line. (On that particular day there might only be 1 or 2 buses departing as it was low season). The driver ‘rents’ the vehicle from the owner who may have multiple of these buses and pays a fixed fee of IDR 100 000 a day. The driver said that he had waited three days for his turn to drive because of the low season - that was IDR 300 000 it has cost him already and to make the drive it costs at least another IDR 100 000 for the fuel.
Upon approaching the higher part of the village, we asked the driver to stop at some of the home-stays so we can have a look. We probably should have explored a bit further as we settled on the first one we looked at. It was a VERY basic double room with a toilet/shower attached. Included in the price of IDR 150 000 ($10) were towels and bedding. There was also a pleasant outside veranda to sit on and free WIFI that almost worked. If you can plan ahead have a look at available accommodation on both Agoda.com and Booking.com.
The first priority was to find lunch and after discovering the small warung to the left of the road just past Café Lava it was a place we kept returning to. There was a good selection of Indonesian dishes for much lower prices than most of the surrounding restaurants and we ended up sampling almost all of the food over the next 24 hours!
The weather was looking rather ominous but we grabbed our jackets and headed down the footpath to the right of Cemarah Inda Hotel which bypasses the main entrance into the crater. There is a guard check post to collect the outrageous entrance fee, but there was nobody on duty when we walked past. It might be because it was the low season with very few visitors. Either way, as Bromo is in a proclaimed national park (Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park), there is an ‘entrance fee’ of IDR 220 000 pp (USD 15) on working days and IDR 320 000 (USD 22) pp on the weekend and Indonesian public holidays. You also have to pay ‘village retribution’ of IDR 10 000 pp. Strictly speaking, you will be entering the park illegally without a valid ticket.
The walk through the “Sea Of Sand” was a unique and stunning experience. The dusty wasteland is strangely beautiful and is a stark reminder that you are standing in the caldera of what is a very powerful and still active volcano. We were the only people there as most tourists that take organised trips to visit Bromo early in the morning. We saw some horse riders in the canyon and had a cup of tea with a vendor to escape the sudden downpour of rain.