Ben starring into the smoke of Mount Ijen

Hiking Kawah Ijen: Blue Flames & the World’s Largest Acidic Lake

It has been quite some time since we’ve been on a real adventure and we were itching to do something most would call dangerous and crazy! Luckily for us, we happen to be in a country with the most active volcanoes in the world, Indonesia! So naturally, our next adventure had to be trekking an active volcano.

Our active volcano of choice? Kawah Ijen Volcano (Mount Ijen)!

Mount Ijen is like no other volcano in the world! It is home to the world’s largest acidic crater lake, the site of a dangerous sulfur mining operation and of course, it radiates the natural phenomenon known as the electric blue flames! These blue flames can only be seen in two places in the entire world, Java, Indonesia and Iceland!

Knowing all of this, Ben and I were excited to see Mount Ijen in person and embark on an adventure like no other.

Let The Adventure Begin!

After our 6-hour journey from Ubud, Bali to Java, we arrived to the base camp at 1am the following morning. When we stepped outside the car we were slapped by the unwelcoming freezing cold temperature. With the temperature being about 10° C and said to be even colder at the top, I wasn’t sure I could do this hike. My tolerance to the cold is seriously close to nonexistent. Nonetheless, I grabbed extra clothes and gear from our guide and began my 3 km hike to the top of Kawah Ijen.

Base Camp at Mount Ijen

As we climbed through the night, the full moon and the star-filled sky lit the way. Our guide, Harry, turned to us and said, “in July you can see the Milky Way, it’s beautiful”. As fascinating as that would have been to see, we were content with the current beauty of the sky. It made the hike up to the top much less strenuous and that much more magical.

Moon shining over Mount Ijen

After an hour and a half of trekking in the night, we finally made it to the top. It was time to put on our gas masks and await the natural phenomenon known as blue fire. Due to mother nature’s unpredictability and the high levels of methane gas being released from the lake, we weren’t allowed to get up close and personal with the blue flames or the turquoise-green acidic lake. We had to admire them from afar, which was okay with us as we’d rather be alive than see the lake and die from the silent killer known as methane.

Blue sulfur flames, Kawah Ijen volcano, East Java
Alexander Mazurkevich / shutterstock.com

To be honest, we weren’t wowed by the blue flames (maybe because we weren’t up close). Yes it was cool to see, but it was the beauty of Mount Ijen and its surroundings that took our breath away. As the morning sun began to rise and the night sky drifted away, Mount Ijen’s true beauty began to reveal itself. This was truly a majestic and unforgettable moment for us! Watching the moon set and the sun rise simultaneously felt surreal. The volcanoes surrounding Ijen and the fluffy clouds made the perfect backdrop. This is truly something you have to experience to believe.

Sunrise on Mount Ijen

Beautiful sunrise on top of Mount Ijen

Sulfur gas coming from Mount Ijen

Ben & Jazzy on top of Mount Ijen

Grassland on top of Mount Ijen

Ben with gas mask on top of Mount Ijen

After spending over two hours basking in Mount Ijen’s beauty, we decided it was time to head back. As we trekked back, we saw sulfur miners carrying bamboo baskets filled with sulfur on their shoulders. With this image and the opportunity to see a sulfur mining operation up close, our physical and magical experience also became an emotional and social one.

Sulfur miners inside crater Ijen volcano crater, Banyuwangi district, Indonesia
saiko3p / shutterstock.com
Sulfur miner hiking down into the crater of Kawah Ijen volcano in East Java, Indonesia.
R.M. Nunes / shutterstock.com

Sulfur from Mount Ijen

As we, the tourists, climbed and admired the beauty of Mount Ijen, miners were hard at work trying to make a living. Every day, miners climb Mount Ijen and work through the toxic fumes without gas masks to collect sulfur to exchange it for money. Being paid only 1000 rupiah ($.07 USD) per kilo, miners work through the night and early morning to collect and carry 70-100 kg worth of sulfur on their shoulders and hike the 3 km to the base to sell it to the sulfur factory. Most miners usually do two trips every day to only be paid about $15 to work one of the world’s most dangerous and toxic jobs.

If you want to know more about the dangerous job of miners on Mount Ijen, check out this short BBC documentary, this CNN article, or this beautiful photo essay illustrating the daily life of miners.

Lastly, most of the sulfur that comes into the factory is processed into cosmetics. For all the women and men out there who believe their beauty can only be enhanced by cosmetics, this is the cost of your beauty! You are supplementing the continuously harsh labor of miners every day! Yup, I said it! Feel free to try to argue your case (which you won’t win) in the comments below!

Miner carrying sulfur to the base camp of Mount Ijen

Decending Mount Ijen

Volcano view from Mount Ijen

The hike down to the base camp wasn’t bad, but since I have crappy knees it was painful for me. Nonetheless, I made it back to the car still in amazement of what I had just experienced. We packed into our car for the last leg of our adventure, a traditional Javanese breakfast at a Javanese family home! There was no better way to end our Mount Ijen trek than with a full and satisfied belly.

Javanese breakfast after hiking Mount Ijen

As we enjoyed our delicious breakfast and tried to put our experience into words, we know that trekking Kawah Ijen was one of the best volcano experiences we have ever had, and one we will never forget!

Ben taking a break from hiking Mount Ijen

Want to Experience Mount Ijen Too?

If you are looking to experience Mount Ijen as well, here is some information you should know.

The Best Time to Hike Mount Ijen

The best time to hike Mount Ijen is between May and October, with the best month being July. If you can, try avoiding weekends and holidays as it will be even more touristy.

Hiking Difficulty: Moderate

Climbing Kawah Ijen isn’t an easy hike nor is it a super difficult one. However, some level of fitness is required. The hardest part of the climb is the first hour as the path, which is wide with practically no rocks, snakes up steep slopes. The last 20-30 minutes to the top are the easiest, as the path flattens for a fairly smooth trek. From there, the trek to the caldera, which is another 30-45 minutes, can be a bit strenuous as the path is steep, rocky and slippery.

What You’ll Need

Recommended Tour Guide: Indotravelteam

From start to finish Pierrick and his team from Indotravelteam not only made sure we were safe, but also made sure our hike was an experience of a lifetime. They provided us with everything we needed – a gas mask, warm clothes, transportation, delicious homemade Javanese breakfast, donuts and a hell of an experience. We highly recommend them for your hike to Mount Ijen!

Harry, a Intotravelteam tour guide

Tips for Hiking Mount Ijen

  • As you start to sweat during your climb, remove layers so once you are at the top you won’t freeze to death due to your clothes being wet.
  • Don’t forget to stop once in awhile to gaze at the star-filled sky, it’s breathtaking.
  • If you want to see the blue flames, get to the crater around 4 – 4:30am, at the latest. You can only see the flames in the dark between 5 – 6am. After sunrise, the flames disappear.
  • Use the bathroom before the hike starts, as there will be no toilet to relieve yourself on the volcano.
  • Leave the jewelry and fancy clothes at home if you don’t want to ruin them.
  • Three layers of clothes is a great idea because it can be as cold as 5°C at the top.
  • Take your time climbing, there is no rush! Pace yourself and enjoy the hike without pushing your limits.
  • Before the hike, forgo all your expectations and just allow yourself to truly experience Mount Ijen and be amazed.

We hope this guide was helpful in planning your trip to Mount Ijen and if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments below.

Disclosure: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, we earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.

The Author

Jazzy is a professional travel writer and the editor-in-chief at Road Affair. She has been traveling around the world with her partner in crime, Ben, since 2012.

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Comments

  1. Hello Jazzy.
    I just read your article right now…. Nice , thanks a lot ))))
    I still in my memory your large smile even the temperatures was extremely less than what you expected))))
    Feel free to come again: we have more volcanoes to discover together!!!
    Enjoy your travels around the World )))
    Pierrick Bigot (Indotravelteam)

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