Ili Api (Lewotolo) volcano is almost synonymous with Lembata. It sits on its own peninsular just to the northwest of Lewoleba, the island’s main town and the main point of entry for most travellers. With its smoking top, this 1,449m high volcano makes an indelible first impression.
According to locals Ili Api last erupted in 1980 and it has been spewing smoke and sulphurous gases ever since. For obvious reasons, it’s impossible to climb to the summit but it is possible to trek to the lower, outer crater. With steaming sulphur vents, hot lova rocks and white volcanic sands it has been invariably described as ‘amazing’ and ‘otherworldly’. And with stunning views going up and from the high point, this volcano trek has a lot to offer.
Ili Api is circled by a road which connects the handful of villages nestled in its shadow, and most of them have their own trail up the volcano. The favoured starting point is Desa Lama, a tiny unoccupied village located halfway up the southern flanks. The tiny village, now just a few overgrown thatched huts and ragged banana palms, is intriguing. It’s unclear when or why it was abandoned but as the ancestral home of the local villagers in the region it still serves an important spiritual role in the local culture. Sacred heirlooms such as moko drums, gongs and elephant tusks are kept there and villagers return once a year to celebrate the harvest of the local bean, an important part of their diet.
Because of the sacred nature of the village, it’s necessary to seek permission from the village elders down below at Jontana village, prior to proceeding up the mountain road to Desa Lama. Like many in Indonesia, particularly in the outer areas, the road is in appalling condition. You’ll need to find an obliging truck driver or ojek in Lewolobo to take you all the way to Desa Lama. Don’t be surprised if you have to start walking from Jontana or somewhere in between. From Desa Lama the trail climbs steeply upwards along thinly wooded, grassed ridges and takes about 3.5 hours (plus another hour if you’ve started from Jontana) to crest the crater rim.
Whilst not technically difficult, the steep gradient requires a moderate level of fitness. Take plenty of water and try to make an early start to beat the heat. This should get you back in your hotel resting weary limbs and sipping on a cold Bintang reflecting on a fantastic experience by early afternoon.