When it comes to volcanoes, no other country on earth comes close to Indonesia. The archipelago nation sits right on the Sunda Volcanic Arc which stretches eastward from Sumatra all the way across the Java and Banda Sea’s to the western tip of the remote Maluka Island, forming the southern section of the better known “Pacific Ring of Fire.”
The Arc marks the convergence of the East Eurasian plates that underlie Indonesia and the India and Australian Plates that form the seabed of the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. It’s a hotbed of subterranean activity that has endowed Indonesia with more volcanoes than any other nation on earth, including some of the world’s most dangerous and explosive volcanoes. At last count, Indonesia had over 400 volcanoes, no less than 127 of which are active.
With so many volcanoes on their doorstep, the locals seem to take the semi-regular eruptions in their stride. But for tourists, Indonesia’s volcanoes represent a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with one of Mother Nature’s most powerful forces. There’s nothing quite like feeling the rumble of the earth beneath your feet as you stand among steaming sulphur vents staring into the seething heart of one of these beasts. Obviously, it’s a sentiment shared by many as Indonesia’s volcano trekking market is flourishing and there are plenty of options.
We’ve put our heads together to come up with the Top 10 Volcano Treks in Indonesia. With so many to choose from, narrowing down the list of contenders wasn’t easy, but after much debate, here they are…
1. Mt Bromo, Java
Without a doubt, Mt Bromo is the most photographed natural attraction in Java, attracting foreigners and Indonesian’s by the tens of thousands each year. At 2,329m high, it’s not the highest of the volcanoes comprising the Tengger massif but it is the most active.
Before climbing to the edge of the Bromo crater rim to stare down into the seething heart of the volcano, most people head to a viewing point at the top of the adjacent Mt Penanjakan for unobstructed views of the entire Bromo caldera, including the Sea of Sand which surrounds Bromo, the adjacent peaks of Mt Batok, Mt Widodaren, Mt Watangan and smoking Mt Semeru in the distance. It’s an amazing sight and even better if you make it for sunrise.
The standard Bromo tour begins with a 3:30AM jeep pick-up from your accommodation in Cemoro Lawang village for transfer to the Penanjakan viewing points. After sunrise, it’s back in your jeep for the return journey, stopping this time to climb Bromo itself and if you like, visit the adjacent Hindu temple Pura Luhur Poten.
Near the temple a steep path culminating with around 250 stairs will lead you to the edge of the crater. There’s no avoiding the stairs but you can grab a pony to the foot of the staircase if you’re feeling lazy.
All inclusive Bromo tours, including transport to and from, can be arranged through just about any tour agent in Java, Bali and even Lombok. But if you prefer to do your own thing, accommodation, meals and jeep transfers are easily arranged on arrival in Cemoro Lawang Village. Click here for more information and details on how to arrange your Mt Bromo adventure.
2. Mt Rinjani, Lombok
Climbing Lombok’s Mt Rinjani has become one of SE Asia’s must-do treks and for good reason. Rinjani has got the lot – rainforest and grassland savannahs, wildlife, hot springs, caves, a huge caldera lake, unparalleled views from the summit and a highly volatile nature. So volatile, Rinjani has erupted multiple times in recent years.
No one quite knows when Rinjani first emerged on the “Ring of Fire” but the first recorded eruption occurred in 1847. The next bout of activity between 1994-1995 pushed up a new cone, appropriately dubbed Gunung Baru (New Mountain), poking up the eastern side of the huge 50 km² caldera which cradles the crater lake Segara Anak (Child of the Sea). Rinjani has continued to rumble on and off since then. April 2009 saw plumes of ash emitted up to 8,000m into the air. There were more smoke and lava flows into the caldera lake in the early part of 2010 and an eruption in 2015 which saw nearby villagers and hikers evacuated, and disrupted airline services for several weeks. The most recent eruption was in September 2016, suspending all activity on the Mountain until as recently as April 2017. As you would expect, the Indonesia Volcanological Survey of Indonesia (VSI) are constantly monitoring the volcano and adjusting the alert level as required.
If anything, Rinjani’s recent eruptions have only increased her popularity with trekkers. With more and more people clamoring to tick this volcano off their bucket lists, don’t expect to have the Mountain to yourself.
Climbing Rinjani is moderately challenging but very doable for the average person, including kids as young as eight, so it makes a great family challenge. With plenty of rest points along the way, porters to carry your gear and standard or customised treks of varying length and duration, there’s no reason not to have a go.
Climbing Mt Rinjani is usually done over 2-3 days with camping on the Mountain. Most trekking tour companies offer all-inclusive packages, and there’s an abundance of them, so prices are very competitive. Click here for more information and details on how to arrange your Mt Rinjani trek.
3. Mt Tambora, Sumbawa
When Mt Tambora erupted in 1815, it was the largest eruption ever recorded. The explosion was heard 2,000km’s away in Sumatra and volcanic ash rained down on Borneo, Sulawesi, Java and the Maluku Islands. The death toll from the eruption and the starvation and disease that followed, as a result of ruined agricultural production, has been estimated at 71,000, and that was just the local impact. The eruption was so monstrous it created a global climate anomaly called a “Volcanic Winter.” Europe and America had the “Year Without a Summer” and experienced the worst famine of the 19th century due to crop and livestock failures.
Tambora has been “sleeping” ever since, but it suffers periodic fits of restlessness. Small eruptions occurred in 1880 and 1967, and more recently in 2011, 2012 and 2013 rumblings and smoke emissions from the caldera, no doubt sent a shiver up the spines of the Sumbawa islanders.
Despite this impressive bio, Tambora has somehow stayed off the tourist radar, but that’s slowly changing. We’re guessing it won’t be long before the trickle of trekkers climbing this beast of a volcano turns into a steady flow. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a truly awesome volcano trek away from the sometimes crowded slopes on the better known volcanoes, Tambora should be at the top of your list.
The Tambora trek starts near the tiny East Sumbawa village of Pancasila. The trail to the 2,851m summit commences among coffee plantations, then snakes through thick jungle before emerging above the tree line onto the upper slopes and a final push up onto the crater rim and summit. From there, the views across the massive caldera and eastward over Moyo Island and Lombok’s Mt Rinjani are sublime.
Tambora can be climbed in two days, three if you prefer to take your time or make the descent into the crater, something that should only be attempted with one of the experienced local guides. There are 5 Pos along the trail, fresh water supplies and reasonably good camping areas. Guides, porters and camping gear can all be hired from Pancasila. Click here to find out how.
4. Mt Semeru, Java
To the locals, Semeru is known as Gunung Mahameru or the “Great Mountain,” which in the local dialect refers to the powerful Hindu god Siwa the Destroyer. Considering Semeru’s highly active state, the name is apt.
Located in Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, Mt Semeru tends to be overshadowed by its famous stablemate, purely I suspect because it takes a little more effort to summit. But given that it’s the highest Mountain in Java at 3,676m and one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes, trekking to the summit of Semeru is a worthy undertaking and perfect for anyone who is up for the challenge.
Reaching the summit is a 2-4 day adventure; the only really challenging section being the final three hour push up onto the summit. The rest of the trek is a pleasant ramble through highland forests and taking in the beautiful Ranu Kumbolo Mountain lake and the grassy Oro-Oro Ombo savannah, with some great camping along the way. There’s some great views along the way, which only get better once you’re on the summit looking right across the Java rooftop. On a clear day, you can see Mt Arjuna far off to the northwest, Mt Kawi to the west and Mt Argapura away to the east.
Ranu Pani village in East Java is the starting point for the trek. The village has guesthouses and restaurants but you do need to come prepared with guides, porters, camping gear and supplies.
Click here for more information and details on how to arrange your Mt Semeru trek.
5. Mt Kerinci, Sumatra
Our Top 10 Volcano Treks wouldn’t be complete without including Mt Kerinci, which at 3,805m high is the highest active volcano in Indonesia. With relatively easy access, well blazed trails, superb wild scenery and sublime summit views, Kerinci is one of the most popular Mountain treks in Indonesia. It’s no walk in the park though. The summit trail is steep with relatively few switchbacks to ease burning thigh muscles, mud and trip hazards like rocks and tree roots abound and you will need to camp out. But as long as you’re well prepared and reasonably fit, it has all the ingredients for a fabulous trekking adventure.
Climbing Mt Kerinci usually takes 2 days with an overnight camp just above the 3,000m mark. Perfect for hitting the summit in time for sunrise on day two. The vision of the sun coming up over the adjacent Mt Tujuh, Lake Tujuh and other shadowy peaks of Sumatra’s Barisan Mountain range is spectacular.
Mt Kerinci is located in the UNESCO World Heritage listed Kerinci Seblat National Park in West Sumatra province. Click here for more details on the National Park and Mt Kerinci trek.
6. Mt Agung, Bali
Given the Balinese’s deeply spiritual Hindu culture, it’s no surprise that the highest peak on the island, Mt Agung, is particularly sacred. Most of the time, Agung lords over the island with a kind of stately benevolence worthy of her “Mother Mountain” tag. At other times, retreating mysteriously into the clouds to commune with the Hindu gods living atop her peak. And very occasionally, she vents her anger with an explosive burst, raining ash and lava down on those that have displeased her.
The last eruption in 1963, spewed lava over much of eastern Bali and sent a poisonous gas cloud drifting over the island, destroying crops, killing livestock and up to 2,000 people. Remarkably, the largest and holiest temple in Bali, Pura Besakih “Mother Temple” which is located high on the southern slopes of Agung, was unscathed, thus reinforcing Mt Agung’s spiritual significance.
It’s almost impossible not to be a little beguiled by this mystical mountain as you tramp around the island. Climbing it almost seems like a calling, but it’s not an easy feat and suitable only for those with a good level of fitness.
The easiest of the two trails to the top of the south-eastern crater rim is a steep 3-4 hour slog, starting out at 2am if you want to see the sunrise from the summit. If it sounds challenging, it is, but the spectacular views from the top of Bali are worth the effort. Click here for more information and details on how to arrange your Mt Agung trek.
7. Kelimutu Crater Lakes, Flores
Undoubtedly Flores’s best known and most popular attraction, Kelimutu three colour lakes is a fascinating natural phenomenon worthy of the mystical awe with which the locals hold it. The tri-coloured lakes are contained within the cradle of Mt Kelimutu and are famed for periodically changing colour, quite independently of each other and a phenomenon that can occur almost overnight.
Local lore attributes the colour changes to restless or neglected souls, but the scientific explanation is that they are caused by chemical reactions between the minerals contained in the lake and volcanic gas activity beneath the surface of the water. Either way, they’re a pretty impressive sight.
Many visitors to Kelimutu arrive early in time to watch the sunrise over the lakes and the mountains beyond, but it’s worth hanging around a little longer as the lake colours become more vivid as the sun climbs higher.
Mt Kelimutu is located just outside Moni village in central Flores, and is a well developed tourist attraction with vehicle access and a well-formed path leading right up to the summit. But if you’re looking for something a little more challenging, consider hiking back to Moni along a meandering 11km trail leading down the mountainside. As well as some great panoramic scenery, the trail incorporates two traditional Lionese villages, a hot spring and waterfall, and is a great way to round out your Kelimutu experience. For more information on Kelimutu and the optional trek, click here.
8. Mt Iya, Flores
Reaching a modest 627m, Mt Iya might not be an immediately obvious contender for our Top 10, but height is about the only thing this volcano lacks. Situated on a small peninsular overlooking the Suva Sea in south-central Flores, Iya’s smoking cone and enormous gaping crater is jaw-droppingly impressive.
And the best part? Located just a short 15 minute drive south of Ende, Mt Iya is one of Indonesia’s most accessible volcanoes. With the help of a local guide to help you negotiate the messy volcanic slopes, it’s a relatively easy 4-5 hour return trek to the crater rim and summit, although it may take longer if you’re having trouble dragging yourself away from the view. Click here for more information on Mt Iya.
9. Mt Marapi, Sumatra
Not to be mistaken with Mt Merapi in Java, this Mt Marapi is located in the Padang Highlands, West Sumatra about 24km southeast of Bukittinggi. With over 60 eruptions to its credit since the late 18th century, Marapi claims the title of the most active volcano in Sumatra.
Despite Marapi’s volatile nature, or perhaps because of it, the volcano has long been one of the most popular climbing treks in Sumatra. It’s a moderately challenging climb but doable by anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. The only steep section is the final push up onto the crater rim, where steaming sulphur vents and superb 360 degree views await.
Marapi can be climbed in a single long day but with several natural water sources, camping areas and hikers huts along the route, overnighting on the mountain before making a pre-dawn assault on the summit for sunrise, is a better option. Check out this link for more details on climbing Mt Marapi.
10. Mt Lokon & Mt Empung Volcanic Complex, North Sulawesi
Having erupted at least 30 times since the late 18th century, the twin volcanoes of Mt Lokon and Mt Empung are among the most active in Indonesia. At 1,580m and 1,340m high respectively, they’re not particularly high, but they are significant landmarks dominating the Tondano Plain south of Manado. They’re also one of the most popular treks in North Sulawesi; at least when they’re not erupting.
To be specific, eruptions over the last 200 odd years have emanated from the “Tompaluan” crater complex situated on the saddle between the two peaks, and this is what most trekkers come to see. The return trek to the crater can be comfortably completed in 3-4 hours, or 5-6 hours if you combine it with the Mt Empung summit. Just for the record, the Mt Lokon summit is too dangerous to tackle.
The Lokon-Empung treks can be easily completed as a half or full day trip from Monado, where you’ll find plenty of private guides and tour companies offering Lokon-Empung trekking packages. Click here for more information.