Located in East Java, Mount Ijen stratovolcano is renowned for its 1km wide turquoise blue acidic crater lake, the largest of its kind in the world. However, Ijen is better known for the role it plays in the local economy as around 200 locals mine the highly concentrated sulphur which collects around an active sulphur vent at the edge of the lake. Mining is done completely by hand with miners using metal bars and picks to pry chunks of yellow sulphur away from the crater wall then carry it in baskets of up to 90kg across their shoulders out of the steep-sided crater then down to Paltuding Valley 3km away to get paid.
Watching the miners as work is quite fascinating and sobering at the same time. Miners are paid by the kilo and in Indonesian terms, they earn a reasonably good daily income of between 50.000-75.000Rp by making two trips a day but the impact to their health is high. The miners generally work without any protective gear so long term exposure to sulphur fumes and contact with the skin and eyes has left many of them with chronic chest and eye ailments and facing an early death.
More recently, Ijen has gained increasing attention from tourists since National Geographic revealed the phenomenon of its “Blue Fire” to the world. The electric-blue flame is produced by ignited sulphur gases emerging from cracks in the crater wall at temperatures of up to 600C. The flames are only visible after dark so to see it you’ll need to make a 3 hour return trek in the dark but it’s certainly worth it witness such a unique event.
Mount Ijen is approached from either Bondowoso in the west or Banyuwangi in the east. There’s no public transport to Pos Paltuding where the entrance gate is located so a private car with a driver is the easiest option and these can be easily arranged at any of the tour desks around either town.
Expect to pay around 500.000Rp for return jeep transport to/from Bondowoso, including mask and torch or 200.000-250.000Rp for an ojek. The journey takes around 3hrs each way. The road from Banyuwangi is in fairly poor condition so although it’s a closer starting point to Ijen, the trip still takes 3-4 hours and a jeep is the best option. It can be done by scooter (ojek) but it may struggle on some of the steep inclines as you near Ijen. The return trip to/from Banyuwangi costs around 550.000-600.000Rp by jeep or 200.000-250.000Rp by ojek. Ask at the tour desk if gas masks are provided – some do, some don’t.
If your budget is tight, there is a public bus run between Bondowoso and Blawan/Kaligedang via Sempol, the nearest town to the volcano. However, you’d still need to hire an ojek to take you the final 17km from Blawan to Pos Paltuding. From Banyuwangi, the nearest public transport link is to Licin village some 40km from Pos Paltuding and again, you’d have to hire a jeep or ojek for this section of the journey.
Spending a night on the Ijen Plateau isn’t a bad idea, especially if you’re planning to explore some of the region’s other attractions like Merapi volcano. There are several homestays and guesthouses scattered around Sempol offering budget to mid-range accommodation and meals. If you have a tent and sleeping gear, you can use the campground at Jampit just near Pos Paltuding.
The entrance gate for Ijen is located at Pos Paltuding. As of September 2015, entrance fees were 100.000Rp per person. Although there are plenty of guides touting for business by the gate, a guide is unnecessary as the way to the crater is clear and very few speak English so they’re not going to be too informative unless you happen to speak Bahasa Indonesia.
In the past, most people commenced their hike to see the Blue Fire around 1:00-2:00AM in order to see the lights in full glow and to catch the sunrise at the top of the rim. However, from October 2015 the entrance gate only opens from 3:00AM and it can take up to 30min to get your ticket. Given that the sun starts to come up at 4:30AM, that doesn’t leave much time to make the fairly steep 3km trek up the mountainside to see the Blue Fire. It can be done if you’re fit and fleet of foot, but it’s certainly a challenge. Let’s hope common sense prevails and the officials bring the opening time forward another hour. In the meantime, you could try purchasing tickets before the 5:00PM closing time the night before and enlisting a guide to meet you for an earlier start but this will mean overnighting in the area.