Updated: Aug 16, 2019
East Java was undoubtedly one of the coolest destinations during our month in Indonesia. Easy access to volcanos, acid lakes, and waterfalls galore, I mean what more can an adventure junky ask for! The back to back sunrise wakeup calls were exhausting, but we were on a mission to beat the crowds and that is exactly what we did. If time allows, i'd recommend giving yourself more time to relax in between experiences to get the most enjoyment out of them as possible. Here's everything we did in 4 days exploring East Java!
Our route to East Java wasn’t the most common or recommended one. We were in North Bali, checking out the Sekumpul and Fiji waterfalls, when we decided to hop over islands. Google and numerous blogs recommended flying from Denpasar, or taking a bus from there or Canggu. However, we noticed that there was also a ferry that went back and forth from Bali to East Java multiple times a day. It left from a little town on the western coast called Gilimanuk. This seemed more practical and cheaper, even though we couldn’t find too much information about it. Regardless, it seemed straightforward enough and we set off on a taxi to the port! All about the adventure right? The moment we arrived we knew the dynamic had changed. Not one person spoke English! Eventually, we made it to the ferry and about 40 minutes later, we got off in East Java.
*Note: The moment we stepped out of the taxi at Gilimanuk, we were harassed by loads of locals trying to get us to pay more for speedboats to East Java. They also tried telling us that the ferry was running late, and wouldn't leave for 4 hours. Don't be afraid to pass them and continue heading towards to terminal if you prefer to take the ferry.
Because we decided to enter the island from the Eastern Coast, our first destination was Mt. Ijen. We had heard about the blue flames in the volcanic crater and we couldn’t pass it up. We worked with a local company in arranging our transport to and back from the Volcano, but the hike itself we did on our own. We woke up at midnight, and made the 45min drive to the base. There we had some Nasi Goreng (fried rice, which we had some pretty much daily haha) for “breakfast” and a coffee, rented some gas masks, and were on our way. The reason you have to start so early is because the blue flames can only be seen during the night and once the sun is up, they’re gone. Also, if you plan to go into the crater the masks are recommended. The smoke from the sulfur can be pretty intense and if the wind blows it your way, your eyes will water and throat will close up. Fun fun stuff.
Unfortunately, I started getting really nauseous the moment we began the ascent. I thought I could walk it off, but 20 minutes later I was keeled over. As much as I didn’t want to, I decided to turn back while Jose kept going. Once at the bottom, I sat down for an hour 1/2 trying to wait out the stomach pains and nausea. It's been a dream to experience Ijen, and I couldn't just let it slip away. I'm not even sure what had come over me, but I picked myself up, ignored my stomach, and began the ascent up again.
After a good 2 1/2 hours or so, I finally reached the top. It was still pitch black outside but there were people scattered all over waiting for sunrise. I figured Jose would’ve come back from seeing the blue flame by then and most likely be somewhere pretty high up, so I continued up and along the crater rim. Without a sense of direction, I cleared some bushes and spotted a dark figure crouched over a camera. I had a gut feeling and called out, and sure enough, it was him! He was in total shock that I was there. I felt accomplished knowing I could now witness this view, and together we waited for the sun to rise.
The blue lake was impressive, and I thought it totally formed the shape of a heart! Seeing it along the soft light and the toxic gases rising from the rocks was stunning, and unique. It was beautiful a sight, and so incredibly rewarding.
Immediately after returning to town from Ijen, we packed our bags and headed to the train station. We had an option of traveling by bus or train, and given that the price difference was minimal we went with the train. We took a 4hr train to Probolinggo, our home base to see Mt. Bromo. It was comfortable and went without a hitch. We arrived at the hostel and saw that they had a sunrise tour for the volcano, so we joined in. That same night, we were up at 2am. Got picked up and drove to the Seruni viewpoint, which lets you admire the landscape from a distance. Once there we decided to take a trail that led us higher up the mountain for a better view of Mt. Bromo. This area is called King Kong hill. We hiked for about 30 minutes, until we found a place we liked. Even though we didn’t get the cloud inversion we had seen in photos, it was still an impressive view, and given that Mt. Bromo was erupting, smoke rose from its crater. After taking all the photos we wanted, we returned to the car and drove to the base. Unfortunately, because of the volcanic activity, we weren’t able to hike around the crater. This made our visit that morning a little shorter and we headed back to the hostel.
Tampa Sewu + Kabut Pelangi
Given that we were relying on public transport to make our way through East Java, our best option to get to Tumpak Sewu was by bus. We first took one to Lumajang and then a smaller one that dropped us off in the neighboring area. These buses were cramped, AC-less, and filled with people smoking. It was pretty horrible. However, after more struggles trying to communicate with locals and a 10 minute car ride by the son of a man who approached us when we got off the bus, we arrived at our destination for the night. We found a place literally in front of the entrance to the waterfall, so we were able to sleep a few more hours than the previous two nights. We woke up around 5:45am and began our trek down.
The waterfall was impressive from above, seeing this massive hole with the water pouring down. But then the fun part began: the hike down to the bottom! Because we were there during rainy season we dealt with more rivers than usual. The steep bamboo ladders were run down and luckily ropes or steel bars had been put in place to hold on to when walking down wet rocks. Eventually we made it down. One last river crossing led to the place we wanted to reach. Luckily the water only reached below the knee, and I had sandals with straps. The current was strong but nothing to worry about. We climbed a few rocks and reveled in the awesome view. Being there that early meant having the entire experience to ourselves and recommend doing the same if you plan to visit. It continues to gain popularity and who knows how long it’ll be before it begins to get packed.
We were back at the homestay around 8:30am, and with enough energy to keep going we picked another waterfall nearby. There’s plenty in the area and they’re all amazing. We took a couple ojeks (the scooters with drivers) and 10 minutes later we were hiking again. This one was less popular and you could tell by the path, but it was still easy to follow. We had to cross more rivers this time, but we were ready. Another epic waterfall under our belt, we were ready to head back. That afternoon we took two buses to Surabaya, where we caught a flight back to Bali the next morning.
All in all, East Java was absolutely incredible. It gave us more of that outdoor/adventure feel compared to the more relaxing vibes of Bali. And spontaneously deciding when and how to travel from town to town without being able to properly communicate with the locals was a challenge that made for some fun stories. Hope you liked my journey through East Java, ask away if you have any questions!