Sunset and Sunrise on Mount Bromo: How to Visit Mount Bromo Without a Tour
I’d heard mixed reviews about Mount Bromo, the most famous volcano on the Indonesian island of Java. Some people had dubbed the volcano super touristy and thus effectively ruined, while others had said it was stunning and therefore unmissable.
As it was a logical halfway point between my first stop in Indonesia- Yogyakarta and the island of Bali where I was planning on heading to do some diving, it made sense to listen to the second camp and pay it a visit anyways. And I’m so glad I did. The sunset and sunrise I spent on and around Mount Bromo was one of the highlights of my whole eight months in Southeast Asia. It’s the first active volcano I’ve ever visited, and walking along the crater is not something I’m going to ever miss.
Should I Visit Mount Bromo With a Tour?
There were numerous tours of Mount Bromo leaving from Yogyakarta or from other nearby towns such as Surabaya or Probollingo. It is cheaper to visit Mount Bromo independently and without a tour, but it doesn’t work out much more expensive to hop onto a minibus tours. However, there were a few reasons I decided to do Mount Bromo on my own, none of which had to do with money.
So those people that dub Mount Bromo super touristy and ruined? Chances are most of them visited on packaged tours. The problem with the tours is that they all have the same schedule. They drop you off at the same sunset spot and afterwards they take you to visit the crater- along with the hundreds of other people that have also booked a tour. Yes, visiting independently might take longer and be more effort but it’s easier to avoid the crowds. Instead of visiting the crater after the sunrise, we visited for sunset.
Not only was this spectacular but we only shared the crater with about 10 other visitors. The same with sunrise, we hiked to a spot a bit lower than the typical sunset point and still got a great view of the sunrise without having to share it with literally hundreds of people.
So I’d absolutely recommend allocating the time and a little bit of effort that it takes to do Mount Bromo on your own (or with some cool kids you met at your hostel in Yogyakarta like I did).
Getting to Mount Bromo
Probably the biggest headache of visiting Mount Bromo without a tour is getting there on public transport. Mount Bromo is accessed from a small mountain town called Cemoro Lawang. The only way to reach the town via public transport is to hop on a small shared mini-van from Probollingo. You’ll catch this at the Probollingo bus station.
It sounds easy but the biggest difficulty is reaching the Probollingo bus station in the first place. If you’re coming from Bali or from places in Java such as Jakarta or Yogyakarta, the easiest and most comfortable way to travel is going to be to catch a train. You’ll arrive at Probollingo train station and then need to hop on a shared little mini bus that can drop you off at the bus station. The issue is that the driver of this small mini bus will most definitely try to drop you anywhere other than the bus station. They’ll tell you that the minibuses to Cemoro Lawang are finished and that they can drop you at a tourist agency that can organise you a private car for a exorbitant price. This can be extremely frustrating. The way my friends got around this problem is by telling the driver clearly that they had booked a hotel nearby the train station that was going to be organising a tour for them to Bromo the next day. This tended to work although beware that you’ll be dropped about a kilometre from the bus station. The other way to avoid this problem is to catch a bus directly to Probollingo from Surabaya (there are also more frequent trains to Surabaya from Yogyakrta)- but once again you’ll have to make sure the bus driver doesn’t drop you off at a tour agency.
The other issue is that the small bus to Cemoro Lawang will only leave when full, so you could be waiting hours before getting a ride up the mountain. If there are less of you you can always negotiate a price between yourselves to get the bus going earlier, as the whole price must be split between everyone. There is no way to tell how long you’ll be waiting but if you arrive earlier in the day chances are you’ll have to wait less. Unfortunately, the train from Yogykarta arrives in Probollingo at 4pm at the earliest, and I had friends that had difficult filling a ride up to Cemoro Lawang. But if you have a lot of patience, an extra night to kill in Cemoro Lawang or perhaps Probollingo and want to save some money then this is going to be the best option for you.
I was running short of time so my plan was to catch an early train to Surabaya and hop on a bus to Probollingo and therefore arrive directly at the bus station and way earlier than the train could have gotten me there. I was hoping that I’d arrive in Cemoro Lawang in time to catch the sunset from the crater. Be booked the train directly at the train station the day before for 155,000 ruppiah.
However, when we arrived in Surabaya we had such a big headache trying to get to the bus station from the train station, and a train delay looked like we were very likely to miss that sunset. So, both of us (myself and my friend Dom who I’d met in Yogyakarta) decided to splurge a little and book a direct car to Cemoro Lawang from Surabaya. And by splurge, I mean we split a car for 300,000 ruppiah ($28 AUD). Not bad for a ride that takes longer than three hours. This got us into Cemoro Lawang well before sunrise.
Where to Stay in Mount Bromo
Cemoro Lawang is notorious for having bad accommodation. Everything online has terrible reviews and is so overpriced that some guides and blogs recommend skipping an overnight in the town altogether and instead making a day trip from Surabaya or Malang.
Upon the recommendation of a friend we walked in and booked a room at Homestay Yog for 250,000 ruppiah for the two of us. It wasn’t the most amazing accommodation but the showers were hot (something that was amazing given the freezing cold mornings in Cemoro Lawang) and the beds were relatively comfortable and more importantly bed bug free.
Walking the Crater for Sunset
One of the biggest ways to save money when visiting Mount Bromo is to use the free trail to the crater. At the main entrance, you will have to fork out a staggering 200,000 ruppiah (or up to 300,000 ruppiah on weekends) to visit the volcano. If you are on a tour this is a cost you can’t avoid as all of the group tours will take you to the main entrance. However there is another path to the volcano that completely detours the payment checkpoint. If you download the app maps.me it is marked clearly on the map as ‘villagers path to Mount Bromo’. It’s completely free and located only a couple of metres down the road from Homestay Yog (just beside Cemara Indah).
It took us about forty minutes to walk from our accommodation, down the villager’s path, across the desolate sand landscape leading to the volcano, and up the volcano and into the crater itself. So, make sure you set off well before sunset.
For someone as unfit as me the incline up the ash covered steps to the crater was a bit of a workout but well worth the effort. However, the walk itself is exceptionally beautiful. I particularly loved the walk from the bottom of the villager’s path to the crater itself, across the ash sand. The landscape was so different that I felt like I’d arrived on another planet.
By the time, we reached the bottom of the crater we could already hear the booming sound of the volcano. For someone like me that had never been so close to an active volcano it was a surreal moment. The awe only increased when I arrived at the top of the crater, more than a little out of breath but so excited to be witnessing the sights and sounds of my very first volcano.
There’s a reason I recommend hiking the volcano in time to watch the sunset, the golden hour glow and then the sight of the sun setting from the crater was nothing short of magical. I remember proclaiming to my travel buddy as we watched the sun start to set while hearing the boom and echo of the volcano, that Mount Bromo had skyrocketed to one of my top ten travel moments. And even ten months after visiting I still stand by that statement.
I usually love to stay at a sunset spot for at least an hour after the main event, the colours of the sky are always spectacular. But unfortunately, we were too afraid of hiking down in the full dark, without appropriate torches or lights and decided to head down those stairs just after the sun had disappeared behind the nearby volcano.
Given the time and the prospect of another forty-minute walk back to our accommodation and up the sandy path of the villagers trail, we decided to pay 40,000 ruppiah each and hopped on one of the moto taxis that was waiting at the bottom of the crater. This is a decision I instantly regretted as we went flying across the ashy sand with the wheels spinning and the bike sliding. I was more than a little excited to arrive back in one piece.
After a cheap local meal in a nearby restaurant we headed to bed early to prepare ourselves for the early morning wake up call to watch the sunrise.
Sunrise Overlooking Mount Bromo
We set our alarms for 2.30am to have more than enough time to hike up to the viewpoint to watch the sunrise over Mount Bromo. To get the best view for sunrise we had to hike about an hour up a road leading up nearby Mount Penanjakan. From our accommodation we followed mostly a tarred road until we hit a path further up to the viewpoint. Again, we used maps.me to make sure we didn’t get lost- the way to the view point is clearly marked. If you book a tour you don’t have to walk up, they’ll drive you up to the viewpoint. You can also book a moto taxi if you’re lazy. While the walk was strenuous I managed to do it and I’m completely out of shape.
Perhaps the hardest thing about the hike wasn’t the incline but the fact that we were doing it in pitch black and it was so bloody cold. Given the warmest things in my southeast asia wardrobe was one light hoodie and a pair of leggings, I was very relieved that my travel buddy Dom was about to move to New Zealand and thus had plenty of warm clothes for me to wear. Despite this it was still a freezing walk, and it only got colder when we reached the viewpoint and waited for the sun to rise. But like anywhere in Southeast Asia (or the world really) there is also a little old lady willing to make some money off our discomfort, and we were super relieved to be able to buy hot cups of tea, coffee and chocolate at the viewpoint. They even had cups of instant noodles!
But the early morning start, the slightly difficult climb and nearly freezing to death were worth it as we watched the sun begin to rise over Mount Bromo and the bigger Mount Semuru. It was hands down one of the best sunrises I have ever seen. I must have taken hundreds of photos as the sun slowly began to rise. Make sure you stay well after sunrise, that was when the light got even more fantastic and some of my favourite photos are from the hour we stayed at the viewpoint after the sun was well and truly in the sky.
Leaving Cemoro Lawang
It was a slightly easier walk downhill back to our accommodation where we squeezed in a quick warm shower to defrost before packing our bags and heading to the middle of town to catch the shared bus down to Probollingo. Luckily other traveller had the same idea. We didn’t quite have enough to fill the minibus but managed to all agree to pay 55,000 ruppiah each in order to set off with ten people. From Probollingo you can catch a bus or train to nearby destination such as Surabaya, Yogyakarta, to Mount Ijen or Ketapang to catch the ferry to Bali.
I went a bit crazy on snapchat and in my excitement posted heaps. I’ve saved my story from that day if you want to check it out.
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