Ijen Crater, chasing the blue flames, without a tour

Ijen Volcano, Acid Lake and Blue Flames

The Ijen volcano is located near the eastern tip of Java island, and anyone visiting the island is probably planning a visit to the vast volcanic region of the Ijen plateau.

This region has three volcanos, the Ijen (2368m), the Merapi (2800m) and the Raung (3332m). The vast majority of visitor goes only to the Ijen.

Hiking the volcano, contemplate the Acid Lake, the Blue Flames and the sunrise can be done easily independently without a guide or a tour.

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Getting There

You can get to Ijen via Bondowoso or Banyuwangi. 

Java is well connected by bus so its easy to get to one of these towns from any place in Java.

To get to Ijen you will need to rent a scooter or hire a taxi. If you are used to drive a scooter, the roads to Ijen are really good, and because you do it during the night there is no traffic, plus the route is quite straightforward and well sign-posted.

At the entrance

Once you arrive you need to go in direction of the building where you can buy the entrance ticket. It costs Rp.100,000 (~£7.10) on weekdays and Rp.150,000 (~£10.60) on weekends for foreign visitors.

Ijen – chasing the blue flames

To chase the blue flames its starts with a midnight hike to the crater edge, although is a steady walk up a hill, it’s no easy task.

Once you get to the crater rim, you’ll find lots of guides offering to help you on the way down, but it’s up to you whether to get one at this point, to be fair you don’t need one at all.

Whatever you decide to do, the only thing that really matters is to put the gas mask on and keep it at all times, the sulphuric fumes are toxic, corrodes the skin, stings the eye and cause breathless.

Descending to the volcano crater

When you start descending the terrain turns to boulders and rubbles and its important to take care where you step. The rocky path down to the crater is breaking up because of the number of people walking on it daily.

Be mindful that you will not be the only person doing this journey, the place is completely packed with tourists plus you have the miners making their way back up with their baskets full. Its horrible to see the miners working in conditions that can only be described as hell —a portrait of bone-crushing physical labuor.

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Once inside the crater, you can see the blue flames of the sulphur mine if the weather allows it. The ones I saw where quite small, much more impressive than the flames are the miners work in such harsh conditions, where is almost impossible to breathe.

The ‘Blue Flames’, are Sulphur gas escaping from the walls of a dormant volcano igniting to 300 degrees when in contact with oxygen.

At the time I visited the Ijen, it was really cold and very very windy, that means that the visibility was terrible plus the fumes were blowing in all direction. When the fumes are on top of you, you can’t open your eyes and is really hard to breathe, would I repeat the experience, probably not.

After you’ve explored everything inside the crater,  climb up to contemplate the sunrise overlooking the landscape.

Once the sun is up, the views over the largest acid lake on earth are quite nice, this lake has a pH lower than that of battery acid, caustic enough to dissolve metal, can you believe it?!

The way down from the volcano rim is not easier than the way up, I’m sorry to say it..  the downward slope is absolutely killer on the knees.

Essentials:
  • gas mask
  • rain jacket/windbreaker
  • warm clothes and gloves
  • proper shoes
  • head torch
  • snacks and water

The rest of the Ijen plateau area is worth exploring, with its breathtaking views, countless streams and hot springs and coffee plantations. There are also a few nice isolated settlements.

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If the crowds, toxic smokes are nor for you, you may prefer visiting the magnificent  Mount Bromo.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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