To celebrate my good friend Ashley’s big 25th birthday this year, we had deliberated a plan to reunite in Bali to embark on an unforgettable 177km DIY motorbike journey from Ubud to East Java and back through northern Bali.
Our mission: To climb the notorious Ijen Volcano, the quiet but active volcano in East Java, Indonesia.
(If that’s not a way to turn 25, I don’t know what is!)
At 7:30am we awoke to the fresh crisp morning air, inhaled our coffee and began our 4-hour drive through little Balinese villages, lush rice fields and an excitement roaring in our hearts. We made it easily to the port town of Gilimanuk ready to celebrate with a road beer before getting onto our ferry departing for the promise-land and that’s where the term “it’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey” most-likely came from.
A port police officer with a face frozen into an ice-cold sneer looking at us as though we had dollar signs on our foreheads asked us for our drivers license as well as our bike permit – both of which we had.
A poor excuse of having to pay a 500k fee resulted in an array of google translate & bartering down to 200k with the unrelenting officer letting us pass Go like a play in monopoly allowing us to make our way to the ticket booth to pay for our 55k ferry ticket. Despite no beer and getting knowingly scammed; we only looked ahead – across the waters to our further determination to make it to Mount Ijen.
Once on the ferry, Ashley and I darted first thing to the snack vendors booth and to our luck, two glorious and overpriced cans of Bintang were left. Hallelujah!
Without question; we cracked them open; walked outside to an extraordinary view of East Java and laughed as we cheersed to the wind of Bali in the distance.
A 30-minute ferry ride later & we arrived in the town of Banyuwangi, hungry for a proper meal and stumbled across one of the best dishes we’ve eaten in Indonesia thus far costing a mere 26k each including rice, vegetables, fried fish and shrimp as well as the best and spiciest sambal sending our tastebuds soaring.
With full bellies and the evening chill of night approaching; we again searched for an ice-cold Bintang and again failed miserably. (Who knew it was a dry state!)
Our initial plan was to stay up until we had to drive at midnight to the start of mount Ijen but after further thought and already tired from the day’s journey we opted to stay at a sleepy village’s quaint homestay tucked away within the mountain.
A quick nap with less than 3hrs of sleep, we awoke to the bitter cold, layered in multiple items of clothes as though we were off to Alaska & drove through the winding 19km (1hr drive) up the mountain to reach the beginning of our two-hour hike to the blue fire and the top of Mount Ijen, the world’s largest highly acidic crater lake.
As the sun rose over the land and illuminated the turquoise crater of Mount Ijen, the world felt as if it stood still for a moment.
It had been nearly two years since I had traveled and in this moment I felt again; that sense of wonderment and an indescribable connection to the world that you can only feel when you travel; as if you’re seeing the world for the first time.
These are the precious and fleeting moments that allow you to see things clearly and why it is so imperative to travel. To connect again with nature and that the simplest things in life; like seeing the sunrise over Mount Ijen with someone you care about is worth far much more than gold.
Ashley and I stood in awe at the world around us until everyone had left and finally began our descent to the bottom and although we had thought we had seen the best part of the hike, we were blown away further by the ever-changing landscape we passed previously in the darkness of night.
The next morning; bright and early – We packed our things, planned to head straight to the pier but stumbled across a random street festival in Banyuwangi which we had to stop off at given our love of street food. We ate to our heart’s content while handfuls of locals flooded around to take photographs with us being the only foreigners in the town and once our bellies were full, we continued as planned on our road trip back through northern Bali to reach the beach town of Lovina.
With no plans, no accommodation and the sun about to set; we grabbed a few bottles of Bintang and ran to the soft-sanded beach looking for a place to sit. With the inflated beach prices to sit on a lounge chair, we opted for what turned out to be the best view by far: A wooden boat sitting along the waters shore. We cracked our beers, cheersed to his 25th birthday laughing and feeling on top of the world.
By 5am; exhausted yet still pushing through; we proclaimed “who needs sleep!” and sat on the beach hoping to see dolphins swimming at sunrise before our final 22km drive to Tamblingan, Buyan and Beratan Lake before arriving back in Ubud.
With no dolphins in sight by 6am (realizing that we needed to do a tour in order to see them further out) we hopped back on our bikes, stopping along the way to take in nature’s beauty and to our surprise were invited by a local to have coffee and cookies with her and her husband. After an hour of chatting and fueling up on much needed caffeine we reached the pristine lakes and enjoyed the views over a sunshine filled lunch.
By the time we had made it back to Ubud, both Ashley and I were full of sand, a sunburn and bags under our eyes & a memory of a trip we will surely never forget.
Gearing up to depart for our DIY road trip through Bali and Mount Ijen, I’ve learnt time and time again how imperative it is to have peace of mind while on the road (because as I’ve learnt from renting faulty bikes and crashing, having to be rescued in Guatemala after our kayak’s sank, skipping insurance and winding up with a $4000 hospital bill and countless others); you want to make sure all your bases are covered beforehand – for peace of mind and your wallet’s longevity.
Rent a RELIABLE Scooter: Ash and I made sure to rent a reliable scooter in Ubud; paying a bit extra due to unforeseen road conditions (and we’re glad now we did). Make sure to rent a sturdy bike with a higher CC for more power and be sure to check the tires to ensure they have good grip on gravel roads. You need to also make sure to have the green book as well for the bike when crossing over to Java.
Travel Insurance: There are some things in life you can get away with but travel insurance is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.
Our top pick for quality travel insurance was battleface. Not only could we book with them while we were abroad but unlike other travel insurance companies, they ACTUALLY covered the type of adventure travel that has a higher risk for injury (and as any of you know with insurance companies; this typically isn’t the case).
They provided outstanding 24-hour assistance, emergency medical treatment and full peace-of-mind coverage for loss of personal belongings/equipment/money, trip cancellations and personal accidents. Say goodbye to the days of travel insurance that refused to cover the joys of adventure and say hello to our favorite adventure travel insurance we can actually trust.
Find out more at www.battleface.com
Warm Clothing: You’d be surprised but it gets incredibly cold in the evenings and early mornings on the way to Mount Ijen and northern Bali. Head to a secondhand store in Bali before you go; buy a $15 winter jacket, gloves for the drive, good walking shoes, pants and warmer clothes.
Food & Drink: While hiking up Mount Ijen, your excitement and bellies will rumble from the exercise and lack of food. Be sure to pack a few snacks for the journey as well as a good amount of water as there isn’t anywhere to buy at the viewpoint.
We really lucked out with this accommodation. Not only is it in a stunning location but the owners are the nicest people you’ll ever meet. The rooms are clean, the beds are comfortable and they also have wifi. It includes an incredible local Indonesian breakfast.
Address: Jl. Kolonel Sugiono 16, Banyuwangi, Indonesia
Note: Both meat, fish and vegetarian options available.
By far the best meal we have eaten in Indonesia at a mere 26k!
Rent a reliable and sturdy automatic (or semi-automatic) scooter from Ubud with the green book/bike permit the day before your journey.
Wake up at 7:30am and begin your adventure to the port of Gilimanuk.
The ferry takes 45min to get to Banyuwangi.
Adult Ferry Ticket: 5,500 IDR
Motorcycle ticket: 24,000 IDR
Stay overnight at Kampung Lewung Homestay & depart at 12am to drive to the parking lot of Mount Ijen.
Note: make sure to bring a headlight, enough water, warm clothes, running shoes & snacks for the journey.
Mount Ijen entrance ticket: 100,000 IDR
Gas mask rental: 40,000-50,000 IDR (depending on your bartering skills)
You can begin to walk up whenever you’d like; however it’s recommended to not start later than 2am in order to see the blue flame. Afterward, walk up to the top, sit around one of the many campfires to warm up and be prepared to be blown away as the sun starts to rise.
Everyone typically leaves after the sun has risen but we recommend staying until nearly everyone has left. From here, slowly make your way back down and enjoy the ever-changing landscape along the way.
Stay one night further in Banyuwangi to explore the town or head back to the port to continue your journey through northern Bali.
Stop off at Lovina to watch a magical sunset & catch a local boat at 5AM on the main beach to see the dolphins for sunrise.
Enjoy a few hours strolling through the three lakes (Tamblingan, Buyan and Beratan Lake) on the way back to Ubud.
You’ve now arrived back in Ubud after a 30minute drive from the lake! Crack open a beer, celebrate the incredible adventure you’ve just had and afterward you’ll likely want to catch up on sleep!
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One thought on “Road trip to Kawah Ijen Volcano in East Java”
You had MUCH better skies. We had fog for lots of it, but it enabled us to discover the sulfur mine at Ijen. Did you see it? Here’s our experience –