Ijen Crater: One Night in the Heart of the Toxic Volcano

At 1 am with gas masks hanging around our neck and only the light of our flashlights we started our steep climb up to the top of the mountain, followed by an even steeper descend of a few hundred meters right in the heart of the toxic Ijen Crater.

This is the very brief recap of our expedition to Ijen, a spectacular active volcano in Eastern Java.

It was an idea of the sweetest one who had heard about the one of a kindblue flames that can only be seen by night at the bottom of the crater.

We started our tour from Bali. The tourist agencies around Seminyak didn’t offer a great variety of trips outside the island so after a quick research on Google we stumbled upon Ijen Expedition, an agency specialized in tours to the omonimous volcano. I contacted them a couple of days before the day we wanted to go and they replied immediately even if it was Saturday.

We quickly arranged the pick at our hotel and two days later, at 6:30 pm our journey began.

The first step was to reach the public ferry in Gilimanuk (the most western part of the island) , so that we could cross the Bali strait and go to Java. The distances in Bali are short but not so the time necessary to go from one point to the other as the roads are well maintained but small. After a few hours drive we caught the ferry which was quite an experience itself. The journey only lasts 30 minutes but it is like a full immersion into the local life. Old tv and karaoke of old-but-gold Indonesian hits were just part of the entertainment on board. It was fun to watch the locals enjoy themselves, while hoping that our ferry won’t make it to the news for sinking in the middle of the night.

Once we arrived in Java we had another couple of hours driving past small towns and the lushest forests I have ever seen. We arrived at Ijen star point at midnight, one hour before the gates open so we had time to indulge in some spicy mie goreng and a hot tea in one of the local, super basic restaurants at the parking lot.

At 1 am we started our climb on the steep path where the only source of light came from the flash lights our guide Sony provided us with. There were other small groups as well and also many miners who were heading to work so it wasn’t scary at all to walk in the mountain at night as I initially thought it would be.

It took us around two hours to reach the crater rim from where we started our hike down on an extremely steep and rocky path. I did most of -the 45 minutes of climb down using my both hands as a support as slipping into the darkness was so not-on my-to-do-list.

When we reached the bottom we could see the blue fire right in front of us. It might look like a lava at first moment (not from my photos though, I stil have to work on my night photography skills) but is actually an ignited sulphurus gas which emerges from the cracks at temperatures up to 600 degrees Celsius (1.112 degrees Fahrenheit). Those gases are directly originated from the magma chamber under the volcano.

I also wanted to get closer to the inviting azure waters of the lake a little further down. It also happens to be the largest acidic lake in the world with Ph under 0.5 ( I wonder what would have happen to my finger if I had put it in the water).

But I didn’t make it to wait for another hour for the sun light to come and illuminate this wonder. After more than an hour in the crater I felt the urge to go back up. There were some huge gas clouds and when the wind was blowing in our direction they got us covered from head to toe and no gas mask was enough to stop the toxic gas penetrating our lungs. I am quite sure we lost a few years of our life in that volcano.

We got on the top right in time for the sunrise. A breathtaking landscape unfolded in front of our eyes. And this was the view that made all the effort and sleepless night worthwhile.

Should I ever do this tour again I would do it by day. The majestic scenery of active and inactive volcanos and lush green valleys all around is far more health friendly than the toxic gas and the not-so-wow blue fire.

If you ever find yourself in the area and want a one of kind experience try the Ijen Crater Tour. It will be an experience to remember.

We did our tour with Ijen Expedition. You can see all the adventure they offer and the prices on their website.

Here are some pictures from that epic night, including one with our guide for the mountain climb – Sony. The yellow rocks in the baskets are actually sulphurus, weighting around 70-90 kgs that the miners need to bring on their shoulders all the way up from the crater and then all the way down to the the starting point.

N.B Tips for your trip to Ijen Crater:

  • dress warm, the temperatures during the night are around 10-15 degrees.
  • be sure to have a good gas mask
  • if you want to help the miners buy them a gas mask, most of them don’t own one because they are too expensive

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