We were making our way West from Lombok to Yogyakarta and had a few extra days to play around with so we decided to make a pit-stop at Gunung Bromo, one of the most famous and popular volcanoes in Indonesia, located in central Java. We had originally hoped to spend our extra time in Flores and Komodo (namely seeing the Komodo dragon and scuba diving), but when the only flights we found were over $300pp round trip, we thought that a $40 flight to Surabaya, where we’d head to Bromo from, was the more practical choice. But don’t worry, we’re already planning a return trip to Indonesia to visit Komodo and also either Kalimantan or Sumatra to see the orangutans.
We had a long day of traveling to get to Bromo. First, we flew from Lombok to Surabaya (only a one hour flight but no time change). Then we took a 2 hour bus from Surabaya to Probolingo and then finally another 90 minute bus to Bromo. When we arrived in Probolingo, we were dropped off at a tour company who tried to sell us all sorts of different packages for Bromo, but most importantly told us about a $27 fee pp to get into Bromo National Park (usually we pay more like $5 to get into a National park, at most). We hadn’t heard or read anything about this fee and since this was just a little detour for us on our way to Yogy, we really weren’t interested in spending an extra $50 there, on top of what it would cost us to do the sunrise jeep tours around the park (which is the most popular way to see Bromo). After talking to several people, most of whom also hadn’t heard about the fee (it must be a very new thing that they’ve implemented as later we searched online and couldn’t even find anything there about it), we spoke to one guy who said that his friend had been there a week before. She had said that many people were paying the fee, but there were also ways around it.
The man at the tour company laughed at us when we said we didn’t want to book any of his tours because we wanted to try to find a way around paying the fee. He said that there was a 200% chance we’d pay it. Those who didn’t were very, very lucky. Well, we hoped to be one of the very lucky ones (we’d have been ok paying the fee if it was something everyone was paying, but if some people weren’t paying it, we wanted to be in that group!).
We finally made it to Cemoro Lawang, the town right outside of the national park. We got settled and immediately went on our quest to find a ride (with no fee) for the following morning. As I mentioned, the most popular way to see Gunung Bromo is via a jeep tour. You’re picked up at 4am, driven to a sunrise view point to see the volcano, then driven to the volcano itself, which you can climb (about 15-20 minutes) to peek into the crater. The tour itself cost about $12 pp but it of course did not include the entrance fee. This seemed pretty crazy to us to sell a tour and then tell your customers that they have to pay another fee, two times the price of the whole tour, just to get into the park. So, the jeep tour was out for us.
The second option for getting around Bromo is to walk. It’s about a 2 hour walk to the view point and then another hour to the volcano, plus the 20 minute walk up. Well, considering we were still sore from our trek a few days earlier of Gunung Rinjani, we didn’t really want to walk. Plus, while you can get to the viewpoint without paying, we heard that you’d still have to pay to climb the volcano. So, that was out too.
Just when we started to lose hope and think that maybe this whole little side trip of ours had been a mistake, we started talking to an older man hanging out in town. Johnny, who seemed to be very well-connected in the area (he told us that he has 300 friends!), told us that he could take us on a motorbike on a secret road to both the view point and the volcano to bypass the fee station. The most amazing part was that the price he agreed to was even cheaper than what we would have paid on the jeep tour – $10pp. We were skeptical, but we made plans for him to pick us up at 4am with 2 motorbikes and drivers (the town we were staying in was tiny and while we were talking to him, Johnny seemed to literally know everyone in town, so we figured he was probably legit). We figured that at 4am, if he didn’t show up, we’d either try to find another motorbike, or most likely just suck it up and pay the fee and take a jeep, at least knowing that we’d tried our best to get out of it.
We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in the little mountain town, had a nice local dinner, and were asleep by 9pm.
Our alarm went off at 3:30am and by 3:45, Johnny and one of his 300 friends were already waiting outside for us. We couldn’t believe he was actually there! They drove us down the road and all the sudden told us to walk up a driveway, turn left, and wait by the light. They’d meet us there. This seemed a little sketchy, but we did as we were told and low and behold, this took us right on the other side of the fee booth. We have no idea how no one’s manning this area, but hey, we can’t complain.
Johnny and his friend drove us the 1 hour to the viewpoint (it was a bit scary riding the motorbike in the dark down the very dark, foggy, and sandy road, but it was also exhilerating), showed us where we could get a coffee while we waited for sunrise, and then took us up another secret path so we could check out the view without the huge crowds right below us. These guys were amazing!
As the sun came up, we got our first view of Gunung Bromo and the surrounding mountains. This was the third (and final) volcano that we’ve seen in Indonesia and also probably the most impressive. The volcano looked as though it was coming right up through the clouds, which was pretty awesome. We admired the view as the sun came up and then got back on the bikes to head over to the volcano.
As we started to get closer to the volcano, the air started to smell really strongly of sulfer. When our guys dropped us off, we were immediately offered surgical masks to purchase, which we did, as soon as we started hearing everyone around us coughing up a lung.
We spent about 15 minutes climbing up to the crater rim of the volcano and once we got to the top, aside from the awesome views of the clouds and other mountains, we could actually look into the volcano crater and see smoke coming out of it. I’ve never seen anything like that before. We spent some time walking around the crater rim (Dave walked a little further than me because I was a little nervous of falling into the volcano after my many spills down Rinjani a few days before) and taking in the amazing view before heading back down to find our bikes..
Johnny and his friend drove us back from what turned out to be one of the best mornings we’ve had on our whole trip. And, the fact that we saved $50 made the whole experience just that much better.