Indonesia: Java’s Volcanic Mount Bromo

The Indonesian island-hopping continues…with a train journey from Yogyakarta in central Java, cutting across the island to infamous Mount Bromo, on Java’s east coast.

Apologies for the poor-quality scanned 35mm film photos. Negatives and prints are in an unfortunate condition from decades of less than optimal, storage.

Mount Bromo

A surreal, dreamlike panorama spills out with Mount Bromo (Gunung Bromo) billowing smoke against a moonscape-backdrop to the lava sand below. A spectacular volcanic and otherworldly landscape that escapes words. You would be forgiven thinking that Tolkien used this landscape for his Lord of The Rings trilogy. Of the five volcanic peaks that emerged from an ancient volcano’s caldera, four are active.

Mt Bromo, Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

The panoramic vista from the top of Mount Bromo at 2,329-metres high is breathtakingly stunning. Ethereal. Lost for words, you can only sit and stare into this exquisite natural beauty.

Located in the middle of an expansive plain named the Sea of ​​Sand, this active volcano in the Tengger mountains is as mesmerising as it is dangerous. Smoke creeps slowly, curling and blanketing the crater-like mountain cliffs, lingering throughout the mystical barren landscape and dancing across the horizon, until night falls. Deep blackness dissolves one remarkable vista to reveal another – a beautiful starry-lit extensive sky, under the cold, clear blackness of night.

This wonderful Amazing Places on our Planet video by Milosh Kitchovitch gives you a taste of Mount Bromo, although the park seems much busier with tourists than a couple of decades ago, in 1998.

Jeep trip to Mount Bromo’s peak

Meeting a Dutch couple last night at the pleasant Lake View Hotel, decide to split costs for the memorable jeep trip to the top of Mount Bromo. The hotel’s paper-thin walls force a sleepless night, and we are ready at 3am to start the jeep tour at 3:30am for the journey to Mount Bromo.

Pitch blackness and cold greet us as the jeep heads into a fathomless terrain, towards the imposing shadowy mountains. It’s not long before our jeep is greeted by a plethora of tourists, bikes, and more jeeps all funnelling towards the same destination – scrambling to watch the sunrise from the top of Mount Bromo.

Dropped off at the viewpoint, icy-cold winds bite exposed bare skin in this 2°C clime. Without shelter from the elements, teeth chatter from the bitter cold, while waiting the long hour for the sun to awaken from its slumber and deliver a fantastic spectacle!

Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

Pale colourful hues develop into deeper shades, painting an esoteric majestic canvas. Cloud slivers streak and etch the sky momentarily, until swirling into the distance leaving wispy traces in the deepening horizon.

Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

The viewpoint takes in Mount Bromo (2,329m), Mount Batok (2,400m) and Mount Semerau (3,676m) in the background. As the sun rises higher, the volcano puffs out thicker smoke, creating a tremendous and magnificent scene.

Our trusty, jeep driver takes us to the start of the climb for the crater, with a deluge of other tourists vying eagerly for a space.

Guides and their ponies await anyone not wanting to endure the steep 20-minute-climb to the beginning of the 249-steps, which ascend to the top. Of course, there is a fee for a guide and pony. Horses and ponies laden with people larger than the animals, scurry up and down the volcano in a military procession.

Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

Not wanting to watch the ponies and horses work so incredibly hard, I decline the offer to hire one, so starts the arduous climb while inhaling sulphur fumes, until reaching the steps. The almost 90° angle of the stone steps is an even tougher climb. Sulphur fumes become thicker and harder not to breathe into your lungs, the higher the steps ascend.

Finally reaching the top and gazing down from Mount Bromo’s peak, impressive manmade Hindu Temple Pura Luhur Poten in the distance is dwarfed and insignificant, surrounded in a canvas of nature’s barren landscape and volatile volcanoes.

Hindu Temple, Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

Peering deep into Mount Bromo’s abyss, the caldera’s thick acrid fumes force our eyes to weep as we momentarily look away, to take respite from the burning sensation.

Mt Bromo, Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

Formed approximately 820,000 years ago, Mount Bromo’s endless cavernous cracks from eruptions across centuries scar its caldera, creating a moonscape still life.

Mount Bromo’s descent is slightly easier, although the sulphur fumes never abate…

Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park

Covering 800-square kilometres, Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park is the largest volcanic region in east Java’s central province.

Declared a national park in 1982, the famous Tengger – Sea of Sand – spans 10-kilometres across an ancient caldera and is the only conservation of its kind in Indonesia. Mount Bromo’s continuous eruptions over the decades, buries volcanic sedimentation of sand across this land-sea.

Getting to Mount Bromo

Map of Mt Bromo, Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

Travelling in Indonesia during 1998 is challenging and sometimes painful.

I wonder whether the decades have changed this…the long journey from Yogyakarta to Mount Bromo isn’t easy.

Yogyakarta to Surabaya

Leaving crammed Tugu Train Station in Yogyakarta on the Kereta train at 15:45 this afternoon, the train slices across central Java to the Gubeng Train Station in Surabaya. Trying to stay off Indonesia’s dangerous roads for a while.

Train from Yogyakarta to Surabaya, Central Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

The executive train is really the only way to travel – no traffic, fast, and worry-free.

Arriving late in the evening after an uneventful trip, hustling Becak drivers pounce on us once again – we are a captive audience.

Decide to evade these relentless hustlers and walk laden with gear for a while, only to discover that the hotel is fully booked. Continuing the walk, through several dark and dingy lanes to the Centrum, and hopefully a quiet bed for the night.

It is 1998 so no mobile phones or internet at your fingertips, telling you where to go and what to do, especially when in a foreign country. Although a little more stressful, I much prefer this intrepid type of travelling.

Train from Surabaya to Probolinggo

Many travellers use the bustling city of Surabaya as a base to visit the active and famous Mount Bromo volcano.

Settled in the 10th-century, only spend overnight in Surabaya before it is time for another train trip. This time, only for a quick 2-hour journey to Probolinggo, which is at the base of Mount Bromo.

Train from Surabaya to Probolinggo, Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

Pulling out of busy Surabaya, the train heads south until reaching picturesque lush-green paddy fields. Incredibly, houses and shacks are perched precariously close, almost kissing the train line.

Arriving at Probolinggo, a rustic public bus takes eager passengers on a wild trip. Winding around sheer hills while ascending the mountain, cabbages, corn, and potatoes dot the steep mountainsides, which fall deep into nothingness.

Everything is grown up here and everything is cultivated manually as it’s not possible to get machinery across the mountain’s dangerous slopes. At over 2,000-metres high, the farming against the mountainsides is impressive.

Lake View Hotel

Arrive at the Lava View Hotel in the hamlet of Cemoro Lawang to an even more incredible sight. The hotel rests at the edge of Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park – overlooking but opposite Mount Bromo – spectacular.

The hotel offers rooms with hot-water showers. Although, as all are fully booked, a room with a freezing cold-water shower is the only option tonight and with the colder ambient temperature at this height, showers are brief.

The hotel offers a restaurant and also another close by, both of which offer poor service and mediocre meals – full of tourists, this is not surprising. After waiting an hour for food to arrive, the meals are missing the main ingredients – chicken and prawns. Only receiving Mie soup and vegetables, the rest of the meals arrive later after asking again.

The location of the hotel is a bonus as you can head out for stunning photos any time of the day or night – sunset is marvellous.

Leaving Mount Bromo

Decide the next island-hop is to Bali. With a touristy reputation even in 1998, only spending a few days there before another island-hop…

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more global images. More posts at Image Earth Travel.

10 responses to “Indonesia: Java’s Volcanic Mount Bromo”

  1. Giovanni Augello Avatar

    Another very interesting article! Thanks for sharing

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for the great feedback Giovanni!
      Hope all is OK with you.

  2. wetanddustyroads Avatar

    This was quite an adventurous day you’ve had! Yes, I must agree reading about your trip, it surely was a different way of traveling in 1998 😊. And what an amazing video – really captivating!
    The only volcano we’ve ever visited, was Mount Etna in Sicily back in 2011 … and it is still a wonderful memory.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes, travel in 1998 was so different to these days (or pre-COVID).
      Although I was in Italy for 4 years, didn’t climb Mt Etna, just drove around it when we spent 9 days in Sicily. Etna was still impressive and look at it in the news these past days…

  3. Christie Avatar

    Wow, speechless, indeed, such an amazing view from the top!
    Glad you were able to have a great trip, you still have such vivid memories😍

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      It was an amazing view!
      I do still have vivid memories, but not for place names and finite details, which is where my travel journals come in… 😉
      Hope all is well with you Christie. 🙂

      1. Christie Avatar

        All is pretty well here, thank you! So ready for the spring😉

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Bet you are, we’re just in Autumn now so starting to get a little chilly. xx

  4. the eternal traveller Avatar

    What an adventure! I’ve always fancied seeing a volcano, although the terrible disaster in New Zealand put me off a bit.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      It certainly was an adventure Carol!
      I love the challenge of climbing a volcano even though I may not get to the top. Not sure if you’ve read my post on Vulcán Villarrica in Chile>

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