Ijen Highlands

Travel Guide Asia Indonesia Java East Java Ijen Highlands

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Introduction

The Touristic Park Kawah Ijen was established in 1981. The reason for this is the spectacular sulphurous lake of Ijen Crater. The turquoise-coloured lake is the largest acidic lake in the world, the acidity (pH) in the middle of the lake has been measured as 0.13. This is due to the sulphur fumes constantly rising up, condensing and solidifying. The amount is such that 14 tonnes of sulphur can be harvested daily by miners, doing ‘the worst job on Java’ as phrased by a local guide.
There has always been a modest stream of venturesome tourists visiting the lake, only in the last decade their number has really exploded, from 16,000 in 2011 to 150,000 in 2015! One reason is that access from Banyuwangi has become much easier. Another is the discovery of the eerie blue flames of burning sulphur at night as an additional attraction. Whereas previously the miners were instructed to extinguish any accidental sulphur fire, now they ignite it on purpose. And while they used to surreptitiously sell a ‘sulphur flower’ (a naturally formed piece of beautiful shape), there are now carved statuettes of sulphur for sale. On holidays especially the number of domestic visitors is large, 8,000 on New Year’s Day 2018! This has led the Tourist Park management to start construction of a permanent Islamic prayer building annex toilet unit on the narrow volcano rim, which in turn provoked protests of environmentalists.
The Touristic Park is part of a much larger complex, the Ijen Highlands. The state-owned coffee plantation can be visited and offers bike tours. There is a small Nature Reserve near Blawan village with hot springs and an impressive waterfall. Mount Raung is the most challenging volcano to climb in Java. An easier, dead crater to visit is Kawah Wurung.

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Geography

The Ijen Highlands are the most eastern volcanic massif of Java. The roughly 100 square kilometres area was uninhabited until in the 19th century the Dutch established a coffee plantation there. The highlands comprise several peaks above 2,000 metres, of which Raung (3,332 metres), Merapi (2,800 metres), Rante (2,644 metres) and Ijen (2,368 metres) are the most prominent. Countless rivers run from the plateau in all directions. Worth of mention are Kali Banyu Pahit (Bitter Water River) which originates in the acidic Ijen Crater Lake, and Kali Banyu Putih (White Water River) with its perilous fall in Cedeng Nature Reserve. A sealed road traverses the Ijen highlands from south-east to north-west, connecting Banyuwangi town with Bondowoso town.
In 1920 an area of 2,560 hectares in the eastern part of the highlands was declared Nature Reserve Kawah Ijen Merapi Ungup-Ungup. The reserve comprises Ijen Crater and adjacent peaks Widodaren (2,091 metres) and Papak (2,099 metres), and Mount Merapi. It borders in the west on the traverse road. Kali Banyu Pahit crosses the road at a spot named Ungup-Ungup. The state-owned coffee plantations are located in the north, where the villages Jampit, Kalisat, Sempol, Belawan and Kalisengon take up 4,000 hectares.
Vegetation at an altitude between 1,000 and 2,500 metres is characterized as High Montane Rain Forest. Dominant families are Compositae and Ericaceae. Among the mammals inhabiting the plateau are the endangered Javan leopard, Asian wild dog or dhole, the Javan warty pig and the wild banteng, the leopard cat, the Javan lutung or langur, the spotted giant flying squirrel, the black giant squirrel and the striped ground squirrel, the Javan muntjac, the small Asian mongoose and the Asian palm civet. There are 107 species of birds. To mention a few of the endemic species: the Javan kingfisher, the Sunda minivet, the orang-spotted bulbul, the white-bellied fantail, the green junglefowl and the walik kepala ungu (Ptylinopus porphyreus).

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Sights and Activities

Sulphur carrier in crater

Sulphur carrier in crater

© theo1006

  • Ijen Crater Trek - The PHKA (Forest Protection and Nature Conservation) post at Paltuding is the starting point for a hike to Ijen Crater. There is a small office where one has to register and pay the entrance fee. Also there are a few warung where one can buy water if one forgot to bring it, and on returning one can have a coffee or a mi rebus. The trail to the crater is 3.2 kilometres long, but over that distance one gains 536 metres in altitude. So it takes an hour to an hour and a half depending on your condition. All the while you hike up the path to Ijen Crater, you meet sulphur carriers coming down with their load. By then they have already hauled their 70+ kilograms load up 200 metres from the bottom of the crater. Where the path is narrow, give them right of way! Pay attention to their shoulders, they are deformed and callous due to the pressure of the heavy weight. With luck when you are staying on the crater rim, the fumes clear temporarily and you get a full view of the turquoise crater lake. They say the best chances for that are early in the morning. Most tourists prefer to stay on the rim as soon as they smell a whiff of the stinging sulphur fumes. Yet the path down is not too difficult, especially as a helpful sulphur carrier will point out which course to take. And by luck the wind is such that the path is free of fumes most of the way. When the fumes are bad, this is the advice: pour some water on your handkerchief, hold it between your teeth and breathe through your mouth - not through your nose. The crater is about 200 metres deep, and it takes not more than half an hour to descend into it. Going down into the crater you again meet the sulphur carriers coming up really slowly, putting one foot before the other. If you want to make them happy, bring a few extra bottles of water. They often make their journey without any.
  • Blue fire at night - The typical package tour visit allows for one night to see the blue fire. Tourists arrive at a home-stay by nightfall, and after dinner retire for a short sleep. Wake-up call is not later than 2:00am so that one can arrive at the crater’s edge or down into the crater before daybreak. One is advised to bring his/her own flashlight and dress for the low temperatures at this altitude at night. After sunrise one descends from the crater to the home-stay for a quick breakfast, and then it’s on to the next destination, probably Bali or back to Surabaya.
Sulphur shed

Sulphur shed

© theo1006

  • The sulfur packing shed - A hundred metres from Paltuding Base is the shed where the sulphur carriers bring their load. Here the sulphur is sorted - dirty pieces are not allowed - and packed in bags. Trucks will collect the bags and take them by the mountain road to Banyuwangi. This sulphur is in demand for various industrial processes, among them as sulphur dioxide in the sugar refinery.
  • The bitter-water-river - The sulphurous Ijen crater lake drains through a small river aptly named Kali Banyu Pahit, bitter-water-river. At 2 kilometres from the Paltuding base towards Sempol the river crosses the road. Here you find a gazebo suitable for a picnic, but most passers-by just climb the rocks and taste the water. It is terribly acrid.
Blawan waterfall

Blawan waterfall

© theo1006

  • Ceding Nature Reserve - This 2.0 hectares reserve was established by the Dutch in 1920, and lies on walking distance (1.5 kilometres) of Catimor Homestay at Blawan village. Its main feature is Blawan Waterfall. It is hard to reach the top of this fall and impossible to reach the bottom. One does admire it from a perilous viewpoint halfway the drop of the water into a narrow ravine. A rickety bamboo fence reminds you to stay away from the edge. As one walks higher up, one is likely to meet long-tailed macaques and Javan langurs. And downstream of the fall there is the Goa Kapur (Limestone Cave), actually a ledge under an overhanging cliff in a narrow ravine. To get on the ledge, one has to negotiate a wobbly bamboo ladder. There are warm water sources in the reserve, and at its entrance a hot water pool where one can soak for IDR 5000. A warung serves coffee, bottled drinks and mie rebus.
  • Plantation tour - For those who have more time to spend, P.T. Perkebunan Nusantara offers coffee tours, where one can watch the picking of coffee, selecting coffee at the field and the factory, drying of coffee seeds and the process of milling coffee seeds that produces the special Arabica Instant Coffee. A tour by bicycle or car is also available, during which one visits the flower garden at Jampit, Cedeng Nature Reserve with its waterfall and Wurung Crater. If you want to explore on your own, just rent a bicycle.
  • Raung Volcano - Without doubt the most demanding volcano to climb in Java, and the only one where the use of ropes is needed. For details and perhaps an expedition to join see the Gunungbagging website and/or the Javalava website

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Opening Hours

The Touristic Park Kawah Ijen admits visitors from 1:00am till noon.

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Cost

Entrance fees at Paltuding, the base of the trail to the crater, are the following.
Domestic: weekday IDR 5,000, holiday IDR 7,500
Foreign: weekday IDR 100,000, holiday IDR 150,000
Parking fees: motorbike IDR 2,000, car IDR 10,000.
Masks against the fumes and flashlights are for hire, IDR 25,000 and IDR 10,000 respectively.

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Getting There

Access to Ijen Crater used to be from Bondowoso town. However, since the road between Ijen Plateau and Banyuwangi town has been improved in 2012, the easier access is from Banyuwangi. It only takes an hour by an ordinary car to reach the start of the trail.

By Train

Two air-conditioned Mutiara Timur trains connect Banyuwangi with Surabaya. One leaves Surabaya Gubeng station at 9:00am, the other at 10:00pm. Travel time is about 6.5 hours. There are also two Ekonomi trains, leaving at 4:35am and at 2:00pm. These stop at more stations and take 7 hours or more to arrive. There is no train connection between Banyuwangi and Bali.

By Car

Several car rentals in Banyuwangi compete to take one to Paltuding, the start of the trail to Ijen Crater. Even in the midst of night for those who want to see the ‘blue fire’.

By Bus

Tourists who want to visit Ijen from Bali have to take a bus or rented car to Gilimanuk and the ferry to Ketapang, which is Banyuwangi’s harbour.
From Surabaya there are intercity buses to Banyuwangi.

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Sleep

The main accommodation on the Ijen Plateau is run by the plantation company P.T. Perkebunan Nusantara XII. Tour agents regularly lodge their clients there. So if you travel independently it is essential to book ahead. Both guesthouses are located at the Bondowoso side, 7 kilometres past Ijen volcano if you come from Banyuwangi. For contact and booking, see the website of P.T. Perkebunan Nusantara below.

  • Arabica Home Stay - First choice and located at Kalisat. It has rooms priced from IDR 200,000 to IDR 400,000. The private bathrooms have a water heater. The price includes afternoon coffee or tea as well as a good breakfast. Dinner is charged extra.
  • Jampit Guesthouse - The most exclusive and intended for groups. Located in Jampit at 14 kilometres from Kalisat. Priced at IDR 2,200,000 per night.
  • Catimor Home Stay - Located at Blawan village, with its neatly laid out rows of workers’ dwellings. The most spacious rooms, priced at IDR 400,000, are in the former plantation managers mansion. A row of smaller rooms have been added. There is a swimming pool that you probably won’t use, and a hot pool on walking distance (600 metres). The price includes afternoon coffee or tea, and breakfast. Dinner is charged extra.

If you find the above fully booked, your options are:
- Paltuding shelter at the entrance of the trail, very basic;
- A hotel in Banyuwangi;
- One of numerous homestays and a few resorts that have sprung up along the road between Banywangi and Ijen.

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This is version 9. Last edited at 16:46 on Apr 23, 18 by Utrecht. 2 articles link to this page.

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