When Lonely Planet chooses a photo of one of their top sights as the cover for their Indonesia guide, you want to make sure you’ve seen it before leaving the country. Which is why after 4 days in Yogyakarta, I’m taking an eight hour train to Malang in East Java. With one item on my to-do list: to visit Mount Bromo at sunrise, one of the most famous active volcanos in Indonesia.
Malang, East Java
There are several places from where you can start your Mount Bromo tour, but I’ve chosen Malang. Even though it’s a bigger city than Yogyakarta with a population of close to a million people, I find it so much nicer and calmer. It has some beautiful areas with old Dutch colonial buildings, but there’s not that much to do.
So I spend most of my time either catching up on my blog in my favorite café Java Dancer Coffee Roaster, or simply walking around the city. It feels more anonymous. Which is kind of nice compared to Yogyakarta, where I couldn’t take one step without taking a photo with someone or explaining where I was from.
1 Day Mount Bromo Tour
My Mount Bromo tour starts at midnight. It’s a three hour drive to Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, and apparently they want to get there a few hours before sunrise. I’m (still) not sure why, but I need a ride to the volcano so I better make sure I’m ready when they pick me up at the hotel. There are several seats in the back of the car, but when I jump in it’s clear to the both of us that this is not going to work. I’m too tall. For the other girl that’s joining the tour it’s fine, but I’ll be sitting in the front of the car next to our guide.
Mount Bromo Sunrise
The Bromo volcano is the number one place to visit in this part of Java. Before climbing the volcano, you’ll first go to a viewpoint so you can see the sunrise over Mount Bromo. Even though it’s 3 am there are already more than a hundred people waiting. Plus we all arrived in identical jeeps, so we quickly take a picture of the license plate to remember which one is ours.
And then there’s nothing to do but wait. We’ve been told that the sun will rise at 5.30 am, but when that moment is finally there…we see fog. Only fog, nothing else. No mountains, no volcanos, no warm orange glow of the morning light. Nothing. They’d warned us that this could happen. There are no guarantees to get a perfect sunrise and view of Mount Bromo, but what a disappointment. I didn’t get any sleep for nothing. And I do like my sleep.
But this is only the start of the tour, we’re not done yet. The next stop is actually hiking to the edge of the crater. We all get back in our cars and drive on the bumpy roads (which we felt driving up here but couldn’t see) to the volcanos. Slowly the fog is lifting so we make an extra stop halfway to see the view that we had hoped to see at sunrise. It’s still very cloudy, so I can only imagine how spectacular the sunrise could have been.
Mount Batok: the other, not active volcano
Mount Bromo may be what we came here to see, but it’s not the only volcano. Depending on your viewpoint (mine) it’s almost hidden behind the one in the foreground: Mount Batok. And since Mount Batok is in almost every photo you’ll see of Mount Bromo – including the cover photo of my Lonely Planet guide – I actually thought that that was the famous volcano. The fact that it doesn’t have the giant crater and the smoke is coming from the one in the back could have been a clue, but no. All this time I had been taking photos of the wrong volcano. Imagine my surprise when I was suddenly pointed in another direction. Wait, shouldn’t we go this way to…Oooooh, I see. In my defense, I wasn’t the only one.
Hiking Mount Bromo
After walking up to the base of Mount Bromo you then have to climb 253 steps to get to the edge of the crater. There are local people offering horse rides to take you across the crater bed to the steps, but please don’t do that.
Reaching the top is a fantastic experience. Taking in the views and all that steam coming out of the crater. Just one tip: take something with you to cover your nose and mouth. The sulfur makes the air smell like rotten eggs, it’s really bad. And it also makes that you don’t want to stay here for too long.
Other stops on the tour
We walk back to our guide who’s been waiting for us at the Laotian Pasir (Sea of Sand) to take us to two more stops. The Pelangi waterfall (also known as the rainbow waterfall) and the 13th century Hindu Jago temple.
When we’re driving back into Malang it’s around 1pm and the fact that I didn’t sleep last night is now really starting to hit me. So I can’t wait to get a couple of hours of sleep, before returning to my favourite Java Dancer Coffee Roaster café to go through my photos and videos of this amazing experience with a perfect cappuccino.
Where to book a 1 Day Mount Bromo tour from Malang
I booked my tour only three days in advance when I arrived in Malang. I used Helios Tours which came recommended by Lonely Planet. They were great. Because there weren’t a lot of tourists in Malang this time of year, it first looked like I would do the tour by myself which would have made it more expensive. But someone joined at the last moment. I went to their office in the city, but you can also book your tour online via their website.
A similar Mount Bromo sunrise tour – for a similar price – can be booked online with Viator. I didn’t use them this time, but enjoyed other tours I did with them.
Where to stay in Malang
I love how affordable the hotels in Malang are. I stayed at Atria Hotel Malang, which was perfect (and cheap). The rooms are nice and modern, it has a pool and a good restaurant, and its location is pretty central. Just don’t have a massage at the hotel, it was the worst I ever had.
Uber works great in Malang, so once I’d discovered that, I would use them all the time to take me wherever I needed to be for almost no money.
Another hotel recommendation is Hotel Tugu Malang. This elegant four-star boutique hotel is also a museum of Indonesian and Asian art. I had dinner at their restaurant Melati and loved it. A great place to try local food from Java. Going back to the city’s history, they also serve several Dutch dishes. But I’m in Indonesia so why would I want to have ‘erwtensoep’ (split pea soup) – which I normally eat when it’s freezing cold – when I can have super delicious Indonesian food?
Okay, so I didn’t get to take that Mount Bromo sunrise photo, similar to the one on the cover of my Lonely Planet guide that made me visit this part of Java. But I’m still very happy I came. Mount Bromo is definitely worth a visit, even when you don’t get to see the sunrise (although I hope you do). And if you’re looking for an interesting city in East Java to relax, walk around, have excellent coffee and Indonesian food, then you should really visit Malang.