I'm a freelance writer living in Perth. Having 2 young kids with endless energy, we are always on the lookout for new outdoor activities.
Published August 17th 2013
Visit Bromo in Indonesia and view sunrise at its best
Bromo is one of the most popular natural attractions in Indonesia on virtue of its magnificent scenery. It's located in the province of East Java, about 4 hours drive south east of Surabaya.
Mt. Bromo is the one smoking on the left
When you talk about visiting Bromo, invariably it will be associated with sunrise. It seems to be a general consensus that the best time to see this area is when a post-dawn sun touches the high points of the mountains and as such almost everyone that goes there would go on a Bromo Sunrise Tour. The unique thing about this tour is that it's not run by any travel agency, but by the local jeep cooperative. This cooperative' members are local people who own 4WD cars and they will take turn to take tourists on this tour, thereby earning extra income on top of their day jobs.
This tour can be booked through any local hotel/ travel agency up to the day before the tour itself. What they'd do is collect the money from you and call up the jeep cooperative who will assign a jeep to you. Don't expect a Jeep-brand 4WD car though. A jeep in the local language means any 4WD car. At the time of writing, the tour costs around Rp 500.000,- (approximately 55AUD) per jeep which can take a maximum of 6 passengers. The usual itinerary is as follow:
First part of the service is a very early morning call at 3am or thereabout depending on how far your hotel is from the caldera and how busy the holiday season is. You might be tempted to dawdle on such a cold morning, but it's a good policy to start earlier than your neighbours, to get the nearest possible parking spot. So wear your warm gears, pack some water, snacks and a torchlight if you have one, and head for the hotel entrance where someone in charge will be able to point you to the correct jeep. In the jeep there are two long seats facing each other, so you'll be sitting sideways (unless you're lucky enough to sit in front) and have to hold on for dear life once the jolting starts.
The first stop is Pananjakan, which is a viewing deck located on a high point along the lip of the Tengger Caldera. Here you will appreciate the virtue of arriving early as the approach is a narrow road with no car park to speak of, so the first car to arrive will park closest to the view point, the next car will park behind it and so on. If you're late on a high season, you might have to walk 1km , passing a hundred or more parked jeeps along the way. This is where the torchlight will be handy as there're no road lights (except the tiny ones you could see in the town far below). And if you don't fancy walking, there would be plenty of ojeks (motorcycle taxis which can take one passenger each) to take you right to the end of the road for a fee. In any case, take note of your jeep's plate number before you blunder on so you could go back to the same car without mishap later.
Entrance to Pananjakan with the roofed viewing deck visible in the background
There is a short paved walking path from the end of the road to the Pananjakan view point with stalls along the way selling souvenirs, knitted caps and gloves, instant noodles, bottled water, batteries, anything the locals can think of that you might need. The viewing deck itself is not that big and certainly cannot accommodate tourists vomited by 100 jeeps or so, so on a high season, you have to fight your way up to it, and then defend your position with all you've got. Assuming you're lucky enough to get a prime spot, you will then be rewarded with the view you come all the way here for. At first there was nothing much to see other than the ethereal mountains breaking atop the clouds which laid low below us.
Sunrise at Pananjakan
As minutes went by, the vista would become clearer and clearer as more sunlight penetrated the dawn. To give a short description: In the background is Mt. Semeru, the tallest mountain on Java Island. In the foreground are several shorter mountains, notable ones are Mt. Batok in the middle and to its left the crater of Mt. Bromo, puffing away like a chain-smoker.
However the whole is more than just the sum of its parts. Describing all the mountains in the vicinity will not be enough to explain why this view is special. Looking at the view here you could easily imagine Mother Nature herself very carefully arranged these mountains in the best possible composition after consulting the almighty designer, and the pinkish sky at sunrise seems to enhance the overall colour palate to its best advantage.
Sunrise lends a light pink colour to the view
If you're not in prime position when the first ray of sun hits the horizon, don't worry, the cold will drive the people down sooner rather than later, and when the crowd thins you could then take your turn to take a photograph. The sunrise may have passed, but the mountains will always be there. Some even says the best light to take a photo of the view is not at sunrise, but later in the morning after the sun has gone up, as it will give the mountains their golden glow.
Second stop of the tour would be Mt. Bromo itself. Once your group has assembled back at the jeep, the driver will take you down to the caldera and park at the closest place possible to Mt. Bromo. Parking space is aplenty in this vast sand plain but there are some barriers erected around the perimeter of Mt. Bromo, so the jeeps will park along this barrier.
Jeeps parking along the barrier
As soon as you alight, you will be surrounded by horses. Thankfully their keepers will be around too, to offer you a ride to the foot of Mt. Bromo. Depending on your bargaining skills, I'd say it costs Rp 150.000,- (17AUD) on average to hire a horse for a return trip, payable when you're back where you started. The keeper will walk or run along with their horse, so no riding skills required.
Horse, Sir? Madam?
Walking is of course doable, even for children, as the route is mostly level and the sand is pretty hard-packed by the feet of previous tourists and horses. There's no path to speak of, just go where everybody else goes. Interestingly, you will pass by a Hindu temple named Pura Agung Poten on the way there. It's a lone walled complex in the middle of the Sea of Sand, and to me it should have looked suitably austere and mysterious, except that the effect is ruined by the throngs of tourists milling about.
In a short time you'll reach the foot of Mt. Bromo. If you're on a horse, at this point ask for the keeper's name card. When you're back down later you might have to call out his name as all the horses look similar and the keepers sometimes go walkabout chatting with their friends.
There are 250 steps on the Mt. Bromo staircase. It sounds like a lot but really it's nothing as it's early in the morning, the weather is cool, and the view beautiful. Once you reach the top, you could see the inside of the crater, which is a smoking bowl full of grey rocks. To be honest I've seen more impressive craters elsewhere in Indonesia. But most people would do this since it's included in the tour, while less active members of the group could sit it out in the parked jeep.
View from top of stairs
And that's it. That's the end of the tour. The driver will take you back to your hotel in time for breakfast (around 8 or 9am if you stay in Cemoro Lawang area) and if you're happy with him, you're welcomed to give him a tip (optional).
All in all, I'd say it's worth it. Despite the cold and the cost and the meagre hotel and the early morning rise, it's worth it because of the view. If you could possibly avoid the high season, then please do so. The high season for Indonesia would be around the school holiday (mid June to mid July), Hari Raya Lebaran, and Christmas/ New Year. I've been there when it's busy and also when it's not and the difference is very discernible. I can tell you it's not pleasant standing packed like sardines in the dark while waiting for sunrise.