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The Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park on Indonesia’s island Java has one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. Unfortunately, it is also quite the tourist trap, and with a monopoly on the mountain, the tour companies extort high prices for subpar tours from the visitors. To save your hair from turning gray early, here’s a guide on how to get around the national park without shelling out a lot of money for a tour.
Getting up to Cemoro Lawang without a Tour
Finding transport up the mountain from Probolinggo to Cemoro Lawang, the little village who functions as a base for most expeditions into the park, can be a piece of work. The safest bet – and if you’re willing to spend a bit more money for the sake of comfort – is just booking a transfer from your hotel or previous destination. That will get you there without the added hassle of trying to find your own way up. If you happen to arrive by train, like I did, you will immediately get swarmed by local minibus drivers upon exiting the station. Negotiating a fair price or even bargaining is basically impossible, as they have all banded together in getting as much money out of the tourists as possible. To go to the bus station, where all the shuttles up the mountain depart from, you’re probably going to pay about 15’000 Rupiah (if hell freezes over and puppies rain from the sky) to 50’000 Rupiah (more likely). The drivers, in most cases, will take you to a tour agency instead, where you can either try to get a good deal from them, or insist on being driven all the way to the bus station. Either way, the bus up the mountain should cost you 30’000, a taxi 250’000. Expect a lot of frustration, negotiation and getting diverted to places where you don’t want to go.
Hiking Bromo without a Tour
While shortly before sunrise, the little village road turns into a noisy and chaotic highway, during the day it’s all peaceful and quiet. As popular as the national park seems to be, there are hardly any people out and about on their own. The only travellers I encountered on my hike to Bromo, were a couple of local tourists and the occasional hiker, who seemed equally surprised to see me out there as I was encountering them.
As soon as you get up to Cemoro Lawang and go stand at the edge of the caldera, you will notice that the national park has a fairly easy layout. Thanks to the caldera with it’s four peaks – including the smoking volcano Bromo – staying oriented is easy.
Follow the main road through the village all the way to the edge of the caldera, where you will get a great view over the crater and can see the Bromo peak not too far away in the middle of it. Keep following the road, keep saying no to locals offering to sell you a horse and keep going downhill until you reach the sand sea. From there, you can either stick to the tracks or just cut across – both works and there is no danger in going off the road. Just head towards the smoking crater that is Bromo, where a path and stairs will lead you the rest of the way.
- Time to get there from the edge of the caldera: About 45 minutes.
- Price: Free.
- Difficulty: Apart from the short hike up the Bromo peak, very easy. I’m not a big hiker and usually fairly out of shape, and it was incredibly easy for me to do.
- Bring: Water & a scarf or a mask to breathe through, as the sulfur that gets spewed out of the crater will sting in your eyes and lungs.
- Do: Check out the Hindu temple located in the sand sea at the base of Bromo.
Seeing the Sunrise without a Tour
The sunrise tours are a big thing in the Bromo National Park and there seems to quite the peer pressure going on – even the biggest skeptics seem to eventually sign up for one. Although I had done most of my hiking without a tour the day before, based on its popularity, I decided to give it a shot as well for the sake of an article. But after an admittedly terrible tour, I unsurprisingly had to conclude that it’s not worth it at all and a good experience at Bromo is better achieved alone.
Here’s how the tour works:
Pick up time at the hotel is sometime between 3 and 4am, depending on how competitive you are feeling that day. The earlier you get there, the better, as there are literally hundreds of Jeeps loaded with tourists going to the same spot. The drive to the viewpoint takes about 45 minutes in complete darkness and as soon as you get close, the congestion starts. At some point, your Jeep will get stuck in the traffic jam, and if you are one of the later ones arriving, you will probably have to hike another kilometer uphill, as there are no more parking spots available further up. The viewing platform is small and crowded with hundreds upon hundreds of people, it’s almost impossible to get a good view, let alone take photos, and if you’re planning on using a tripod, it’s going to get kicked a lot in the crowd. After that, you hike back down and try to find your Jeep in a mass of identical cars. And once everyone is loaded in, you will continue on down to the sand sea, where you will spend another hour and are given some time to hike Bromo.
- Time: Around 4 hours.
- Price: 125’000 Rupiah for a single ticket, 350’000 for a whole jeep. If you insist on doing the tour, try to get a few people together to share the cost of the Jeep, as this will be cheaper for all of you.
- Bring: Food & water if you think you can’t last the four hours till you get back. There are no refreshments on the tour.
If the description above didn’t already put you off, here’s the full article on how my sunrise tour got me stranded in the sand sea.
And here’s how you get to enjoy a beautiful sunrise without a tour:
Of course you can hike to the famous viewpoint yourself, which takes about 3 hours, but the result will be the same: a crowded platform without the chance to actually see much. A great alternative is to scout around the edges of the caldera the day before and try to find a spot you like yourself – there are absolutely amazing views to be enjoyed from just about everywhere. The easiest way is to simply follow the main road through Cemoro Lawang all the way to the edge of the caldera. Right there, just before the road dips down into the sand sea, is a perfectly good viewing area, where you can catch the sunrise and a beautiful view without any crowds.
The conclusion is, that you can have a wonderful time at the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park without ever spending any money on tours. Getting around is incredibly easy and the hikes are manageable, even for beginners. Don’t give the greedy tour companies your money, go exploring yourself and you will have a much better time.
While I tried to concentrate on a guide on how to enjoy Bromo, there are obviously a lot of shitty things going on at this national park.
Brendan’s rant on the place can be found here: Mount Bromo the Overrun