Ijen Crater is the biggest crater lake in Java. The sulfur crater lake lies between a natural dams of deeply etched rock. It is 200 meters deep and contains about 36million cubic meters of steaming acid water, shrouded in a smelling swirling sulfur cloud. Inside the crater the different color and size of stones are found. Indeed the crater of Ijen is beautiful garden of stone as well.
The view of sulfur miners who climb and go down to the crater is also amazing. A man puts about 10 kg of yellowish stone in to his basket, before he descends the mountain slope to sell his load, carrying the same basket, going in the same direction, digging the same mineral. It is the natural picture that can be seen everyday.
Ijen Plateau lies in the centre of Ijen-Merapi Malang Reserve, which extends over much of the mountainous region directly west of Banyuwangi and borders on the Baluran National Park in the northeast. As at Mt. Bromo, the caldera is best viewed from the air.
Fortunately, almost all commercial flights operating between Denpasar – Surabaya, Yogyakarta or Jakarta usually fly, if not directly over, then close by Ijen plateau, where the seemingly luminous blue/green crater lake forms an unmistakable landmark. It is beautiful scenery and located about 32 km to the north west of Banyuwangi.
The principal attraction at Ijen is the large Crater Lake that has much sulfur, which lies hidden between sheer walls of deeply furrowed rock at more than 200 meters. The Ijen crater itself lies at approximately 2,300 meters above sea level. It forms a twin volcano with the now extinct Mount Merapi. The enormous Crater Lake, which is 200 meters deep and covers an area of more than meters, a million square meters, contains about 36 million cubic meters of steaming, acid water.
Popular See & Do
Ijen crater shows a special type of volcanic feature common to Indonesia, about 1 kilometer in diameter and 175 meters deep. The floor is covered completely by a warm lake, milky blue green in colours held back by a dam built many years ago by the Dutch, in order to keep the hot, mineral laden water from raining the crop lands below.
The crater can be reached from either the east or the west by any kinds of vehicles, but the second part of the trip covers distance 3 km on foot (jungle track). However, the latter is more popular approach, since the climb from the road’s end to the edge of the lake is only one and a half hours. And a walk around the lake takes a full day.
The temperature drops at night, near the crater rim it can fall to about 5° Celsius. The road ends at Jampit, where very basic shelter is available. It is also possible to sleep in the old vulcanology station further up the hill, now used by sulfur collectors, but permission must be obtained in advance.
The sulfur is transported entirely on foot. In the past, horses were used but they were found to be less practical on the hazardous terrain. Today, the mine yields nine to twelve tons of sulfur per day.
Men carry individual loads of up to 70 kg, often barefooted, up to the rim of crater and then 17 km down the mountainside to a factory near Banyuwangi. The porters are paid by weight. The most important advice if you are traveling to Ijen is: “If you lose your way, just look out for the sulfur trail”. The meaning was clear, since a continuous flow of two ways traffic, carrying the sulfur down the mountainside from the lake and trudging up again to re-load, had left a yellow trail on the well-worn path. The best time for seeing Ijen Crater is at 8 to 9 am.
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.
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.
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.
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.