Mount Bromo, the star among volcanoes in Indonesia, is at its scenic best at sunrise, but stay after the tours have gone to feel its sacred splendor.
I first laid eyes on Mount Bromo, on the Indonesian island of Java, in 1991. The sight of the smoldering volcano rising from within an enormous sea of volcanic sand took my breath away. A few travel moments elicit a spiritual connection and stay etched in memory forever; this was one of them. Twenty years later, I was once again enraptured by Mount Bromo.
Mount Bromo Sunrise Tour
Seeing the majestic volcano at sunrise has been a ritual since travelers first started visiting East Java’s Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park. The sunrise tour takes visitors to the top of Gunung Penanjakan. The peak boasts a bird’s eye view of Bromo and several other extinct volcanoes lying within the giant Laotian Pasir (sand sea) that stretches 10 km across the Tengger caldera.
During my first visit, I shared the sunrise with perhaps 30 other travelers. Now, it’s a gong show, with throngs of bleary-eyed tourists making the pilgrimage via a long parade of jeeps. Jostling for position at the peak’s viewing area in the cold pre-dawn, I was skeptical whether this would live up to my expectations.
Despite the crowd of over 200 people, the silence was palpable as the first rays of light illuminated the Bromo landscape. As if on cue, a low bank of cloud lifted, revealing a world of conical volcanoes and smoking plumes against a pink sky. I sensed I was not alone in my awe of this supernatural place.
All too soon, the jeeps snake back down Penanjakan to the caldera floor. Here visitors can walk or go by horseback to the base of Bromo for the climb up the “stairway to heaven” — a 253-step stone staircase leading to the volcano’s steaming rim and ethereal views.
Mount Bromo After the Sunrise
The Mount Bromo sunrise is spectacular, but sadly, this is all that most people see during their few hours at Bromo. By late morning, after the sunrise tours have departed, Bromo is gloriously empty. It’s an eerie sensation walking through the volcanic sand of a deserted Laotian Pasir. The only people we met were locals, sitting near Bromo’s base, hoping to sell dried flower bouquets—offerings to the volcano god. I tossed the small token into the bowels of the volcano, humbled by the powers of nature.
Though the volcano is the star attraction, the countryside below the Tengger rim is wonderful and worth exploring. The mountain villages are pretty and peaceful. The air is clean, and refreshingly cool. Crops cling precipitously to the steep sided mountains. The Tenggger locals, mostly Hindus, add a colourful touch with their beautifully patterned scarves.
Experience Bromo and surroundings after the madness of the sunrise, and fall under its spell.
How to Get to Bromo
Many visitors arrive on organized tours from Yogyakarta, or Bali, which include hotel, sunrise tour, and transport. This can be convenient, but the schedule is grueling and reliability isn’t guaranteed. Most tours arrive at Bromo late in the evening, and depart the next morning directly after the sunnrise tour. Do some research and ask around for reputable agents.
Some tour companies provide a transportation only option. This allows you to stay for more than one night (highly recommended) and select your hotel.
There is a good public transportation network, but it requires time and effort. There are train and bus connections from Yogyakarta, Solo and Surabaya to Probolinggo where you can catch a minibus for the 38 km trip to Cemoro Lawang, overlooking Mount Bromo.
If it’s in your budget, you won’t have a problem arranging private transportation from major tourist centres in Java or Bali.
Where to Stay in Bromo
Most people prefer to stay in a hotel in Cemoro Lawang. It’s a great location at the crater’s rim. Don’t expect good value, you’re paying for location.
An option I like is to stay near the villages of Ngadisari or Wonotoro. If you enjoy walking (uphill) and are in good shape, this gives you the chance to explore the villages and mountain scenery. Yoschi’s Guest House, 4 km from Bromo, is basic and gets mixed reviews, but has a fun travelers vibe. If you can afford it, the Java Banana, 3 km from Bromo, is very attractive and probably the best of the bunch.