The incomplete guide to Ijen Crater’s blue flames and the world’s largest acid lake

There are a few places in this world, where you can see blue flames bursting out of the earth’s crust. And most of these rare but awe-inspiring appearances occur at active volcanic sites.

In Banyuwangi Regency in East Java, Kawah Ijen (pronounced ee-jern) claims 2 world records. One, having the largest and maybe the tallest blue flames in the world. Second, having the largest and most acidic lake in the world. Earlier this year, Ijen had been added to UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

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And it wasn’t till recently, that we’d checked off this bucketlist destination, from our list, when we were flown in from Bali to Banyuwangi’s small airport, after our beach holiday on the Gili Islands.

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If you had studied chemistry in school, were an avid reader of Popular Science, or maybe a read the encyclopedia at least once in your life, you’d probably know that the blue colored flames are hotter than red flames, and/or are the result of sulphur(sulfur) gas combustion. For Ijen Crater, the blue flames were the result of super hot sulphur gasses escaping from the deep recesses of earth then combusting on surface air.

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Besides sulfuric gasses escaping from the earth’s crust, hydrochloric acid penetrates the ground to contaminate the water on the crater to the level of 0.5 pH making a very acidic body of water on the Ijen caldera. The body of water happens to be the largest and most acidic mass of water in the world so don’t drop your gear in it or stroke the water with your bare hands.


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Peering down the steep and treacherous trail into the crater

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Sulfur miners average 2 trips a day from the bottom of the crater to the foot of the mountain carrying 70-90kg load which they dig up themselves. They make USD0.08 per kg. Not the easiest or the most lucrative job in the world.

 

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Miners sell natural sulfur formations and moulded sulfur sculptures to visitors to supplement their income. They also provide visitors an opportunity to try out their shoulder yoke with load for a fee.

So is Ijen crater at 2799m easy to conquer?

Yes it is. Anyone with a moderate fitness can easily attempt this attraction. It is only a 3-5km km hike from base camp, Paltuding, to the top of the crater – depending on whether you wish to walk to the end of the crater ridge. There are some steep sections but with some patience and perseverance, you can conquer them. The other challenge is overcoming altitude sickness and stinging sulfuric fumes. If you do not head down to the crater, the fumes will be manageable for most. The hike down the steep rocky path takes a minimum of 20 minutes, depending if there is a crowd and if its in darkness. In day light, one can walk to the waters edge.

Do you need a guide to lead you up to Ijen? Unless you are a traveler who seeks plenty of information on a location or traveling with young children, a guide isn’t necessary. The path is easy to identify and difficult to stray off.

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Blue Inferno

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Blue sulfur flames are not visible during the day. It can only be seen in low-light or darkness so a midnight excursion is best because when you do the late night program, a beautiful sunrise is the bonus if the skies are clear. When day light breaks, one can capture an envious breathtaking Instagram shot at the end of the crater ridge.

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Ijen’s acid lake seen from crater ridge. Visitors can walk along the ridge to the right.

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Sulfur gas emissions are odoriferous so if you intend to descend to the source, you will need a good pair of gas masks unless you don’t mind choking or your eyes stinging incessantly with the fumes while simultaneously trying to get a good foothold on the uneven rocky terrain. As you get closer to the flames, the fumes get more concentrated. The dense white smoke passing your path will cut your visibility to nearly zero. Enterprising Indonesian youths at the top of the crater will approach you to ask if you need a pair of gas masks (half face) which they will rent between IDR30,000-50,000.

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Hiking up Ijen under the starlit night

 

Getting to Ijen Crater

There are 2 ways of getting to Kawah Ijen. One is via Banyuwangi and the other Bondowoso. Banyuwangi is the easiest route to Ijen as the road conditions are good and transport services is easily organized. The destination is Paltuding which is the base camp to enter/ascend Kawah Ijen.

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Lovely landscapes at Ketupang Indah Resort – our stay before the midnight hike.

If you are coming from Bali then Banyuwangi will be your route either by air or by sea. By sea, one would need find their way to Gilimanuk harbour to transfer by ferry across to Ketapang Harbour then organize overland transfer to Ijen via Paltuding (45km). Some hardcore travelers have organized a round-trip program from Bali to Ijen with no sleeping accommodation.

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Entrance up to the crater at Pos Paltuding. Entrance fee for Foreigner IDR100,000 (weekday)/ IDR150,000(weekend). Local IDR5,000/IDR7,500 respectively.

Alternative entries to Ijen is via Bondowoso which is at least 2 hours drive to the foot of Ijen. We’ve been told that the road conditions from Bondowoso is pretty poor hence the journey could be a lot longer and more difficult to organize.

Baluran National Park

50km north of Banyuwangi town towards Sumberwaru town in Situbondo Regency is Baluran National Park. For those wanting to add a bit of wildlife sighting in their itinerary before or after Ijen, this is a good destination.

Marketed as ‘Africa in Java’ because of its savanna plains, the verdant national park boasts of over 400 species of plant, over 150 bird species, and nearly 30 species of mammals which includes the endangered banteng (South East Asian wild cattle), Sumatran dhole(wild dog), Indian barking deer, Java mouse-deer, fishing cat, Javan leopard and Javan lutung (monkey).

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Baluran Savanna plains. Shot with Lumix

We spent half day here which wasn’t enough to explore most of the attractions. Apparently there is a beach as well as mangrove forest besides the savanna plains and lowland forests.

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Get a leg up. Shot with Lumix

 

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Banteng. Shot with Lumix

 

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Shot with Lumix

The journey into the park from the main road is a 12km poorly managed dirt trail. An offroad truck, or motorbike is the best vehicles used to drive in. If you are travelling in a regular car or bus, its an arduous ride in. You are better off riding a mountain bike in. Entrance fees for foreigners IDR150,000 (weekday) and IDR225,000(weekend). Locals pay IDR15,000 and IDR17,500 respectively.

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Mount Baluran (1,247m) the highest peak at the park. Shot with Lumix

 

This trip was sponsored by Tourism Indonesia. CCFoodTravel maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site as always.

All images shot by us are captured using Sony DSC-RX100IV unless otherwise stated. Watch our slideshow for other images on our Banyuwangi odyssey.

 

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