Photo Essay: Sunrise At Mount Bromo - Hiking To Another Planet
Crossing the dusty Sea of Sand and climbing Mount Bromo's crater rim in the late afternoon was awesome and gazing into the crater of an active rumbling volcano is an experience we won't ever forget but it wasn't over yet. Most tourists see the sunrise over Mount Bromo after buying an expensive tour from Surabaya or Probolinggo and they end up being cooped up in a jeep with a dozen other people. There's absolutely no need to buy a tour, though, just stay in Cemoro Lawang and do it yourself!
Hiking up to watch the sunrise at Mount Bromo
If you want to see the sunrise over Mount Bromo you'll have to make a little effort as it requires getting up around 3:00 am and hiking up a hill to one of the viewpoints. Yeah, having to get up in the middle of the night kind of sucks. It doesn't matter if you need to catch a flight or want to see a beautiful sunrise.
But trust me, it's totally worth it and luckily, the hike is not as difficult as it sounds.
Joanna: “For me it was a bit more difficult because I'm not particularly fit. The key is to make the walk at your own pace and you'll be fine”.
There's only one trail and you'll meet plenty of other people going the same way. Just make sure to carry a headlight because for some parts you'll need both your hands. You don't need anything else except for some warm clothes and a camera!
Our guesthouse in Cemoro Lawang was located close to the start of the trail up the hill so we got up at 3:00 am (yep, I knew it would suck and it did) and started walking towards to the viewpoints. There were more people going the same way but luckily it didn't feel overcrowded at all. As we came closer to the viewpoints, little stalls started popping up selling snacks and much needed coffee for sleepy hikers. People gathered around little campfires to warm up because it gets really cold up there and it got even colder later on.
Picking a viewpoint —any viewpoint— on Penanjakan Hill
After an hour or so we started passing the first viewpoints. The famous ones are King Kong and Penenjakan One but we heard these get overcrowded with busloads of tourists taking a guided tour from one of the surrounding cities. We decided to pick one of the viewpoints halfway up but there was a problem; some steep stairs up the hill had to be climbed first and they were not in good shape. It seemed they were renovating them and some some parts didn't even have stairs anymore, just a messy path of broken up bricks an rocks and it got worse...
At some point there wasn't even a path anymore. There were two cables coming from up the hill hanging down and the path and stairs were gone. There was a gap of about 1.5 meters and to get to the other side we would have to climb over the cables. Joanna decided firmly there was no way she was going to climb pass that gap in complete darkness with just a headlight. We had a discussion as I tried to convince her to do it anyway. “No way!”, she said again. I felt defeated and honestly a bit disappointed.
And so we decided to hike a few minutes down again to the last viewpoint we saw. It didn't look like a good one at first but then we found a narrow alley between a building under construction and a fence that led up to... another viewpoint! This one was not to shabby at all. Just a few people were there and the view looked great. There were also some concrete benches where we could sit and wait for the sunrise. Only a few minutes after... oh my god, it got cold. We still had to wait for an hour or so and sitting still on a concrete bench didn't make us any warmer...
The grand finale: Sunrise at Mount Bromo
Around 5:30 am it finally started. The sky on the horizon started to light up revealing the mist between the mountains in the distance. What a great start and then the magic beginns. Every 5 minutes the light changes and the landscape looks different. Brown, blue, red, yellow, orange, purple... we saw pretty much every color during the sunrise and Mount Bromo changed from a pale sandy color to orange and even red.
At some point there was even a small eruption at one of the mountains behind Bromo and Batok. A pink cloud rose up in the shape of a heart. Wow, really!? What a corny volcano! No really, that was pretty much the icing on the cake.
I took more than a dozen photos of the same landscape and they all look different. Sunrise at Mount Bromo is something every traveler wants to see when visiting Java and there's definitely a reason for it. Totally worth the effort of getting up in the middle of the night to hike up a hill!
How to see the sunrise at Mount Bromo without a tour
Stay at Cemoro Lawang. Every hotel and guesthouse there is overpriced but the convenience of location totally makes up for that. We stayed at Rahayu guesthouse and it was more than we expected. Pretty clean, comfortable and spacious with a beautiful view from the building's balcony. It's located at the start of the trail up Penenjakan Hill. You can get a cheaper place further away but then you'll probably have to organize your transport to Cemoro Lawang in the middle of the night or get up even earlier to hike an extra mile or two. Not worth it.
Get up in the middle of the night and start hiking to the viewpoints. Just follow the road passing the Cemara Indah Hotel. It's really easy because everybody starts waking up around 3:00 am to begin the hike. After an hour or so you'll start to see the first viewpoints and from there you can start to look for a good spot.
Which viewpoint is best to see and photograph the sunrise at Mount Bromo?
We didn't hike all the way up to the famous viewpoint Penanjakan One because the road was broken. So we ended up at the one right in front of the first stairs you'll encounter. It turned out to be a pretty good spot with a very good view and not too many people around.
I think any viewpoint between the first one and King Kong are a good choice and honestly, when I check pictures from higher viewpoints I'm glad we didn't go as far because in the end, for my style of pictures, I do prefer the view from where we were.
Joris Hermans is a portrait, documentary and travel photographer based in Belgium. For the last ten years he has been combining personal and freelance work and won several awards among which the Nikon Press Photo Award in 2017. In 2018 he set off on a journey around the world with his girlfriend documenting everything on The World Ahead Of Us...