Getting to Mount Bromo Without a Tour
I caught the two hour train ride from Surabaya to Probolinggo, which was delightfully uneventful and braced myself for the craziness that would be catching a ride from Probolinggo to Cemoro Lawang, the closest village to Mount Bromo.
You guys, the internet exaggerates. The process to grab a ride to Cemoro Lawang was so uneventful, I’m going to describe everything in excruciating detail, it’ll make waiting three hours for a minibus/van to leave seem dramatic af. Straightforward information on how to get to Bromo can be found at the bottom of this post.
My non-dramatic transit adventure to Cemoro Lawang
After disembarking from the train at 11am, I did a loop around the station to get my bearings. There were exactly two dudes asking if I wanted to grab a bemo. I politely declined (“Tiduk”) and for some reason that sent them laughing.
The nearest ATM was down the road to the right of the station. On the right was a series of motorbikes, but none of the drivers were giving rides. They all said I had to take the bemo.
So I took the freakin’ bemo. The driver tried to charge me 20 IDR, but I said I’d only pay 5 (that is the set cost; bemo prices shouldn’t be negotiated). The driver said he’d take me for 5 in the empty vehicle, but if I wanted to ride in the full vehicle it would be 20. In hindsight I should’ve just paid the 20 because I’m pretty sure that caravan was full enough to head straight to Cemoro Lawang. I only have the skills to negotiate one step at a time, though, leave me alone.
The driver, Ollie, drove for 20 minutes before stopping at a banana stand. Don’t ever let them tell you there’s no money in the banana stand, because I bought the hell out of those bananas. Anyway, we eventually got to another stand which was supposedly the bus station. Twelve dudes were hanging out on their motorbikes and immediately greeted me, asking where I was from (hint: USA is never the right answer). There were no other tourists in sight, so I got to be the VIP for an hour.
“Would you like some coffee or whiskey?” One asked.
“Coffee sounds great,” I said. Whiskey, on the other hand, sounded suspect. Actually, accepting coffee from a group of 12 guys on the side of the road also sounds suspect, but girl needs her caffeine.
One of the guys started taking pics of me with his phone. “Want a picture?” I asked.
“Yes, picture, picture!”
The group crowded around and then they each started taking pictures with their phones.
“Okay, okay, that’s enough!” I said. “My boyfriend will get jealous!”
And that’s how Felipe, my Filipino boyfriend, was born. Felipe was also traveling on his own in Australia, and the two of us were meeting in Lombok for a romantic getaway. We met each other in University and were friends for five years before dating for one year. His parents worked for the Filipino government in Manila. I’m very close to his family.
“You’re very nice.” My new friend said, moving his hand off my shoulder. Felipe wouldn’t like that. After about an hour of back and forth with the motorbike brigade, wondering if I was even in the right place, a bus pulled up and two very tall white dudes hopped off.
“Cemoro Lewang?” they asked.
“That’s what they told me,” I replied.
“Great. So if we’re fucked, we’re all fucked together.”
Fifteen minutes passed when a rickety green van pulled up and the driver came out and ushered the three of us inside. And thus began our journey… about three blocks down the road. The driver dropped us off in front of a series of street food stands and told us we needed to wait for 12 more people to show up before leaving for Cemoro Lawang.
My two road companions and I ordered the Indonesian staple nasi goreng (fried rice) and swapped stories. Both of them were former Israeli combat officials taking a gap year to travel before heading off to university and were on a mission to hike Mount Bromo without having to pay any of the exorbitant park fees. (However, the story they were telling the Indonesians was that they were from Hungary. Fun fact, Israelis aren’t allowed into Indonesia.)
“Same here,” I said. “I have all of the directions sketched out. It should be pretty easy to bypass the main entrance into the park.”
After another hour of waiting, small groups of tourists began appearing. First, two Indonesians from Jakarta. Then three students from Singapore. Then a couple from New Zealand, and then two backpackers from Germany and an Australian. Our van was almost full.
“Let’s see if they’ll just let us leave now,” the taller of the Israelis said. “I don’t want to miss sunset.”
The driver told us that if we left with two seats empty, we’d all have to pay a higher fee to make up for the vacant seats. An extra 5000 IDR to get on the road was fine with me, but the Australian was not having it.
“They told me it would be 40000 IDR to take the van, and I’m not paying more than that!” she exclaimed.
“I’ve been waiting for three hours, and I’m tired of sitting in the sun.” I retorted (See? I can be an aggressive American sometimes). That changed her tune, and within a few minutes, all of our packs were strapped to the top of the van and we were on our way.
The scenic drive to Cemoro Lawang took almost two hours going up the mountain and through several villages. About half of us hadn’t booked any accommodations, so the driver suggested we stay at his uncle’s homestay, which was located within 100m of the park entrance. The Israelis, the German couple, and I took him up on his offer, and soon enough we were settled in. It was 4:00pm at that point, and we had about an hour and a half before sundown.
Hiking to Mount Bromo’s Crater at Sunset
There are a few different trails you can take to see Mount Bromo, one of which includes going up to the crater. To get to the crater without having to pay the park fee, you simply have to leave late enough and no one will be at the gate entrance to charge you.
If someone is still working at the gate, go around the right side of Cemara Indah Hotel to where the green gate is, and you can simply walk through to a path going downhill to get to the Sea of Sand.
The total amount of time it takes to hike from Cemara Indah to the Mount Bromo crater is about one hour. After following the foot path of vegetation (watch out for the horse poop!), the path opens up to this vast landscape of black sand and ash. At this point, there’s no real path, so just walk towards the volcano.
As you near the volcano, you’ll pass a Hindu temple. The temple was closed by the time we got there, but it didn’t stop the taller Israeli from climbing over the walls for a peek.
After a bit more walking, you’ll reach a motorbike stop, where you can hire a motorbike to take you up the rest of the way. The total distance from the motorbike stop to the crater is a very steep 1km. We decided to walk it. Being from Chicago, the land of no elevation, the hike was a bit challenging for me, but definitely doable. And it was definitely the easiest hike of the three I was doing in the next 48 hours, so I like to think of it as a warm up.
After the steep walk uphill, you climb 200-some steps to get to the top of the crater. We got there with just a little bit of light left, enough to take a few pictures. Since we were hiking at sundown, we were the only five there. Win.
Since we didn’t want to lose all of our light while we were on the crater, we didn’t spend too much time at the top. The Sea of Sand is devoid of any light, so we used the lights from the village, our headlamps, and the Israelis’ keen navigation skills to get us back to Cemoro Lawang.
We had enough time to grab some dinner and a shower before settling in at 8pm for our early morning start; the five of us planned to start our hike up Mount Penanjakan for the sunrise at 3am.
A Summary of How to Get to Mount Bromo Without a Tour
- Take a train or bus into Probolinggo. Plan on getting to Probolinggo no later than the early afternoon. A lot of blogs suggest stopping in Surabaya or Malang for the night, but personally, I did not think Surabaya was worth the stop overnight. I’ve heard similar things about Malang, but Malang’s locals sounded more welcoming from what others have said.
- Take a bemo from the train station to the Terminal Bayuwangga bus station. The bemo driver will likely take you on a detour to his friends’ food or tour stands. It’s up to you whether you want to buy something or not. But the bemo ride itself should only cost 5000 IDR. It won’t look like a bus station; it will look more like a bus stand, or it will be a series of food stands, depending on where the van is when you arrive.
- Get in a green van. The van should fit 15 people. Be prepared to negotiate the price depending on when you arrive and how many people are there. With a full van, you should pay about 45000 IDR.
- Arrive in Cemoro Lawang. Reserving your accommodations in advance is not necessary. Our homestay cost 100000 IDR per person. I’m grateful that I did this because I gained a good group of people to hike with.