Kawah Ijen Volcano: The Mount Ijen Crater Lake & Blue Fire In Banyuwangi, Indonesia
The Kawah Ijen volcano and crater lake in Banyuwangi is hands down one of the world’s most spectacular sights. Don’t leave Indonesia without seeing it, especially if you’re already visiting Bali!
The lake at Mount Ijen is the biggest acid lake in the world, and it’s also famous for a crazy phenomenon known as the ‘Kawah Ijen blue fire’, where you can see hot blue flame burning like lava in the dark!
The good news is that the Kawah Ijen lake is pretty easy to visit from Bali and other parts of Indonesia. Most people either visit Ijen on an overnight tour from Bali, or do it as a road trip combined with Mount Bromo and other epic sights in East Java.
This travel guide will explain how to get to Kawah Ijen, where to stay, entrance fees, safety tips, and everything else you need to know before you go!
Where Is It?
Mount Ijen is an active volcano crater located in East Java, Indonesia.
Kawah Ijen (which means ‘lonely crater’) is near the seaside town of Banyuwangi, which sits on the far eastern end of Java island.
Java was actually connected to Bali by land in centuries past, and even though the two islands are separated by water nowadays, you can still travel between them easily.
How To Get To Kawah Ijen
There are three main ways to get to Kawah Ijen:
- Drive and take the ferry from Bali, or
- Fly to Banyuwangi and do the short drive to Kawah Ijen from there, or
- Do a multi-day road trip across several points of interest in Java
I’ll explain each of these options below, and then we can discuss the hike itself!
• Drive To Ijen From Bali
Doing a Mount Ijen tour from Bali can be a great option because Bali is already so popular and easy to reach.
Kawah Ijen and Banyuwangi are connected to Bali by a ferry service that runs 24/7 (every 15 minutes). The ferries are dated but comfy enough, and they cross the Bali strait in just 30-45 minutes.
If you’re staying in the main tourist areas of south Bali, it’s a 4 hour drive to the ferry port at Gilimanuk, and then after crossing you’ll have to drive another 1.5 hours to Ijen.
In total, you can expect about 6-7 hours of transit time in each direction, so it’s not really possible to do this as a day trip from Bali. You’ll need a minimum of 2 days and 1 night.
You can easily arrange this trip with your favorite Bali driver or book a tour online, but I wouldn’t recommend driving a scooter all the way from Bali to Ijen because the road at Gilimanuk is notoriously dangerous for motorbikes.
• Fly To Banyuwangi
Banyuwangi has its own airport (BWX) and you can easily fly there from Bali, Jakarta, or Kuala Lumpur.
This is one of the quickest and easiest ways to get to Ijen, and it’s still pretty economical. One way ticket prices can be as low as 300k Rupiah ($20 USD).
Once you’re in Banyuwangi, it’s still a 1 hour drive to Mount Ijen from the town, but you can easily arrange this with your hotel or book a tour online.
• Road Trip Across Java
Another great way to visit the Kawah Ijen volcano is to take an epic road trip / tour across East Java, stopping at all the best sights like the Mount Bromo sunrise, the Ijen crater, and some of Java’s famous waterfalls like Tumpak Sewu.
That was how we visited Ijen for the first time, and it was an unforgettable experience. The only downside is that a full road trip like this is more expensive, and it takes more time.
You’ll need at least 3 days, and even that’ll feel rushed. The nice thing is that you can organize a Java road trip starting from Bali (and ending there), or you can do it from a city in Java like Yogyakarta.
Take a look at my 1-week Java Travel Itinerary for more ideas!
Best Mount Ijen Tour Package
Here are some good tour packages for visiting the Kawah Ijen volcano:
- From Banyuwangi: Kawah Ijen Crater Lake Sunrise Tour
- From Bali: Overnight Tour To Blue Fire Kawah Ijen Crater Lake
- From Bali: 3 Day Overland Tour To Mount Bromo & Ijen Crater
We’ve used GetYourGuide for lots of tours and activities around the world, and they’re great! Highly recommended.
Kawah Ijen Hike – What To Expect
- Distance: 6 kilometers (3.7 mi) return
- Elevation Gain: 435 meters (1,430 ft)
- Start Elevation: 1,865 meters (6,120 ft)
- End Elevation: 2,300 meters (7,550 ft)
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Duration: 3-5 hrs return
• Midnight Hike
The hike to the Kawah Ijen volcano normally starts with a midnight pickup from your hotel in Banyuwangi, a 1 hour drive to the park entrance, and then a crowded (but dull) hike up the mountain in the dark.
The main path is all dirt and fairly steep, but it’s well defined and family friendly. You will definitely work up a sweat because of the incline, so for people who don’t do much hiking I’d rate it as moderate.
The first 2/3rds of the path is the steepest part, but then it levels out and becomes flatter when you’re getting close to the finish line. It’s a one way distance of 3 kilometers (1.8 mi) and you gain about 435 meters of elevation (1,430 ft).
If you’re really feeling lazy (or in a hurry), you can pay the local sulfur miners to push you up the hill on their trolleys for like 400k Rupiah ($28 USD). Seriously! There are lots of these guys on the trail and they’re very persistent trying to sell rides. We found it annoying, but I suppose they wouldn’t be there if plenty of tourists weren’t happy to pay it.
In total, the hike to the lake takes about 1.5 hours depending on your pace. If you walk quickly I’m sure you could do it in 1 hour, and even slow hikers won’t take more than 2 hours to reach the lake.
A tour guide is not required for the hike, although it can be helpful to have one if you want to see the Kawah Ijen blue fire.
For those of you who plan to skip the blue fire (like we usually do) you don’t need to start at midnight, although I would still recommend you start early and try to reach the Kawah Ijen crater lake for sunrise if you want the best views and pictures.
The sunrise at Kawah Ijen is not anything special in itself (actually it’s blocked by a mountain), but the colors on the lake are nice and it looks downright mystical in the early morning. We started walking at 3 AM, and that was perfect.
• Kawah Ijen Blue Fire
After arriving at the crater lake, most tours will immediately start to hike down into the crater to watch the Kawah Ijen blue fire. You can only see it in the darkest hours of night, so there’s a limited window of time to see it before the sun comes up.
This electric blue flame is a unique phenomenon caused by sulfur gas burning at temps of up to 600 °C (1,112 °F). The only other place on Earth where you can see ‘blue lava’ like this is in Dallol, Ethiopia.
Still, the blue flame (and the hike down into the crater) is completely optional. The path is crowded, it’s steep and rocky, there’s a nasty cloud of sulfur making it hard to see or breathe, and it’s very hard to get decent photos of the blue fire in the dark.
Unless you’re a professional photographer, you won’t get any great pictures of the blue flame (that rules me out). And even if you are, it’s still a huge challenge to try to capture.
If you decide to go down, this part of the hike takes about 45 minutes in each direction (plus an elevation change of ~150 meters), since you have to go back up from the same way you came.
• Kawah Ijen Crater Lake
The best thing to see at Kawah Ijen is the turquoise crater lake. It’s super photogenic, but I think the best time to take pictures is right before the sunrise or else a few hours after.
This 700-meter wide lake is actually the biggest acid lake in the world, and there are a bunch of different nice viewpoints around the rim of the crater.
The best photo spot is a ‘sunrise point’ with some twisted trees (GPS here) that you can reach with an extra 30 minutes of walking. After you reach the main view of the lake, just turn right and keep walking along the crater rim in a semi-circle until you find it.
If you have time, I would really recommend staying here after sunrise and waiting until the sun hits the Kawah Ijen lake itself. Most people leave before then, but the sun really lights up the turquoise color and it looks absolutely unreal.
• Sulfur Mining At Kawah Ijen
One of the unique things about the Kawah Ijen volcano is that it’s mined for natural sulfur deposits, which come from an active vent inside the crater.
This is one of the hardest jobs in the world because the workers are carrying 90 kilo (200 lb) loads of sulfur, while constantly being exposed to a smoke cloud with almost no protection. We saw guys using shirts over their mouths and some with no masks at all.
Breathing in sulfur like this 24/7 is terribly unhealthy, and if I had to guess, these guys probably won’t live to see old age.
The sulfur is used in cosmetic products, and the miners only earn about $15 USD per day, which is considered good pay in this part of Java compared to the living costs.
The other hurdle is that they have to carry the sulfur baskets up out of the steep crater, and then all the way down the mountain, making multiple trips per day.
Remember to give the miners the right of way while they’re working, and if you plan to take pictures of them you should ask permission before you whip out your camera.
Usually they’ll ask for a small tip in return for photos. We gave a guy 20k Rupiah (~$1) and he appreciated it. On a busy day, I’m sure they get plenty of tips!
Is It Safe?
Mount Ijen is generally safe to visit, but if you have asthma or any kind of breathing/health problems, I would definitely skip the blue flame and just enjoy the lake from above.
The sulfur cloud inside the crater is very nasty (even with a gas mask), and the wind can blow it in your direction at any time. If you stay out of the crater, sulfur gas is not really an issue and you won’t need a gas mask (although it still doesn’t hurt to have one).
It’s a good idea to check the current status of Kawah Ijen before you make travel plans, because it is an active volcano after all. The Indonesian government will close the park if they notice tremors or unusual activity.
Eruptions at Mount Ijen don’t seem to be very common, but they do happen from time to time. 49 sulfur workers were killed in a gas explosion in 1976, and another 25 died in 1989. More recently, 30 local people were hospitalized by toxic gas after a small eruption in 2018, and a sulfur worker drowned in a 3-meter tsunami from the lake in 2020.
I don’t want to scare you, this is just a reminder that safety is never 100 percent with a volcano. But in the case of Ijen, I’d say it’s mostly safe. If you really want to maximize your safety, just skip the blue flame and stay outside of the crater. That’s where most of the accidents have happened.
With that said, the Kawah Ijen volcano does get hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, and those incidents are the only ones I’m aware of in the last 50 years, so I’d say it has a pretty good safety record overall.
Kawah Ijen Entrance Fee
- Foreigners (weekdays): 100k IDR ($7 USD) / person
- Foreigners (weekends): 150k IDR ($10 USD) / person
- Domestic: 5k IDR / person
These entrance fees are current as of 2021.
Usually if you book an Ijen tour, the entrance fees are already included in the total price of the tour, so that’s something to double check.
Weather / Climate
Even though this is Indonesia, Mount Ijen can be pretty chilly before sunrise since it’s well above sea level.
Temperatures can drop below 7 Celsius (45 F), and it can get windy too since you’re on an exposed mountain.
Still, it’s best to dress in layers, because when you’re hiking up the mountain you’ll warm up pretty quick and may even get hot.
What To Bring
- Gas Mask: If you plan to see the Kawah Ijen blue fire, you will definitely need a gas mask for that part of the hike. These are usually included with Ijen tours, or you can rent them at the entrance for 45k Rupiah. We bought ours for 85k on Shopee and had them delivered to our hotel in Bali.
- Goggles: Most people only bring a gas mask for the blue flame, but goggles can be very helpful too since the smoke burns your eyes. Our goggles were included free with the gas masks we bought on Shopee.
- Jacket: This is essential for the Kawah Ijen sunrise because it can be pretty chilly. After sunrise, you’ll want to shed the jacket.
- Footwear: Regular shoes are fine, but sturdy hiking shoes are better for the Mount Ijen hike. Sometimes the gravel can be a bit slippery, and the trail is especially rough if you go down into the volcano crater.
- Poncho: If you visit Mount Ijen during the rainy season in Indonesia (especially December to February), you’ll want to bring a rain jacket just in case.
- Snacks: Your Mount Ijen tour may include free breakfast, but they’re skimpy and you’ll probably be wanting energy snacks to go with it.
- Headlight: A torch is handy for hiking before sunrise since the path is very dark. This is especially true if you go inside the crater, because it’s a steep and rocky path down to the Kawah Ijen blue fire.
- Tripod: You’ll need this if you want to get decent pictures of the blue flame at night.
- Clothing: The sulfur smell is nasty and it stays on your clothes, especially if you go very close to the blue flame. Don’t wear fancy clothes or jewelry. After you wash and dry your clothes, the smell will go away after awhile.
- Bathrooms: The last bathroom is at the Kawah Ijen entrance. Do your business before you start the hike. There aren’t any proper bathrooms on the trail to Ijen, although you can find plenty of tall bushes to pee in near the east side of the crater lake.
- Cell Service: We had good reception with Telkomsel for most of the hike, including decent service at the top of the crater lake itself.
- Restaurants: If you stop for food in Banyuwangi, check out Kedai Panorama, Srengenge Wetan, or Company Man Angkringan. Good food at reasonable prices!
Where To Stay
The main base for visiting the Kawah Ijen volcano is the town of Banyuwangi, and most people stay at least one night there since you do the Ijen trip overnight.
Banyuwangi has lots of decent accommodation now, with a variety of homestays and hotels, and because of the influx of tourists the options are growing every year.
If you want to stay directly at Ijen, check out Avrila Guesthouse. Their rooms are very basic, but the location is super convenient since it’s only a 3 minute walk from the entrance to Ijen!
Best Time To Visit
There’s not really a best month to visit Banyuwangi or the Kawah Ijen volcano, although any time in the dry season is better.
Indonesia’s dry season runs from April to November, and during this time there’s less rain and the mountain visibility is best. This applies to East Java too.
You can still visit Mount Ijen during the rainy season in East Java (December to March), and the mornings are normally clear. Even if it happens to be cloudy, you can still see the crater lake.
Definitely try to avoid weekends and public holidays, because the park can get very crowded during those times.
More Things To See Near Ijen
There are lots of good things to see near Kawah Ijen and Banyuwangi, but two of the top sights are Red Island Beach (Pulau Merah) and Djawatan Forest, an old canopy that looks like Fangorn Forest from Lord of the Rings.
The Kawah Ijen caldera (and the rest of the Banyuwangi area) is absolutely loaded with waterfalls. Near the park entrance, there’s even a unique acid waterfall called the Kalipait Waterfall that flows from the sulfur lake at Ijen.
Don’t forget to check out my 1-Week Java itinerary for more ideas of what to do in East Java and Central Java.
- Indonesia Travel Guide - Tips, Info, & Photos
- 1-Week East Java Itinerary - Temples, Waterfalls, & Volcanoes
- Indonesia Waterfall Guide - Best Waterfalls In Indonesia
- Most Beautiful Indonesian Islands - Best Places To Visit In Indonesia