Ijen Volcano Crater is one of the most attractive and dangerous places in the world. Active volcano, constantly spewing sulfur smoke clubs, the world’s largest acid lake Kawah Ijen, incredible in its beauty blue fire and extremely hard working conditions in the sulfur mine. We went down into the crater to see everything with our own eyes.
The Ijen volcanic complex consists of several stratovolcanoes and cinder cones and a 20 km wide caldera. Ijen caldera is the largest in Java. The size of the crater is about 960 m x 600 m. The primary dangers at Ijen are pyroclastic flows, lahars, and lava flows.
But tourists are interested in the acidic crater lake shore which is a natural large deposits of sulfur.
Way to Kawah Ijen
In order to reach the famous lake, you must first climb to the top and then descend into the crater. The way from the ticket office to the top takes about 3 km, the altitude difference is 500 m. If you do not hurry up, the road is rather simple. It’s steeper at the beginning and almost flat after a cafe halfway.
Typically an entrance to the crater opens at 1am. But in case of a high activity of the volcano this time can be shifted to the morning or even prohibited for tourists. On the day when we climbed, the entrance opened about 3.45 am. This meant that we had less than an hour to arrive to the crater lake, if we want to see blue fire. We got to the top in about 45 minutes, and another 15 minutes spent on the descent. To be honest, it wasn’t easy for me to move with such speed. And, admittedly, we arrived to late. On the top of Ijen crater we saw a few flashes of blue fire, but when we descent to the lake after 5 am, it was already light. So I could make some pictures with just one blue fire flash on photo. It was too late for a super photo filled with blue light.
The road back is very beautiful. Mountain peaks of volcanic complex, a fog and clouds shrouding slopes, scorched trees and dense vegetation of forests and fields are on the way.
Is It Dangerous to Visit Ijen Crater?
It is impossible to stay a long time close to a dense acid gas without a mask. Olivier Grunewald
Yes for sure! Acrid sulfur gas (sulfur dioxide) is very dangerous to health. High temperature near the pipes from which sulfur flows is a life-threatening. For good pictures, I went to the epicenter of heavy whitish-yellow smoke. Despite the mask, it was very difficult to breathe, my eyes filled with tears, workers shouted “Dangerous!” after each next step on the slope above the hot liquid sulfur. All day long I “felt my lungs”. I think that just one such adventure is not terrible, but it’s better do not risk once again.
It’s better to be careful when you are going down into the crater.
- First, be sure to wear a respirator or a protective mask. The more effective it filters the air the better. There are casualties among tourists, who neglected safety rules.
- Second, keep in mind that the road goes across the rocks. Comfortable shoes and gloves will help you overcome the way.
Crater Stunning View
Being on the slopes of Ijen crater you remember Divine Comedy and 9 circles of hell. Lifeless slopes, flowing red-hot sulfur, clubs of acrid yellow gas rushing from the earth and emerald deadly acid lake with sulfur plumes on the surface.
Kawah Ijen Acid Lake
Kawah Ijen Crater Lake, at the top of the volcano, is the world’s largest such body of water filled with hydrochloric and sulfuric acid.
The volcano emitted hydrogen chloride gas, which reacted with the water and formed a highly condensed hydrochloric acid with a pH of almost 0. In fact, it’s the hydrochlori acid that makes the water turquoise-blue.
The lake is a deadly dangerous, however it can be touched by hand. A temperature on the surface is 50-60°С, and in the depths – over 200°С. The depth of the lake is about 200 meters.
The blue fire is ignited sulphuric gas, which emerges from cracks with temperatures up to 600°С. The glow is quite weak, so it can be seen only at night.
Lava flows burning with blue flame can be seen on the Ijen extremely rare
Sometimes sulfur is ignited by the workers. To speed up the formation of the mineral, a mining company installed ceramic pipes on an active vent near the edge of the lake. The pipes route the sulfur gases down the vent’s sloping mound. When the gases cool, they condense into liquid sulfur, which then flows or drips from the pipes and solidifies into hard sulfur mats. Workers sell these stalactites to tourists as souvenirs.
Lava flows burning with blue flame can be seen on the Ijen extremely rare. Unfortunately, many websites show pictures of Olivier Grunewald and give the impression, that it happens every night. Don’t believe it! Usually you can see burning sulfur dioxide gas, no lava at all.
Sulfur Mines in the Crater
Miners have been extracting sulfur here for more than 40 years. This is a very difficult and dangerous job. Without protective clothing, and without masks, miners cut sulfur pieces and put them into a basket. Then they carry these baskets 200 meters to the top of the crater, and then descend 3 km to the foot of the volcano to a village, where they are rewarded for their work. The weight of such baskets is 60-80 kg, some people manage to lift up to 110 kg.
Typically workers do such journey twice a day. For 1 kg of sulfur they get 900-1000 IDR, which means about $ 5 per basket or $ 10 per day. By local standards it’s a highly paid and prestigious job. Java is a very high populated island, a lot of people unemployed. Sulfur miners are a kind of working elite.
The best thing you can do for workers is to give a respirator.
However, this doesn’t help them live long. Sulfur gas is so dangerous to the health, that young guys look like old men, and the average life expectancy of about 47 years.
Despite the extremely hard working conditions, miners are amazingly friendly and cheerful people. I experienced culture shock when a worker with a basket, the weight of which exceeds his own, had step side to let me go. All the time they show tourists a better way across rocks and gladly posed for photographers.
The best thing you can do for the workers is to give them a respirator or even a face mask. They have no money and no opportunity to even change the filters. Many workers don’t know that the air they breathe is dangerous.
All miners smoke. They say that it helps them to reduce smell of sulfur a little bit.
Where to Stay?
How to Get to Kawah Ijen Volcano from Bali?
It’s not difficult to Ijen volcano from Bali. You need to get to the ferry terminal on the west of Bali island, take a ferry to Java island and drive about 2 hours to the foot of the volcano. It’s better to start climbing at night, so plan to spend a night near by the volcano.
Most of people combine a trip to Ijen volcano with a trip to the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park and climbing to the top of Bromo crater. In this case, the possible alternative is to arrive in Jogjakarta (Yogyakarta), Surabaya or other town in Central / East Java, and then drive east to the volcanous. But please take into account that the way from Jogjakarta (Yogyakarta) to Bromo may take up to 12 hours.
- Date of the trip: 22 of February, 2015
- Place: Ijen Crater (Kawah Ijen)
- Location: Ijen, East Java, Indonesia
- Ticket price: 15,000 IDR
- Time for visiting: 4-6 hours