The iconic Mt. Bromo is on many travelers' to-see lists, but as far as volcanos go, it may not be worth the trouble. In our Indonesian Volcano Throwdown it comes in at a solid number two--behind Rinjani but ahead of Moni. Why? The desert horses, volcanic gases, and verdant countryside help make up for the overwhelming crowds, horrible public transport, and inflated admission fee.
See and Do
Mt. Bromo is just one of three volcanos that form the postcard picture often associated with Indonesia. The others are Mt. Batok and Mt. Semeru. Unfortunately, you have to be really lucky to see all three as the national park suffers from chronic fog, clouds, and overwhelming numbers of tourists.
You also have to be willing to pay the extortionist admission fee of 75,000IDR, three times what it used to be as late as June 2013.
If you're willing to take the risk and the hit on the wallet, head to the town of Cemoro Lawang and book an early morning jeep tour (100,000IDR). The best way to do this is with your hotel as prices are fixed. Expect to be picked up around 3:45am and brought to the highest, and "best," viewpoint in the park (complete with fireworks).
Don't expect solitude, or even peace. The viewpoint is crowded with seemingly hundreds of jeeps and thousands of tourists. The morning we went, the volcano views were unimpressive and the crowds overwhelming.
There was no magic in the experience and it didn't come close to how we felt at the top of Rinjani or viewing sunrise at Haleakalā in Maui a few years back.
Back on the jeep, the driver will take you (and five others) down the mountain and into the desert, or Sea of Sand. Here, you'll be offered a hundred horse rides, something made bearable only by how majestic (and Wild West) the horses look as they gallop amidst the desolate volcanos and desert.
If you don't want a horse, it's a 15 minute walk up to Bromo's rim, where you can look down into the steam and listen to the volcano hiss. By 8am, you're back at your hotel and (hopefully) taking a hot shower.
Whether you're there for festival time or not, what we really suggest doing is hiking. Several of our friends did the hike at sunrise, but we opted out since we were exhausted from our long travel day the day before. You have two options for hiking: either head to Bromo itself (1 hour) or head to the first viewpoint by following the road that winds to the right out of town (3 kilometers). In order to see Bromo, you'll obviously want to do the latter. This also gives you the option to climb higher than 3km and have a better view. That said, if you had taken either option the morning we went, you would have seen nothing. The clouds were simply overpowering.
Because of the persistent risk of heavy cloud cover, the best thing to do if you DO decide to go to Bromo is combine a jeep tour with a self-guided hike to the first viewpoint. This way you'll be high enough to see something in the morning, but you'll also be able to take in the views by yourself later in the day (or the day you arrive if you come early enough).
We had a quick breakfast after returning via jeep and then left town around 9am on foot, which gave us just enough time before the clouds rolled (back) in to appreciate the views of the volcanos and surrounding area. The countryside here was the best we've seen since Ha Giang and seeing it in daylight was well worth it. Take a look at this vertical gardening:
Back to the main question: should you go? It really depends on what else you have on your agenda. Bromo (and the surrounding area) is undoubtedly beautiful, but the ticket is expensive and you're more likely to feel "on the tourist" trail here than most other places in Indonesia. If you only have time for one volcano, you could do worse than this. But if you're planning on trekking up to Rinjani and are low on time, don't fret about giving Bromo a miss.
There are tons of guesthouses in town so you shouldn't have trouble getting a room unless you arrive after 8pm. If that's the case, you may want to consider booking ahead. Very few guesthouse have an online footprint, but you can find some good options on TripAdvisor.
We stayed at the guesthouse behind Yog and paid 150,000 (with bargaining) for a room with hot water. I can't emphasize enough how important hot water is in Cemoro Lawang. Nighttime temperatures are freezing.
Eat and Drink
For a mountain town in the middle of nowhere, the food is surprisingly cheap. Don't expect haute cuisine, but the typical Indonesian fare is abundant and affordable.
Learn from our mistakes and book your transport all the way through. If you're coming from Java, you have TONS of options in Yogyakarta. If you're coming from Bali, your only option is with Perama. 475,000 IDR may sound expensive, and it is, but you'll likely save money in the end.
Here's what happened to us: after an overpriced bus from Bali missed our stop and dropped us off two hours away, we returned to Probolinggo with hopes of catching a shared minivan up to Cemoro Lawang, the town the borders Bromo. The price was supposed to be 25,000IDR and the minivans were supposed to run continuously until 3pm. At the bus terminal, we were informed that the cost was now 30,000IDR, but that the van should "leave soon." The vans leave from outside the terminal so we headed out there, made our destination known to the touts, and sat down at a restaurant for lunch. We sat there until... 3:30pm.
The shared minivan never left, even though we later met people who did manage to get on one at exactly the time we were sitting and waiting. Whether the locals purposefully ripped us off by not telling us a van was leaving is unclear, but in the end, one lucky man got paid 150,000IDR to drive us up to Cemoro Lawang, which happened to be where he was going anyway.
We ran into similar problems on the way back to Probolinggo, as the shared minivans really only have enough people RIGHT after the jeeps come back (from 8-9am). If you're planning on staying a bit longer and doing a walk, you'll have to work out prices with the driver. We paid 50,000IDR each for a van with four other people.
Interested in seeing Mount Bromo without paying for a plane ticket? Check out our Mt. Bromo photo tour.
You can also share your top tips for Mount Bromo by leaving a comment!