Located on the ring of fire, at the junction of the Eurasian, Pacific and Indo-Australian plates, Indonesia has the largest number of historically active volcanoes. Travelling in the archipelago you can witness those giants on each and every island. Sacred, feared, they host temples and farmlands on their slopes and offer to hikers the promise of amazing panoramas and the thrill that comes with their organic activity.
But when comes time to book your holidays in Indonesia, which of its 150 volcanoes should you add to your trekking tour? It would be pretentious to make an attempt at describing them all; instead we offer to go through some of the most iconic, and a few less notorious, “Fire Mountains” shaping up the country for ages.
Addressing the topic of Indonesian volcanoes makes Java the obvious starting point. The cultural, artistic, and political epicenter of Indonesia, most populated island in the world, is also a place of non-stop volcanic activity due to the density of strato-volcanoes in the area. From West to East, it’s in Java that most of the famous volcanoes in Southeast Asia are located. Traveling to Indonesia you might end up in the region of Jawa Timur, or East Java, a long-time favorite for tourists due to its situation near the Bali touristic hub. That’s where some legendary mountains are standing proud, offering a wonderful panel of volcano tours to try. It is the case of the Bromo Tengger Semeru Park, where you can discover two legends named Mount Bromo and Mount Semeru.
Mount Bromo –named after Bramah, the Hindu god of creation- is a perfectly shaped cone spitting heavy smokes while sitting in the middle of a vast sea of ashes. A photographs’ favorite, the easily accessible mountain stuns visitors with its truly unique, almost lunar, landscape. From Bromo you can see in the horizon the highest mountain of Java, Mount Semeru –named after the Hindu-Buddhist Sanskrit term Sumeru that means “central world mountain”-, a volcano standing at 3,676 meters and challenging hikers to reach its peak. The summit is rewarding visitors with the most spectacular panorama over East Java but will require some serious efforts to be reached. Trekking on both volcanoes remains among the most stunning experience you can have in Indonesia and can easily be arranged from the cities of Malang or Surabaya and even from Bali. As accessible as it is beautiful, the Bromo Tengger Semeru Park is to be considered the highlight of any hiking trip in Java.
Quickly becoming a must-see in Indonesia, Ijen volcano offers another impressive sight coupled with a human experience that matters just as much. This is another accessible trek that only requires a couple of hours walking to reach the crater and discover inside it a turquoise colored acid-lake. Next to the lake, miners extract elemental sulfur and carry it in baskets for a living. Witnessing this painful labor gives a human dimension to the adventure and promises to be an outstanding memory for hikers.
Among the myriad of volcanoes located in East Java, Mount Raung is another one that many insiders (yours truly included) consider worth the trip. To access Raung you need, from the city of Bondowoso, to reach the small town of Sumber Wringin. In Sumber Wringin you will face this huge mountain (Raung has one of the deepest crater in the world) and can decide to take a local guide to start climbing this giant (note that reaching the highest peak -standing 3,332 meters above sea level- requires to take another route from the south… and to be well trained!) or to simply enjoy its picturesque surroundings made of coffee plantations and other farmlands.
Located west of Malang and close to the charming city of Blitar, Mount Kelud is another one not to overlook. It is considered one of the two most active volcanoes in all Indonesia with more than 30 eruptions in the past 1000 years. Since the last on in February 2013, access to the summit has been banned for security reason. However it is still possible to reach the slopes of the volcano to witness the spectacular results of last year’s incident and to wander among pineapple plantations.
If Kelud is only the second most active volcano in the archipelago, it is because one has erupted more than 80 times in the past 1000 years, making thousands of victims in the local population. Its name is Mount Merapi and many tourists see it from afar when they visit Borobudur Temple. Located in the region of Yogyakarta and lined-up with the sacred Keraton (Royal Palace) and Parangtritis Beach, the volcano is subject of myths making it part of this holy trinity according to local beliefs. Hikers will find there a quite demanding ascension on a legendary mountain rising almost 3,000 meters in the sky of Central Java.
Between Java and Sumatra sleeps a volcano responsible for one of the biggest eruption ever recorded in the world: Krakatau volcano. In 1883 the explosion of this island – a result of magma and sea water meeting – has generated a gigantic tsunami felt as far as the European coasts that even changed the world climate for decades. Nowadays you can reach the island from Carita in West Java and sleep there for one night before exploring the craters of this legendary monster and literally walk on fire.
However, Indonesia has been the theater of an even bigger volcanic disaster. Back in 1815, on the island of Sumbawa, the Mount Tambora extracted 140 billion tons of rocks from the bowels of the earth during an eruption that remains the most powerful in recorded history, approximately four times the energy of the Krakatau eruption.
Creating waves of destruction and starvation in the surrounding islands, the event is thought to be responsible for the death of more than 70.000 people and has left a spectacular crater accessible by crossing the tropical forest of northern Sumbawa.
The rest of the archipelago isn’t short of active volcanoes either and those interested in volcano trekking activities during their Bali holidays will be able to get a sense of it. Seriously experienced trekkers can try to reach the peak of Bali, Mount Agung, while the less ambitious hikers will enjoy the breakfast atop Mount Batur. The ascension of Mount Agung will bring you on the most sacred mountain of the Island as Balinese built the mother temple of Bali, Besakih, on its slopes. Batur, like Agung, is an active volcano (last eruption dating of 2.000) located near a lake and featuring a large caldera, making the scenery very beautiful from the peak.
As a growing number of tourists planning a trip to Indonesia are including Lombok Island in their itinerary, the great Mount Rinjani has become a very popular destination for hikers. Second highest volcano in Indonesia (after Mount Kerinci in Sumatra, which is 3805 meters high) rising to 3726 meters, it promises a very tough walk as well as fantastic panoramas along the way. Summit features a magnificent crater lake receiving the lava generated by each eruption. Trekking Rinjani will also allow you to meet with the Sasak people cultivating rice, soya bean, coffee, tobacco, cotton, cinnamon, cloves, bananas, cassava, coconuts, vanilla, corn or cacao on its slopes.
The thrill of climbing a volcano is incomparable and trekkers doing it in Indonesia are rewarded with some of the most spectacular sceneries in Asia. Playing a huge role in history and in the daily life of the people, those sacred mountains can be deadly and remain fascinating objects that will continue to attract hikers in the archipelago. With tourism, Indonesia has already find a way to generate activity and revenues with its volcanoes, but more eruptions are bound to happen as islands like Java are literally sitting on fire and the country is now thinking of implementing facilities able to convert this fire power into geothermal “green” energy. In any case, the magic of volcanic activity in the region will continue to punctuate the everyday lives of the local population and travelers catching the volcano bug are certainly going to visit Indonesia more than once.