Chasing Blue Flames in Java, Indonesia: Kawah Ijen Volcano

The sulphur workers at Ijen Volcano, Java.
Indonesia is a vast area comprised of thousands and thousands of pieces of little paradisiacal islands, It would be impossible to see all of them in a lifetime. Most jet off to Bali and think that’s it. They couldn’t be more incorrect. Indonesia has so much more to offer, and I’m here to give you just another taste of what you can find here. Something a bit bizarre, unusual, and even dangerous… I heard about these mysterious blue flames at Kawah Ijen and I was intrigued. What adventure awaits for me there? Landing in the Yogyakarta airport, I was so stoked to add another island of Indonesia to my list, Java. Yogyakarta is a cultural mecca, shoppers dream, and the home some of the most incredible temples in the world, such as Prambanan and Borobudur. Read our Indonesia Travel Guide!
Sunrise Borobudur
Sunrise at the famous Borobudur temples, Yogyakarta.
Although I absolutely loved Yogyakarta, I really needed some nature in my life… On my way to see this crazy bizarre place that has blue flames, I had to stop at Mount Bromo. This is probably the most iconic destination on the island, and worth the visit. In fact, it’s one of my favorite experiences on my travels to date. Mostly because of it’s incredible beauty, but also because I completed the hike and wanderings of this area without a tour. While many might opt for the Jeep ride and crowded tourists viewpoint, I wasn’t about that. I had a much better time doing it alone, AND for FREE!
Sunrise Bromo Volcano
Mount Bromo, Indonesia
After my beautiful Mount Bromo experience, off to the mysterious and alien land of Kawah Ijen I went… This phenomenal location is a bit of a feat to get to with public transportation and it’s not always the cheapest. It’s wise to make friends, the more you have the cheaper it gets! My new friends and I wanted to do a self-guided tour of Kawah Ijen volcano, as having a guide isn’t necessary. However, getting a taxi to the entrance is. After getting dropped off at 1AM (not a typo, yes, that’s one in the morning!) we began our trek through a jungle while in the pitch black.
The blue flames of Ijen.
After a bit of a hike, we made it to the stinkiest crater you could imagine. A waft of air would bring the stench of 1000 rotten eggs. Yep, we were here at Kawah Ijen… A huge stinky sulphuric stratovolcano that is still active. We walked passed the sign telling us to not go down in the area due to the dangers and began our descent into the crater without a second thought. We inched closer and closer to the terrible smell and I was thankful I had a damp scarf around my face to alleviate some of the noxious fumes.
Ijen 2
Photo by Simon Bond.
We trekked downwards as the rocks below our feet slightly crumbled with each step we took. We passed miners hauling incredibly heavy baskets of sulphur out of the crater at this crazy hour of the morning, not wearing any safety gear, and adorned with just an old t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops.
One of the miners at Ijen Sulphur Lake.
As we made it down to the bottom, we saw it. Huge blue flames breaking through the earth and streaming upwards dancing in the wind. How incredible. I can’t even tell you. Words to describe my experience are a bit difficult because it was just so oddly beautiful. Here I am with a wet scarf around my head looking at molting blue flames that could burn me at a crazy hour in the morning with miners working around me all while I’m half suffocating from the horrendous stench. What the hell am I doing?
Ijen Crater
Photo by Simon Bond.
At points, it was like a war zone. A gust of wind would pass by and the smoke would billow all around us making it impossible to see anything and breathing very difficult. Everyone would hide behind a rock to wait out the smoke burst while trying not to choke. I coughed and my eyes teared up. When it subsided, I went back out to observe the entrancing blue flames. After the blue flame’s spell wore off a bit, I emerged back to where I started at the top of the crater and I took in the sunrise. From here you can look down into the alien-like territory you just came from including the eerie green acid lake that’s just next to where the blue flames were raging out from under the ground. It’s absolutely gorgeous, weird, and ever slightly terrifying to see what you just climbed into. Perhaps ignorance is bliss because if I saw that beautiful but toxic green lake before hand and the insane landscape, I would perhaps have been a bit more reluctant to just hike on down without a worry at all. It’s treacherous! The experience was exhilarating, crazy, and extremely unusual. I loved every second of it! With that said… Let me be frank, this experience surely isn’t for everyone. It’s dangerous. Many people didn’t make it all the way to see the flames because it was just too much. Be careful when coming to Kawah Ijen and know what to expect.

Tips for visiting Kawah Ijen:

  • Bring enough water.
  • Bring a scarf. You need to dampen it, so bring enough water for this as well. This helps with breathing and the smell. When my scarf would go dry, my throat would get very dry and scratchy and make me cough. I can’t emphasize the importance of having a damp scarf. I wouldn’t have survived without it.
  • Bring some food as a snack or at least eat well before hand, you’ll be using up a good amount of energy with this hike.
  • Bring appropriate shoes. No flip flops!
  • Bring a device for light, a torch, the flashlight on a phone, something! It’s very dark.
  • It could be possibly a bit chilly depending what time of year you’re here. Bring clothes you can layer and take on and off.
  • Yes, you actually need to start the hike at 1am. You can’t see the blue flames during the day.
  • Be mindful of workers here. They are working! Let them pass and don’t bribe them with money to do stupid shit for the sake of a photo. It’s just plain rude.
  • Sempol is the town just near Kawah Ijen. From research and word of mouth from other travelers, the town offers terrible accommodation for a hefty price. My advice to you is take a taxi out to Kawah Ijen for the day. It will end up saving you money and time as you can still get somewhere else after seeing it before the day is done. (For example, I was able to get to Surabaya Airport that evening for a flight to Jakarta that I was buying just hours before take off..because I’m last minute like that.)
Photos in this article by Simon Bond.
Nina Ragusa | Where In The World Is Nina?

Nina Ragusa is the intrepid soul behind ‘Where in the World is Nina?’ This American wildflower shares her explorations without fluffing the details. You can expect wit and sarcasm dashed between REAL travel information and adventurous stories. Nina is a professional beach bum, hula hooper, and revels in getting lost on purpose.

Find me: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Basket
Scroll to Top