Yogjakarta provides plenty of tour operators selling all inclusive tours to visit Mt Bromo. These usually entail shelling out a couple of million Rupiah for the privilege of getting intimately acquainted with your fellow travellers by virtue of practically sitting on their knee for 12 hours during a long hot bus journey. You arrive at around 11pm, only to be awoken at 3am and ferried in a jeep up to the viewpoint summit, where hoards of tour groups await for you to clamber over them to snap a pic of the long-awaited daybreak. By this time you'd probably be grateful of a bed in the “Bangkok Hilton”, but you are whisked off for another long bus journey to ijen before the cockerel has even chance to cry out his dawn salutation.
This sounded a bit too manufactured for our liking, and we decided do some research and go it alone. Admittedly, there are quite a few steps to the journey, and plenty of pitfalls to avoid (make sure you've dusted off and studied well your grand book of Indonesian cons), but all-in-all it was pretty straightforward. Below I talk about how you can do it yourself.
The first step was booking the train from Yogja to Surabaya. We booked the train tickets upon arrival in Yogja, and we decided to go business class paying 145k each (we could have gone cheaper with economy class). The process of buying the tickets involved first filling in a form with details such as which train and time (customer services can help with the exact times and train names, they are just before the ticket counters area), before taking a ticket and waiting to be called to the counter.
The actual station our train departed from was not the main Yogja station, in which we bought the tickets, but rather Tugu (just near the monument and off Malioboro Street). We had a 5am wake up call, and found ourselves sitting on a train to Surabaya at 6:40am, "Roti O" bun in hand, bound for Surabaya.
We arrived in Surabaya before noon, sat down to a well earned Nasi Goreng in the train station, and then began the usual skirmish with the taxi hoards to avoid having to sell all earthly belongings just to get to the Purabaya bus terminal. There were none of the highly acclaimed Blue Birds taxis about, so we settled with a random metered taxi. We watched google-maps on the smartphone as the taxi driver took what can only be described as the "scenic route" to the bus terminal, before billing us 83k. They offered us 90k fixed rate at the train station, so it still felt like a win, but I think we probably could have negotiated a lower fixed price. I'd also recommended at least trying to get the driver to drop you just outside the bus terminal to avoid paying the parking fee.
We walked to the rear of the terminal, and we didn't have to wait long for the bus to Surabaya (the name of the company was Petra I believe). It was pretty nice as far as buses go, not a minivan, but a big bus with lots of space and A/C. Aside from the cheesy Indonesian pop blurting out from the bus's TV, it was a fairly pleasant 2-3hrs (costing 30k) before arriving in Probolinngo.
Not long before we got off at Probolinngo the bus stopped and someone got on, made a beeline for us (two standout whities), and told us we had arrived at Probolinngo, "get off here for Cemoro Lawang" etc. It turned out this was just a tour company office, so make sure you do not get off here but continue to Probolinngo!
Cemoro Lewang is the little town near Mt Bromo, and to get there the only option from Probo is to take a little minivan. The cost seems to be on a per minivan basis. Some are 10 "seater" (I use the term loosely) and some 15. The whole van can be negotiated for around 400k, so it's a waiting game until either enough tourists have turned up to fill all the seats, or the current group of tourists cracks and agrees to pay more. When we were there, a group of 6 people had already been waiting a few hours for more people to join them. After around another hour the group (now 8 including us) cracked and we each ended up paying 60k (on the return journey a couple of days later, our group did not crack and the driver left anyway 15mins later with around 8 people, for 35k each, so it might be worth holding on if you can bear it).
Probolinngo bus terminal in well-known for its scams, and it's also worth noting that a few days later when we returned from Cemoro Lewang to Probolinngo, the bus dropped us off across the road from the terminal; there a guy offered us transport to Surababaya on his "private A/C bus" that would soon be arriving. He basically waited for the public bus to come out the terminal, flagged it down, then tried to charge us an extra 5k for the ticket, which we would buy at the terminal across the street. He got quite angry when we called his scam, banged on the bus and told it it to leave, which annoying it did! Nevertheless, we just walked over the road and within 15minutes we were sat on the public bus to Surabaya .
The roads to Cemoro Lewang (CL) are small and windy, but the views are spectacular, and the cool mountain air ensures the minivan never feels too stuffy. We got to Cemoro Lewang at around 5pm. We hadn't booked accommodation (we called lots of places the day before but all said fully booked), so were a bit worried about what circle of hell we would be calling home that evening, but upon asking at the desk of the Cemoro Indah, we were told 'no problem' and led to an economy room.
All the accomodation at CL is pretty basic and 'lodge style'; most people only use the rooms to get a few hours kip before the 3am wake up, so you can't expect too much. The Cemoro Indah economy rooms were pretty basic with shared bathroom, which I didn't mind, but I'm very glad I brought my own sleeping bag as the sheets felt somewhat damp and it gets pretty cold at night. You'll definitely want to bring a jacket for the hike to the sunrise view, otherwise they are rentable for about 25k. The view from the Cemoro Indah hotel however is first rate, and easily the best view from any of the accommodation in the village, it's also the closest hotel to the trail up to the sunrise views, which I'll talk about next.
With a 3am wakeup to look forward to, we eat some Rawon and Cap Cay at the Hotel Permai I (one of the upper market places), and got an early night. The village is tiny and you can walk around all the hotels and warungs in 10minutes. One fork in the road leads to the Permai (and is the route down to actually walk to Mt Bromo), and one fork leads to the Cemoro Indah, some Antennae and the trail to the viewpoints.
Trail to sunrise viewpoint. Here is an image of the first part of the hike taken from the viewpoint later that morning. The town of Cemoro Lewang is between the two Atennae, and these Antennae are a good point of reference in the middle of the night that you are heading in the correct direction (if in doubt just ask someone, but you will no doubt see plenty of jeeps going aong this road to the viewpoint anyway as another indicator). You should definitely take a torch! If you go in a jeep, they will likely take you to the viewpoints first and then to Mt Bromo itself, and there will be a park entrance fee of 150k for Bromo, but you can walk in for free (the walk is easy and takes maybe 45mins).
As the image shows, the first part of the trail is just a tarmac road, and it is very easy going. Toward the foot of the hill from which you will watch the sunrise, you will cross a bridge. The whole hike probably took less than an hour, and we arrived at the viewpoint at around 4am, way to early for the 5am sunrise, and wishing we'd set the alarms an hour later (this was in early April, in fact Easter Sunday!). The last part of the trail is no longer tarmac and the jeeps have all been exchanged for donkey's for those not wishing to walk.
When you finally reach the viewpoint, there are two concrete sheltered areas and a square arch that you pass through which has "Salat Detang Seruni Point" written upon it.
We were some of the first there and sat admiring the stars for a little bit whilst our bodies wondered what on earth we were doing hiking a hill at this unearthly hour. By the time dawn broke, the masses had gathered and we were far from alone. People clambered on top of the shelters to get better views, and Chinese tour groups chanted "hip hip hurrahs" through megaphones as the Sun poked over the horizon. Hmm, it was certainly atmospheric, but not quite in the right way.
To be honest, I have to admit that I was expecting the Sun to rise behind Mt Betok/Mt Bromo themselves, having not checked the compass (and clearly having failed to notice we had been sat staring at crux, the "southern cross”, which is the usual indicator constellation for the south celestial pole, in the direction roughly corresponding to Bromo), so when the Sun rose to our left, I was a little disappointed. Nevertheless, the view of Mt Batok, Mt Bromo, and the periodic plumes of smoke from Merapi in the early morning on Easter Sunday, is one I will not quickly forget, and definitely a highlight of my time on Java.
The tours soon got headed away, the flashes of cameras subsided and the crowds finally thinned a little. Ahhh.
Was the sunrise and 3am wake up call worth it? Hmm, yes and no. I think you certainly should be there early, but would 6am-10am suffice? Would it in fact be even better at that time, having that blue sky morning view more to yourself?
After taking about 5 billion pictures, capturing Mt Bromo from sufficient angles a geological surveyor could be proud, we began the descent, eat breakfast and crashed into the sweet embrace of a damp pillow. Later that day and feeling less zombified, we hiked down to the Sea of Sand and across to Mt Bromo.