Organized Tours, Why Bother?: Java’s Mount Bromo Sunrise Tour

I was so excited to see Mount Bromo, the sulfur-gushing Javanese volcano, that the 10-hour journey from Yogyakarta to the cool mountain town of Cemoro Lawang didn’t really faze me.  One look at this otherworldly landscape and you’ll understand why.  The holy trinity of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park consists of three uniquely picturesque volcanoes.  Together the steaming crater of Mount Bromo, the conical silhouette of Mount Semeru, and the striated surface of Mount Batok create an absolutely breathtaking image.  It’s the stuff travel dreams are made of.

Peering into Mount Bromo’s sulfurous crater.

I’d read that sunrise is the best time to witness the park in all its glory.  Watching the sun illuminate this martian-esque landscape is one of those magical experiences that is a must do when visiting eastern Java, Indonesia.  I’m typically not a fan of organized tours.  With 10 years of travel under my belt, I came to the conclusion long ago that doing things independently is almost always better – it’s cheaper, more fun, and always, always more memorable.  However, since I didn’t arrive in Cemoro Lawang until dusk, the prospect of waking up at 4am and finding my way to the viewpoint in the dark just didn’t sound all that appealing.  So I ignored the voice in my head that told me the sunrise tour was a waste of time and money and went ahead and booked it.

Despite only sleeping for three hours, I sprung out of bed at 3:50am super excited for the day (I am definitely not a morning person, so this is saying a lot).  When I threw off my comforter, the room was startlingly cold.  I looked at my phone and the thermometer read 5°C.  I made a sad attempt to insulate myself using my warmest clothes which, after traveling in the tropics for six months, consisted of my Converse, a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and a paper-thin hoodie.  Let’s just say I was freezing!  Thankfully, the German girl staying in the room next to mine saw how unprepared I was for the chilly weather and loaned me a sweater (thank you, Maria, for saving the day!).  Wrapped in my hoodie and wool sweater I walked out into the darkness and looked up at the stars.  It was a clear night, which meant the view was going to be killer!

My boyfriend Aaron and I were packed into in a 4×4 Jeep along with four other groggy tourists.  Our car barreled into the darkness.  Behind us an endless line of headlights snaked up the mountainside, as Jeeps shuttled hundreds of other tourists to the famous lookout point.  For the next half hour we bumped and swerved up the crude road.  But as we climbed higher my excitement waned.  It was foggy.  It was really foggy.  By the time we reached the lookout point, at the top of Mount Penanjakan (2,270 meters), the mist was so dense drops of condensation were drizzling from the trees above us, leaving us damp and nervous that this whole sunrise tour thing would be a bust.  We gathered at the lookout point, along with hordes of tourists.  Aaron and I spent the next hour huddled together, trying our best to stay warm.  And we waited, fingers crossed, hoping that the fog would dissipate and reveal the glorious view I’d been so eagerly waiting for.

Well, that didn’t happen.  When the sun rose we could barely see 20 feet in front of us.  I couldn’t help but laugh.  The whole thing was pretty comical.  But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was bummed and felt completely ripped off.  And I couldn’t help thinking “Why, why had I signed up for yet another horrible organized tour?”  “Will I ever learn?”

A disappointing view from Mt. Penanjakan, as bundled-up tourists wait to catch a glimpse of the famous vista.

Our guide informed us that there would be no view that day, so we drove back down the mountain to the Sea of Sand to glimpse the blown out Mount Bromo up close and personal.  Moody and sleep deprived, I was ready to return to the guesthouse and go back to sleep, but I’m so glad I didn’t.

As our Jeep blazed across the dusty plain toward the base of Bromo, a herd of horsemen chased behind us, swarming our Jeep as it came to a stop.  All I could see were horse haunches and men’s faces pressed against the window, as the guides tried their best to convince us that we needed a horse to carry us to the crater edge.

Dozens and dozens of Jeeps park in the Sea of Sand as they escort tourists on the Sunrise Tour.
For a fee, horses carry tourists from the Sea of Sand to the base of Mount Bromo.
One of the MANY horses available for hire.

After we forced the car door open and bypassed the touts, we followed the black volcanic-dirt pathway toward Bromo and climbed more than 250 steps to the crater’s lip.  The walk left me a little breathless, partially because of the thick, sulfur-infused air and partially because the view from the top was pretty gorgeous.

The view from the top of Mt. Bromo, as a stream of travelers walks from the Sea of Sand up to the crater’s edge. The hike takes about 40 minutes.

Despite not seeing the sunrise view, I am still so glad I visited Mount Bromo.  Of course, I would have done things differently if I could.  First off, I visited the park in February, during the rainy season.  I later learned from numerous guides that the lookout point at Mt. Penanjakan is often shrouded in dense fog from sunrise until 9am, when it typically burns off.  During the rainy months, a better way to experience Mount Bromo is to walk to the crater for sunrise and then make your way to the viewpoint after 9am, once the fog dissipates.  Not only will you dodge the crowds, but you’ll likely have a better chance of experiencing the surreal view I sadly missed out on.  If I could do it again, that’s how I would do it.  Oh well, hindsight is always 20/20!

SUNRISE TOUR DETAILS:  When you travel to Mount Bromo the tour that is ubiquitously advertised is the “Sunrise Tour.”  It entails leaving Cemoro Lawang (located a stone’s throw from the base of Mt. Bromo) at 4am and taking a Jeep ride up to the viewpoint on Mount Penanjakan.  After sunrise, you’ll head down to the Sea of Sand and hike 40 minutes to Mt. Bromo’s crater edge.  Tours return to town by 8:30am. (The tour costs 125,000 rupiah.)


Are you planning on visiting Mount Bromo?  Feel free to ask me any questions.  Maybe you can learn from my mistakes!

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

12 thoughts on “Organized Tours, Why Bother?: Java’s Mount Bromo Sunrise Tour

  1. Wow – thanks for sharing. I always had a visit to Mount Bromo on my wish list, but maybe not with a packaged tour to see the sunrise. What an experience!

    1. You should definitely keep Mount Bromo on your wish list. It was frustrating for me because I knew that past that fog was the most unreal view EVER! Had I just done the journey independently, I would have been able to wait for the fog to dissipate and experience Bromo in all its glory. It’s always nice to be able to travel at your own leisure. But despite not seeing the famous view, hiking up to Bromo’s crater and looking inside was still a great experience. I highly recommend it!

  2. Sunrise all over the world is overrated IMO. I skipped Angkor Wat and Borobudur, but I did try Bromo and the Taj Mahal. I enjoyed my experience there. I think it depends entirely on what company you have used, and you can also experience it solo, like I did (although in the Park itself you must hike with guides). Anyway, enjoyed reading this post. Brings back some memories of my time in Java.

    1. I think experiencing attractions during sunrise can be a great thing. I actually saw Borobudur during sunrise and it was beautiful. But I have to agree with you — I’m not sure that seeing it at sunrise actually heightened the experience. I do think sunrise can be overrated. I will definitely be skeptical the next time I see a sunrise tour.

  3. I am now over sunrise attractions.. I hate getting up too early (though I am a morning person, but not a dawn – or earlier – person, definitely)..
    I’m also not a fan of group tour, but sometimes it has its good sides, like cheaper cost and I did gain some new friends from a few packaged trips I went on. But yeah, I’m avoiding it as much as I can because I like more freedom that I’d get on individual trips.
    As for Bromo, maybe you can come back later in a better season 😀
    vira recently posted…Swimming with Stingless Jellyfish at Kakaban Island, East Kalimantan

    1. Yeah, I like doing things on my own terms. I’m sure the Bromo sunrise tour is pretty amazing during the dry season but it was weird that they shuttled us all up to the viewpoint at the crack of dawn knowing full well the there would be no visibility. I definitely learned my lesson. But I really do want to go back again…hopefully someday soon and hopefully during a better season 🙂

  4. What a bummer. But I’ve heard of people seeing beautiful sunrise here.

    I’m just curious, which month did you visit in? I’m likely to visit in September. Is that a good time?

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