Mighty Mount Bromo: Volcanoes and Horses

For National Geographic Travel

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A hike to another planet

We’re making my way down into the Tengger Caldera located in East-Java, Indonesia. The goal is Mount Bromo, one of the five volcanoes sitting inside the caldera. After 20 minutes of stumbling down the steep path, I set foot on what is called the ‘Sea of Sand’, a large plain of volcanic ash surrounding Mount Bromo.

It’s a surreal sight walking towards the volcano with the rim of the caldera covered in clouds towering behind us. There’s almost no one around and it feels a bit eerie, knowing I’m walking on the floor of a massive ancient volcano. A few times, I see a motorcycle in the distance or a local on a horse. They all try to convince travelers to use their services to go to the volcano. The clouds start to creep over the rim covering the caldera in a haze.

Half an hour later, we arrive at the base of Mount Bromo and start the steep climb to the rim. The last part consists of steep stairs covered in volcanic dust and then, arriving at the top, there it is… the roar of Mount Bromo—a sound I’ll never forget. Clouds of gas escape through cracks in the floor of the volcano and the view behind me is out of this world. We stay for a while, gazing into the crater imagining all the things that could happen…

The next day, we get up at 3 in the morning. Mount Bromo is famous for its sunrise but—if you don’t want to spend money—it takes a hike up Penanjakan Hill to see it. With our headlights on, we hike up the hill and after an hour walking in total darkness, we arrive at the the first viewpoints where locals are lighting bon fires and offer coffee to keep warm.

I still have to wait for an hour until the sun comes up but I start taking photos already. It’s cold and sitting on a concrete bench doesn’t make it better. Around 5 am, the sky on the horizon starts to light up and what follows is one of the most magical sunrises I’ve ever seen…

—Joris Hermans