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Banyuwangi is in East Java and extremely close to North/West Bali. It’s so close in fact that you can literally take a ferry from Bali to reach East Java!
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This part of Java has been well known by some for quite some time, but we’ve come to realise that many people have never heard of Banyuwangi, and we want to to tell you all about it and why you should consider adding a stop in Banyuwangi to your next Bali trip (or as a staycation for those of you who call Bali home).
Getting to Banyuwangi from Bali
To get to Banyuwangi from Bali you have two choices. You can choose to take the very short 20 minute flight from Bali’s Domestic airport to land at Banyuwangi airport, or you can drive up to Gilimanuk and take the ferry across to Ketapang.
When it comes to timings, if you include wait times at the airport and transfers to and from the airport at each side – driving doesn’t actually take all that much longer than flying. Recently we took the land journey ourselves as we had never driven along the West Coast road in Bali, nor taken the ferry across to Java.
Depending where you are in Bali, will depend on how long the drive is to Gilimanuk Harbour in North West Bali. From Sanur it took us around three hours, the road itself is great (albeit there are some crazy drivers along the way).
On arrival to the harbour there are many street-side vendors you can buy your ferry ticket from and get an antigen test from (at the time of writing – February 2022) it is a requirement to have at least one vaccination and take an antigen test to board the ferry).
Tests are available from 50,000 Rp ($3 USD) and we paid 14,000 Rp (70 cents USD) for our ferry tickets (as individuals with no vehicles).
The ferries run constantly, 24 hours a day, so you don’t need to schedule timings as you just board the next available ferry. You can even take your car or motorcycle across on the ferry if you are self-driving/riding. These tickets are a little more expensive at around 180,000 Rp ($6 USD) per car including passengers and 40,000 Rp ($1.50 USD) to take your motorbike.
The bottom floor of the ferry is where the bikes and cars are parked and on the top two floors there is lots of seating and people offering snacks. Even as we boarded the ferry, there was a signature sunglasses salesman there to try and sell us some shades before our trip….he succeeded!
It’s a very slow-moving ferry and takes around 45 minutes to reach the harbour at Java. From there, there are people offering transport at the harbour and also online transport available.
Remember when you reach Java, they are an hour behind Bali…so turn your watches back!
Where to Stay in Banyuwangi
There are quite a lot of options when it comes to accommodation when you visit Banyuwangi. We chose to stay at Dialoog Hotel, which is only a 10 minute drive from the harbour where you arrive.
Mount Ijen - The Star of the Show
What drew us to visit Banyuwangi in the first place was wanting to climb Mount Ijen. Mt Ijen is also known as Kawah Ijen Crater, it is famous for having the largest acid lake in the world and its blue fire in the volcano’s crater.
If you want to see the blue fire it’s best to arrive at the crater around 1am to start your climb (although during COVID there have been restrictions & climbing is only allowed from 3am).
The climb to the actual top of the mountain takes around 1.5 – 2 hours depending on your fitness levels. The pathway is quite good, but it does get steep in some areas and can be a challenge for those not used to climbing hills.
From the bottom of the mountain you’ll be followed by the trolley men. They want to push you up the mountain on their trolleys, or they hope the climb will get to much for you and you’ll give in along the way.
In parts where I was stopping to catch my breath, I felt a little like hawks were circling me, waiting for me to finally collapse and give in. As I would stop to take some deep breaths I’d hear behind me “Miss, miss, you want trolley now”.
Can’t blame them for trying!
Once you’ve reached the top you get a view of the crater and if it’s not too cloudy or hazy you can see the acid lake also.
You can stop up here and enjoy the view before making your way back down the mountain, or from here you can choose to then take the descent down to the crater.
This is another 45 minute climb down quite a steep, narrow track. It is where you can see the blue fire if you reach the crater before daylight.
For this part of the climb, you want to be at least moderately fit. If you are going down to the crater it is advisable to wear a gas mask (provided by your guide). Mount Ijen is home to a sulphur mine and the mine is at the bottom of the crater. As you get close to the crater, sulphur waves can be quite intense and it smells like rotten eggs.
Everyday miners make the climb up the mountain with their trolleys, park their trolley at the top and then decent down to the crater with just their baskets.
Once at the bottom of the crater they collect as much sulphur as they can (usually between 70-100kgs). With their baskets loaded on their should they then make the very slow ascent back to the top of the mountain to deliver their load to their trolley.
They will repeat this 2 or 3 times a day. Once their trolley is full (or they are too tired to get any more sulphur) they will descend down the mountain with their full trolley, to go and get their sulphur weighed to sell.
Seeing the miners climb the steep ascent up the crater loaded with up to 100kg of sulphur on their shoulders, is a sight we won’t soon forget.
We recommend taking some small money with you on your climb, the miners carve small statues from the sulphur and will try to sell them to you. After seeing their work conditions, you will definitely want to buy some of them.
** The sulphur is mostly used for refining white sugar & for cosmetic whitening products. The miners’ life expectancy decreases the more time they spend in this job due to the exposure to too much sulphuric acid (none of the miners wear gas masks!).
As we were about to make our way back down the mountain we stopped to chat to the trolley guys who had followed us up and were waiting at the top for the job of taking someone back down.
Most of these men used to be miners themselves, when the job simply got too tough they used their trolleys to take tourists who can’t (or don’t want to) make the climb themselves up (and down the mountain).
After hearing how quiet it had been for them in the previous two years, we agreed on hiring three trolley’s from them to take us and our guide back down the mountain.
It’s quite funny to be pushed down a volcano in a trolley! Our guide had never had a trolley ride down before and was yelling to everyone he passed “Today I am King for a day, a guide has never ridden a trolley before!”.
As funny as it was, we felt super lazy being pushed down the mountain, so halfway down we had the trolley guys stop and sit in the trolley themselves. We pushed them the rest of the way.
We all laughed a lot! You can watch our adventure up and down the mountain here.
Other Things to do and Explore in Banyuwangi
While for us, Mt Ijen is definitely the star of this area and can easily be done with just one overnighter when you visit Banyuwangi, if you have time, why not stay a couple of days more and explore some of the other sites and things to do in the area.
Go on Safari at Baluran National Park – have your own African experience in East Java! This wide open savanna has free roaming wildlife and desert like landscapes during the dry season.
See native creatures such as the endangered Javanese water buffalo, Javan Rusa Deer and a wide variety of birds. There is an observation tower to get the best view right over the land too!
Escape to paradise at Tabuhan Island – either relax on the white sandy beaches or head into the turquoise water for a snorkelling or diving adventure! The Island is situated between Java and Bali, not only can you dive and snorkel but during the dry season (May-Sept), you can also windsurf and kitesurf in this area too.
Explore the wonders of De Djawatan Forest – like a scene from Lord of the Rings, this forest is full of huge, gorgeous trees that make the perfect photo opportunity.
There are snack stalls, horse rides and even ATVs to rent and ride around while you are there.
Visit Banyuwangi International Yacht Club – one of the newer venues in Banyuwangi and definitely worth stopping by for a drink and a meal. The yacht club is not only an impressive venue, but they can also arrange yacht rental for you. There are plenty of gorgeous islands close by to explore, taking a yacht for a day gives you the perfect way to day trip around and visit them. The yacht club will even arrange a private BBQ or lunch on one of the islands!
We can’t believe it has taken us this long to explore Bali’s neighbour Banyuwangi! Mount Ijen definitely stole a piece of our heart and is something we want to take our children back to experience also. If you love a good hike and want to add another volcano climb to your bucket list, a visit to Banyuwangi & Mt Ijen is so easily added on to your time in Bali.
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