Mount Bromo the Overrated and Overrun

For the most part, I kept my mouth shut about South Bali.  I posted photos instead of writing negative articles because I worried it was not Bali, but me.  Part of me also worried that the grumpiness I was feeling on the island was tied to the area I was staying: Kuta.  Crawling over to Lovina, which I really enjoyed, I realized that the issues of South Bali weren’t necessarily imagined.  Moreover, they are carried right over to other tourism destinations in the country, in particular: Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park.

Hindu Temple, Mount Bromo

Hindu Temple in Front of Moutn Bromo

I’d been dying to go to Mount Bromo since the first time I saw the moon-like landscape soaked in cotton clouds.  It seemed so distant from reality, and so isolated; so beautiful.  But my experience with the park, and the surrounding areas was less than ideal.  In fact, I really can’t say much positive at all.  And those who know me, understand how much that annoys me.  I travel the world to see the spectacular and to inspire others to explore.  I hate coming down on places.  I hate ranting.  But sometimes, I suppose, you just need to let it all out.

Forgive me if the following rant is overboard and tired, but it really is a culmination of a variety of things here in Indonesia.

Probolinggo the Scam

After a very pleasant train ride through some absolutely spectacular scenery, we arrived in Probolinggo in hopes of catching a shuttle or taxi up to Mount Bromo.  We were met at the train station by men who fiercely tried to sell us anything they could.  Of course, I’m not a rookie and that doesn’t bother me.  Then was a guy with a cell-phone claiming the man on the other end can get me a taxi.  When quoted 5 times the actual price, I passed him back his phone tell him that we are not stupid, nor are we made of money.

After searching for 2 blocks, we came to the conclusion that there are no taxis, jumped in a couple bicycle taxis and were driven some 7 kilometers away.  We’d asked for the bus station, but for some reason we’re dumped at a tour office, then they demanded 5x the price we had agreed upon.  The tour office couldn’t get us a taxi, and under threat of an impending storm, we set out on foot across the city towards the bus station.  Luckily, before long, a taxi finally pulled up and I was able to negotiate a fair price.

Now, I understand what’s going on in Probolinggo.  I’m sure people there see tourists shuttle themselves and their money straight through town without ever hardly slowing down.  This causes people trying to do anything they can to make some money before they inevitably slip up the mountain.  But this practice sets the tone for the experience.  And the way it is now, with no taxis, and constant scams, it only deters people from visiting.  And they’ll certainly not ever decide to spend a night or pass through again.  In fact, I would recommend anyone to skip Probolinggo all together if you can.

Bromo the Beautiful

There’s no doubting that the Mount Bromo area is beautiful.  But it’s being completely ruined by a parks system that does absolutely nothing to protect the region and everything it can to strip money from tourists.

Mount Bromo

At the top of Mount Bromo. Took everything I could to get a shot that was garbage free.

When we entered Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park we paid the $7 entry fee and felt that was it fair.  But it didn’t take us long to wonder where that money was going.  A hike from the very cool Cave Lava Hostel in Cemoro Lawang took us across the sand sea and to the base of Mount Bromo.  Though there is meant to be one road, there is a web of roads and trails all over the land, and embedded in that sand is a constant scatter of rubbish.  Up Bromo, the sulpher-spitting beauty, the steps are soaked in water bottles, and plastic.  Inside the mouth of Mount Bromo, it’s starting to resemble a land fill, not a pristine volcano.

The puzzling part to me is that there is no one enforcing it, no one cleaning it up, and not even the inkling of park staff in general.  If fact, the only staff members to be found in the park are people selling postcards, and rides on horses.  As fantastic as the place is naturally, it’s a dump.

Bromo the Overrun

Of course then there’s the sunrise.  The rumbling of 4×4 jeeps are the 3am wake up call that every visitor to Cemoro Lawang receives whether they want it or not.  Jumping in the back of one of those jeeps, you are promised to be set witness to one of the most spectacular sunsets in the world.  And well that may be the case, actually seeing it is another story.

 

Mount Bromo Sunrise

People pushing to get around the “viewpoint”

We arrived at the viewpoint a little bit late, but still in the dark.  At the top I would estimate there to be no less than 600 people, probably many more.  We counted over 100 jeeps on the way up, each with a 6 person capacity.  There must have been another 100 scooters and motorbikes.  With about 20 meters worth of viewpoint, the area is a claustrophobic mess.  We didn’t get our sunrise the morning we went up.  And perhaps that may have helped sour the mood.  However, when I imagine a sunrise I don’t think of 600 people loudly polluting my ears, and the natural scene around it. I don’t imagine being held victim by the sound of muffler-less scooters rumbling and postcard salespeople shouting.

Sunrise Bromo

Crowds at the viewpoint “enjoying” sunrise.

Of course, when there are crowds, you are part of the problem.  And nowhere have I ever been have I ever noticed such a problem.

Bromo the Greedy

With rain pounding down on us, we were dropped off by our jeep at the base of Bromo once again.  Having climbed it already, and with about 4 feet of visibility, we asked our driver to simply return us home.  After reminding us that we have an hour booked into the tour for the mountain, we said we didn’t mind, and that we wanted to go right back.  He refused.  His excuse was that the 2-3km drive would cost him too much fuel, and wasn’t in his schedule.  He got on the phone and his boss demanded more money from us.  Thus, in the middle of the sand sea, in the pouring rain, we hiked back up the hill to Cemoro Lawang.

Bromo Sunrise

Jeeps honking and pushing their way around the “viewpoint”

To hire a jeep yourself for the sunrise tour, the price is 350,000Rp.  We booked individually and paid 125,000Rp each.  Thus, with 6 people in the jeep we paid double the usual price.  But of course, that profit isn’t enough to cover 15 cents worth of fuel.

The Bright Spot?

The bright spot of this all was the Cafe Java Hostel and the vibe up in Cemoro Lawang beyond the tourism. It feels like a Himalayan village, and has all the potential in the world to be amazing.  The hostel was a nice refuge away from the noise of the cities down on the coast, aside from the 3am wake up call.  I really did enjoy my time up there, just not the sites.  Just not the tourist side of things. Definitely not the trash and crowds.

Cemoro Lawang, Indonesia

The town of Cemoro Lawang

Something has to Give in Indonesia

Something has to give in Indonesia, or it will start to gain a reputation strong enough to fully deter tourists.  In Bali, during the rains we witnessed locals dumping trash into the water flowing down the streets.  Trash that would later run up on the beaches where tourists and locals alike are meant to enjoy.  Polluting a sea where much of their livelihood comes from.  Indonesia has a trash problem.  I’m not sure whether it’s educational, or a lack of infrastructure, or the burden of high density, but something has to give, and it needs to give soon.

I’ll tell you this right now, as much as I’ve loved nearly every local in Indonesia I’ve met, I can’t see myself coming back.  There have been too many times people have treated me like a dollar bill, and too many times that I have felt taken advantage of.  Beyond all that there is the garbage, and every minute I stay in this country I can’t help but feel like I’m contributing to the problem.  Each item I use, I can see floating out there in the sea with the rest of this country’s rubbish.

Indonesia’s Travel Potential

Of the 70-something countries I’ve travel to, Indonesia has as much potential for tourism as any, if not more.  From temples, to jungles, to beaches, and history, there really is anything a tourist would want.  But, there is plenty of work to do to get it there. And judging by our experience in Bromo, and other locations, that’s a bit of an understatement.



Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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13 Comments

  1. this is really sad to hear! I have considered skipping places like Thailand and Bali myself for a similar reason. It just doesnt seem like it would feel authentic anymore. With the boost of tourism around the world and technology making it so easy I can’t se it getting any better… its just a real shame!

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  2. Thanks for share your experience, it’s very vauable for traveling to Mt Bromo without the tour.

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  3. I guess, if you want to go anywhere expecially in Indonesia you better look for guard who can help. 🙂

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  4. I absolutely love this.

    Having just been to Indonesia for a month in December and disliking almost everything Bali & Java had to offer we were left wondering ‘was it us?’

    I mean, there’s so much cool shit in Indonesia, I must like something, but it was all ruined by touts, tours and ridiculous pricing/organisation.

    I have to say I enjoyed Bromo for around five hours, the morning we hiked up to the viewpoint. The rest was an absolute shit-tip full of greedy people offering nothing in return, one hostel (it probably claimed to be a hotel, though) tried to charge us 700’000Rupiah. $70!? Ha!

    I would however say, that on the whole people in Indonesia are awesome. If you’re still in Java and get the chance, head to Pangandaran – the people there are some of the nicest I’ve ever met, some surf & national parks.

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    • Agreed man.
      The people are lovely. But it seems like anyone with a sniff of the tourism industry is as greedy as it gets, especially the big organizations. Corruption is such an issue in Indonesia, I’m not surprised.
      Wish I had time to get to Pangandaran. I decided to axe that from my schedule this time. I’d like to say I’d return to check it out… but, meh.
      Cheers for the comment.

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  5. Everyone that I talk to lately that has been to Bali, hate it. My wife went 10 years ago and loved it, but now everyone says it is a dump

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    • Hector, Bali is such a nice place. Tanah Lot, Uluwatu, Ubud, Lovina, Bratan, Munduk and Git Git Falls. There is really just so much to do and see packed into a small area. I image that 10 years ago it was paradise on earth. Today, it’s overrun by tourists, and being destroyed by locals and their rubbish. Shame to see. Here’s hoping it can return to form some day.

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  6. Wow, that is a completely frustrating experience. That would sour me on Mt. Bromo as well. I visited in 2009. While it did have some of the trappings of a tourist package trip it was no where what you described from your recent visit. It will rank as one of my best sunrises I have witnessed. I wish you shared the same experience.

    I hope Indonesia starts to focus on sustainable tourism.

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    • Here’s hoping Ric. Obviously, it just could have been a perfect storm for me on Bromo.
      Cheers for the comment.

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  7. I really appreciate that you shared your experiences here, I thought to visit for short time now I cancelled my bromo dream, I’ll go only Bali and Yogyakarta, there was some big eruptions on Feb 14 but now I believe that I can get it through, thank you for saving my time and money… 🙂

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  8. I couldn’t agree more, and unfortunately when I am now approached by someone genuine I think they are taking me for a ride.

    The massive increase in NP fees is not helping. 320k a day is robbery when no one supplies a bin. Rip me off if it’s for a cause, but show me where the money is going.

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    • Agree 100% Paul. I had such an issue not only at Mount Bromo, but all over Indonesia with this.

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  9. The touts, greedy people etc is part and parcel of visiting a foreign land. What is special about Indonesia is not only its scenery but also the struggle of its people making a living where life is hard and life changing opportunities are rare due to rigid political and socio economic hierachy wc is still in practice for over a millenia.

    I don’t know whether the 600 people you mentioned in your article are locals or not..but i do think that despite the noise etc..they also have every right to watch the sunset (not necessarily enjoy it) as much as you do. And as an asian..i do appreciate better regulation and conservation of the place but as a visitor like many others either locals or foreign..to be able to be there and see the beauty that Bromo/ Indonesia has to offfer is a blessing just the same.

    Regards

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