There are several viewpoints along the way from the nearest village, Cemoro Lawang, to the top, including Seruni and the highest point Penanjakan. However, we hiked past all the official viewpointsand were pleased that we stopped where we did. Without the chairs and stalls there were way fewer people present (maybe 10 in total), which meant less noise and less selfie sticks to ruin the serenity of the sunrise. Ideally arrive early to get a good spot. We arrived somewhat later than the first - Instagram perfect - couple, hence missed out on a picnic spot right at the edge. We were, however, early enough to get a good spot to mount our camera and to see the very first light in absolute silence (before two other groups chose to join us).
The location of this viewpoint was a great find during our hike up Mount Penanjakan in East Java. We were there to see sunrise over Mount Bromo - one of the world's most active volcanos. Watching the sunrise was an amazing experience. The first light came from the East behind soaring mountain tops giving the dark blue sky some warm redness. Slowly it moved towards Mount Bromo’s column of smoke, revealing a sea of mist layered over a green valley. Past this, the desolate Sea Of Sand. The lighter it became, the more we were aware of the changes in volume and shape of the smoke that the mountain spewed up. We were on top of the clouds, figuratively and literally.
We made a time-lapse video where we stood:
How to get there
Here is how we got from sea level to this view, then to the top of Mount Penanjakan at nearly 2,700m.
We started from Surabaya, the capital of East Java and the second largest city in Indonesia. You can fly to Surabaya domestically and internationally. You can also, like we did, take the train there from the west side of Java (Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta etc). From Surabaya, we took the train onwards to Probolinggo. There are a few buses doing this route too. If you come from Banyuwangi, the port city connected to Bali by a ferry, you can take a four hour train straight to Probolingo.
From Probolingo, there is a public bus running to Cemoro Lawang - the mountain base-camp village at the start of the trail for Mt. Bromo and Mt. Penanjakan. The bus doesn’t have a fixed timetable and only runs once it’s full. We had to wait around for two hours for an hour-long journey. Don’t expect an air-con bus with flawless driving. To compensate for this, the view along the way is breathtaking and I wouldn’t miss it for the time-saving night journey offered by most private jeep tours. More on this later.
Cemoro Lawang (2,217m) is a small hamlet with only a handful of hostels and homestays. None were listed on Booking.com - our reliable travelling partner - so for the first time in years we had to research elsewhere and - with some trepidation - booked a room at Cafe Lava Hostel by phone. However it turned out very well. As we’d booked on the day we arrived, only the more expensive superior room was available. In return for the dent in our budget, we had an amazing view overlooking a slope of vegetable pads shadowed by the mountains. The clouds were beneath our eye level!
The hostel has a restaurant serving all day, but we found the food there only okay compared with the high standard set so far on our trip in Java. There is, however, a warung two doors downhill from Cafe Lava. The warung - a bare patch of earth in the daytime - is constructed for the evening only, and seats about 10 people. The food is super tasty. They sell only nasi and mie goreng, but both are cooked masterfully by the young chef - it’s fascinating to watch the magic he performed with his wok.
The day we arrived we were given a hand drawn map from the reception, bought some warm woolly hats and scarves from a local souvenir shop, and turned in early to prepare for the hike.
On the morning of the hike, we left our hostel at 3:20am as we were told that the trek from our hostel to the viewing areas took one to two hours depending on our level of fitness. Ten minutes in we’d left behind most houses along the path that gave out any weak light. Then we could see a sky full of stars. Being a city girl, I didn't grow up seeing a sky like that often at all.
After forty five minutes we reached the first viewpoint. It had been a relatively easy undulating track up to that point. Parts of the path were rocky with puddles left from rain the day before. Mostly it was dirt or paved and wide enough for a jeep.
Disconcertingly, and unnoticed the day before, in this witching hour we could hear the volcano several miles away - sounding like an almighty jet engine in the distance. The volcano had erupted only weeks before, and there was a 2km-no-go perimeter still in operation.
I was a bit out of breath when we reached the first viewpoint with wooden seats and a railing. Nonetheless we decided to keep moving as it was too early for sunrise and we were enjoying the walk.
From this first viewpoint onwards, the path got steeper and more challenging. There are stairs set up to help hikers, however, these steps are not paved, full of broken rocks and a few parts are even collapsed. Knowing the topography, some business-minded locals offer horses at this point to tourists who prefer an easy ride.
We passed another viewpoint obliviously, noticing it only when we walked back down in the daylight. After a quarter and one hour (roughly), we reached a place which looked like a rest area between two flights of stairs. We saw that a couple had already set up their picnic blanket on the ledge there, so we turned our head to check the view. There we found our continuity, and a rock to sit on.
My husband was still curious about what was at the top of the stairs so he persuaded me to stay and guard the rock while he made his way to the top. I didn’t quite like the idea of leaving his sight in the dark but mustered up a brave face. He did come back quickly, cups of coffee in-hand, announcing that our spot was quieter than the spacious viewpoint further up, hence much more romantic (we must have ruined it for the other couple). The Seruni viewpoint was only 2 minutes up the stairs, and already, at ten past five, there were a dozen people clustered around stalls selling tea and coffee. We settled in on the top of our rock to wait.
Soon after we set up our camera for a time-lapse of Mount Bromo, two groups arrived. Camera clicks and chatter followed, but we still had a good view and our rock. We took a bunch of photos ourselves too, so we couldn’t really complain 😏.
After sunrise, we decided to push on for the top and continued our hike past Seruni, up a tiny and rocky mud path edging the mountain all the way to the peak of Mt Penanjakan at 2,700m. We were glad we didn’t hike this last leg before sunrise as some parts were dangerously close to a big drop, and it was very narrow. It took me forever to climb back down even in the broad daylight. If I didn’t see some locals using it later, I would thought it was an animal track.
The view at Penanjakan was also amazing:
By the time we arrived nearly everyone had left, but at dawn the summit is reportedly swamped with tourists who skip the trek and sail to the top in a jeep - from Cemoro Lawang, Malang, Prolinggo or even all the way from Surabaya. With a big crowd, the serenity of sunrise is lost, and without the hike, you miss out the satisfaction and the sense of achievement. We also saw monkeys, locals picking wild flowers and a lot more when we hiked down. I would recommend never taking a jeep unless you are really not fit for the climb or are travelling with children or elderly.
Feeling inspired to make your first mountain hike? Check out our guide to prepare for the trip.