Travel

Beautiful Kawah Ijen: The World’s Largest Acidic Volcanic Crater Lake

by Jessy Eykendorp | February 27, 2012

© Jessy C. EykendorpMore than 450 volcanoes sit along the Pacific Ring of Fire, stretching in a horseshoe like arch from just north of New Zealand, up and around the Pacific coast to Peru and Chile. Scientist estimate that between 100-150 of these volcanoes are still active, containing 75 percent of all active volcanoes on the planet.

These volcanoes form the backbone of Sumatra, Java and Bali. Kawah Ijen (Ijen Crater) in the nature reserve Ijen Park is located between Banyuwangi and Bondowoso District, East Java, Indonesia. The crater is located at the exact top of Mount Ijen, one of a series of volcanoes in East Java including Raung, Bromo, Semeru and Merapi.

Kawah Ijen © Jessy C. Eykendorp

Quick Facts about Kawah Ijen:

  • Location: East Java, Indonesia
  • Coordinates: 8.058°S 114.242°E
  • Elevation: 2,799 m (9,183 ft)
  • Type: Stratovolcano
  • Last eruption: 1999

Stratovolcano © Jessy C. Eykendorp

With an elevation 2,799 m (9,183 ft), air temperatures at the crater are cold, usually around 10° Celsius, although sometimes the temperature drops as low as 2° Celsius. The cold ambient air temperature combined with the heat escaping from the volcanic crater increase the sensation of the experience of visiting Kawah Ijen. Various plants that exist only in the highlands can also be found here, including edelweis flowers and pine.

Blue-green water is corrosive and dangerous © Jessy C. Eykendorp

This beautiful warm crater lake with its blue-green water looks very inviting, but it is corrosive and dangerous! The crater of Kawah Ijen is about 960 meters x 600 meters with a depth of 200 meters and contains water so acidic that it can dissolve clothes and human flesh. The acid measure is almost zero (pH).

The best time to start hiking to Kawah Ijen is in the early morning, around 3 or 4 AM (some enthusiast hikers and photographers start out even earlier). This will allow you to reach the crater just in time to watch a beautiful sunrise peeping through the mountain tops.

Sunrise through mountaintops © Jessy C. Eykendorp

Sunrise © Jessy C. Eykendorp

A moderate 3 km track leads up to the volcano rim. Through the casuarinas forest, the track is wide and flat but this is just the beginning and gradually the trail rises up through some steep sections. After about 2 km of walking there is a shelter; this is the post where miners harvesting sulfur from the crater weigh their load. From here the trail is flat all the way to the crater’s rim, which offers a beautiful panoramic view of Ijen Caldera. You will know you have arrived by the smell of sulfur fumes rising from the crater lake. From the edge of the crater rim, one must climb another 300 meters down a narrow steep path to the lakeside to get the best pictures.

Alternative hike © Jessy C. Eykendorp

As an alternative, hike for about 1 km to the north-east of the crater and follow the track. From here, the breathtaking panoramic view of the stunning turquoise lake is simply magnificent.

A morning trip to the crater is imperative. By around 10AM the wind starts to blow the acidic sulfur smoke towards the walk path. It is difficult to climb down or up when covered by the smoke. If you find yourself in this situation and you don’t have a mask, pour some water on a tissue or handkerchief and use it to cover your mouth and nose. Breath through your mouth and stay low behind the rocks. Don’t panic! By 2PM the access to the crater is closed due to heavy white sulfuric smoke that makes hiking impossible.

Panorama © Jessy C. Eykendorp

In part two of this article, Jessy gives us a closer look at the miners of Kawah Ijen and the dangers they face. Read part two →

About the Author

Jessy Eykendorp is Bali based outdoor photographer. Living in a small island of Bali, Indonesia, her works has been internationally published on magazines, travel guides and advertising campaigns.

There is so much beauty in this island and country I live in, I hope my photography can capture this and can be shared with others for a lifetime.

More of her work can be seen at: www.flickr.com/tropicaliving.

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