In the dynamic, vibrant Asian region, the highlights are just the beginning. Beyond the UNESCO Heritage sites, the ancient monuments and historical landmarks, Asia’s top destinations are cultural hubs worthy of going beyond the surface. Joshua Zukas is a Southeast Asian destination expert with just the right insider knowledge behind Asia’s highlights. In this in-depth series, discover what’s waiting beyond the obvious in Asia’s top spots.
A phenomenal natural wonder that would attract thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – each day if only it were positioned slightly closer to the Indonesian tourist hotspots of Yogjakarta or Bali, Bromo actually only attracts a fraction of what it should. And when a site is this massive and tourist numbers are relatively low, it is easy to feel like you have the whole place to yourself even during high season.
Bromo is that place that almost everyone plans on going to, but when they crunch the numbers and realise that transport is far from easy, they cut it out of the itinerary in favour of more accessible alternatives. This is why this utterly unique natural landscape features as a ‘beyond the highlights’ destination in itself.
Now, trying to put the experience of visiting Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park into words is no easy task – but I’ll do my best.
Experiencing Bromo Tengger Semeru
Begin by picturing yourself within a great crater roughly the size of a small island. You’re not on the moon, but you imagine that visiting the moon might be a little like this. You’re standing on sand of a dark grey colour, because that which is beneath your feet is not actually sand – rather, it’s lingering ash from thousands of years of continuous volcanic activity.
Seemingly impenetrable walls of grey close in on you, but at the very top, you can just about make out some brilliant green vegetation. A grand volcano with verdant slopes looms regally on the horizon, smoking continuously to remind us of its terrible potential. This mostly gentle giant is Mt. Semeru, the highest mountain in Java and a sacred Hindu site.
Back inside the crater and you’re not alone, as you’re sharing the space with the mouth of a monster. The grey and wrinkled lips of this monster rise up towards the heavens as toxic gas is constantly spewing from the depths of its throat. This demon is Mt. Bromo, and it has caused some of the most violent and spectacular eruptions known to man.
Gems in the Wilderness
Bromo gets all the attention in name alone, as visitors soon realise that as spectacular as this smoking beast might be, it is the bigger picture that makes visiting this national park so special. Bromo and Semeru couldn’t be anymore different – the former is grey, shriveled and with a violent temper, while the latter is green, regal, and with a much calmer temperament. They come together with surroundings from a science fiction film to form one of the most striking natural images on earth.
“Bromo and Semeru couldn’t be anymore different – the former is grey, shriveled and with a violent temper; while the latter is green, regal, and with a much calmer temperament.”
The key to visiting the Bromo Tenggur Semeru National Park is time- and plenty of kopi susu (Indonesian instant coffee- it might not be made from the finest quality Java beans but its cheap, readily available, and should keep you awake). Driving through the night and arriving in time to see the sunrise from the crater edge is an absolute must, but so is lingering a little longer to see how the landscape changes as the sun rises high into the sky as the other visitors start to move on.
Into the Crater
After taking in these magnificent views away from the rest, it is time to get down and dirty by delving into the crater from which Bromo currently rises. Making your way across the ash is a completely bizarre experience, and is best done by car – but is also possible by motorbike for those with an adventurous streak.
The reason to make your way across this alien landscape is to climb up and peer inside the mouth of the monster. Despite several volatile eruptions over the past two decades, Bromo is usually tame enough to make the climb without being blown to bits.
Put simply, the Bromo Tenggur Semeru National Park is one of the world’s most beautifully unusual natural landscapes. The difficult location is somewhat of a mixed blessing, as too many people don’t work it into their Indonesia plans. But for those that do, it will surely go down as one of their most memorable lifetime experiences- and a great way to make those that couldn’t peel themselves away from the beaches of Bali feel a twang of regret.