It was midnight and after a short an-hour-and-a-half nap on the shuttle bus from our hotel, my travelling companions and I arrived at the base camp of Mount Ijen. It was pitch-dark and small lights from head lamps can be a huge succour to show us the way up to our destination. The path was slippery and it was freezing cold that we needed to be cautious or we might slip and hurt ourselves.
We bumped into local men many times who turned out to be miners and trolley or ojek-drivers who happily offered us an easier option: by riding their ojek at, of course, certain negotiable cost. I refused because I want to climb Mount Ijen with my own fortitude. After two hours of covering about 3.7 kilometres, we safely arrived at the top.
But the journey had not yet ended. The ‘blue fire’ we were anticipating to see is not at the peak but somewhere down the Ijen Crater, famously dubbed as the most acidic lake in the world, near the active volcano. The journey going down the steep cliffs was more dangerous than the journey before but we eventually made it. It was still dark, the ideal lighting condition to witness the miraculous ‘blue fire’.
The sun came up shortly after, waking us up to the surrounding otherworldly landscape that was a sight to behold. With the air covered in sulphur, my safety mask ensured that I remain protected while taking in the breathtaking scenery. Then I realised that the locals, including my friendly guide and an old man I stumbled along the way, did not wear mask. And these strong men were carrying huge loads of sulphur rocks on their backs treading up and down the terrain. It was unbelievable to see that these men were able to endure detrimental heat, fumes, loads and rough journey with no other intention but to feed their beloved family. At that very moment, my admiration towards Banyuwangi became stronger because the destination is more than just Mount Ijen and the ‘blue fire’…
Also read: 10 Best Ways To Explore East Java & Bali
|Good to know
• The word Banyuwangi means ‘aromatic water’ in Javanese.
• Banyuwangi is the easternmost city in Java, thus famously known as the #SunriseOfJava
• It is separated from Bali by the Bali Straits, only 30 minutes’ ferry ride to and from Gilimanuk Harbour in Bali and Ketapang Harbour in Banyuwangi.
• From Kuala Lumpur, travellers need to transit at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport before arriving at Blimbingsari Airport, Banyuwangi.
• Time zone in Banyuwangi is GMT+7 (one hour behind of Kuala Lumpur)
WHEN IN BANYUWANGI…
For a moment, I thought I was in a fantasy realm because De Djawatan seems so fantastic it could be mistaken as the Fangorn Forest in the Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien. It is fascinating to know that these giant trembesi trees are already over 100 years old, looking majestically sylvan and perfect for great Instagram shots. This six-hectare forest is now a popular recreational park for local and international tourists alike.
Pulau Merah Beach
Located along the Southern Coast of East Java, this place is also known as Pulo Merah, which means ‘red island’. The name is derived from the red soil surrounding a small green hill just 100 metres away from the beach and accessible via foot during low tide. Besides being an excellent surfing spot in Banyuwangi, families usually come to this place for a picnic.
At the western end of Alas Purwo National Park, there is a mangrove area known for its similarities with the Amazon called Bedul, which is developed as a tourist attraction to support regional conservation effort and boost local economy at the same time. A trip exploring the mangroves using local boats known as ‘gondang-gandung’ offers the chance to encounter wildlife such as monkeys, monitor lizards, herons and more. If you are lucky, you could even witness migratory birds from Australia like the sterna birds!
This 80-hectare semi-natural attraction, also part of Alas Purwo National Park, is formed after a forest destruction, whereby it slowly turns into a meadow where faunas like Javanese bull, deer, wild boar, wild dog, and leopard including birds like peacock, egret, eagle, black-winged starling and more can be spotted around here. A three-floor lookout tower is provided but it is advisable for travellers to bring along binoculars to spot the animals much easier.
Derived its name from Trianggulasi Monument located around 500 metres from the north coast, Trianggulasi Beach is one of the beautiful beaches in Alas Purwo National Park. The waves are quite strong thus swimming and surfing are highly prohibited. Instead, you are welcome to just relax and enjoy the wind from the Indian Ocean while taking in the scenery.
Also known as Bangsring Underwater, there is a floating house not far from the beach where travellers can experience swimming and snorkelling with plenty of colourful fishes, including sharks! I was informed that these sharks are being conserved here before being released to the open water. Nevertheless, the underwater world here is enthralling with fishes aplenty!
If you are wondering where you can buy Banyuwangi merchandises to bring back home, this is the answer. From signature snacks to traditional batik, this is the place for you to not only shop for souvenirs, but also dine at the restaurant and café.
Masjid Agung Baiturrahman
Not to be confused with the one in Aceh, Masjid Agung Baiturrahman in Banyuwangi is a grand mosque used to be called Masjid Jami’ Banyuwangi. Having been in existence since 1773 thus the oldest and the largest mosque in the regency, it can accommodate over five thousand worshippers at one time. There is a giant Quran (Holy Book of Islam) inside this mosque that is written with beautiful Islamic calligraphy, graced with Banyuwangi’s iconic Gajah Oling motif, used for recitation and in-depth study (tadarus).
There are myriads of cafés and restaurants in Banyuwangi should travellers crave for tasty local delicacies and dishes. Below are some of our recommendations.
- Sun Osing Café & Resto – Serving local and international menus including cocktails and pastries. Must try: Sego tempong.
- Heroes Café – A café equipped with karaoke service. Must try: Nasi campur (mixed rice).
- Pondok Indah – Serving local cuisines in a green, natural surroundings. Must try: Nasi bakar pedo.
- Watu Dodol – A beachfront restaurant where Bali can be seen in the distance. Must try: Nasi campur.
- Aamdani Restaurant – Serving local and international menus and suitable for a large group of travellers. Must try: Nasi goreng Aamdani (Amdaani fried rice).
New Surya Hotel
Located in Jajag, this hotel offers a comfortable stay for travellers to relax after spending time exploring Banyuwangi. The rooms are cosy and the food decent. There is a pool near the restaurant should travellers feel like swimming.
Set under the shades of many coconut trees, Ketapang Indah Hotel is highly recommended for it offers many other facilities than just a comfortable room; it has swimming pool, playground, spa called ‘Omah’, Wahoo Restaurant and even spaces for events and weddings.
WHEN IN EAST JAVA, HEAD TO WEST BALI…
Since Banyuwangi is just 30 minutes by ferry away from Bali, these are some places that we recommend in West Bali:
- Plataran L’Harmonie – West Bali National Park – A hidden gem in northwest tip of Bali, this 382-hectare protected area offers unspoilt forest and beaches where wild animals like the Javanese deer and the endangered species of Bali starling birds can be spotted here, among others.
- The Octagon Ocean Club – This avant-garde dining venue is so exceptional and private, located amidst the forest and sea in West Bali National Park. More than just a venue with an incredible 33-metre infinity pool, the menu here is just extraordinary.
- Plataran Menjangan Resort & Spa – Offering three categories of settings for its well-appointed villas (forest, mangrove and ocean), this resort also comes with an internationally-recognised, beachfront spa named ‘Padma Spa’.
Gaya Travel Magazine would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to the Consulate General of Republic Indonesia Johor Bahru and Indonesian Ministry of Tourism for making the writer’s journey to Banyuwangi and West Bali such a memorable one.