Ijen Crater, a natural attraction
By Singgir Kartana
BANYUWANGI, East Java (JP): Banyuwangi, the harbor town at Java's eastern tip, has more to offer than the Gandrung folk dance and fish as the stereotypes have it. Due to a lack of promotion, not many people know that the Banyuwangi area boasts lots of natural beauty spots. Kawah Ijen (Ijen Crater) is one of the most spectacular tourist destinations in the region.
Located 32 kilometers west of Banyuwangi town, the crater lies about 2,300 meters above sea level between Mount Ijen and Mount Merapi. The 20 hectare crater is unique: it has widespread sulfur deposits and shimmering green water.
The location is accessible by car and motorcycle, but to get to the crater itself you have to walk another three kilometers along a path. The three-kilometer trek is not that tough, though, and you don't need any special equipment or supplies. Trekking shoes, food, water and a jacket are all that you need.
On the way from Banyuwangi town, gorgeous vistas open up after you enter Glagah subdistrict. The points of interest include the kampongs of the Using hill tribe, the forests, the plantations of coffee, rubber, and cacao, and the vegetable gardens of the locals.
The Using are concentrated in the area between Banyuwangi and Ijen. The kampongs stand out for their traditional architecture, known as Tikal, where the houses have coned roofs similar to kuncungan houses in other parts of East and Central Java. They are smaller than houses in Java, though. A tikal house uses palm fiber to bind the different parts and no nails are used.
"The Using people often move house, so palm fiber is easier to undo when they have to dismantle the house," says Asnan, 52, a Glagah resident.
Approaching the peak of the mountain range, the scenery is dominated by a breathtaking plain of what is locally referred to as edelweis -- several hundred hectares of it. Often also called bunga abadi (everlasting bloom on account of its longevity), the edelweis only grows in certain upland areas in Indonesia.
Another peculiar sight is laborers going up and down the mountain barefoot carrying slabs of sulfur. It is common for a laborer to carry up to 60 kilograms of sulfur on his shoulders down the mountain.
From the top of the mountain, you can enjoy the beautiful vista below. One side of the main crater spews out sulfurous gases and many people quarry sulfur there for sale.
Kawah Ijen is part of a conservation area which is home to many rare species of orchid, as well as a multitude of squirrels and grasshoppers. Among the highly endangered animals found there is the Javan eagle. Official statistics show that the surrounding forest is home to 107 species of bird.
"Tourists keep coming in. The peak of the mountain is a favorite camp site for students," said Saimun, 42, a sulfur digger.
"It's a shame that some visitors pick the edelweis and disturb the plants despite the signs," he said.
The best time to enjoy the view of the crater is between 8 a.m and 9 a.m. If you want to watch the sunrise or sunset, it is recommended that you stay the night there. Accommodation is available near the peak for between Rp 15,000 and Rp 50,000.
Ijen is relatively little-known due to a lack of promotion, as well as a lack of support facilities and infrastructure. The roads leading to the crater are damaged; food vendors are rarely to be found. Foreign tourists know of Kawah Ijen by word of the mouth. The place is said to be highly popular in Spain.
"I come here especially for Ijen, not Bali," said Jorge Rodrigues, a Spaniard who has visited the crater several times.
Aware of the great tourism potential, the Banyuwangi regency government has embarked on a promotional campaign, and is improving the infrastructure and facilities.
The Banyuwangi administration aims to develop the area as an agritourism destination.
Dariharto, the head of the Banyuwangi tourist office, said that the development of Kawah Ijen had top priority. Roads to the crater are being repaired and new accommodation is under construction.
The tourist office has also ventured into cyberspace to promote the area. The Wahana Plengkung website describes a host of tourist attractions in the regency. So if you want to know where to go in Banyuwangi visit www.plengkung.co.id.
"The presence of foreign tourists proves that Ijen is worth developing. I am optimistic that, if the political and economic conditions in Indonesia improve soon, Ijen will become the No.1 tourist destination in Banyuwangi," Dariharto said.
The crater is being promoted and developed as part of the local administration's Visit Banyuwangi 2001 Campaign.
The effort is well worth making.