Indonesia - 1 vulcano and 8 whale sharks in Java
Updated: Aug 19
We left Yogyakarta at 9 am by train. Getting train tickets in Indonesia is pretty straightforward once you know how the system works. Kereta Api, the indonesia railway, has a website where you can easily book the train you want. So off we were on our way from Yogya to Probolinggo....
We booked the train tickets easily on traveloka.com. You can chose between ekonomi class (lowest), bisnis class (middle), eksekutif (most expensive one) on normal trains. You pay the ticket by credit card and will be sent a confirmation. With the confirmation, just show up at the train station 1 hour before departure, scan the code on the confirmation at one of the machines and your final ticket will be printed. Easy, quick and really straightforward.
We chose bisnis class for our trip from Yogyakarta to Probolinggo. And we were super surprised. The stations are clean and hassle free, the system is so easy and the trains are on time. In fact, many depart too early. We met travellers who nearly missed their train as the train left 15 minutes too early! Also on the train: everything is organised, everyone has a reserved seat, toilets are clean, coaches are clean and there is a non-stop service for food and drinks. If you are vegan though, better bring your own snack. Most of the things on offer have egg or chicken. Overall, going by train was super comfortable and very civilised. We enjoyed our 8 hour journey to the fullest. Via Surabaya our train went non-stop to Probolinggo.
Why did we chose to go to Probolinggo? Well, originally we had planned to visit Malang and continue from there to the Bromo National Park. But just before we booked the train tickets we came along a vlog about the whale sharks in Probolinggo in decembre and january. So our plans were changed quickly. We wanted to give it a try - basically, to see the whale sharks was our goal (Bromo was not that important). The downside of it was, to see Mount Bromo we had to follow the main stream of tourists - and this is something we do not like. But everything has its price. And we did not have enough time to do Malang and Probolinggo.
So we got of the train in Probolinggo, walked out of the station with the super aggressive taxi drivers in tow who wanted to take us to Cemoro Lawang (village from where you can walk to Bromo) for horrendous prices. We walked around a corner till they disappeared and ordered a grab car. Without troubles, the grab came and shortly after we arrived in our new homebase, Clover Homestay. The room we got was really basic and a huge step down from what we had in Yogyakarta. But it was clean and there was a nice sitting area and a restaurant that cooked vegan only for us! And the staff was so very friendly, we felt at home. The owner was very informative about possibilities to visit Mount Bromo. Basically he even suggested us not to go with his tour, although he can make money with that. How amazing is that! We checked out our options. But as we only had 2 nights and it was impossible to get a scooter for the next morning (you can get scooters, but they were already rented all!) we nevertheless decided to go on the tour offered by Clover Homestay. The price was really fair compared to other operators. It was 400.000 Rupiah including the entrance to the park, drop at the King Kong Hill, drop at the Sea of Sands and a breakfast in the village in the end. We were supposed to be ready at 2 am in the morning for departure.
To be honest, we were completely shocked the next morning. The owner of the mhomestay was right. We had to leave so very early not because the King Kong Hill is so far away, but because there is traffic jam with all the jeeps driving to Cemoro Lawang in the early morning hours nearly all way up the mountain. This is insane! We just looked a teach other and really had a bad feeling to do this tour. This mass tourism, of which we were a part, is destroying nature, the village and the sensitive eco system of this national park. But because it is big money, government is promoting it big style. Still now, we feel bad for doing it. So at 4.30 am we finally reached King Kong Hill parking. Among hordes of other people (it was indonesian holiday season) we started our climb up to the viewpoint. The official viewpoint platform was already packed with people, many of them sick because they were not used to walk up a hill in such a cold weather high in the mountains. Indeed, it was cold - I guess around 10 degrees max.. We luckily found a quiet place along the path to the top of King Kong Hill. We did not walk right to the top but stayed in a place half way up. To be alone and have some peace for sunrise and enjoy nature was more important for us than the perfect picture spot. So we could enjoy a beautiful sunrise. As it was rainy season the sky was not cristal clear. But we could see the sunrise and had great views over Bromo, Semeru and Tengger. How lucky we were because in the rainy season these days are not
normal. The annoying things about tours is that you always have to stick to a timetable - and if some others do not you have to wait for them. But that was the deal. We were happy with the sunrise we had (alone!) and just put our heads down and walked back through the noise hordes of people to our jeep. And again - traffic jam to reach the sea of sands. Our guide gave us lots of time to explore Bromo and the sea of sands. So we took it slowly and walked a bit off the path with most of the people. It was really an insane picture to see hundreds of jeeps and much too many people. The walk up to Bromo is easy. So no need to take on eof the poorly treated horses!!!!!! Please do not use these horses as they are treated and held in horrible conditions - as travellers we should not support that!
To stand on the crater rim and look down into the crater of Mount Bromo and listen to his "sounds" is really impressive. What a great experience it was anyway. We walked around the crater rim for a while till we were alone. Wow, this is the force of nature! Despite the mass tourism - it is a really impressive thing to do. And we can definitely recommend it. Maybe you should try to figure out a more sustainable way to do it. We saw some people camping on King Kong Hill which is surely a great thing to do. Once in Cemoro Lawang everything is doable by foot. But, to be honest, we do not suggest to stay overnight in Cemoro Lawang, at least not around the main streets. The pollution and the noise here is terrible because of all the jeeps every single morning. But putting up a tent around King Kong Hill looked like a great alternative.
We had breakfast (well, we had a tea only - there were no vegan options) and then went back to Probolinggo. After a much needed shower (we were covered in dust by hiking up Bromo) and a late breakfast at the homestay we were curious about the whale sharks. The owner of the guesthouse had promised to talk to the fishermen if the whales had already arrived in the bay. Season for whale sharks in Probolinggo starts mid of decembre for about 2 months. And he had received the answer that we might be lucky as one shark had been seen 3 days ago. But already there were no public boats going there. Our only chance was to hire a boat. The boat was much too expensive - but this was the only way to see the whale sharks. And how often do you get such an opportunity. So we hired the boat. The owner of the guesthouse drove us to the pier (meaning 3 adults on the scooter for 30 min., the middle person without a helmet as there were only 2 helmets) and joined us for the tour. So it was the 3 of us plus 2 boatmen. We were super excited. There was kind of a 50% chance to see them or to spend a lot of money for nothing. So we hopped into the little boat and drove out into the bay. It was about 10 min. away from the main land when the first shark showed up. We were speechless. They are huge! and they are beautiful! And he came so
close, he touched the boat and played around the boat. We could have jumped into the water - but we did not. These are wild animals, so we wanted to leave it like this. They are not toys for tourists. And anyway, from the top of the boat we could see them much better than from the water. But this was not the end..... finally we found 8 whale sharks! It was out of this world. What a great thing to do on christmas eve! What a christmas present! We can not put it in words how thankful we still are. 8 whale sharks and only the 3 of us and the boatmen. No other boats, just us, the sharks and the ocean.
When we had dinner that night we were terribly tired (being awake since 2am) but had this stupid grin in the face you have when you are just super happy and thankful with life.
After the 4 amazing days in Yogyakarta where one highlight followed another we had this full day around Probolinggo that left us speechless. Well, we cannot recommend doing the Bromo Tour from Probolinggo. You should better not. But we were lucky enough to be able to escape the crowds a bit and to see the sunrise. So this was ok and the Bromo National Park is amazing. But this morning followed by a boat trip with whale sharks in the afternoon was really something!
So we happily went to bed early that night. It was already time to say goodbye to the lovely people in Clover's Homestay. If you want to visit Bromo from Probolinggo anyway, we really recommand you to stay in Clover's. But, do not forget to check if the whales are around!
So next morning, after breakfast, we ordered a grab car again back to the train station. And we left again by train to our last destination on Java.