Anna Luna Rossi
Hiking a volcano at night: the adventure of Mount Batur in northern Bali
Updated: 4 days ago
Mount Batur is Bali's third-highest volcano, located in the northeast of the island. It is a 1717 meters high active volcano, that you can climb at dawn to admire the sun rising behind the adjacent Mount Agung, if you're adventurous enough for the long and steep way up. According to Hindu beliefs, this mountain is sacred. It is a pretty well-known trip to take on the island, but have you ever wondered how is the whole experience of hiking a volcano? If it has ever been on your bucket list, come with me on the adventure that I'm surely going to remember for a long time.
An early wake-up call and the drive to the camp base
It is 2 am, on a cloudless June night, and I wake up a little disoriented before I remember why my alarm was set this early. It's time to quickly get ready, and I slip into a warm jacket that I'm wearing for the first time on the tropical island. Hiking shoes on and camera ready, I get outside into the pitch darkness where our driver is waiting for us. Wayana's warm smile is always brightening our day, but at this time of the night, it's hard to stay awake listening to his stories on the hour-long drive to Batur. I vaguely register that we're surrounded by the jungle from which I hear the nightly songs, but the road is so empty that I must fall back into sleep pretty quickly. The next thing I know, my friend is waking me up as we've reached the camp base. It's 3:30 a.m. Wayana hands us water bottles, apples, and bananas "for energy on your hike". And this, we will need indeed. Then, a local guide brings us to a sitting area inside the camp, with a "Welcome, breakfast is ready!". Nearly a minute after, we're served large plates of banana and chocolate crepes with a hot cup of home-grown coffee, still steaming. We were definitely not expecting to eat this early, but the food is more than welcome, from the perspective of the walk we will be attempting soon enough.
"Wayana, how long does it take to climb the volcano usually?" I ask between two sips of coffee. "Less than two hours! It's easy don't worry!". Two hours, yes. It was more like almost three hours, and this was because we absolutely rushed our hike. I always find it pretty funny when other travelers praise this hike as a pretty accessible one: I have been hiking since I'm old enough to walk and consider myself athletic enough, and yet I was exhausted after this. In retrospect, it is pretty accessible if you take your time to climb up. But when there's a time limit, it's a whole other story. But let's start at the beginning of the adventure.
The beginning of the adventure in pitch darkness
It is now 3:45, and the jeep is ready to bring us at the bottom of the mountain. We say our farewells to Wayana, telling him to not eat too many crepes while we're gone and to not forget us in the wild, and jump in the car. Ten minutes later, we're reaching the start of the hike, and are gathered with two other people to form a small expedition group. Our guide gives us headlamps, and tells us at what hour we're expected to reach the top (for pointers, it is 4 am, and we're supposed to be up there at 6. The sun rises at 6:30 am). And then, it's time to hike!
One thing to be aware of, is that this trek is no secret for travelers: it's well known among nature lovers and adventure seekers, photographers and videographers, you name it. So it's pretty logical how Balinese people found a business in bringing people at the top of the volcano. This means that you will most definitely not be alone during this hike: neither on the way up, and certainly not at the top.
We begin our hike in pitch darkness, walking in a single file between what we identify as tomato crops in the obscurity. It is so dark, that despite the stars in the night sky we can hardly see a few meters ahead of ourselves. For the first few minutes, we walk in the countryside, passing little houses where the lights are shut down, in silence, until we finally reach the beginning of the trail on the mountainside. There's the jungle close to us, we can hear it. And I wish I could see properly the plants surrounding us and brushing our arms, because I have a sense that the landscape must be beautiful.
A slight turn of events and almost getting lost
It's almost 5 when my friend and I decide that we respect our little group, but the allure we're walking at is definitely too slow for us. We ask our guide if it's okay for us to continue forward by ourselves. He's hesitant at first, but we promise we'll be careful, will try to merge with other groups, and will meet them at the halfway point. He ends up agreeing, and we're finally free to pick up a faster pace. It wasn't that we were determined to exhaust ourselves more, it was just that the clock was tickling, and that we really didn't want to miss the sunrise. In retrospect, we spent the whole hike checking our watches, and I find it a bit funny knowing how I usually make a point to avoid any kind of stress when I travel abroad. But when the trail is as difficult as this one, and you know how beautiful the sunrise is renowned to be, you don't want to miss the big prize.
We are tired already, panting, trying to take the smallest breaks possible to not waste time, and the trail starts to be steeper meters by meters. Soon, we begin to realize that we've created such distance between our group and ourselves, that we're almost alone on the trail. We can hear other groups in front of us in the distance, but they are not in sight. This is when the headlamp of my friend decides to give up. It's okay, you would think, to use one headlamp for two. Expect more volcanic rocks start to stake out the way, and we quickly realize it's not possible.
We almost take a wrong turn, and understand how necessary it can be to have a guide. So we decide to wait for the approaching group, and ask them if it is okay to join them. The guide agrees, but refuses to give the spare headlamp he has to my friend because he needs to save it for his own group. Understandable, we tried, at least. We end up doing most of the rest of the hike with them, and at one point my own headlamp starts to falter. My friend and I would have laughed at each other's misfortune if we weren't so out of breath. As opposed to our first guide, this one pretty much refuses to take breaks. We're exhausted, and my friend is starting to regret the whole adventure.
But we need to reach the top in time for the sunrise. "It's okay, you can do it." I don't know who I'm trying to convince, my friend or myself? The light has started to peak at the horizon. The sun is still hidden, but we can see the trail with a bit more clarity. Now, we've reached the steepest part of the hike. We are walking on volcanic sand, from which we can feel the emanating heat, and it is so slippery I almost fall twice. There is even a portion of the trail where we have to climb the black rocks using our hands. The top is near, it's no point to give up (although, I must admit that in all honesty, I may have told my friend at this point that I was seriously considering giving up - except that when you're at this exact place, it is not an attainable option).
I may depict this adventure as a very difficult one, the trail is in reality not that hard. Some parts are steeper, but the overall way isn't very long. But it is true that you must be of a good enough physical condition to do it, and have appropriate shoes. And if you're hiking it with a time limitation, it's way harder. Not many breaks will be possible! The night also makes it way harder for you to notice the rocks on your way. I have read that for some people, the way down took longer than the way up, but for us it was somehow the contrary.
Reaching the summit of the volcano
We're almost at the top now, and from the rocks above me, I hear "Hey, girls, how are you?" My friend and I have a wavering moment, not recognizing who is talking to us. "It's me, Kadek!". We still look at him a bit puzzled. "Your guide from the beginning!" Oh! With our exhaustion, we almost forgot how we changed guide, and we have no clue how he managed to recognize us in the dark. But he was kind enough to wait for us and encourage us on the last meters, and that's what I will remember most. He's here to guide us to the end of the trek, where our group is already waiting for us. How? Kadek tells us that they chose the option of taking motorbikes to reach the top, halfway up. My friend and I look at each other for a second, not wanting to ever phantom how this was apparently an option. No, we're proud of ourselves for walking all the way.
The last meters separating us from the summit of the volcano are probably the hardest (it's pretty much always the case). And once we finally reach it, the first thing my friend does is lay on the ground without a word and I don't think I have ever related more to something in my life. We meet our group, and sat on wooden benches facing Mount Agung, close to the edge of the mountain, we wait for the sun to rise. Having lost so much time on the way up, we don't have to wait for long: the sun appears over the horizon line almost as soon as we sit down. There begins the wonderful spectacle of the sunrise, slowly illuminating the sky and the clouds surrounding Mount Agung's summit in a myriad of orange and pink tones. It is breathtaking, and I get almost emotional when I realize that I am 1717 meters up on a volcano on the other side of the world admiring with strangers a spectacle that made everyone fall silent. Life is truly beautiful, in this very moment.
We gaze at the sun until the very last colors start to fade in the sky and the light starts to be way brighter. Our guide comes back with a second breakfast for us: banana sandwiches (have I mentioned how bananas are in everything in Bali?) and eggs cooked with the heat of the volcano's steam.
The way down the volcano through the jungle and northern countryside
The fog is quick to surround the volcano once the sun has risen. The morning light becomes grey, and it's suddenly very cold and humid up there. At this altitude, the wind blows more intensely. That's our cue to start the way down back to the base of the mountain. The first meters down are not the most pleasant, but as soon as we reach under the cover of clouds, the landscape unfolds before us under a whole new light.
From up on the caldera, the viewpoint over the valley of Batur is stunning. The northern countryside hills are bathed in the soft glow of the morning light. Pine trees are hanging against the mountainside, green needles swaying in the slow breeze. The island heat is rising quickly, even if the north stays cooler than the southern regions. Danau Batur, the lake at the foot of the mountain, is shining under the sun and the shadows of the clouds over the patchwork of crops look like they have been hand-drawn.
A part of the trail down, which is different than the one we took on our way up, is in the middle of the jungle surrounding the caldera. Under the closing of the trees, the temperature is cooler, and we can hear the sounds of tropical birds and long-tailed monkeys without being able to see them. It adds a bit of mystery to the adventure.
We continue to walk for a while, and as soon as we're out of the forest we find ourselves in the middle of the countryside. We're walking the same path we took at night, between the crops, and in the daylight we can now see the plantations of vegetables all around us. A mother is working to water the plants, her baby in her back sleeping peacefully. Our guide stops for a second to show us the chili plantations, and the flowers of the pigeon peas (Cajanus cajan) growing on the side of our path. No matter the tiredness, I feel like the trail is ending too soon when we finally reach the jeep waiting for us. I could have stayed so much longer to admire more of the lush and golden countryside, this lesser-known side of Bali I was discovering for the first time.
Some information about Mount Batur Sunrise Trekking
How to get there?
A lot of agencies offer trekking tours with a guide and breakfast on top of the mountain included, like Bali Trekking Tour. I personally chose to book the trip through my guide, Wayana, whom I knew well. It's located 39km away from Ubud, and the pickup to go to the base of the mountain is included in the tour. You can always choose to go there and do the hike on your own, but I would highly recommend having a guide. Hiking at night in an unknown area can sometimes be dangerous.
How much does it cost?
The ascension of Mount Batur generally costs around 500 000 IDR ($32 USD / 31 EUR) depending on who you book your tour with. This price should include the pickup, the hiking guide, a headlamp, and breakfast. Of course, it is always going to be more expensive if you book it as a solo traveler rather than as a group. This is just how Bali works!
Important to know
It's okay to not be fully equipped for hiking to do this hike, but I would still recommend having a good pair of trekking shoes (or at least appropriate sneakers) and a jacket because it can get very cold on top. Don't forget to bring water!
Mount Batur is listed as a UNESCO Global Geopark, meaning it is considered to have international geological significance. Keep this in mind during your trek, and as you should in any other natural area, be respectful of the environment. Don't pick local plants, and don't use the excuse of the dark to leave any trash behind you. Some excursions propose to get up there by jeep or motorbike, but if you decide to go on this adventure, it is way more ecological to walk your way up.
If you want to discover more of the beauty of Bali, make sure to check the gallery of pictures I took during my trip.