Although often overlooked by travellers, the far east of Java holds some of the island’s most spectacular landscapes, notably those of the Baluran National Park, whose principal highlight is the beautiful Ijen Plateau, a rolling upland of dry savannah studded with soaring volcanoes. Three of these – Gunung Raung, Gunung Sulket and Gunung Merapi – approach or exceed the 3,000-metre mark. The one that’s most fascinating to ascend on foot is Gunung Ijen (1,994m), thanks to the secret it cradles in its summit crater: a steaming blue-green lake, surrounded by slopes of yellow-ochre. Passing through coffee plantations, vegetable gardens and forest, the road to the start of the trek at the national park headquarters in Pal Tuding makes a delightful drive.
From the trailhead, you strike out on foot along a path trodden at dawn each day by teams of sulphur miners from the local villages. Having hacked lumps of mineral rich rock from the crater floor, the men return carrying 50–70kg loads on their backs – an extraordinary feat of courage and endurance which you can observe from the safety of the crater rim. An expert guide will accompany you on this unforgettable 3-km climb, which takes around 90 minutes.