Surabaya, Tosari and Mt Bromo

This is the second instalment from Indonesia, a trip I took back in 2009. After perusing Flores, we flew to Surabaya on Java. Surabaya is Indonesia’s second biggest city. Generally considered of little interest for tourists, we arrived with fairly low expectations. To be quite honest, Surabaya is nothing special; it is a frenetic but surprisingly captivating conglomeration of houses, offices, shopping malls and slums. However after five days in the wild of Flores, we welcomed this with open hearts.

Surabaya city

Surabaya city

We stayed at the Sahid Hotel which was probably very luxurious in 1982, but had a sort of post-apocalyptic air when we visited. Indonesia has seen a massive downturn in tourism in the past 10 years and any hotels that haven’t gone out of business feel that they too have seen better days. We spent the night in Surabaya’s Tunjungan Plaza which looked fairly classy but in the end was no different from any Australian Westfield (except for the shop selling headscarves and gowns; “for the modern Muslim woman”).

Surabaya city

Surabaya city

The next morning I headed downstairs for breakfast at the Sahid Hotel’s noisy, chaotic coffee shop. The traditional Indonesian breakfast consists of a clear vegetable soup, plain rice and maybe some fish; it gives the people sustainable energy for the long, hot day ahead. In big cities,like Surabaya you can also find Western options like toast and jam, omelette, cereal with milk, but never bacon. However out in the countryside many locals find the idea of having milk at breakfast quite ridiculous; what use is that going to be in a few hours time when it’s 35 degrees and 100% humidity? And then of course there’s the coffee – strong, black local Javanese coffee. Indonesians drink it at breakfast with a truckload of sugar, then have watery iced tea to keep them going through the day.

Surabaya was our first stop on the island of Java, which is not the biggest island, but it is definitely the most important. Consider this; Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world with 240 million people: half of them live on Java. The biggest city and capital, Jakarta, is here. Coffee and tea come from Java: simply, Java is Indonesia. Probably the most famous attraction in Indonesia (apart from Kuta beach) is Mount Bromo, an impressive, semi-active volcano three hours drive from Surabaya. We hired a car from the city to near the volcano, arriving at midday on Wednesday. Although we had originally planned to stay in Malang (directly south of Surabaya), we ended up staying in a tiny village called Tosari, just near the volcano so it would be easier to access. Tosari might just be the dullest town in Indonesia, however it was the scenery, not the nightlife that we were there for. We spent Wednesday afternoon bracing ourselves for the harsh start on Thursday.

Sunrise over Mt Bromo

Sunrise over Mt Bromo

At 3.30 on Thursday morning we hauled ourselves into a jeep for a bone-jarring drive to a lookout near Mount BromoMt Bromo itself is a small, smoking crater, but it is framed by two other dormant volcanoes which stand higher than it. From the lookout, we could see across a sea of sandy volcanic dust to where these three mountains rise up out of the mist. Arriving at the lookout at about 4:30am, we jostled for position with a few hundred other tourists, a Japanese wedding party and a bunch of Korean tourists singing Taylor Swift’s “Love Story”.

Sunrise over Mt Bromo 2

Sunrise over Mt Bromo

We could hardly make out the outline of the mountains, but the first light could be seen to the east, so the crowds rushed to one side. It was only by chance that we stayed where we were, and when the twilight revealed the volcanoes they were directly in front of us. We had front row seats for one of nature’s greatest shows. The smoke from Mt Bromo was rolling across the valley before us like a carpet, before cascading into the next gully. Thursday’s first rays of sun struck the peak of Mt Semeru, which at 3676m is the tallest mountain in Indonesia. Gradually the sun was drawn lower and lower, down the slopes of nearby Mt Batok (2440m) before illuminating the valley in its magical haze. We stood there until daylight at about 6:30am, before driving around the ridge for a different view.

Sunrise over Mt Bromo

Sunrise over Mt Bromo

Mist near Mt Bromo

Mist near Mt Bromo

Sunrise over Mt Bromo

Sunrise over Mt Bromo

Once we had seen enough, it was time to visit the crater itself. More spine-shattering took place as our all-conquering jeep descended into the dusty volcanic valley, eventually arriving at the tourist post where we were hassled by touts offering horse rides to Mount Bromo‘s crater rim. I jumped on a horse named Bagong and yelled “mush!” as we approached the crater, much to the bewilderment of my horse’s owner Nayo, who was leading us along at a snail’s pace. The horses waited nearby as we made our final scramble to the crater rim, courtesy of a punishing 250 steps.

Near Mt Bromo's crater

Near Mt Bromo’s crater

On the rim of Mt Bromo's crater

On the rim of Mt Bromo’s crater

As we reached the top we peered over into the void . The landscape surrounding us now resembled the moon’s surface, and the other, nearby mountains seemed to be almost on top of us. We were incredibly lucky with the weather; a crystal clear day except for the ash that the volcano was ejecting. The photographs have to be seen to be believed; so good in fact that I coined the term “photogratification” to explain the feeling (being an English teacher, I feel I have the authority to introduce new words to the language). As we made our way around the rim, we shouted into the crater and created an echo which reverberated for what seemed like an eternity.

Mt Bromo crater

Mt Bromo crater

It was about 9am by the time we returned to Tosari, and we filled up on breakfast and then hit the sack, making up for the hours of sleep we were deprived of. The Tosari Bromo Cottages were made up of a bunch of bungalows terraced up a hillside, capped at the top by reception and a restaurant. In the evening Tosari was blanketed in volcanic smoke from nearby Bromo, but the cool of the night seemed to lift the smoke and by morning it was crystal clear. Then slowly the mountain breezes would send the smoke back towards Tosari, the cloud slowly ebbing into the valley and through the town.


Contrast: Tosari with and without the mist


At Mt Bromo with Bagong

At Mt Bromo with Bagong

When to go

June to August is a good time to visit – it’s about as cool and dry as it gets.


Essential Stats

Culture shock: 6/10

Language difficulty: 7/10 – not a lot of English is spoken out here, but you can get by

Quality of food: 8/10 – where it was bad, it was bad, but when it was good, it was incredible.

Cost: 4/10

Physical demand: 8/10


Advice and warnings

Feral dogs, reckless drivers, rickety infrastructure – the dangers around Mt Bromo are of the environmental kind. The usual precautions apply – no walking alone at night if you can help it, keep a close eye on your valuables, etc. Check Smart Traveller or the British Foreign Office for more comprehensive warnings.



Most Australian and Indian passport holders are eligible for 30-day or 14-day (respectively) visa on arrival for US$25 at Surabaya, Jakarta and other airports. Pakistanis must apply to the Indonesian Embassy in Islamabad; visas cost US$45 and take at least three working days to process. See the website for the list of documents required.


Getting there and around

Air Asia flies to Surabaya from Melbourne (from $511 return) and Sydney (from $504 return), both via Kuala Lumpur.

From Lahore, fly Pakistan International Airlines to Kuala Lumpur (from PKR 63,988 return). From Kuala Lumpur, fly Garuda Indonesia to Surabaya from PKR 21,872 return.

From Chennai, fly Singapore Airlines to Bali (from INR 38,544 return).

Ask your hotel either in Surabaya or Tosari to organise a pick up and drop from the airport.



We stayed at the Sahid Surabaya, and at the Tosari Bromo Cottages. Other options are available through

Comments (8)

  • Anna @ shenANNAgans Reply

    OH HECK YEAH! What an adventure Tim. I am sitting here on my back deck taking in some much needed sunshine exploring the world. Visiting your blog is like reading a really bloody great book. So awesome! Is the strong black coffee good or bad? And is the milk, milk or the long life stuff?
    Hope you are having a great weekend! 🙂

    October 5, 2014 at 12:27 pm
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Awwww thank you!!! That’s so kind of you!! The coffee was… different! A bit like French café au lait… maybe takes a bit of getting used to for anyone accustomed to the espresso bar! The hotel coffee wasn’t great, but in some other places it was simply divine. And yeah, long life stuff… poured straight in :p

      Thanks for reading, and hope you’re having an awesome week 🙂

      October 8, 2014 at 11:56 am
  • Andrew Reply

    what an amazing road to walk! Or ride a donkey on! Amazing views, stunning location!

    October 5, 2014 at 9:22 pm
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Yep, it was as incredible as it looks! You must go there some time!! Thanks for reading! 🙂

      October 8, 2014 at 11:54 am
  • Elena@Elena's Travelgram Reply

    Bromo is spectacular, yet I’ve been cleaning ashes out of my shoes and clothes for the next few weeks. Would I do the hike again? Hell yeah!

    October 8, 2014 at 2:26 am
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Totally worth it!! Thanks for reading!! 😀

      October 8, 2014 at 11:54 am
  • Adam @ Round the World we go Reply

    What an amazing adventure – Love the sunrises over Mt Bromo! I love the stats / ratings you give 😀

    October 10, 2014 at 6:16 pm

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