We went east to climb what is left after the deadliest volcanic eruption ever.
The Deadliest Eruption Ever
Out of all the 100+ active volcanoes in Indonesia, why go to Tambora?
When Tambora erupted in 1815 it became the deadliest eruption in modern time, and it still is. It instantly killed tens of thousands of people on Sumbawa and the neighboring islands, but it also made 1816 into the year without a summer in the Northern Hemisphere; causing frozen rivers, failing crops, and starving people on the other side of the planet. Tambora used to be a 4300-meter high mountain, one of the highest peaks in Indonesia. After it exploded, all that is left is one of the deepest craters in the world. That eruption shows us how powerful a volcano can be, and how it can affect all of our lives. Nobody can hide from an eruption like that…
If that’s not enough to get you excited, I don’t know what will! I just had to go.
Getting to Tambora
I have been wanting to visit Tambora since I moved to Indonesia almost three years ago. So far I had only seen it from the plane going to and from Flores. The crater looks enormous from the air. Based on my research, hiking Tambora wouldn’t be that difficult, but most of the trip would be spent on planes, cars, and motorbikes. I would need more than a weekend to get there and back again, and someone to hike it with. The stars finally lined up, and my brother and I decided to give it a go.
We booked our tickets with Garuda. I had to fly from Jakarta to Lombok on Friday night, spend one night at an airport hotel in Praya, and then catch the 06:00 flight from Lombok to Bima. When we arrived in Bima one hour later, a driver was ready to pick us up and take us up towards the mountain, to a village called Pancasila. He said it would take us 5 hours to get there. It only took 3,5 hours, but you never know what kind of obstacles you may run into in this country.
Before you start hiking, you have to register in the ranger’s office in Pancasila. You have to pay IDR 150.000 per person per day spent in the park, and then you’re good to go.
How hard can it be
From Pancasila village to Rik’s Homestay you can catch a ride with something that feels like a homemade ojek (see the picture above) on a road that is definitely homemade, and the trip is already an adventure. We spent one night at Rik’s and his wife Nurul’s place before we started hiking early next morning. The homestay is nice, and they serve delicious food. Rik also helped us organize the airport pickup and a short trip to Satonda Island.
Before we started the hike, Rik told us not to wave our arms and legs too much around our campsite on Pos 3. And the guides reminded us again once we got there. Jelatang is the name of the bush that will cause you a lot of pain if you don’t pay attention. If you touch it, it feels like you have tiny sharp vibrating needles in your skin. It’s not pleasant! I got a few of them in my fingers, ten minutes later the pain was gone. You should really pay attention, especially in the dark. You don’t want one of those in your face!
Getting to Pos 3 doesn’t take long, and I would prefer going further on the first day. Normally they camp on Pos 5 or even closer to the top, but there were already other groups claiming those camp spots. We were a group of 8 foreigners, the rest of the groups were all local hikers from Bima, Lombok, Java, and Sumatra. It was pretty crowded. I didn’t expect that at all! We went there on a long weekend (May Day), from what I’ve heard it’s normally not crowded at all. We still had a great time!
On the way up you can refill your water bottle on Pos 1, Pos 2, Pos 3, and Pos 4 (at least), so there’s no reason to get dehydrated. I think I ate about 6 Beng-Bengs on the trip, I would have eaten more, but that’s all I brought. Lunch, dinner, and breakfast consisted of rice, vegetables, chicken, tempe, and kecap manis. The campsite was nice and clean after we picked up all the trash that was there.
“Can you ask them to wear pants?”
One of my best decisions, since I moved to Indonesia, has been to learn a little Indonesian. And it’s when I’m traveling to places like Sumbawa that it really pays off. Our group had 8 porters/guides, and none of them spoke much English. Suddenly I was the translator between them and all the guests while hiking up the mountain. My Indonesian is not very advanced, but it’s good enough to understand “we’ll start walking at 2am” and “can you tell them to wear pants?”
If you’re sitting on a surfboard or a beach chair in Indonesia, looking up at the closest volcano, and you start thinking you should climb that volcano, I would say great idea! Just remember, it’s gonna be cold and windy up there. Flipflops and boardshorts are not recommended for climbing a mountain, even in the tropics. During the day you can wear shorts, but when you go for the summit in the middle of the night to wait for the sunrise, you will need a lot more if you’re going to be comfortable. We had to wait for about an hour for the sunrise at the crater rim. While waiting I put on a warm beanie, a very good sweater, a thick wind-jacket, long underpants, hiking pants, and a pair of wind-pants. Proper light hiking shoes are also recommended, but you’ll survive in sneakers as well.
The view from the top is stunning! It is the biggest crater I’ve seen, I couldn’t even fit it into one picture. It’s possible to go down into the crater if you extend your trip with three extra days, I would highly suggest bringing an experienced guide for that, it looked pretty gnarly. After seeing the sunrise, eating a Beng-Beng and taking some pictures, we were heading down to Pos 3 again for a proper breakfast. After that, we walked straight back to Rik’s homestay.
According to my iPhone, the trip was about 35km, and we walked most of it on the second day. I was exhausted and slept for more than 12 hours when we came back down. Rik and Nurul gave us another great breakfast before sending us off to the airport. Thanks for your hospitality, and a great trip!
Hope to see you again soon,
Reviews of the tour operator on TripAdvisor (keep in mind some of the bad reviews aren’t really about the tour operator, but the mountain and the park itself. I would highly recommend going with VisitTambora.com)
If you have any questions about hiking Tambora, I’ll be happy to answer!