Nothing beats a hike with a view, especially when it comes in the form of a brilliant sunrise from the vantage point of Bali's active Mt Batur.
All my friends know that if I’m given a choice, in any situation, I’d always take my favourite bus number 11 – that is, my two legs. This sometimes makes me a terrible travel companion. Go on holiday with me, and you’ll soon find I have a tendency to squeeze every last bit of energy out of you, until you’re out of breath and your legs feel numb.
That’s why the thought of waking up at 2am and hiking up a volcano to see the sunrise didn’t seem a crazy idea to me. The challenge was to convince my six family members, who possibly had a different idea about what a holiday in Bali should be. So I put my salesperson hat on, and with enthusiasm told them about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk on an active volcano. Clearly, my persuasion skills are as robust as my walking, because they were sold.
EARLY MORNING ENTHUSIASM
At 2am I ran through the rooms of our Ubud villa, and found my fellow adventurers wide awake and almost ready to go. We boarded our family touring van for an hour’s drive up the winding roads of central Bali. Being able to doze off on transport is a talent I acquired a long time ago, and it’s one that certainly comes in handy when travelling. I closed my eyes… and we arrived at our destination.
At the foot of the volcano, our driver Putu handed us over to two hiking guides - Komang and Komang. By now it was 3.30am and the carpark was full. We clearly weren’t the only ones prepared to get up in the middle of the night for an adventure. Our guides, the Komangs, were keen to get going. It was their goal to get us to the top before sunrise, so we grabbed our backpacks and got on the way.
The first part of the walk seemed easy – a wide gravel road with a slight incline. I even started to feel the early morning chill, which was a nice change after a few stinking hot days and high humidity. We walked quite fast in order to keep warm and our guides were happy we were making good time. Then we hit the end of the road. Puzzled, I asked one of the Komangs where we were headed.
“Straight ahead,” he pointed to a track barely visible in the dark.
“We are already half way up,” he encouraged.
His encouragement was much needed at this point, as the second half of the track was the complete opposite of the first. It was narrow, steep, slippery, and winding, with lots of loose rocks to trip over in the darkness. Our torches definitely came in handy.
Being a larger group of people with varying fitness levels we moved quite slow, stopping for a breather and some water at every turn of the track. We were overtaken by quite a few other groups of tourists, speaking French, German and Chinese. I started to feel grateful the Komangs were so keen to get moving earlier, as we had a little extra time up our sleeves. Up ahead, I saw a string of moving lights going up the hill. Where the string ended, was where we needed to be.
THE REWARD AT THE TOP
An hour later we reached the top. It was just in time too – the sun was about to rise. The observation platform was getting a little crowded and I started to wonder if I’d get a front row spot to take a picture. There was a second platform a little further up, but Komang was worried that it was covered in fog that wouldn’t lift in time and he offered to take me to a ‘secret spot’. We walked about 10m down and around the corner, and voila! I had the view to myself, was positioned right under the platform, and didn’t have to fight for a spot with anyone.
We didn’t have to wait long for the first bursts of red to come through the clouds. At this point, it was time to finally relax. After the walk, my legs were more than warm – I could definitely skip the gym today. As we enjoyed coffee and banana sandwiches, the valley lit up, and we were exposed to the beautiful lake and another volcano-shaped mountain behind it.
Batur is a volcano that’s formed inside of another volcano crater. The mountains surrounding it are actually edges of the other crater, and the lake, also called Batur, lies in the lower part of that large crater. These layers add to the remarkable landscape.
When the sun fully appeared from behind the clouds, we met some locals - groups of cheeky monkeys eager to score some food. Many of them were successful – they are quick and know where to hide, so they have the upper hand. One even managed to steal a banana from a table surrounded by hikers!
Our last stop on the mountain was in a cave, formed in the eruption of 1849 as lava flowed through and formed a channel. The Balinese consider it a holy spot. Inside the cave you can see the charcoal remains of lava sparks, and bats hanging from the ceiling.
RECOMMENDED: POST SUNRISE SANGRIA
On the way down we took a different route, longer, but not as steep. Along the way there were a few spots with views into the valley, the lake and the fields covered in black lava – quite an interesting sight. The walk back took about two hours and at the end our legs were fairly numb. Luckily, our driver knew just the cure. Being a volcano crater, the area is also known for its natural hot springs, full of good minerals to help ease sore muscles. We arrived at the springs, and said goodbye to the untouched beauty of our previous surroundings. This was very much a man made facility, with a large pool overlooking the lake, fountains and a bar right beside it. It was only 10am, but we had been awake for eight hours – and we felt this called for passionfruit mojitos and sangrias.
Hiking Mt Batur is a must-do, and while challenging at times, with the right gear it’s really not that hard. The view is breathtaking, and the fact you’ve climbed an active volcano gives you bragging rights for a few months. While you might not feel your calf muscles for a few hours, the hot springs and celebratory sangrias definitely ease the pain.
WHAT TO TAKE?
Solid hiking shoes - They will save you once you get to the difficult part of the track with lots of loose and slippery rocks. You won’t have to worry every step of the way and will be able to enjoy the hike, knowing you won’t fall and injure yourself.
Water - While it may not be the hardest hike, you’ll be trekking for about four hours so make sure you stay hydrated.
Windproof jacket - Bali is not normally the place for several layers of clothing, but you’ll be glad you have something to stop that chilly night breeze. Plus, you’ll be 1700m above sea level so the temperature will be cooler.
Comfortable pants - There will be a few spots along the track where you will have to lift your legs up quite high and pull yourself up, so wear gear that will allow you to do so.
Camera - You can’t leave the top of the mountain without the ‘been there, done that’ photo to show your friends and family. If you’re lucky enough to be climbing Mt Batur on a clear night, the sky is amazing. Set your camera on long exposure, put it on a tripod and enjoy your very own personal photos of the Milky Way. If you’re going to do that, obviously allow more time.
More Outdoor Adventures
- Looking for another challenging hike? Why not give Japan's iconic Mount Fuji a go?
- Ensure your hike is a successful one by adopting these 25 tried and tested hiking tips.
- Boots are a vital part of enjoying your hike, so be sure to refer to our guide to buying the perfect hiking boot before you purchase.
Get the latest adventures sent straight to your inbox by signing up below.