We travel to Bali for many reasons, and it’s safe to say that trekking the island’s most active volcano is almost never one of them.
The feel of the sun’s rays on your skin, the sounds of beach music and ocean waves, the smell of sunblock lotion, the taste of great food (NASI CAMPUR!) and cheap booze, and the sights of friendly locals, amazing sunsets, and hunky surfer dudes … really, what’s not to love about Bali?
If you can’t already tell from my above description of Bali, I’m a beach girl through and through. In the past seven years, I’ve been to the island six times – five of which I stayed in Kuta and Seminyak. I love the laidback island life. LOVE. The last time I visited Bali, however, I decided to check out another part of Bali that is less rowdy, isn’t near a beach, yet still popular among tourists: Ubud.
Located in northern inland Bali, Ubud is touted as the island’s cultural centre. If you’re into art galleries and museums, Ubud is definitely the place for you. Ubud is also home to several temples and historical sites, including the magnificent Goa Gajah, whose highlight is a cave that dates back to the ninth century. Of course, thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, Ubud is also renowned for being a yoga and meditation sanctuary, with a stunning backdrop of rice fields and terraces to boot.
The best location to stay in Ubud is in Central Ubud, which branches out into three main streets lined with shops and boutiques (tip: shopping in Ubud is generally cheaper than in party central Kuta). One place I recommend is Murni’s Houses. This traditional Balinese compound is named one of the world’s 10 best small hotels by a New York Times travel writer – and for good reason. Located less than a three-minute walk to Ubud’s main street, Murni’s Houses consists of seven guest houses and an acclaimed spa perched atop of small hill, which makes the stay quiet and peaceful yet never too far from the hustle and bustle. My boyfriend and I stayed in Sawo Apartment 1, which occupies the ground floor of a relatively new two-storey building (it was built in April 2013). Sawo Apartment 1 is spacious – it encompasses two bedrooms with en suite bathrooms and verandahs, a living room, a kitchenette, and another small bathroom. Since it was just the two of us, we basically had the entire apartment to ourselves!
You can expect top-notch service at Murni’s Houses, too. From the time we checked in, the friendly staff members were ever ready to provide whatever assistance we needed. The best thing about Murni’s Houses? Accommodation is ridiculously affordable. One night at Sawo Apartment 1, for example, costs just USD150 a night! And that includes a delicious Balinese breakfast and, yes, free Wi-Fi!
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Truth be told, I didn’t get to check out much of Ubud (though I did check out the famous Tegallalang Rice Terraces and explore Subak Juwuk Manis Rice Field) during the two days I spent there. Why did I choose Ubud then? Because it is the perfect base from which you set out to do an activity that is the very reason behind this post: trekking Mount Batur, Bali’s most active volcano, overnight and see the sunrise. It takes just an hour’s drive from Ubud to the base camp, while other pick-up points in Bali like Nusa Dua and Kuta take two hours. Trust me, you would be eternally grateful for that additional one hour of sleep. Here’s what went down during the trek, and why I reckon it should be on your must-do list when you next visit Bali.
A Bit About Mount Batur
During my previous visits to Bali, I had seen the 1, 717m-tall Mount Batur from afar at one of the several restaurants that offer excellent views of the volcano, but I never knew we can actually climb it! Before I signed my boyfriend and myself up for the trek, I had my reservations. Was it safe? Would it erupt without any warning signs? Would I be out of breath halfway up the mountain? Would klutzy me fall into the crater and get devoured by molten lava?
But after reading many reviews of the trek, I surmised not going for it would be a huge regret.
Located in Batur village, Kintamani District, Mount Batur was formed about 30, 000 years ago during a major eruption, but it was over subsequent eruptions that resulted in a gigantic 13km wide caldera – one of the largest in the world. Over time, part of the caldera became filled with water, forming Bali’s largest lake, Lake Batur. The geography behind the formation of Mount Batur is pretty intriguing, but I’ll leave it to the experts to better explain it.
Promptly at 2.30am, our friendly driver Arga picked us up from Murni’s Houses. Okay, guess there was no turning back now. During the hour-long journey, Arga regaled us with fascinating tales and his personal accounts of life in Ubud, keeping us animatedly awake through the wee hours of the morning. By the time we arrived at the base camp, my boyfriend and I were raring to go! Arga introduced us to our English-speaking trekking guide Mangku, loaned us headlamps and windbreakers, and off we went on our volcano trek.
The first thing I noticed was how incredibly pitch-black it was. If not for our headlamps, we would be walking in complete darkness. The first 30 minutes of the trek was easy-peasy; I spent most of it marvelling at the star-lit sky! The next 90 minutes, however, was not. I thought it would be a gradual ascent but, no, it was steep, steep, steep all the way from the 30-minute mark! Mangku, who was ahead of me, was always there to offer me his hand during steeper climbs, and constantly paused to ask us if we were okay. We stopped at several points to catch our breath and drink some water, but we never rested for long; the three of us were among the first few groups of trekkers – and we were determined to keep it that way.
About 5am, we arrived at an observatory point where trekkers can choose to stay and watch the sunrise. Our guide told us it would take another 5-10 minutes to reach the summit if we wanted the best views of the sunrise, though it would be the toughest part of the climb yet as we would have to contend with loose rocks and sand. Hey, since we had already climbed so far, we sure ain’t giving up!
Now, my boyfriend and I participate in many running events, but nothing prepared our legs for the final part of the trek. I’m still not sure why so many Mount Batur sunrise trek tour groups mention the trek is suitable for children, because I was positively bushed just one minute into the final ascent! Turning back was not an option; keeping our eyes trained on the path ahead and our minds focused on putting one foot ahead of the other, we trudged on. At one point, though, I did wonder how on earth I was going to descend the mountain without falling on my butt. But more on that later.
After what felt like an hour later, we finally made it to the summit of Mount Batur! The sense of accomplishment that rushed over me when our guide congratulated us was like nothing I ever experienced before! Because we were among the first few at the summit, we had quite some time to kill before sunrise. Let me just say one thing about the cold: IT WAS PIERCING. I was wearing a yoga top, a long-sleeved Heattech top, a thick sweater, and a windbreaker, but I was absolutely freezing! We treated ourselves and our guide to three mugs of hot chocolate – which never tasted so good before, I swear – as we parked ourselves outside a tent to take in the glorious sights. Well, it was actually still pretty dark at the time, but we could make out the majestic Mount Agung in the distance. At 3, 142m above sea level, Mount Agung is the highest mountain (it’s also an active volcano) in Bali, and it would take us more than twice as long to climb it – and we would need a lot more trekking experience before we should attempt the trek!
And then the magic began. Witnessing the sky turn from pitch black to beautiful shades of pink, orange and red was like a watching a live painting demonstration. As soon as the first rays of sunlight illuminated our surroundings, we could see the amazing landscape around us – Mount Agung, Lake Batur, and the huge Batur caldera which we had no idea was right next to where we were sitting just minutes ago! None of that bubbling lava, by the way.
We spent another hour or so memorising the scenery, taking countless photos, as well as eating our breakfast. Feeling energised, we began our descent. Seeing how I had earlier slipped a couple of times, Mangku decided to bring us through another route that was less steep. But for someone with a nonexistent sense of balance, I can tell you that made little difference because any descent would feel about 100 times more daunting than the trek up. At one point, we had to slide down a slope of soft black volcanic ash using our feet as brakes, which was exhilarating. But when it came to steep terrain filled with loose rocks, I was a goner. I slipped on loose rocks more times than I cared to count, and I actually fell on my butt – twice! The scenic landscape surrounding us, however, made the descent more than worth our while.
Having said that, I couldn’t be happier to be on more level ground. From then, it was a leisurely stroll back to the base camp, where Arga was patiently waiting for us. It was around 12 noon when we arrived back at Murni’s Houses, and we were aching all over. Thank goodness for their in-house Tamarind Spa!
Mount Batur Trekking Tips
- Layer your clothes. I cannot emphasise enough how important this is. The first part of the trek can get pretty warm, but as the climb gets steeper, the temperature dips drastically. Also, bring a windbreaker in case your guide doesn’t provide you with one!
- Wear sports shoes. Proper trekking shoes are not necessary to trek Mount Batur, but you do need at least a pair of sports shoes. No sandals, and definitely no slippers.
- Pee before you embark on the trek. It’s too dangerous and dark to answer the call of nature on your trek up Mount Batur, but you can find a secluded spot behind a bush to do so during your descent if you want.
- Take lots of short water breaks. The last thing you want is to feel faint from dehydration in the midst of trekking a volcano!
- Bring a camera. You’d want to capture many, many memories from the trek.
- Avoid the rainy season (especially from December to February) because the paths will be incredibly slippery. In fact, most tour groups would cancel the trek should there be heavy downpour at any time of the year. Safety first, guys!
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