They’re not lying when they tell you that a sunrise volcano trek to the top of Mount Batur is a definite highlight on any Bali bucket list. Even for those of us who are allergic to mornings, hiking to the top of an active volcano is an experience that’s worth dragging your ass out of bed for.
A Bali Sunrise Trek
A lot of annoying people like to argue that waking up early can change your life, and – just this once – they happened to be right. I trekked to the summit of Mount Batur with a boyfriend and came down with a fiancé (both the same guy, in case of any unspoken confusion).
We had booked a private trek to the summit using Bali Sunrise Trekking & Tours. Perhaps other girls would have seen it coming… you know – the private volcano trek, under a blanket of stars, for a spectacular sunrise, in Bali, after almost five years of dating. Not me though – nope, definitely not me. I’m the girl with the yellow beanie hat, kitted out in a long-sleeved top that her boyfriend hates, who ruins the proposal just seconds before it happens. Well… me and another complete stranger.
At around 2am on September 10th, we were picked up from our hotel in Ubud and drove for about an hour to the Bali Sunrise Villas; this was the starting point at the foot of Mount Batur, about 1,000 metres above sea level. After a quick cup of coffee, we were assigned a guide (Mada) who handed us flash lights and, just before 4am, the three of us headed off into the darkness.
The trek to the summit
Mada moved at a pace; she’s a young, local guide who is used to doing the sunrise hike about 3 or 4 times a week; she can pretty much run up and down it. I got the impression that she liked to race against the clock to beat the tourists (…and the people who get a moped ride up the rocky terrain then just hike the last 10 minutes. Can you actually believe people do that?! I couldn’t). Like many Indonesian people we met in Bali, things got personal with Mada pretty quickly; she liked to ask questions and we liked to learn about her life in Indonesia too. It was a win, win situation… until the halfway point.
When you’re about halfway to the summit of Mount Batur, there’s a resting point with benches. This is where Mada asked us whether we wanted to take the longer, easier route that was more common or the shorter, difficult route straight to the summit. As always, we went for the direct option, straight to the top. We continued at Mada’s pace, just short of jogging speed, and that’s probably about the time that my lack of sleep kicked in.
Chris, my boyfriend (I do believe this may be the first public acknowledgement of that fact), saw the summit light flickering in the distance when he looked up through the trees, and he decided to ask me to look at “how far away” it was. I like my mountain treks like my gym sessions – short bursts of pain combined with a blissful ignorance of how long remains. I made the mistake of looking up at the summit; from there on, there were a few tired stumbles over rocks, plus a period of silence while I pushed by quads and calves through the pain.
Low and behold, however, we reached the summit when it was still pitch dark and the stars were still shining. Mada knew what she was doing all along; she had planned the hike so that we skipped past most people and got the best, front-seat view to the soon-to-be sunrise.
Sunrise at the top of Mount Batur
It gets extremely cold at the top of Mount Batur, especially after the sweaty trek up, so make sure you have a jacket and a hat if you’re going to do it. We sat and looked up at the stars (which we never get to see in Dubai!) and across at the silhouettes of Mount Agung, Mount Abang and Lombok’s Mount Rinjani. Our trekking guide, Mada, disappeared for a while then reappeared with breakfast – the guides can boil your eggs in the volcanic steaming holes, which quickly reminds you that you are sitting on an active volcano and looking across at one that recently erupted!
As the sun started to rise, we realised that we had got lucky. Apparently, many travellers do not get to see the sunrise because of the fluctuating weather conditions at the top, but we happened to time our trek to perfection – a clear day, moving clouds and a whole lot of vibrant colours to go with it. I was grateful that I hadn’t decided to sleep through this morning; the sky was dreamy.
The Ring of Fire
It’s not til the sun starts to rise that you realise just how many people have made their way to the top of Mount Batur for sunrise; it’s the most popular of all the volcano treks and it’s easy to see why. With the sun came a commotion about twenty metres to the right of where we were sitting. We looked over to see a group of people clapping and congratulating a couple who had just got engaged. It was at that moment that I turned to Chris:
“Oh god – imagine attracting all that attention. Like… all those people clapping and staring at you. I could NOT be dealing with that!”
Yep – the poor guy. I’m referring to Chris… who was, at that very moment, having his own moment ruined by me and the guy who had just pipped him to his volcano proposal. When I turned back from my people watching, there was a ring box in front of me… and I think, had I not been sitting down, that I may have lost my footing and fallen over the edge of the mountain.
It was, without doubt, the most shocked I have ever been in my life. I don’t think I spoke after the initial gasp, then a ream of questions and statements to match the shock continued to roll out of my mouth for another 2 to 3 minutes (okay, and maybe a few tears). Chris eventually got a ‘Yes!’ to ‘a new adventure’, as he calls it, but the guy certainly had to wait a while! From five-years of commitment issues to fiancée in less than five minutes of a freak out. Not bad, if you ask me.
We took the narrow ridge route across the top of Mount Batur when the sun came up to mingle with mountain monkeys and try a volcanic steam sauna (fully clothed). This descent route is a steep ash path at first, but the tourists are minimal and the views are SO worth it. You’ll see the craters from previous eruptions and a whole other side to the the sunrise. Mada snapped the above proposal picture of us on the way down. Of course, I forgot to put the ring on – standard me. I was keeping it in my little red backpack for fear of losing it. All in all, it was a perfectly imperfect proposal that unfolded in the most ‘us’ of ways.
Booking your Bali Sunrise Tour
- You have to trek to the summit with a guide. The paths are narrow and you need a flashlight to find your way up. There have been deaths when travellers have attempted the trek without a guide.
- You can book it online here. The price includes hotel pick-up and drop-off, water, breakfast and the knowledge of your local guide. Ours was deserving of a very good tip.
- The price of the private Mount Batur Sunrise Trek is around AED 370 (just over $100) for two people.
- If you book as part of a group, it works out about 30% cheaper, but I definitely advise you to pay a bit extra and opt for a private trek.
- Proposals… not included.