Climbing Gunung Api Banda Neira – Never Again!

Submitted by mumunmumun on 20 March 2016   •  Destination

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Never again! That was what Vira and I declared when it comes to climbing mountains. As I recall, it was probably half way up to Ijen Mountain to see the infamous blue flame. We weren’t even on the top yet but regret already risen before the sun. Of course, climbing mountains was one of those ‘we’d never do again but eventually doing it again’ things, like ‘pack 10 minutes prior departure’ or ‘drink alcohol from a complete stranger’. But then, it happened again. There I was, in pitch dark before dusk, dragging my sorry ass up Gunung Api Banda Neira, the only volcano in these part of Maluku. How did I end up doing it, again?

Gunung Api - title

It all started from my stupid arrogance on the balcony of Cilu Bintang Hotel, my accommodation at the time. As I sip on some nutmeg coffee and lay on the beach chair set facing the mountain top, I thought it would be a piece of cake to conquer the visible green peak. With the top ONLY at 656 meters, it seemed plausibly reachable. It wasn’t some 2000 plus meter peak. The track was only about 1 km. Yeah! Ijen Mountain track was 3 km, so doing the math, I thought my aggravation would only be ⅓ of that at Ijen. Me and my math! Pfftt!

 Gunung Api from the porch - Banda Neira


 It was hard enough to open my eyes at 3.30 a.m. in the morning, as I’m not a morning person, but it’s even worse when I have to get up that early for a hike. However, I followed every lead Firsta gave me as she was the mountain expert (compared to yours truly). She recommended that climbing before light blinds you from the steep obstacle ahead and helps you to move forward. The air at dusk was also cooler, making the climb bearable. And so on, I didn’t care at 3.30 a.m.

It’s highly advised to bring your own water and food. Although the track is considered short, the heat adds on a few hundred meters.

Iksan - Gunung Api Banda Neira

Iksan, our guide in climbing Gunung Api Banda Neira.

As strongly urged, we climbed with a local guide, Iksan, who happened to be a staff at the Cilu Bintang Hotel. Gunung Api is his playground and he’s able to run up or down the mountain in about 30 minutes. At 4.00 a.m. he took us to the pier, not far from the hotel, to board a boat with a captain that was waiting for us. It took 5 minutes to cross to the Gunung Api island.


Climbing Gunung Api Banda Neira. Oh!

The track was surprisingly steep. There were several times where I had to pull up, hoisting myself to hug the nearest tree trunk. The first 30 minutes were the hardest because I was so unfit, so every part of my body started to hurt, including my sanity, questioning my dumb arrogance. I can’t recall the track to be flatter than 45 degrees. The surface wasn’t stable, because most of it was sand or moving rock. Thus, a step up took me down half a step.

Gunung Api - the real struggle

Me, almost to the top. Photo by Firsta.

“Did you hear that?” Iksan suddenly stopped to ask.

“No,” I paused to listen carefully. All I could hear was the sound of my heavy breath and my pillow calling from the hotel.

“Are you sure?” He wasn’t sure.

“Just keep going. Ignore the sound! We’re doing fine,” Firsta assured there was nothing wrong. I wondered if there were big cats around. Usually that’s what climbers are aware of, but in Banda Neira?

It hadn’t occurred to me at the time that Gunung Api Banda Neira was a sacred place for the locals. In the pitch dark, ghosts and spirits lurking was the last thing on my mind, but the first on Iksan’s. We haven’t done anything to provoke them either, not that I know how. But turns out that there might be some energy around to those sensitive about it. Dude! I totally believe them but I stay away. My mind was on the prize, to get up and get back down.

Gunung Api - local kids on any given day

But I made it.   

My climbing time was 2 hours and 15 minutes, which was pretty good for an ‘amateur mountain climber in shorts and with short legs’. By the top, I had ached all over and met a Dementor. My energy was sucked dry and I was left with ‘save battery mode’. On the other hand, Firsta was jumping around like a frog on a lily pad. She was in her zone. Cristian, another friend that climbed with us, seemed content on the peak, strolling around enjoying his time.

Firsta fresh as a cucumber

The peak was interesting. The tip itself wasn’t a crater per say. We could walk around freely but heat and smoke came out from the ground with a hint of Sulphur scent. On the other side of the mountain was a huge hole, which was the active crater. Couldn’t see the bottom, though.

The view from Gunung Api Banda Neira was spectacular. It recharged some of my energy, aside to the wind and clouds (yes, we were in the clouds) cooling me down. Sitting down and just looking at the sunrise, for a moment I thought everything was golden.

Cristian content looking at Banda Neira from above

When you’re on a mountain, you tend to be contemplative, maybe because we can see the world in a different perspective. Everything is small below and we realize what we are when we’re leveled with the sea. It’s understandable why people love climbing mountains because the end view is breathtaking and your state of mind becomes something else. Also probably because it’s a step closer to the godly world, as people used to believe it. That’s when the poems and prose comes stumbling in. But no matter how much bling the sunrise gave me that morning, I still didn’t like climbing mountains and I think I will never will.

Gunung Api - I made it

Photo by Firsta. 

But in the wise words of Justin Beiber, never say never! Clearly, in my case, never is a concept that does not exist, especially when living in one of the most active parts of the ring of fire. Mountains will always be standing in front of my path. The thing to do to overcome them is just to pass them.

Gunung Api - long way to the top


Just when you think the ‘fun’ was over, it wasn’t. Getting back down on such wobbly surface is a challenge on its own. There was a time where I had to sit on my jacket and just slid down the rocky surface. Fun! But not for my butt. It took us another 2 hours to get down, which pretty much shows it was as hard getting down.

*sing* I will never say never, I will fight. I will fight till whenever!

Cost to Climb Gunung Api Banda Neira

Boat trip IDR 20,000 / person one way.

Our hike cost didn’t cost us. All we needed to do was to tip the guide.

Gunung Api - the playground

Gunung Api - the crater on the other side

Gunung Api - closed up crater on the left

Belgica Fort - Banda Neira

That picture

Gunung Api - Banda Neira in gold

Mountain freaks, you might want to climb:

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4 years ago

Oh I can soo relate to your experience. My friend and I also stayed in Cilu Bintang (our room might be right below yours!), and we were also so arrogant and thought Gunung Api couln’t be harder than Rinjani. How we were all so wrong. We stayed for two weeks in Banda, and one day we, joined by a German and a Dutch, decided to climb the volcano without having a guide. We showed up at the pier and a man agreed to take us across. Simply put, it was the hardest climb I’ve ever done. Loose scree, pitch black… Read more »

Laura @ Design Think Travel

Hey, we are on the terrace of the Cilu Bintang right this moment, pondering a volcano climb tomorrow. Great report, even if the experience was painful. Sometimes the photos and memories are better than the thing itself!

4 years ago

I have climbed Ijen and I know exactly the point you’re talking about where you just wish you’d never started! I’ve never walked up any path so steep as that first part – in fact, on the way down I fell, landing on my camera. Not pretty!
The experience is well worth it though, to see what those men go through every day is really humbling.
Thanks for sharing, Lisa

4 years ago

Can’t wait to read about your next hike! 😛
4 years ago

Ngak ada dedek2an yg bisa gendong sampai keatas yaaa ???
Pemandangan nya juara mampus

Firsta | Discover Your Indonesia

HAHHAHAHAA.. Mumun! This is hilarious.
My climbing time was 2 hours and 15 minutes, which was pretty good for an ‘amateur mountain climber in shorts and with short legs’. By the top, I had ached all over and met a Dementor. :)))