Surviving The Cannonball Run On Mount Bromo

Indonesia mount Bromo (2)

It’s 2 AM, no one has had any sleep, there is zero visibility and a hundred jeeps and motorbikes careen up a volcano at full speed in a neck breaking race to capture the ultimate selfie!

This death defying cannonball run took place on Mount Bromo in preparation for the ever popular sunrise tour, one of the absolute must do bucket list items for any trip to Indonesia.

Starting the run and the Jiwa Jawa hotel, a convoy of a dozen jeeps set out on what turned out to be a much longer and hair raising journey than anyone thought it would be. And it wasn’t just because the jeeps were old, cramped and looked like they had been jerry rigged from old World War II vehicles.

“What about a black Trans AM? Nah, that’s been done!”

The visibility dropped rapidly as we hit a thick wall of fog and cloud, and even more jeeps and motorbikes joined our ever increasing convoy from other hostels and hotels along the way as we headed up the mountain. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t see two feet in front of the strained headlamps as we bounced heavily over the rough terrain at full speed. The thin mountain road filled up quickly as other jeeps overtook us or fell behind, dangerously swerving in front of each other before disappearing back into the fog.

Soon there were dozens of vehicles careening up a narrow mountain path to race to the volcano’s viewing point.

It really wasn’t the fact that everyone was jostling for pole position, anyone who has ever seen traffic in India or or half of south east Asia will understand the organised chaos of ignoring any type of road rules whatsoever, but it was the fact that we were doing this up a volcano, at full speed, with no damn visibility!

“Tour guides my ass! These guys are Cannonballers!”

The fog did eventually lift as the convoy climbed higher up the volcano, fortunately – or miraculously – without any of the jeeps shooting over the side of the mountain or exploding in a fiery collision a Hollywood movie would be proud of, but the breakneck race did not end there. In fact it only got worse as the sheer number of vehicles trying to sprint up the mountain became clear.

Eventually the sheer number of vehicles became too much for the small pass, and the maelstrom of jeeps and motorbikes coming from both directions ground the race to a practical standstill. The crush of vehicles was just too much for the small road to take and we had to abandon our vehicles to continue the race on foot.

Indonesia mount Bromo

This is where the trek got worse.

The choke of exhaust fumes hit me like a cloud of poison gas as I stepped out of the jeep into the crush of people, trapped jeeps and motorbikes revving suicidally through the entire mess. The small group from my jeep got separated quickly in the still pitch black crush, and we each made our own way trepidly through the hazy darkness, each risking life and limb climbing through the crowds of people and vehicles. I’m lucky I’m 6″2 and not easily missed as motorbikes swerved at the last minute to avoid me much like they would as if a brick wall had suddenly loomed in front of them, and I had to use my sheer physical size to barge through more than once as motorbikes and dirtbikes careened through the crowd in both directions with sheer disregard to any of the pedestrians making the journey on foot.

Of the relatively small convoy that left our hotel, I was sure I had somehow left them all behind as I strained upward toward the summit, somehow avoiding the certain death of being having a jeep or a motorbike crush me in the insane stampede and coughing and spluttering from the exhaust fumes and pollution even through the completely ineffective face mask I was wearing.

Despite the hard going I was the first to reach the viewing point. I was the first to reach the top.

I had won the frenzied cannonball run of Bromo!

Only to find I had been beaten by people who had stayed on the mountain overnight.

These people had camped out all night and already taken up the premier viewing positions and had cemented their claims by using a sea of selfie sticks to ensure that no one behind them could see a single thing.

So much for getting up earlier to get a good spot.

Mount Bromo is one of the single most visited places in Indonesia for a very good reason. The sunrise and the views – when you can see them – really are spectacular. I would argue the sunrise view is among the most visually stunning views in the world, but mismanaged mass tourism and unchecked tour groups have turned the experience into a wholly unpleasant mess.

And that is a huge shame.

Indonesia

The view of mount Bromo is genuinely amazing. There is a reason that so many visitors flock here every single morning. You just have to go through hell to see it! I was particularly unlucky on this trip that the sunrise view was completely obscured by not just selfie sticks but fog and haze too, making the chaotic sunrise Cannonball run completely futile, but I did manage to get the views from a different viewing point once the sun was up and the fog cleared.

And it was spectacular, without a doubt.

It is just such a shame that unchecked mass tourism is being allowed to run rampant without any balance, management or concern for the natural resource the local tourism industry relies on.

Yes the view is spectacular, but what any guidebook will never tell you is that it is absolute hell to get up and see it.

Seeing the sunrise on Mount Bromo does still absolutely deserve it’s place on anyone’s bucket list. It’s sheer awe inspiring beauty really is worth the hype and this alone will ensure that visitors still flock here, but with the amount of other stunning volcanoes and views along the Indonesian ring of fire, I can’t help thinking that travellers would be much better off visiting lesser known volcanic sites just to avoid the crowds and the hellish, toxic ascent.

Until the mess of sunrise tours are cleaned up, managed properly and responsibly, I really don’t think the view is worth the trouble, no matter how bucket list worthy it is. It really can’t be that hard to implement a tour permit system or limit the numbers of people or groups that can go up each morning, I mean there are plenty of other sites that do so.

I really hope the tourism authorities take note and clamp down on the situation soon, or they risk putting people off coming here and infinitely more important ruining the very spot that so many people come to see. 

Did you enjoy this article? Have you been to mount Bromo? What did you think of the tours on offer? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

Disclaimer

This article was written in partnership with the Indonesian Ministry Of Tourism as part of the #WonderfulIndonesia campaign. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.

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Michael Huxley is a published author, freelance travel writer and founder of Bemused Backpacker. He is also a charge nurse by vocation with an interest in emergency nursing and travel medicine, but his real passion is travel. Since finding his wanderlust a decade ago in South East Asia, he has bounced from one end of the planet to another and has no intention of slowing down.

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30 comments on “Surviving The Cannonball Run On Mount Bromo
  1. Scarlet says:

    I love how honest you are in your posts! I have read a fair bit about Bromo and actually have it on my unofficial ‘bucket list’ of places to see, but I have never read anything about the actual experience of going up there. I guess many people just write about the positive. You’ve really made me think twice. Thank you for such an honest post about your experiences.

    • Thank you Scarlet. I think it is really important to give a real and honest reflection of the travel experience, not just the sugar coated version everyone else sells. The world is an amazing, wonderful and beautiful place and travelling through it is amazing, but it isn’t perfect either. 🙂

  2. John M. says:

    Haha, I love this! Fantastic post! I wonder how many people are old enough to actually understand those quotes? It’s such a shame it was a horrible experience for you getting up there though, it does sound like hell! I guess the view at the top was worth it though?

    • Thanks John! I’m probably showing my age a bit but I can imagine not many will get them! Haha! The view was spectacular when we finally got to see it, but the experience of getting up there I wouldn’t recommend to anyone.

  3. Stephanie says:

    I completely agree with you, I had no idea how bad the trip was to get to do the sunrise tour and it is a real shame they aren’t giving backpackers a more responsible, sustainable and just plain nicer experience up there. This is one item off my list! Thanks for the insight.

    • I agree Stephanie, if they are saying this is one of the premier sites to visit in Indonesia, you’d think they’d make more of an effort in making the experience pleasant, sustainable and responsible as well as being profitable for the locals.

  4. Claudia says:

    I just have a minor correction to make. I was right there behind you the whole time, trying to use you as a shield against those horrifying jeeps and motorbikes that “magically” sprouted everywhere. You have pretty much saved my life at least a dozen times.

    I could not agree with you more. Mount Bromo may be a bucket list item but it is not worth going through that hell, not when there are many other places that are managed in a much more responsible way. I won’t recommend it until I know for a fact that the number of tour groups and visitors allowed has been limited, that the jeeps and motorbikes can’t get to the top and that selfie sticks are prohibited (ok perhaps not the selfie stick bit, though I wished that too!).

    It is upsetting that not even the most respected guide books say a word about the mismanagement of Mount Bromo. And as you have surely seen, not even internationally acclaimed travel bloggers do so. Giving the sugar coated version is apparently much more appealing. Good thing that at least some of us are not willing to give up on their integrity.

    Wonderful post, as usual!

    • Well said Claudia, I completely agree, there are so many other, better places to see responsibly and sustainably! I’m shocked as well that the hellish ride and trek to the top never gets anything more than a cursory mention in any guide book. And thank you. 🙂

  5. Well done on writing such an honest post! So often you only ever get to see or read about traveling the world through rose tinted specs, I love the way you write about the bad as well as the good fairly.

  6. Jon says:

    Interesting post! I did the sunrise tour a couple of years ago and I didn’t experience any of this. It was pretty busy at the top but I think everyone eventually got a good view (I guess this was the pre selfie stick era). I went in September, not sure if that’s a less busy season or it has just become a lot busier lately.

    • Thanks Jon, that’s interesting! How did you get up? Was it by jeep? When I was up there the journey up was just SO overcrowded with jeeps and bikes, dangerously so, and the conditions were far from pleasant. I got a sore throat from the exhaust fumes alone. (And I miss the pre selfie stick era! Haha!)

  7. Ynah CA says:

    Love this post, so much information and so much honesty! Yeah I do hope the responsible agency would take action as soon as they can.

  8. Alexandrea says:

    Sounds like a nice attraction that is very badly managed, which is a pity. The views did look amazing but I don’t think I would want to deal with any of that.le

  9. Oh my goodness! I was stressed out just reading this! I’m glad you ended up with a great shot despite the tourist madness. I did the must-do sunrise over Angkor Wat, but opted to skip the sunset in Siem Reap on the advice of my tuk-tuk driver. But at least there, they have limited the number of people allowed on the hill to preserve the sunset experience somewhat.

    • That’s just it Jackie, there are so many other places around the world with sunrise experiences, and they have limitations on tours to preserve both the experience and the environment. Here it was just a free for all.

  10. Aileen says:

    This is a very insightful post! This reminds me so much of the chaos back in my country (maybe that’s why I’m not so surprised haha). Nevertheless, this is a very informative and honest article that can help any traveler that’s planning to head to this place.

  11. I recently read another travellers review of visiting Mount Bromley. And very similar to you she had quite a bad experience. So sad. Thank you for being honest x Katharina

  12. Katharina says:

    I recently read another travellers review of Mount Bromley. And just like you she had a very bad experience. What a shame. Thank you for being so honest x Katharina

  13. Karianne says:

    We had a very different Bromo experience! We decided to pass on the organised trips and worked out our own route to one of the less popular viewing platforms. The walk took about 2 hours in the dark – but it kept us warm! And we were rewarded with watching the sunrise over Mount Bromo with about 10 other people. It wasn’t the highest viewpoint…. But that is where everyone was! We heard some crazy stories when we got back to town about the crowds – but we never saw them. The most stressful thing about Bromo for us was finding semi decent accommodation when we turned up the night before!

    • Totally agree that is a better way to do it (although either way you still have to hit the jeep and bike rally at some point!) We found a quieter view point a little further down the mountain just after sunrise and it was so much nicer there. Thanks for commenting.

  14. Joanne Carter says:

    Unfortunately yours isnt the first account I have read that is negative on this place, and it has really put me off visiting.

    • I know what you mean, but it really is an amazing place, the best thing to do in my opinion is still visit but avoid any of the businesses or trade that supports negative or harmful practices, and let them know why too. Hopefully that way things will change.

  15. Harry says:

    Its such a shame it seems so badly managed. I mean I understand things take time and not every country will get things right immediately but surely the values and the benefits of responsible travel are pretty widely known now?

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