By Nick Dudler
Ever heard of Mt. Batur? If you’re heading to Bali, then the chances are you’ve seen it everywhere in all the guidebooks, spouting adoration for this famous spot! They aren’t wrong to tout the hike as an incredible experience, but they leave out A TON of information that you need to know.
Here are the basics: You climb up an active volcano to almost 6000 feet and watch a majestic sunrise from one of the highest points in Bali. From its peak, you can see across vast swaths of the jungle all the way out to the coast and the pacific expanse beyond. My college roommate Travis and I were hyped for this journey for these reasons, and we happily set our alarms for 2:00 am and booked our guide for our volcanic expedition.
Here’s what trekking Mt. Batur is REALLY like:
You leave early.
Like 2:30 am early. We left from the closest large town, Ubud. Our hotel called to arrange the shuttle service, and it cost 500,000 rupiahs per person, or $35. The road is winding and potholed. Some tour organizations offer breakfast, just don’t expect anything fancy. My breakfast consisted of 2 hard-boiled eggs and a green orange. The bottom line: Be sure to sleep early the day before!
You will not be alone.
The hike is more of a procession, with hordes of visitors making their way up the hill, hikers, crossfit enthusiasts, and hungover tourists alike. It will seem like all of Bali made their way to this peak on this single day, so be expected to wait at junctions and any steeper inclines! There are so many people walking bumper to bumper up the ashen hillside that some didn’t even make it up for sunrise. (My nightmare, by the way, if this had happened to us).
Check the weather!
A cloudy day can be a disaster. The only reason to go is for the sunrise, and if there is high cloud cover, the whole experience will be tarnished. We were lucky enough to have a clear day, with low clouds that obscured our view of the surrounding towns but made for an awesome descent as we recessed into the thick clouds. The effect was astonishing, making us feel like we were significantly higher up.
Don’t expect independence.
Your guide will meet you at the base and lead you up the volcano. We were thinking from the beginning, “we don’t need a guide.” And it’s true, you don’t really. The path is lit up by the thousands of visitors and their bobbing headlamps.
Our guide was particularly motherly, doting on us to make sure we drank our water and took regular breaks. For somebody who has done extensive hiking or backpacking, the experience can seem designed for the unprepared tourist. Looking around, this is what we should have been expecting-- there was a fair number of vans and treadless shoes around.
The one benefit of having a guide is this strange guide etiquette that goes on. When the pack is moving slow, other guides may notice this and let you through, will acknowledgment from your own guide, of course.
Even at the top of a volcano, tourist traps abound.
In the most popular areas of Bali, like Kuta, Seminyak, and Ubud, everyone is trying to sell you something. On the beach, we’d been pressed to buy surfboards, bracelets, artwork, and even an archery set he claimed was “perfect for killing chickens.” I didn’t see any chickens on the beach… Anyways, I didn’t expect to find the same reception on the top of a volcano. But here we were, surrounded by meandering vendors asking if we wanted tea, sandwiches, and of course the omnipresent Bintang lager.
By the time we were at the top, Travis and I settled under our blankets and tuned into some, desperate to tune out the background noise from the swarming masses. We craned out necks for a view of the sunrise, obstructed by the almost endless line for selfies and Instagram posts.
One unexpected positive: A special visitor! Crab-eating macaques hang out at the top. They must be the best-fed monkeys in Bali because they eat constantly!
My conclusion: If you’re the serious hiking type, I might give Mt. Batur a miss. There are much more memorable experiences to be explored in Bali.