We heard the squeals of excitement moments before a furry blur darted across the summit of Mount Batur in front of us. Seconds later the rest of the troupe appeared, a mixed group of gnarly, wizened elders, mohawk sporting babies and everything in between. The macaques scurried around, inspecting discarded banana skins and hoovering up any breakfast leftovers like efficient caretakers cleaning up after a party. Had they arrived earlier, they would have been treated to a spectacular sunrise as well.
Climbing Mount Batur
Mount Batur, one of several active volcanoes in Bali, can be climbed at any time of day, however most choose to climb at night to avoid the heat and enjoy the sunrise from the summit. We set off from Ubud at 2am, stopping en route for a very early breakfast of banana crepes and tea. A short time later we donned head torches and started trekking along a black, sandy path.
The sand gradually gave way to loose gravel as the path got progressively steeper. Keen to make it to the summit in good time, we pressed on with only short sporadic breaks to catch our breath. Hot and sweaty we arrived at the first official rest stop, a busy wooden shelter near the edge of the crater.
We couldn't actually see the crater as we passed it in the dark but the heat coming from fissures in the rock reminded us that this was an active volcano. Our final assault on the summit took around half an hour and was the steepest yet. As we entered the clouds we finally cooled down to a more comfortable temperature and our sweaty t-shirts slowly dried out.
The Summit of Mount Batur
The summit was already beginning to get crowded an hour before sunrise. We found a comfortable patch of sand facing east and waited in keen anticipation of the coming spectacle. The clouds swirled up from the crater, enveloping us and obscuring the view. Thankfully the wind kept the clouds moving so we were treated to regular glimpses of shooting stars above.
The stars quickly faded as a rosy glow appeared on the horizon. The narrow band of orange gradually pushed back the darkness until finally the sun broke the skyline revealing the vastness of the caldera below us.
In a moment of clarity, the whole scene came together with Lake Batur glistening below us and the conical silhouette of Mount Abang set against the golden sky. The peak erupted in a hearty round of applause as everyone savoured this fleeting moment just before another bank of cloud swept in.
They Know About Second Breakfast
Boiled eggs warmed in a volcanic vent combined with hot banana sandwiches to form a very welcome second breakfast. Luckily we had finished eating before the monkeys invaded the summit. We made our retreat and joined the other groups descending on the narrow trail.
The first part was steep and the ground rolled and moved underfoot. The grating sound of sliding gravel accompanied by cries of "Woah, Woah, Woooaaahh" heralded the inevitable slips and falls that plagued us all.
Exploring The Volcano's Crater
We made a brief detour to investigate the crater. As we peered into the pit below, we saw steam rising from vents in the crater's surprisingly verdant wall. Our guide yelled at the crater, keen to demonstrate the impressive acoustics to our group. She wasn't the only one. Venturing just over the rim, we visited a holy cave where annual ceremonies give thanks to the volcano's resident god. The monkeys followed us there too.
Continuing our descent, we were distracted by the view of the caldera stretching into the distance. Between Lake Batur and the grey desert of the lava fields, there was a strip of greenery marking our route down. On closer inspection, these were farms taking advantage of the rich volcanic soil on the lower slopes of Mount Batur. Nearing the end of our walk, we wandered between fields of chillies, onions and tomatoes, watching the early rising farmers watering their crops by hand.
Fields of Chillies
The view from the top of Mount Batur was beautiful. If anything, sitting in a cloud waiting for brief glimpses of the sunrise just added to the excitement. But was the view from the top Bali's best sunrise? We think so. And we did check out several other sunrises around the island, just to be sure.
How Hard Can It Be?
Climbing to the summit of Mount Batur takes around 2 hours from the car park by Lake Batur. Although the summit is at 1717 metres, the actual height gain from the starting point is only around 700 metres. The round trip is roughly 8 kilometres.
Mount Batur Travel Tips
If you choose to climb Mount Batur as part of an organised group, be sure to check exactly what is included before you book. Some trips include a full circuit of the crater while others don't even go as far as the summit.
Climbing to the top of Mount Batur is hot, sweaty work but waiting around at the summit can get fairly chilly. It's a good idea to wear long trousers and bring a jacket.
The final path to the summit is steep, uneven and the gravel moves underfoot. While many people do complete the climb in trainers, sturdier shoes with more grip would be better.