Only a few hours drive from madcap Jakarta (if you are lucky and don’t get caught in nightmarish traffic jams!) is the Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park, home to two volcanic peaks named – you’ve guessed it – Mount Gede and Mount Pangrango. The national park, which covers 150 km² in area, is an oasis of tranquility and about as far removed from Jakarta as a Papuan tribesman is from New York City, and where the air actually contains some oxygen and a whole bunch of animals thrive including around 250 bird species, as well as primates (like the elusive silvery gibbon and Javan lutung) and endangered wild cats like leopards.
The volcanic complex has seven craters and, despite some minor activity in the last century, Mount Gede last blew its top in 1840 when, according to an eye witness:
“Fire rose from the crater to the height of 400 or 500 feet, at the same time a thick column of smoke to the height of 15,000 feet. The noise resembled several pieces of artillery accompanied by flashes of lightning. The sight was the more magnificent as the sky was perfectly cloudless and serene…”
Since those bygone days, the population growth in the vicinity of the national park has been astronomical and there are now around 4 million people living on the fringes of the volcano in places like Cianjur, Sukabumi and Bogor – not to mention the many millions in more distant Jakarta.
Even so, the volcano is not thought likely to ever have the potential to create a really large eruption.
And that's just as well really!
Given the national park’s close proximity to Jakarta and Bandung, the authorities have taken measures to restrict the number of visitors, presumably to ensure sustainable tourism and minimize potential damage to the environment. The park (apparently) has three (previously four) entry points: Cibodas (limited to 300 visitors per day), Selabintana (limited to 100 visitors per day), and Gunung Putri (limited to 200 visitors per day). Register at Wisma Cinta Alam in Balai Taman Nasional Mt. Gede-Pangrango on weekdays (Monday-Friday) during office hours (8am to 5pm). It’s also possible to register online but the procedure is not particularly clear and the information is all in the Indonesian language.
Important note: the park is usually closed from December to March (the height of the rainy season) and can be closed at other times of the year as well. Check on the website before you make plans!
Although there are three entry points, I would highly recommend you enter via the main Cibodas gate – especially if you are a first time visitor.
The practicalities of a visit
Tip one: visit during the dry season. You don’t want to be half way up a volcano in the pouring rain, you really don’t.
Tip two: volcanoes can be extremely dangerous and Gunung Gede is no exception. Many hikers have died up there (the story of senior high school student Shizuko Rizmandani is particularly tragic), so it is essential to know what you are doing. Risks mainly relate to the weather (rain and wind), and if you are not adequately prepared (see below), hypothermia can send you to an early grave sooner than you can shout durian. This risk is compounded manifold if you get lost, so at least one person in the group should really know their shit. My tip – get a guide. It’s worth it.
Tip three: wear decent hiking shoes. Blisters ain't fun.
Day hike or camp for one night?
You can either make a day of it or camp for one night.
Day hike: start walking before 6 am. All routes which take you up to the Mount Gede summit and down again in a day require around 10‑12 hours walking time.
Camping: This option is preferred as it allows you to be at the Mount Gede peak at sunrise. Hike up during the day and camp at Kandang Badak. The following morning before dawn, hike the remaining 500m to the crater rim where you can enjoy the sunrise before returning to Cibodas.
The route: from Cibodas to the Gunung Gede summit
First you have to get to Cibodas. From Jakarta take the toll road and head toward Puncak. About 5km after the top of the Puncak Pass, turn right towards Cibodas. Easy.
Park at the large parking area. At the National Park Office buy a map (this is also where to get your permit if you can’t figure out how to get it online).
From Cibodas to the Mount Gede summit your hike will take you to:
1) Danau Biru/the Blue Lake (30 minutes)
2) Kandang Batu/hot springs (another 2 hours)
3) Kandang Badak (2,500 m) – where you can camp (another 1.5 hours).
4) The summit of Mount Gede (2,958 meters) - another hour.
From the summit of Mount Gede it’s another 3 hours to the Pangrango summit (3,019 meters).
Stuff to bring
• Enough food AND drinking water
• Small stove to cook
• Jacket/ sweater
• Sleeping mat (plus sleeping bag) – if you plan to camp.
• Basic medicines
Things to leave behind
The attitudes of an ignorant and selfish city dweller!