Extra Experience: Climbing Mt. Batur in Bali
Extra Experiences is a series of reviews of activities, tours, or other additional programs you could potentially add to your trip. Let me help you figure out what’s right for you!
One of the most popular things to do in Bali is to climb to the top of Mt. Batur and watch the sunrise. Because it is so popular, I was already a little suspicious. (Call it the natural nonconformist in me.) Before making any decisions, I bounced around the internet reading blog posts and reviews offering their own opinions about the experience. The internet consensus seemed to be climbing is a must-do Bali activity for good reason and skipping it would be a waste. Between the overwhelming positive reviews and the fact that we may never travel back to Bali again, we decided to book and hope for the best. (In terms of experience and in terms of weather.)
With a height of about 1700 meters (5600 feet), it takes roughly two hours to get from the base starting point to the highest summit. (There are two summits, but if you can make it to the top, it is worth the extra effort.) If you’re following along and trying to do the math, making it to top in time for sunrise means quick an early pickup. The starting point is about an hour from Ubud (and farther depending on where else you are coming from), so that’s already a necessary three hour buffer in order to drive there and climb in time. Add in extra time to pick up other people, a snack, and a bathroom break and you arrive at about an 1:30 am pickup time.
For some people, that early of a pickup is already a deal breaker. Is getting up that early pleasant? Obviously not. But, if you’re anything like me, your transition from US time to Balinese time means that your body is already somewhat screwed up. What’s a little more chaos for an already confused body? Don’t let your interest in the hike be curtailed by waking up early. Barring any sort of unusual, extenuating circumstances, you’ll be fine.
When you book your tour, you’ll have the option of booking a private tour. A private tour may have a slightly later pickup time, since you are the only passengers, but I wholeheartedly think those are a waste of extra money. Climbing Mt. Batur is an extremely popular tourist activity and, even if your tour is technically ‘private’, you’ll still be accompanied by other tours and, probably, the entire rest of the tourist population on the island. We joined a group tour and just happened to luck out that the only other person who booked was our new friend Audrey.
Aside from time, the bigger question is, of course, physical difficultly. Our friend Madison did the hike (up and back) with a torn muscle in her knee. Now, I don’t advise you using Madison as a gauge. (For this hike or for anything - Mads is a beast.) I would consider myself to be in fairly good shape and I had moments of struggle. The path to the top is narrow and full of rocks and sand. Climbing up included stepping up and over large rocks and trying to get a good foothold in what was essentially a pile of ash. Descending included slipping and sliding down those same paths. It is challenging, but not prohibitive. Tours were full of a range of people and the guides have a strict rule that no one gets left behind. (You may be out of breath by the end, but you won’t end up wandering the Indonesians mountainside alone.)
We brought a small backpack and I wish we’d brought a slightly bigger one, considering we had two bottles of water each. I drank both of mine plus some of Alex’s, although he only finished one of his. You know yourself better than I know you, so my best advice is to think about how much water you want and then bring more. There are a few small kiosks along the way that sell water and other refreshments if you run out. (Yes, this hike is so popular that industrious locals have set up kiosks.) I would also recommend bringing a snack. Depending on your guide, they will probably also bring some food to enjoy at the top, but bringing your own leaves nothing to chance. (Also, it gives you something to eat on the way up – which I very much needed.)
The key variable that you really can’t control is the weather. Bali has fairly stable temperatures year-round, but there’s always the chance of clouds or rain. In a stroke of luck, the climbing gods smiled down on us and we had perfect weather with no rain and no cloud cover. As with any physical activity, dressing in layers is imperative, especially since you’ll be starting out in the coldest part of the morning but returning with the mid-morning sun. For clothes, I wore thick leggings, a tshirt, and a windbreaker with my running sneakers and felt like I was dressed correctly for the weather and terrain. Audrey, along with many other people, had hiking boots on. As I don’t own hiking boots, I don’t have a personal opinion on boots versus sneakers except to remind you that they are heavy and may take up unnecessary room in your suitcase.
After it was over, I was glad that we’d done it. For as close as Madison came to death by knee, she also reiterated how happy she was that we’d climbed. My final assessment is that, if you are able, you should brave the early morning and the distance to see the sunrise.
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