We first glimpsed Gunung Rinjani, standing proud at 3,726 meters, as we flew past on our way to Bali. It pretty much screamed “climb me, I dare you” and we certainly found the call too tantalising to resist. Despite being infamous for its relentless brutality, none of the broken-willed recollections could deter us from braving this three-day trek. We certainly don’t regret the decision. If you haven’t yet, check out our awesome vlog above to understand why. As you can see in the video, it was bloody difficult and soul crushing at times. If you still want to learn more, keep reading for practical advice and a run through of what to expect.
Things to Know
Rinjani is an active volcano within the notorious Ring of Fire. This means that volcanic and seismic activity are not outside the realms of possibility. In September 2016 the volcano within the crater lake, Gunung Barujari, erupted and the area was closed. This year the tours were interrupted again following the devastating August 2018 earthquakes. It’s important to be mentally prepared for such a possibility – even if it is a statistically low risk.
The Indonesian government prohibits tourists from trekking Rinjani without a tour group. This is partly for safety reasons and partly to preserve the income streams of the families that have been inhabiting the mountain for generations. The downside of this is that the trek has boomed in popularity over the last decade and dozens of companies occupy the mountain simultaneously. It can get super crowded in the high-season (June – August). Some people we met were very disappointed by this. If you’re looking for a peaceful hiking experience, this might not be the one for you.
Rinjani is usually closed between December and March due to the wet weather conditions.
Booking and Prices
Most people book through their accommodation or travel agent in Bali or Lombok. This is what we did, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s the best method.
All companies seem to offer the same package, however, there’s a lot of variation in the quality of meals and bedding. Despite many efforts we were unable to get the actual name of our trekking company. On booking we were told it was Rinjani Trekking Company, then later Trek Rinjani, then later still Adi’s Trekking. There are so many companies with such similar names that it’s hard to guarantee your travel agent will send you to the one you actually requested.
There’s also a serious issue with litter on the mountain and only some companies seem to have a responsible attitude towards this. It’s probably best to read testimonials and book directly with a well-rated company. When we were up there we saw that Green Rinjani not only had the best equipment and meals, but the guides and porters spent time collecting trash (not created by them) from the mountain.
One thing that seems to be universal is the quality of guides and porters. We can honestly say that ours improved our experience ten-fold, and they really know how to keep morale high. Here’s a break-down of our package and costs which seem to be quite typical.
Programme: 3 Days 2 Nights
Cost: 1.2million IDR per person (~ £62)
Included: pick-up from hotel/port, one night accommodation in village, three meals a day + snacks, water, tents, sleeping matts, sleeping bags, toilet tent, porters and guides, onward travel to hotel/port/Gili islands.
Not included: tips for the porters and guides are expected. Our group of 12 gave 100,000IDR each to split amongst 8 porters and 2 guides.
Here’s our list of essentials:
- warm jacket/layers – absolutely essential, it gets very cold and windy up there
- rain jacket – the weather can turn very quickly and they are great against wind
- head torch – a regular torch will do but a head torch is much nicer
- sun screen
- toilet paper
- toothbrush + tooth paste
- wet wipes – this will be your shower for 3 days 🙂
- spare socks
- plasters and pain killers – just in case
Honestly, we wore the same clothes all three days. I don’t see the point of soiling more than one set of clothes on a hike. Breathable quick drying active wear are perfect. Pack some thermal base layers to change into for the evenings and you’re set. The porters and guides use flip-flops, but unless you’re super experienced at this type of stuff, I’d strongly advise bringing shoes/trainers that have a decent grip.
The rest of your luggage should be very safe with your tour company. All of our group left valuables behind, including laptops etc. They were all untouched.
Rinjani can be hiked in two directions. I’ve attempted both directions and definitely preferred the Senaru to Sembulan experience (although, that was 7 years ago and I didn’t get a hip injury on the first day). It is very much down to personal preference which type of terrain/climb you find more pleasant. Here’s a brief run-down of both routes, including pros and cons.
Senaru to Sembulan: on Day 1 you’ll start in Senaru village and hike through the shaded forest for 5 hours. This section is quite steep. I had never hiked before when I attempted this and it was quite a shock to the system. However, it’s in the shade, the tree roots provide a nice set of stairs to climb, and branches help to pull yourself up. After Pos.3 you will emerge from the forest to traverse up sandy gravel for about 2 hours, which can be quite slow and frustrating as you will no doubt slide down at times.
The camping locations are the same regardless of the direction you take. You will spend the night on either side of the crater. Take time to observe the views and especially don’t forget to appreciate the magnificent Milky-Way after nightfall.
On Day 2 you will make a steep descent to the crater lake. You’ll be on rocks with some relatively large drops between steps which could be nerve-wracking for some. I personally enjoy this type of climbing. It’s fun and you can involve all four limbs to gain stability and spread the load on your muscles. After 2 hours you will reach the crater lake and have plenty of time to enjoy a swim, lunch, and the hot pools. Then you climb up the other side of the crater to reach camp. This will take roughly 3 hours and (if you’re short) might involve a bit of basic bouldering. It’s fairly steep but I have fond memories of this section. All-in-all it’s a short day in terms of hiking.
On Day 3 you will wake up at 1-2am to begin the gruelling ascent to the summit. This section, by all accounts, is equally harrowing regardless of which direction you trek Rinjani. It’s freezing, windy and pitch-black so you have no idea how much is left. You will also likely lose ground with each step as you slide down the volcanic gravel. The return trip takes 4-6 hours. Some might not want to leave this until the final day, in which case you would probably prefer to trek Rinjani in the opposite direction. On the flip side, if you do take the Senaru to Sembulan route, this will be the only uphill you do on the summit day. The promise of a shower and a real bed at the end of the day might be just the motivation you need.
Sembulan to Senaru: a car will pick you up from Senaru village and take you to the start of the trail at Sembulan. You will then begin a very gradual ascent through the dry, sunny savannah, stopping for lunch at Pos.2, after 3 hours. Afterwards, it’s more of the same until Pos.3 followed by a short break before you start a much steeper climb. The remaining section to the crater edge is also quite sandy. Our guide informed us that this is the point at which many tourists begin to cry!
You may prefer this slow steadily inclined walking to the steeper stepped walking of Day 1 on the Senaru to Sembulan route. Personally, I find this type of terrain much more challenging, and with good reason. I hated this day and it aggravated my hip-joint to the point that I couldn’t lift my left leg more than an inch off the ground by the end of the day. Because of this, our guide advised me against attempting the summit in the morning.
The main advantage of this route comes in Day 2, where you will climb the summit after only one day of hiking. Many people might find this to be a more reasonable demand to make of their body. The flip side it that you then have a long day ahead of you to reach the other side of the crater. Everyone in our group was shattered after the summit, but they all still managed the remaining 6-7 hours to the campsite without too much trouble. The hot springs certainly offer a well deserved respite for sore muscles.
Day 3 is very pleasant and relatively quick as you make your way back to civilisation through the shaded forest. This is obviously a much shorter final day than the one on the Senaru to Sembulan route so that’s the final factor you might want to consider.
Whichever direction you choose, it will be a tough but extremely rewarding experience.
If you get dropped off in Senaru village the day before your trek, do not forget to visit the nearby waterfalls. This was my favourite day on the mountain and a great warm up for muscles and joints. Pay 10k entrance fee to the area. If you’re on a budget you don’t need a guide to reach Sendang Gile Waterfall. There’s a clear path and super cute kids to help you cross the rivers, or to sell you a guided tour through a “shortcut” tunnel for just 20k.