Why you should avoid Bromo and Probolinggo.
About 8 years ago I visited Bromo and Probolinggo and fell in love. It epitomised for me the rugged, natural beauty that volcanoes purveyed and seemed to be unrivalled. It was a masterpiece, an artists final work of art, one which when complete, would remain the pastel of his judgement.
Over the years Probolinggo has gained a reputation amongst backpackers and travellers as being a Javanese hotbed of scams and misery. Aptly referred to as ‘Scambolinggo’ by those that have had the recent unfortunate of passing through. And that is all most tourists do, they hop off the train and straight onto a tour of one of Java’s highlights, and then leave. Beyond Bromo the city has absolutely nothing of note, and any non-Muslims may be surprised to be woken multiple times during the night by the call to prayer which is loudly throughout the entire site and the inability to get alcohol almost anywhere in Probolinggo.
The scams in Probolinggo will start the second you arrive. Overpriced taxis run by the local mafia ensure you have to walk at least 100m down the road as Grab drivers are too scared to pick you up from the station (bus or train), and touts will feed you any lie they need to to get you to open your wallet. Common complaints regarding tours are that drivers randomly decide you want to go to some coffee tasting or other, or they charge hugely inflated prices that elsewhere in the region would be laughable. They have a monopoly, Grab won’t take you to Bromo, the little yellow Bemo’s will take you, but only at inflated prices.
Years of abuse and mismanagement by local regulators has meant entry prices to Bromo now stand at 210,000 – 310,000 (£13 weekday/£20 weekend) which is more expensive than the Louvre in Paris, The Taj Mahal in India and many other world class, world renowned museums/attractions . This a further kick in the face when you see locals pay about 600% less.
No doubt about, once you step into the Bromo basin you will be blown away by the natural beauty. It really is stunning. Yet the closer you get to Bromo you will begin to realise this stunning vista of lunar-esque beauty is teeming with litter, empty bottles, packets, bags, you name it. It is disgusting to see such a dirty place up close. Hike up the broken steps with rusty pieces of metal sticking out and you would be forgiven for wondering where the entry fees are really ending up. Mass tourism has made a decent photograph almost impossible and a lack of funding has meant that Bromo is now little ore than a dirty, unsafe pile of dust at the distant foot of Merapi. A mismanaged area of perfect driving into desperation fuelled by instagramers and filters that mask the dirt.
Leaving Probolinggo is where you will get hit the hardest by the scams. The bus ticket scams have been going on so long they are accepted by everyone, including every other person on your bus. The scam goes like this; You board the bus and some guy gets on with a ticket book looking official and tells you the fare (which is always hugely inflated). You look around and someone nearby tells you the guy is legit so you pay up. He jumps off, then the genuine ticket guy comes around and you have no ticket so pay again. This happened to me, but I was onto him and refused to pay.
The scamster stood up and shouted aggressively at me to pay, pay now, and for the driver to stop. The driver stopped and I was asking locals if this was genuine, everyone ignored me through absolute fear. I was being attempted to be charged 100,000 per person to Banyuwangi. The bus driver off loaded us, and we walked with our things about a mile, waited for the next bus, jumped on and paid the genuine fare. This has been happening for many years and goes unpunished, unregulated and really is a feed down for the absolute contempt everyone in Probolinggo has for foreigners.
Probolinggo is little more than a skid mark in Eastern java, a horrible little city filled with salivating, greedy Indonesians that are a far cry away from the warm, genuine, honest Indonesians you will meet elsewhere in the country. Probolinggo will taint your memory of Java, Bromo will be little more than a let down, and your whole experience of the place will be one of disgust and regret.
Bromo for free
However. There is a way you can get into Bromo with our paying the fee and it is really simple. Ask your driver to drop you off in Cemoro Lawang, at the turning point for the viewpoint. The hotel os called Cemara Indah, right by the mobile phone tower. The locals path goes from there and takes you to the basin completely free. And still, even without paying, I was disappointed.
The only way things might change in Probolinggo is if tourists stop feeding into the city wide scam that behests tourists. Money is all that matters in the city, and only if tourists refuse to feed the greed of the local authority, might someone actually start caring about Bromo for what it is, and not just the downtrodden cash cow it has become.