Mount Ijen, Indonesia. Volcano Crater Sulphur Miners. The Job From Hell.

Ijen Volcano Indonesia Sulfur

Mount Ijen, Indonesia. Mining Sulphur by hand, deep in an active volcano crater, breathing in stinking toxic fumes, hour after choking hour, walking for miles, weighed down like pack mules carrying loads of up to one hundred kilograms, in ambient temperatures few could bare, all for a few dollars a day – this is the job from hell. The climb to the top of Mount Ijen, on the Indonesian island of Java, was physically demanding, however, nothing could mentally prepare me for what I would see at the bottom of the crater.

Mount Ijen volcano, in Eastern Java, Indonesia, towers above the landscape. A 2800 meter volcano, “Kawah Ijen” is a mystical and frightening place for the local people. The Mount Ijen volcano is also a source of income, for those men hardy and desperate enough to enter its active crater to work as sulphur miners. At four in the morning, the miners begin their gruelling day. A four kilometer walk into the crater mine is just the beginning. The men extract sulfur with little more than their bare hands, a primitive method long since abandoned in the western world. Carrying the back-breaking load using bamboo baskets, up to the top of the crater, and then down the mountain to be weighed and sold, is a job that some men have performed for decades.

When I finally arrived at the bottom of the Mount Ijen volcano crater, my eyes welled with tears.

The extreme natural beauty of the turquoise coloured crater lake, backdrop to a surrealistic mine-site, were almost too much to bare. The miners were very considerate to me – I was a welcome guest in their work place. I stayed in the crater for an hour or two, as various miners safely toured me around. On the way up and down the dangerous, steep, rocky path, the foul-smelling toxic plumes were thick and choking. My eyes were weeping, my nose and throat burning, breathing was difficult, and my chest felt tight, like asthma.

My journey into the crater was spur of the moment. I had seen the miners taking their loads down the mountain, as we were climbing up to the rim of the crater. At the top, looking down through my zoom lens, I spotted many ant-like figures. I was mesmerised. The view far below was drawing me into the crater. With some hesitation, I began the descent, and advised my travel partner “I’ll be back, when I get back”.

After the remarkable experience below, I headed back to the top of the crater, under the guidance of a miner who had befriended me. Upon my return to a waiting Phillipa (who, by this time, was clearly worried for my safety), I looked into her eyes, and was completely lost for words. Not knowing how to explain what I had experienced, I attempted to describe a most bizarre combination of incredible beauty, and outright hell that these workers endure.

I began to cry.


Mount Ijen Volcano (Kawah Ijen) is located in Eastern Java, Indonesia. Travellers can independently hike to the top of the crater rim. Beware that descending into the crater is very dangerous.


ijen view indonesia

sulphur miners indonesia

crater lake, Ijen

walk back up, Ijen Volcano, Indonesia

sulphur volcano miner, job from hell

crater lake

Indonesian sulphur miner

Ijen volcano crater lake

miner souvenir, Indonesia

mount Ijen volcano

volcanic crater lake, Ijen, Indonesia

toxic smoke Ijen volcano Indonesia

miners hut volcano crater Ijen, Java

mining for sulpur mount Ijen, Java, Indonesia

walking back up, Ijen crater volcano

turquoise lake at bottom of Mount Ijen volcano crater, East Java, Indonesia

distant view through sulphur smoke, Mount Ijen, Indonesia

Mount Ijen view

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14 thoughts on “Mount Ijen, Indonesia. Volcano Crater Sulphur Miners. The Job From Hell.

  1. My wife and I would like to sent two filter type mask we have and really don;t need. can you sent us an address so that we can sent them to help does workers. thank u. Celestino

    1. Hi Celestino, sorry about the slow reply (I missed your comment)… that”s a very kind thought you have, but unfortunately, I do not have a contact address.

  2. they don’t need mask, they just need money..
    life is tough but they got some effort, not earning money in illegal way
    best part of street/travel photography is, it opens our eye

    1. Thanks for your comment, ekeu. I agree, they need the money – or else, why would they put themselves through such back-breaking work. This was an eye-opener in the extreme.

  3. Dear Nate,

    We are going to go to Bromo volcano in two weeks and we are also interested in going to Mount Ijen but it is difficult to find some information (even in the Lonely planet guide…) So maybe you can help me:

    – How far is Mount Bromo to Mount Ijen?
    – How can we get from Bromo to there?
    – Is it possible to go at the two mounts in te same day? (Bromo at sunrise and Ijen at midday-afternoon)

    Thank you in advance!


  4. Hi Nate,

    I agree with you that being on Ijen is very impressive and it did really opened my eyes. Did you also see the episode of Human Planet of BBC where these men are filmed? I love your pictures, it seems like you’ve been down into the crater is that right? Do you (or anyone else who is reading this) know whether there is a foundation or some other Non-profit organisation that supports these men?

    Thanks! Greetings Susan

    1. Hi Susan, yes, down into the crater. I’m not sure about a foundation or non-profit, hopefully somebody else will stumble upon your comment and fill in the answer. Tale care, Nate.

      1. Thanks for your quick answer Nate :)

        Let’s hope somebody knows, or otherwise I might start my own foundation :)

        Take care,

  5. I just wrote to vso in indonesia. Vso is a development charity doing lots in indonesia. If they are doing some work there, I’ll let you know. I know the mining companies should be legally required to provide safety equipment, but how many more people will die young whilst we await that change.

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