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Hiking in Indonesia — Mount Rinjani, Lombok
Mount Rinjani trekking packages are hugely popular. And no wonder: who wouldn’t be tempted by a massive volcanic caldera filled with a sapphire blue lake, a smoking cone and hot springs? But before you book your “awesome Rinjani adventure”, you need to know these three things:
- It’s really hard to get to the top. Really, really hard.
It’s high, it’s windy, it’s cold, it’s steep. Only 25% of people make it to the summit. We were sure we’d be among them… but none of the kids made it and, spot on the statistics, only 1 of the 4 adults — even though we are all experienced and tough hikers.
- The porters carry a lot of stuff you don’t really need. It’s embarrassing, if not downright cruel.
Most Mount Rinjani trekking packages promise delicious fresh food, fancy drinks, comfy mattresses… all of which is carried in baskets slung on poles across the porters’ shoulders. Yes a chocolate watermelon smoothie is yummy, but a porter has to lug the ingredients up the mountain for you — plus a blender, a car battery to power it, and a glass. I was truly appalled by what these people carried for me, none of which I’d ever dream of needing on a hike, let alone carry for myself.
- The mountain is covered in garbage, toilet paper and poo. Human poo.
I was totally freaked out by the sheer amount of trash and human waste — it ruined the trek and just made me so sad. It’s not as bad as Trash Island, but the amount of rubbish is the worst I’ve ever seen on a hike.
So, is Rinjani worth it? You’ll get a lovely view even without reaching the top, and there’s a lot else to like about hiking here. But the better trekking packages are not cheap, and all the trash and poo makes it hard to recommend a Mount Rinjani trek. If you’re still determined to go, then read on for more information. But please, please, take back your own trash — and manage your poop and toilet paper too.
Distance: ∼20 km (return hike to rim and back) / ∼28 km (return hike to summit and back) / ∼34 km (Sembalun to Senaru including the summit)
Difficulty: Moderate to very difficult
Highest point: ∼2,640 m (crater rims) / 3,726 m (Mount Rinjani summit)
Height gain: +1,600 m (to crater rim from Sembalun) / +2,000 m (to crater rim from Senaru) / +1,000 m more to Rinjani summit
How to get there
Rinjani Mountain is in Gunung Rinjani National Park in the north of Lombok, the small Indonesian island just east of Bali.
Most trekking options start from either the Gunung Rinjani National Park Office, on the eastern side of the park near the village of Sembalun, or else the village of Senaru to the north of the park. Other options include starting from Aik Berik to the southeast or Torean to the north.
Whatever your starting point, you need to visit the national park office to sign in and pay the park entrance fee.
You can get to Lombok by public ferry or fast boat from Bali, or else by plane from various destinations. The only way to get to the trail heads is by car. Usually the trekking company will pick you up from wherever you are to take you there, and then drop you at your next destination on Lombok.
When to climb Rinjani
The best time for trekking Mt Rinjani hike is the dry season, from April to late October. The later you go, the drier and dustier the crater rims and caldera will be — and the higher the risk of brush fires. There was a fire when we were there, which nearly made us turn back. But wet is not good either: the trail turns to mud.
Note that the park is completely closed from early January to March, as well as whenever there is any volcanic activity, high wind or other danger.
Hiking trail description
The most popular trekking itineraries are between the villages of Sembalun and Senaru, either all or part of the way. We crossed the park in this direction, so I’ll describe the trail like this — see below for further information on which Rinjani trekking itinerary and direction is best for you.
The trail is good and very obvious. It may be warm when you start, but you climb up to alpine terrain and so need to be prepared for mountain weather (see what to bring below). It was extremely windy on the rim when we were there, and very cold at the summit.
Gunung Rinjani National Park Office (Sembalun) to Plawangan Sembalun crater rim
Distance: ∼10 km
Highest point: 2,606 m (Plawangan Sembalun crater rim)
Height gain: +1,630 m
The hike starts through fields then climbs gradually through grasslands to a lunch point in a small ravine. I was quite encouraged by the lack of litter in this section, thinking maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as I had read. But there was quite a bit of rubbish at the lunch point (where all guided groups stop) and some nasty toilet points further up.
The trail climbs more steeply after lunch, and enters into light forest cover. The final climb to the rim is steep — and you might feel the effects of altitude.
The trash at the rim is the worst of the whole hike. The wind whips every loose item over the edge to be snagged in the vegetation just below the rim on the caldera side — where it’s impossible to retrieve or clean up. I had to wait for tissues and bags to fly past to take my dawn photos. Yes, really. I was so shocked that I didn’t take any photos to show how bad it is, but later wished I had.
Plawangan Sembalun crater rim to Rinjani summit
Distance: ∼8 km return
Highest point: 3,726 m (Rinjani summit)
Height gain: +1,120 m/-1,120 m
The ascent of Mt Rinjani starts in the early hours of the morning, to reach summit for sunrise. The trail starts off fairly easily, but gets steeper and steeper until you reach loose scree — where the going is more slippery and difficult.
Why did only one of our party make it? The wind, and wind-chill factor, are the main reasons so many people don’t reach the top — the percentage who make it on calm days is much higher. It was extremely windy the night we were there, so the guides advised the kids not to even try. Then Kai was sick all night, so I stayed with him. That left 3 adults who started up — and two turned back because of the cold. Both are experienced hikers who have walked many times at altitude before… which gives an indication of just how tough the ascent is. Only James made it, but only after sunrise — and he looked exhausted by the time he returned to the tents.
Getting back to camp isn’t even the end — either you need to walk back to Sembalun (2-day/1-night treks), or else walk to the lake (4-day/3-night treks) or on past the lake to the crater rim on the other side of the caldera (3-day/2-night treks).
Sembalun crater rim to Segara Anak lake
Distance: ∼3.4 km
Highest point: 2,606 m (Plawangan Sembalun crater rim)
Height gain: -580 m
Distance: ∼2.5 km
Highest point: 2,635 m (Plawangan Senaru crater rim)
Height gain: +610 m
This part of the trail starts with a flat walk around the lake for a while. The climb up to the rim is straightforward and not too steep. There are fabulous views of Rinjani’s summit (if it’s not in clouds), Segara Anak lake and Gunung Barujari along the way and from the crater rim.
We nearly couldn’t do this part of the hike due to a grass fire the day before that went right over the trail. Luckily it mostly burnt out overnight.
We were told we’d camp at the rim — but when we got there, the guides recommended camping in the forest further down. The camp site was definitely prettier, but then we missed the dawn view of Rinjani which annoyed me later.
Plawangan Senaru crater rim to Senaru village
Distance: ∼10 km
Highest point: 2,635 m (Plawangan Senaru crater rim)
Height gain: -2,000 m
Which Rinjani trekking itinerary is best?
Most tour operators offer the same 2-, 3- and 4-day trekking itineraries, with the option of starting from either Sembalun or Senaru. Although it’s not recommended, you can also trek Mount Rinjani without a guide.
Your best option and starting point will depend on how much time you have, your fitness level, and whether you plan an ascent to the summit.
Only 1 day and pretty fit; no plan to reach the summit
If time is limited, you could simply hike to the crater rim for a view of the caldera and Segara Anak lake, then return the same way on the same day. Note that the summit tends to cloud over during the day, so I’d recommend an early start.
The prettier route is from Senaru as you walk through forest for quite a way. You’ll also have a better view of Rinjani’s summit and Gunung Barujari from the Senaru side. Another advantage is that Senaru has more sleeping and eating options than Sembalun. However, the height gain to the crater rim is quite a lot more compared to hiking from Sembalun.
2 days and a bit less fit; no plan to reach the summit
If walking to the rim and back in one day seems too much then you should join a 2 day/1 night trek, camping on the crater rim overnight. As above, the prettier route is from Senaru — plus fewer people camp on this side so it will be less crowded. However, the height gain is more from this side and the camping site is nicer on the Sembalun side (though with a lot more garbage).
If you start from Sembalun then the tour will probably include an option to climb to the summit for sunrise. You don’t need to take it though — everyone will have breakfast at the campsite, then you return together by the same trail you walked up.
2 days and fit; want to reach the summit
You’ll need to join a 2 day/1 night trek starting from Sembalun to include an ascent to the summit. This is a tough trek: 10 km and a 1,600 m height gain the first day, a 3am start the next day for the 4 km, 1,000 m height gain hike to the summit — and then 14 km to retrace your steps back to Sembalun.
3 to 4 days, with or without ascending to the summit
The longer options cross from Sembalun to Senaru or vice versa, going down into the caldera to Segara Anak lake and the hot springs. I recommend one of these for a fuller Rinjani experience.
The 3-day itinerary includes one night on the crater rim on one side, lunch at the lake on the second day (plus a swim in the hot springs if there’s time), then the second night on the crater rim on the other side. The ascent to the summit will be on the morning you’ve slept on the Sembalun side. The 4-day itinerary breaks up the walk between the two crater rims by camping at the lake for one night.
We did the 4-day option as our kids were quite young at the time and we knew they’d like an afternoon and morning swimming and playing in the lake and hot springs. For the adults it was a bit too much hanging around though.
Our trek was from Sembalun to Senaru — but if you want to ascend Rinjani then I recommend the opposite. This way you have more time to acclimatize to the altitude, and less of a tough hike the day before you attempt Rinjani. The downside is you’ll have to visit the hot springs before your tough climb to the summit, not after when it might be more welcome.
Which trekking company is best?
There are many, many operators offering guided treks of Mt Rinjani, with a large variety of prices too. I recommend ignoring the cheapest options — cheap usually means the porters are not paid well, no toilet tents and your trash will definitely stay on the mountain.
Here’s what you should look for in a company:
- takes all rubbish out
- provides a toilet tent (a screen around a hole dug for your party)
- includes an English-speaking guide (or whatever language you prefer)
- provides good quality tents and warm sleeping bags
- offers equipment you don’t have – most importantly warm clothes; hiking poles and headlamps are also good
- includes unlimited bottled water
- limits the group size to a level you think is reasonable
- states it treats its porters well
- is ideally run by local people
Other useful options are:
- pick up from the airport/ferry landing
- transport to your next destination on Lombok
I was also influenced by the meals and drinks offered, plus the thickness of the mattresses — but then, when I saw the porters carrying so much stuff, I felt ashamed. When we camp ourselves, we manage just fine with simple lightweight meals, no beer or smoothies, and air mattresses. However I’m not sure you have much choice as food and comfort seem to be big selling points.
Random facts about Mt Rinjani & Lombok
- Lombok is part of Wallacea — where the plants and animals of Australia meet those of Southeast Asia. This means there are monkeys living in Australian trees! OK, so maybe that’s only cool to an Australian like me.
- The volcano is Indonesia’s second-highest. It used to be much bigger, but the top blew some 800 years ago — leaving a massive caldera now partly filled with the beautiful blue waters of Segara Anak lake.
Where to stay & eat
Both Sembalun and Senaru have a number of hotels, guest houses and restaurants. We stayed at Senaru. This small village is on top of a ridge, offering beautiful views of Mt Rinjani across the forest. There are also some nice waterfalls that you can easily walk to from the village.
What to bring on a Mount Rinjani trekking trip
You shouldn’t need any special equipment to do the trek. Be aware that the crater rim and summit are high, so you must be prepared for the cold and for sudden changes in weather. If you go with a trekking company, then be sure they provide enough food and water.
- Good hiking shoes
- Regular hiking clothes – shorts, long pants, T-shirt, socks, underwear
- Warm clothing – hat, gloves, fleece
- Water- and windproof clothing – jacket, pants
- Sunscreen, sun hat, sunglasses
- Toiletries – toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush
- Toilet paper
- Trowel to dig your own toilet holes
- Sanitary handwash
- Sealable plastic bags for toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, all other rubbish
- Headlamp (if you plan a dawn Rinjani ascent)
- Emergency survival blanket
- First aid kit
- Cash for tipping the guide and porters
- Hiking poles
- Swimming costume & towel (if you go to the lake/hot springs)
Dangers & annoyances
- Altitude sickness: This potentially deadly condition can occur when you go higher than around 2,500 m above sea level without giving your body enough time to acclimatize to the lower levels of oxygen at this altitude. Both crater rims are higher than 2,500 m and the summit is much higher. Mild signs of altitude sickness include weakness, sleepiness, and lack of appetite; headaches are more serious; and vomiting, a persistent dry cough, disorientation, fever and/or continual panting, even when resting, are more serious still. If you have a persistant headache or other serious symptoms at the crater rim or on the hike to the summit, then do not go any higher! The best thing is to descend to a lower altitude as soon as possible. Please do make sure you know all the symptoms for this very dangerous possibility, and what to do if you or anyone else has them.
- Earthquakes & volcanic activity: Lombok is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and Mt Rinjani is still active. Gunung Barujari, a smaller cone sitting in the lake under Rinjani’s summit, began smoking more than normal just a week after we were there — stopping all Rinjani trekking tours for a while. Earthquakes are probably more of a danger, as they are usually more unexpected. The most recent activity was a 6.4 magnitude earthquake in 2018, which caused a landslide on the mountain that left one hiker dead and some 500 others stranded.
- Sunburn: Apply plenty of sunscreen every two hours — and even better, cover up as much skin as possible.
- Heat stroke/dehydration: If the weather is clear then you’ll be in the sun for most of the hike. Wear a hat and make sure the trekking company provides unlimited water.
- Hypothermia/exposure: The weather could also quickly turn cold on the crater rims, and will definitely be cold climbing to the summit. It was also extremely windy when we were there.
- Stomach bugs & parasites: It’s not recommended to drink river, stream or lake water due to nasty microorganisms.