Located about 50 kilometers south of the major city of Bandung in Indonesia, the sleepy town of Ciwidey provides a cooling highlands respite from sea-level Indonesia's typically muggy weather. Denizens of Jakarta go to Bandung to cool off; Bandung locals go to Ciwidey when they can't stand the traffic and congestion, and more outside travelers are following suit!
Its main draw – Kawah Putih, or “white crater” - is a massive crater lake that superficially resembles a white-sand beach, if not for the oppressive odor of sulfur hanging in the air! It's not for swimming in – the sulfur leaching from the ground makes the water highly acidic – but the compelling, hauntingly eerie sight of a huge greenish-blue lake in the center of a massive volcanic crater makes Kawah Putih a popular day-trip stop for thousands of Indonesians.
Those in the know set aside a little more than just a single day for Kawah Putih and the rest of Ciwidey. The area's other adventures – among them glamping, water-park fun, and a close encounter with a native deer – await the visitor who has time to linger.
Admire the Alien Beauty of Kawah Putih
The highlands around Ciwidey are actually part of a dormant twin volcano called Gunung (Mount) Patuha. The lake of Kawah Putih is Patuha's lower and more easily-accessible summit crater, and as volcano trekking goes, it's as easy as it gets.
From the entrance point to Kawah Putih, a waiting angkot (minibus) takes visitors through eucalyptus plantations and dipterocarp forests to a waiting parking lot and steps that lead through a pass into the waiting crater.
At an elevation of about 2,400 meters above sea level, Kawah Putih invites temperatures that tend to be cooler than even the already crisp air around Bandung. The lingering hardboiled-egg smell of sulfur around the crater lake spoils the effect: the natural upswell of sulfur from the crater saturates the air, bleaches the ground and acidifies the lake waters, creating Kawah Putih's alien, lifeless landscape.
Visitors can walk around the water's edge, taking pictures and admiring the view. There are few remnants of its colonial history: nothing remains of a World War II-era sulfur refinery near the lake, and a few openings in the rock attest to a sulfur mining operation that used to be active here.
An entrance fee of IDR 18,000 (US$ 1.30; read about money in Indonesia) will be charged at the gate.
Go Glamping at Legok Kondang Lodge
What a waste of mountain air, to just come for Kawah Putih and leave when you're done! To make the most out of Ciwidey's cooling climate, book a “glamping” package at the nearby Legok Kondang Lodge, a campsite with a series of 20 semi-permanent tents with some surprisingly luxurious fittings.
The tents come in varying sizes, but wooden furniture, actual beds with soft hotel-style beddings, televisions with cable access, and WiFi come standard with the experience. Pebble-floored bathrooms come with an actual shower, sink, and hot and cold running water. The stay comes with breakfast and a nighttime campfire included.
Beyond the tents, the camping grounds make the most of the gorgeous landscape: the gently sloping terrain of Gunung Patuha with its tea plantations, strawberry farms, and tree-shadowed grounds. The sunrise view from here is not to be missed.
Take a Pleasure Cruise at Lake Patenggang
A thirty-minute drive west of Kawah Putih takes you to a more typical lake with actual wildlife: the scenic lake known as Patenggang. None of the strangeness of Kawah Putih here: the vibe is positively romantic, with pine trees surrounding the lake, and the colorful boats waiting to take visitors on a pleasure cruise.
Lovers board boats to see and swear on the heart-shaped Pulau Asmara (Romance Island) in the center of the lake; the love angle may come from a mispronunciation of the lake's name that sounds like the local-language equivalent of “newlyweds”; a legend (probably added after the fact) refers to two lovers who were reunited by the powers of the lake.
The local lake management charges an entrance fee of IDR 135,000 (about US$ 10) for foreigners on weekdays; that goes up to IDR 185,000 (about US$ 14) on weekends. An additional IDR 11,500 will be charged for bringing your own vehicle into the area.
Feed an Indonesian Deer at Kampung Cai Ranca Upas
The Kampung Cai Ranca Upas camping grounds combines lush forests, interesting wildlife, and a water park, but its most enjoyable feature has to be the Javan rusa enclosure.
A paddock fronting a five-hectare enclosure permits visitors to step down to a platform and feed a species of deer native to Indonesia. The deer are semi-domesticated; still wary of human contact, but readily approaching the platform to have their fill of human-offered vegetables.
Entrance to the paddock is free, but expect to pay IDR 5,000 for a bag of carrots to give to the deer.
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