© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

A thousand waterfalls in one: Tumpak Sewu, East Java

3 minutes to read

As East Java is rapidly becoming a popular tourist destination,  the first trickles of travelers from Bali have already grown into streams. They are threatening to turn into a tsunami, as Tumpak Sewu Waterfall begins to show on home-made itineraries progressively often. And deservedly so – Java has no shortage of waterfalls, thousands of them perhaps, but this one is quite possibly the most impressive. A whole river splits into rivulets dropping along one side of a deep, circular sinkhole. Some developments have been made, and more are likely to be on the way. Now is the time to go – in another few years, the place will be full of tour groups and will have “instagrammable” silliness, little swings and giant colored concrete letters, smack in the middle of the view. Alas, natural beauty doesn’t last long in our days.

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

River in a bowl

The name, Tumpak Sewu, translates from the Javanese language as “a thousand waterfalls”. This is exactly how it looks – countless little streams plunging 100-120 meters down the wall of a natural bowl, a cylindrical sinkhole. From there, the reunited river continues its way through a narrow gorge. There are more waterfalls downstream, but Tumpak Sewu is doubtlessly the most impressive of all. No wonder a photograph of it with Mt. Semeru in the background has recently taken the first prize in "The Best Aerial 2019" contest. The beauty of it is almost ephemeral when seen from the viewpoint above, but descend into the gorge, and you will feel the might of the pounding water -literally, since the fine mist will instantly soak you all over.

© unsplash.com/ardito ryan Harrisna
© unsplash.com/ardito ryan Harrisna

Precarious climb

There are entrances to the waterfall from both banks of the river. Both include a long hike to the bottom of the gorge. The one on the western bank offers the best panoramic views – like in that prize-winning shot. The eastern entrance is more suitable for adventure seekers: it is slippery, half-rotten bamboo ladders all the way down. It’s much steeper, too. Some sections of the ladders may be broken or missing. While it seems to be an impossible challenge for any traveler without at least basic climbing skills, locals treat it as a sort of a fun ride, or possibly an inevitable inconvenience. Whole families clamber down the shaky ladders, loaded with picnic baskets and mewling babies, and take selfies along the way. There is a bridge across the river connecting the two paths; the best plan would be to descend one way and climb up on the other side. This is not really an option, of course, if you arrive in your own vehicle and have to come back to it.

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Practicalities

Tumpak Sewu is located near the road from Malang to Lumajang. Both are proper East Java towns with plenty of accommodation options and transport connections. Buses travel between the two, stopping near the waterfall, until roughly 17:00. After that, you will have to rely on hitchhiking or stay overnight. In recent years, a few homestays have opened around Tumpak Sewu – simple, but surrounded by natural beauty. There is an entrance fee, but so far, no racist tourist prices: 10000 INR, less than a dollar. Sturdy footwear is a must – the climb down to the waterfall is not one to be done in flip-flops. It is extremely wet down below – thousands of dropping streams create a permanent cloud of water dust that soaks through everything. If you intend to take photographs, bring a waterproof case for your camera. Be extra careful during the rainy season – in case of massive rainfall in the mountains upstream, a sudden flash flood may occur. And don't forget to go now, before it turns into a crowded theme park.

Tumpak Sewu, Lumajang, East Java
Tumpak Sewu, Lumajang, East Java
Besukcukit, Sidomulyo, Pronojiwo, Kabupaten Lumajang, Jawa Timur 67374, Indonesia

The author

Mark Levitin

Mark Levitin

I am Mark, a professional travel photographer, a digital nomad. For the last four years, I am based in Indonesia, spending here roughly half a year and travelling around Asia for the other half. Previously, I spent four years in Thailand, exploring it from all perspectives.

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