Ostensibly offering the best views in Central Java, Gunung Prau is a dormant volcano located in Dieng Plateau, Indonesia. Its height (2600 m above sea level) explains the panoramic vistas, but it shouldn’t be considered a deterrent for inexperienced hikers: the climb begins in Dieng Village, which is itself situated at the elevation of 2060 m. The path is smooth and well-maintained. For a reasonably fit person, it takes about two hours to reach the summit. Many do it at night, to be on top in time for the sunrise, which is truly a gorgeous spectacle. Camping is also a good option: this way one gets to see both sunrise and sunset. However, as it is common in this area, clouds often settle on the mountain from midday on, so the sunset is a matter of luck. At night, they descend into the valleys below, and when the sun appears again, it highlights the rows of volcanic cones – Sumbing, Sindoro, Merbabu, Merapi, Slamet – soaring over a solid sea of clouds, as if suspended in a white void. The sky usually clears shortly after the sunset, making Gunung Prau a great vantage point for astrophotography as well – or stargazing, for those of more romantic inclination.
“Gunung Prau” translates simply as “the boat mountain”. Apparently, its shape reminded people of a boat – not too surprising in an island country where boats are more common than cars. Dataran Dieng, the name of the plateau formed by Prau and a dozen other volcanoes nearby, has a more spiritual meaning: “the abode of great gods”. Historically, Java was home to a variety of Hindu kingdoms, and Dieng Plateau is peppered with Hindu temples, all of them ruined but most still functioning. High places, such as mountain peaks, are traditionally associated with heavenly beings, but don’t expect to meet one on Gunung Prau. You will not, however, be alone – young active Indonesians, mostly students from Javanese cities, list this mountain among the most popular hiking destinations. It’s easy to make friends, and there’s bound to be free coffee. Maybe a guitar.
The entrance to Dieng Plateau is the town of Wonosobo. It’s well connected to other cities in Java by regular buses. There are direct links to Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Bandung, even one or two buses heading as far as Sumatra. From the center of Wonosobo, minibuses run to Dieng roughly until dark (1-hour journey). Dieng itself is a popular holiday destination, with guesthouses, cafes, equipment shops and tourist agencies. Once there, walk to the main square and look around – you will see a giant sign built on the slope above the village, spelling in red letters: “GUNUNG PRAU”. This is where the trek begins.
The best season to climb this volcano in Central Java is July through September – the weather is the clearest, ensuring the classical panorama of volcanic peaks soaring over the sea of clouds at sunrise and a reasonably good chance of sunset views as well. This is also the coldest season, with temperatures on the summit of Gunung Prau dropping below freezing point at night. Make sure you’re dressed adequately, and have a warm sleeping bag if camping. It will get cold, but the experience and the best views are definitely worth it. Finally, due to its local popularity, the mountain can get crowded on weekends. It’s best to choose another day for your climb.
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