Pretty, Pricey and Smelly: Facing Reality in Kawah Putih
It had always been a dream of mine to visit Kawah Putih, a volcanic crater lake at the foot of Mount Patuha, near Bandung.
The natural wonder has been used as the backdrop for a number of fashion spreads and music videos in recent years, due to its stunning color contrasts and its isolated, middle-of-nowhere feel. I had only ever seen it in photographs but was captivated by its white sands and clear, blue-green water.
That is why I jumped at the chance last week to visit the crater with my cousin, who was making a trip to Bandung. We had been to Bandung plenty of times, to enjoy its shopping and culinary scenes, the hot springs at Ciater and the vistas of Tangkuban Perahu. This time, we vowed to make the drive out to Kawah Putih as well.
Located at the top of Mount Patuha, Kawah Putih is around 40 kilometers from Bandung, or a three-hour drive from Jakarta. The best way to get there from the capital is to take the Cipularang toll, exit at Kopo and head straight for Ciwidey.
Ciwidey itself is a fascinating destination if you have enough time to drop by. In the gardens there, you can pick strawberries to take home, or to eat right there among the beautiful mountain scenery.
There are also a number of food stalls offering strawberry-inspired dishes, including strawberry meatball soup, strawberry spaghetti and even strawberry fried rice. The food in Ciwidey is well-priced.
Not so for the entrance fee at Kawah Putih, as my cousin and I were soon to discover. We were shocked to learn the fee for the two of us to enter the natural site was Rp 180,000 ($20) — Rp 150,000 for the car, plus Rp 15,000 per person.
Visitors arriving by motorcycle only have to pay a fee of Rp 5,000 for their vehicle, so it is not clear why the fee for cars was so expensive. We begrudgingly handed over the cash and tried to enjoy the natural surroundings.
We had arrived during the hottest part of the day, at around 2 p.m., but the air felt cool on our skin. Fog drifted over the crater, but the sun was bright, illuminating the sands and the water.
With such a mystical atmosphere, it is no wonder Kawah Putih has long been the subject of local myths and legends. Many people who live in the area believe that the crater is where the spirits of their ancestors reside. Before Dutch explorer Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn came across the crater in 1837, local people avoided the site because they were afraid of the powerful spirits.
The nearby Mount Patuha is also considered to be an ancestral site. Its name comes from “Pak Tua,” or “Old Man,” a term used to refer to honored seniors in society. The mountain’s other name, Mount Sepuh, means “the honored” — another reference to the ancestors.
My cousin and I took a walk around the crater, admiring its white, chalky walls and the hues of turquoise in the water. The water is colored by a high sulfur content and changes according to the weather.
Some visitors find the sulfuric fumes overwhelming, so it is recommended that a face mask is worn and no more than 15 minutes at a time is spent in the crater. Taking in the view, my cousin and I stayed for more than half an hour and soon began to feel light-headed.
Despite the high entrance fee, there are not too many facilities available at Kawah Putih, and those that are there are not very well-maintained. There are few places to sit down and no souvenir shops in the area, so there is not much to do besides enjoying view.
Kawah Putih may not have lived up to my expectations in every way, but in terms of a weekend escape from the city it was a dream come true. Even the high entrance fee and lack of amenities could not detract from the stunning beauty of the crater that was simply out of this world.