Few sights are as breathtaking as the sudden appearance of Gunung Rinjani's main crater at the end of the first day of this walk. Add in the even more astounding view from the volcano's summit and the serene beauty of being in the crater itself, and you've got a world-class trek that I can't recommend enough.
When I walked into Rinjani back in 1997 the local tourist industry was fairly basic, but things were obviously getting more and more sophisticated; I'm sure things are a lot more advanced now. I rented camping gear in the small village of Senaru and made my way into Rinjani on my own with nothing but a hand-drawn map for company, but even then some enterprising companies were offering all-inclusive packages complete with food, porters and transport. It all depends on what you want to pay for, but one thing's for sure: whatever you pay, the views will be exactly the same.
This isn't an easy walk, especially the last stretch up to the summit; the scree is exhausting to walk on and if you want to catch the incredible sunset from the top you have to start walking in the middle of the night. The summit is optional, but if you can manage it, you won't regret it.
There are two things to bear in mind when walking in Rinjani. The first is to make sure you carry out everything that you carry in, because when I was there the volcano was suffering badly from discarded non-biodegradable rubbish; only by keeping all your bits and bobs can Rinjani survive in its natural state. The other thing to bear in mind is that this Rinjani is in a remote part of Lombok, so take a decent first aid kit in case you cut yourself or get attacked by a monkey (hey, it happened to me!). Most people seem to forget things like plasters and antiseptic cream, but if you've ever grazed your knee on volcanic scree, you'll know what I mean.
Don't let me put you off, though. This is an incredible walk, and once you've seen that view from the crater rim, you'll see why. Enjoy!
There are two main ways to tackle Gunung Rinjani. The one described here is a round trip, starting and finishing in the small village of Senaru, to the north of the volcano. This is handy for those without arranged transport, but it does mean doubling back on yourself and adding an extra day, so if you're pushed for time you might want to consider the second option. This follows the route below for the first two days, but then on day 3 you climb to the summit and then descend southwest of the volcano to the village of Sembalun, where you should be able to catch public transport back to Senaru. You can also do this option the other way round, from Sembalun to Senaru; there aren't any rules here, as most of the time you'll be following your instincts rather than the map.
Talking of maps, I didn't really have one. I hurriedly copied a map down from a piece of paper I found in Senaru; as you can see from the picture above it was pretty basic, but nobody seemed to have anything better. I think some of the latest guidebooks to Indonesia have maps of the walk as well as all sorts of handy information (like distances and times), but although this makes life a lot easier, it's possible to do the walk without much information. After all, once you reach the rim, you can see where you need to go.
If you have the time I recommend the more relaxed four-day schedule below, as this gives you time to spend a night in the crater itself, camping on the shores of the idyllic crater lake. You cross the crater on day 2 even if you're heading through to Sembalun, but spending the night in the crater is worth the effort, despite the bugs. Here's the route I took:
|Senaru to Crater Rim
|Crater Rim to Summit Base
|Summit Base to Crater Lake (via Summit)
|Crater Lake to Senaru
There's no reason why you couldn't spend more time in the crater area. There's a spring from which you can collect drinkable water not far from the hot springs (the locals will direct you there) so the only concern would be food. Just make sure you have the strength and provisions to get out again; you wouldn't want to be stranded in this part of the world without anything to eat.