How to Visit Tumpak Sewu Waterfall, the Niagara of Indonesia
“I can’t believe we were just up there,” I called out to my husband as I looked behind me, taking in the magnitude of the 120-metre cliffside we had climbed down no less than thirty minutes earlier. A combination of bamboo ladders, ropes, and metal steps—all somehow impressively attached to stubborn roots and the craggy rock face—had led us down to the base of Tumpak Sewu Waterfall in East Java, Indonesia, and I felt almost giddy that we’d actually made it.
It was month 3 of our 10 month round-the-world trip. We had flown into Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, admittedly without knowing much about the island of Java itself. I’d made plans to visit its more popular neighbour to the east, Bali, with my sights on the legendary Komodo Island for later, but realised that I was woefully oblivious to the points of interest where we’d landed.
Some last minute research made it clear that I’d be making a huge mistake if I ignored Java’s stunning temples, volcanoes, waterfalls and beaches. One waterfall in particular—described as “the Niagara Falls of Indonesia”—caught my eye, and I knew I had to see it in person.
The big question was: could we get there on our own, without taking a tour or hiring a car? Thankfully, the answer was a resounding yes.
Though taking public transportation and staying locally was hardly the most glamorous (or fastest!) route to take, they’re two of the reasons why our visit to Tumpak Sewu was one of our most memorable adventures in East Java.
Here’s everything I learned along the way to help you plan your own visit.
First, Some Background on Tumpak Sewu
Where is the waterfall?
There are a few important pieces of information to learn if you’re planning to visit. One is that Tumpak Sewu is located in the small village of Sidomulyo, which is about 65 kilometres southeast of a city called Malang, or 55 kilometres west of Lumajang.
Malang itself is more than 200 miles (325km) if you’re driving from Java’s cultural centre, Yogyakarta, and Yogyakarta is more than 325 miles (550 km) from Jakarta. Suffice to say, it’s not a day trip from either of those major cities. You truly need to be in Eastern Java if you’re thinking about going.
Secondly—and this information isn’t quite as crucial, but still good to know—the size of Tumpak Sewu in relation to other local waterfalls is not what earned it the title of Niagara Falls. Rather, its location between two major cities (similar to how Niagara Falls lies on the U.S.-Canadian border) is where this originated. Clever yet slightly deceptive, right?
What’s in a name?
Third: the word sewu translates to “one thousand” in the Javanese language. Though it’s highly doubtful that this is the exact number of streams you’ll see falling from the waterfall itself, it does start to feel like less of an exaggeration than an approximation of its strength once you’re there.
And fourth, it’s helpful to know that not everyone knows the waterfall by the same name:
- If you’re coming from the west (Malang), locals call it Tumpak Sewu. Tumpak refers to the day of the week that they officially opened the waterfall to the public.
- If you’re coming from the east (Lumajang), it’s known as Coban Sewu, with coban being the Javanese word for waterfall.
- Local signage will use Bahasa Indonesia showing the words “Air Terjun Sewu,” with air meaning “water” and terjun meaning “plunging.”
Though it might be a little confusing at first, don’t worry. Most locals will understand where you’re trying to visit, no matter what you call it.
Why Should You Go?
For starters, Tumpak Sewu ranks up there as one of the best waterfalls I’ve seen during my 2+ years of travels in Southeast Asia. With the peak of Mount Semeru towering in the background and a landscape that feels like it’s straight out of Jurassic Park, you can’t help but feel like you’re gazing upon something truly special.
Next, I’d say that half the fun involves making the dramatic hike to the bottom of the waterfall’s ravine. As someone who enjoys a little thrill—within reason!—I enjoyed the ever-so-slightly precarious adventure down bamboo ladders and through rushing waterfall streams. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart or for anyone who is scared of heights. Stick to the Panoramic Viewpoint at the top if it worries you. But for adventure seekers, it’s a great experience.
Last but certainly not least, go now because Tumpak Sewu is still a relatively new attraction. It only became accessible to the wider public in 2015, when it took five men forty days to construct that near-vertical pathway to the bottom. Since it still hasn’t made its way onto the typical tourist circuit of Mount Bromo and Kawah Ijen in Java, it’s a far cry from overcrowded waterfalls in Bali, allowing you to bask in the near-solitude of this incredible sight.
So there you have it, all the background you need to know about Tumpak Sewu.
Now for some helpful tips:
Visit as Early As You Can to Avoid The Rain and Crowds—Weekdays are Preferable
There are a number of reasons why you should go to Tumpak Sewu early, rather than in the afternoon. Starting with the most practical one: since it tends to rain more frequently in the late afternoon, an earlier arrival time ensures you have time to enjoy the waterfall without worrying about the weather.
Plus, nothing beats feeling like you have this natural wonder to yourselves—we arrived right around 8am and it was practically empty, save two other tourists with a guide. Closer to 9am, tour groups started to arrive.
Moreover, if you’re interested in climbing down, three things could get in the way: rain, crowds and opening hours. Though Tumpak Sewu’s Panoramic Viewpoint is open everyday from 8am to 5pm, you are only allowed to make a descent to the ravine before 3pm to ensure you have enough time to return before sunset.
If it’s raining, you’re not allowed to make the trek down at all. And personally, I wouldn’t want to compete with large numbers of people to get up or down those bamboo ladders.
Moral of the story: go as early as possible.
You Don’t Have to Take a Tour or a Guide (It’s Cheap to Do It Yourself!)
It’s definitely possible to experience Tumpak Sewu on your own terms, sans an expensive tour, guide or rented car. Opting to take public transportation to the village of Sidomulyo, spending the night at a nearby homestay, and borrowing the homestay’s scooter to get to/from Tumpak Sewu cost me less than $20 for a full day of activities.
Public Transport to the Village
Still, it was hard for me to find comprehensive information on how to reach the village location using public transportation coming from Mount Bromo, so here’s what I ultimately did to reach Tumpak Sewu from Probolinggo and Malang.
- I took the bus from Probolinggo to Malang, only narrowly escaping getting scammed by locals trying to overcharge foreigners. Make sure you only pay the bus driver once the bus is moving and don’t back down!
- After resting overnight in Malang, I took a Grab taxi to Terminal Gadang, the local bus terminal.
- I asked to find the bus headed toward Lumajang and let them know I was headed to Tumpak Sewu—and thankfully, no one there tried to charge more than needed.
- Because I was staying at a local homestay, I exited the bus at Pronojiwo Terminal. However, the bus attendant (and the whole bus, actually) let me know when we reached Tumpak Sewu.
It cost 25,000 INR ($2) and about 3.5 hours for me to get to Pronojiwo from Malang. Believe me when I say that you should learn from my mistakes and ask to see if there’s a faster, air-conditioned patas (express) bus to get there—but if not, chalk up the experience of riding on a slow, hot, and overcrowded bus to getting to really experience local life in Java.
Other important things to note if you opt for public transportation: Buses stop running from Terminal Gadang after 5pm, and, as a whole, buses only typically run when they are full enough with passengers. If you’re in a time crunch, then public transportation probably isn’t the best option for you.
Higher Budget Ways to Get There
If you have more money than time, here are some other ways to visit Tumpak Sewu by staying in the neighbouring towns:
- Renting a scooter: I’d recommend this only if you’re more experienced riding a scooter, not if you’re a beginner. The roads to Sidulmulyo village have blind curves, not a lot of people speak English if you were to get into an accident, and there are a lot of large trucks on the road.
- Hiring a car: You could hire a car from Malang from your hostel. A few blogs said that it cost 500,000-600,000 IDR ($35-$42 USD) total. Ask around at your hostel or use an app like Travltalk to split the cost with other travellers beforehand.
- Going straight from Probolinggo: it should cost around 700,000 IDR for a private car.
- Taking a tour: You could take a tour arranged through your guesthouse or purchase one online. I saw 3+ tours advertised on TripAdvisor for $45-$50 per person.
What To Bring and Wear—Plus, Information about Tour Guides
If you’re planning on hiking to the bottom of Tumpak Sewu, I recommend wearing closed-toe shoes. Since you actually walk through portions of the waterfall which are slippery and wet, flip-flops seem much too flimsy. If you’re only planning on visiting the Panoramic Viewpoint, however, I think you’d be fine in less sturdy shoes.
You’ll need to bring some cash to pay entrance fees and parking fees if you’re using a motorbike or car. The entrance fees for Tumpak Sewu are surprisingly cheap compared to some of the other attractions I visited in Java. It was only 10,000 IDR (~$0.75 USD) per person for the Panoramic Viewpoint, with another 10,000 IDR at the bottom viewpoint. Motorbike parking was just 5,000 IDR ($0.35 USD).
When you’re at the entrance of the waterfall, someone might offer to act as a tour guide for you. Despite any claims to the contrary, you don’t need a tour guide to hike to the bottom of Tumpak Sewu. It depends on your comfort level. There’s a sign warning that you’re at your own risk if you hike down sans guide, so take that into account. We felt sure that we could do it safely on our own, so we opted not to take a guide.
I’ve read accounts from other bloggers who have said they liked having someone help them navigate and show them the best spots to take pictures, so that’s something to consider. From my research, guides can cost anywhere between 100,000 to 250,000 IDR ($7-$17 USD; be sure to bargain).
If you’d like to buy water or snacks while at the waterfall, bring some extra cash for this too. While there are vendors surrounding the Panoramic Viewpoint, there’s nothing at the bottom of the waterfall except the ticket collectors, so plan accordingly. It was hot and humid when we were there, so having water for the steep hike back up was critical.
Finally, some optional items you might want to consider bringing are:
- A dry bag for any belongings that you don’t want get wet from the mist (I used my backpack and was fine).
- Something to wipe your camera lens with (or a waterproof camera like a GoPro).
- A trash bag so you can carry out any refuse brought in, or any litter you see left behind.
You Can Stay Close to the Waterfall—But Don’t Expect Five-Star Accommodation
If you decide to stay near Tumpak Sewu Waterfall rather than in Malang or Lumajang, then you have some limited choices in and around the town of Sidomulyo.
I stayed with a local Indonesian family that I found through Airbnb and is now on booking.com, too. Dhea is a university student studying in Jakarta who manages the “Rumah Fanta” listing for her parents. As of October 2019, it cost $11 for a basic room in their home, including a large, home-cooked halal breakfast. Given that they’re a local family and still new to hosting, don’t go expecting a 5-star hotel visit! There is no air-conditioning or fan, the bathroom consists of a bucket shower and squat toilet, and there were no screens to stop bugs from entering the room over the small ventilation windows.
Are you cringing? Obviously, these are not the selling points of the accommodation. Instead, I was eager because of the online reviews (that I can now confirm) describing the hosts’ genuine hospitality.
Dhea’s parents surprised us with so much without asking for anything in return, including free rides to/from the bus station, free dinner, and even free use of their motorbike to get to and from the waterfall.
Though they had limited English, we could communicate through Google Translate when needed, and their warmth toward us made up for any lack of amenities.
I realise that this might not be everyone’s preferred style or standard for an overnight trip. So, here are a few other options in the area that I’ve found through research:
Though I didn’t use any of these myself, please leave a comment if you’ve used one of them and what type of experience you’ve had.
How Long To Spend At Tumpak Sewu
This will differ for everyone, but give yourself more time than you think you need! I ended up spending at least three hours at the waterfall but easily could have done four. If you have a full day, you can combine your visit with the nearby Goa Tetes Caves, or even go exploring at nearby waterfalls in Pronojiwo.
Wrapping It Up
I hope you’ve gained some valuable information on Tumpak Sewu and are inspired to add this wonderful place to your Indonesia trip.
For a place that wasn’t even known to the wider public until recently, it’s likely to become even more popular over time—but hopefully without ever suffering from some of the overtourism that we are currently seeing in Bali.
For now, I get the impression that the locals will be happy to see you and your tourism dollars make a positive impact in their community. Travel respectfully, travel responsibly, and we’ll all get to enjoy Tumpak Sewu for many years to come.
After reading this post, do you think you’d like to ever visit Tumpak Sewu?What questions do you still have? Share in the comments below!
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