Gunung Rinjani is a myth among hikers and while it's one of the highlights of most of the trekkers travelling in Indonesia, Mount Rinjani is still an active volcano and deserves some respect. That's why you should make sure to choose a reliable company that will turn this multiday trek into an unforgattable experience.
Located in Lombok island, with its 3726 meters (12,224 ft), Gunung Rinjani it's second only to Volcano Semeru in Indonesia for altitude. It's also one of the most spectacular and at the same time demanding hike you can do in Indonesia.
Since we have lived and travelled for 11 months in this amazing country, we can share our knowledge of the place with many tips on what to ask to your tour company before starting your trip and how to select a trustable one. While on this piece we focus on how to choose a reliable travel agency to accompany you along the trek, If you want to have more details about the hike itself, read also our report about our experience trekking in Mount Rinjani (soon to be published).
It's not easy to understand before experiencing it which companies are reliable and which are not, before having met anybody from the team. Good that nowadays there is Internet, so that it's easy to verify if a company has good or bad reviews on the web. The best places to search for such information are the forums of Lonely planet and TripAdvisor: be careful thought, because some of the posts or reviews are fake or paid, so use your brain to select the helpful content from the advertisements. Another good source of information is given by blog reports, easily found with a Google search, that are usually more impartial and descriptive.
Compare prices from different companies, to understand which one fall within your budget. From our experience while scouting for a Rinjani Trekking tour, we can say that once you bargain and you bring down the cost to its minimum, the prices are quite similar between different companies, so that it might not be of primary importance to choose according to the prices.
But it's still important to ask for a quote at least to 3 different companies, to understand the real market price and make sure they are not overcharging you.
To give an idea, a 4 days 3 nights trek to the summit, should cost around 300$ per person, including guide, food, National Park permits, pick up at arrival and transfer at the end of the tour, and usually one night in a guesthouse before the trek would start.
For low budget backpackers, that price might still not be affordable, and the possibilities to reduce it are essentially three:
- Share the tour with other people, better if other travellers met in advance, or if not try to ask to your Travel Company to add you to an existing group;
- Reduce the number of days that you will spend on Gunung Rinjani and the extra services: the hike to the top can be done also in 2 tight days (more days is better of course to enjoy your time rather than hiking in a rush), and the best part is until the crater, so you might also choose not to reach the summit. Propose to arrange your own transportation and accommodation before and after the trek, but consider that there is no public transportation to the base camps, so if you are not comfortable with hitchhiking, hiring a private taxi, might turn out to be more expensive;
- If you have your own camping equipment, you can hire a guide (According to Lonely Planet a guide is mandatory) to reduce all the extra costs: you will still need to pay for the guide, your food and the guide food, the entrance permit, etc. so evaluate well if it's worth or not the hassle. Also consider that you'll have to carry all of your own weight: camping gear, food, water, clothes, etc.
The best would be to pay the total amount of money on the spot, where it's possible to directly meet the company staff and verify its existence: while I've not heard of any scam in Rinjani National Park, it's not uncommon in other parts of Indonesia to be asked for payment by fake companies that magically disappear, in particular while visiting Komodo National Park.
Paying the total amount of money once in Senaru village, might not be totally feasible if you want to book in advance the tour: so make sure to pay only a deposit to a reliable tour company, and pay the rest the day you start the trek.
Local it's better
There is no need to buy overpriced tours abroad from foreign tour companies: you would pay 5 times the values of the tours to obtain the same services, that will be catered by the same companies you could have hired locally.
Not to have bad surprises, before starting the hike ask for an official program to be signed by both parts as a contract, so that you know exactly what you are paying for. In example all the companies refer to 4 days 3 nights trips, but you should be aware that the last day usually consist of just a few hours in the morning.
The most commonly chosen tour is the 3D2N starting from Sembalun village and ending in Senaru Base camp. If you want to take it easy, spend more time at the hot spring and you can afford it, then it's a good idea to choose the 4D3N hike.
At the same time is good if there is some flexibility and the program is not set on stone, so that the length of stay in each area and the camping locations can be changed according to your tiredness, weather and crowdedness. In example according to the program provided to us by our tour company Adi Trekker, we were supposed to sleep the last night on the ridge of the lake towards Senaru, but we eventually slept in a beautiful forest a couple of hours away, completely alone and far from the crowds.
We were eventually really happy about this change, but if we could turn back time we would ask also to stop for lunch on the ridge, where we were supposed to sleep, rather than in the forest since we didn't have too much time to enjoy the view of Segara Anak.
But of course make sure that every change is first discussed and approved by you.
A good guide means a good trek
There is nothing that can influence the good or bad outcome of your long awaited Rinjani Trekking as your guide.
Usually each company collaborate with several different guides: some on them stick just with one agency, while others act as freelancers and move from one to the other according to demand. This means that choosing a reliable firm might not be enough, if they assign you a "second choice" guide.
Ask to your company for their best leader, say that you are flexible and can postpone a few days if he is already busy, and maybe ask for a direct phone contact so that you can call him in advance to verify that he is fluent in English, friendly and experienced.
Less important is the choice of the porters, since they usually don't interact too much with the guests, and mostly don't speak English.
Food and Drinks
You should discuss with your referent before leaving not only about the quantity of food, but also about the quality.
Are you vegetarian? Do you like spicy food? Do you prefer local Indonesian recipes, or Western food? Are you ok with rice at breakfast? Are snacks included? What about drinks? Is there any fruit?
Remember to mention that you don't want any "Motto" (MSG) to be used in any of your meals: it's a neurotoxin widely used in Indonesia to add taste to the food.
Also instant noodles are eaten on a daily basis in Indonesia: while they are good camping food in the sense that they are light and fast to cook, the condiments usually contains many chemical additives, flavors and colorants. So ask to reduce their employment or at least to use just the noodles and not the industrial seasoning powders.
You should make sure also about the quantity and quality of the water. Bottled water is usually brought for the first day, and then the following days the bottles are refilled in clean water sources along the way. We had plenty of water for the first days, more than 3 liters each one, while we had to ration it the last half a day because of the distance from a clean water source.
Make sure that potable or boiled water only is used for cooking, and porters and guides (that will be also your cooks) are comfortable with the practice of washing with soap their own hands after going to the toilet: that's unfortunately not really common in Indonesia despite left hand is used to cleanse after going to the bathroom.
Camping gear is what will make you pass warm and comfortable nights even at 2700m of altitude (The highest altitude you will sleep at) far away from civilization, and restore your energy for another day of hike to the top. So definitely not a point to be overlooked!
Make sure that the tent provided is big enough, waterproof and resistant, and ask how many people will be sleeping in each one and if you have to share it with a stranger if it's not a private tour.
Ask what type of camping mats will be used: standard camping mats in Indonesia are thin and hard. Our company and some of the others, were using instead custom made thick and comfortable foam mattresses, that looked more like a bed mattress than a camping mat.
The sleeping bag needs to be warm enough to pass a comfortable night at 2.700 meters (At this altitude even in a tropical country temperature can drop below 5°C). Make sure before starting the trek that the sleeping bag smells good: this means that it was washed after the previous guests used it. If this is an essential requirement for you, ask for it in advance to your Tour Company.
We were actually really satisfied with the equipment of Adi Trekker, with big and spacious tents that could welcome 2 guests and their luggages, and high enough to easily dress up inside. To be sincere it looks like all of the companies shop at the same store, because 90% of the tents were looking alike.
Apart from the standard equipment, there are also useful extra things that you might want to ask for.
The most important is probably the "toilet tent". It consists in a curtain with a zipped opening, sustained by vertical tubes. It gives some privacy in camping locations where there is no vegetation to hide and too many people to find an hidden spot. Looking around for a place to poop without a toilet tent might be even dangerous, since the walls of the crater are quite steep.
Having a toilet tent is also good for the environment, since a small hole is dig in the ground and "human waste" is then covered with a thick layer of earth to let it decompose safely.
There is a big environmental problem on Mount Rinjani, not only with garbage, but also with human excrements and toilet paper that are totally covering some hidden spots of the Volcano. It's your responsibility to choose a Company that is respecting nature!
As extra equipment our company brought also a tarp to used on the ground for meals and 2 camping chairs to relax during stops.
We were surprised to see that almost nobody brought extra tarps to build a temporary shelter and protect from the strong sun during breaks: that's something you might want to request specifically.
On Gunung Rinjani there is a huge environmental problem. In particular during peak season there are so many people and not all of them respectful of Mother Nature, so that trails and camping grounds get totally littered. This is due mainly to local Indonesian groups hiking independently that know nothing about ecology and throw garbage everywhere. But unfortunately also some tour groups don't take seriously this environmental problem.
I had to complain myself with the guide of another agency, after first seeing him throwing an aluminum can in the grass, and later some used tissues just in front of their guests and with no regret whatsoever.
This was probably one of the strongest points of our Trekking Company, and we were happy not to be responsible of the environmental pollution. First thing when we arrived at the base camp of Adi Trekker before starting the trek, after listening to our ecological concerns, Adi showed us some big bags of garbage, that were collected during the hikes and brought back down by the porters and disposed at the company headquarter.
The other environmental problem, as we have already mentioned, is related to human defecation, so make sure to ask for a toilet tent and that your team is digging a small hole for you.
Final choice of your tour company
As a last step, after you have shortlisted a number of companies, go back to the first point and search for the names of the companies and for the names of the owners of the agencies on Google and try to find out if there are any bad or good experiences that can help you to select the best option to enjoy Rinjani Trekking.
Our experience with Adi Trekker
Adi Trekker is a relatively young but experienced Trekking Company with its headquarters in Senaru village. Adi is the owner of the business, and has many years of experience as a guide before starting his own business. He took good care of us since the first moment we arrived, and we felt respected and served properly. He is fluent in English and has a good sense of humor: his approach was to make us feel at ease since the first moment and treat us like friends rather than strangers.
Adi Trekker is working with 11 different guides, but unfortunately we cannot suggest any specific one. In fact at the moment we went hiking it was high season right after Ramadan festivities and all of their guides were busy with other guests. Since we were tight on time and we couldn't postpone more our trek, we were assigned an "unofficial guide", Adi's brother, that is usually not accompanying paying guests.
Adi Trekker focus on providing private tours at the same price as shared tours, not to create unhappiness between guests having different needs and hiking at different paces. If you also feel like trusting Adi Trekker and having a memorable experience, you can find the updated contacts directly on their homepage.
Disclaimer: Please note that while we were offered a special economical treatment by Adi Trekker to take part to their 4 days 3 nights Rinjani Trekking package tour, everything we wrote in this article represent the reality of our experience.