Mount Merbabu (3,145m): All you need to know about hiking on a budget

Mount Merbabu (3,145m): All you need to know about hiking on a budget

Mount Merbabu (3,145m) is a dormant stratovolcano, located on the Java island of Indonesia nearby Jogjakarta.

The name Merbabu is also known as the ‘Mountain of Ash’ from the Javanese combined words; of “Meru” for mountain and “awu or abu for “ash”.

To me, Mount Merbabu (3,145m) is like the calm quiet sister to the temperamental and fiery Mount Merapi (2,930m) which lies right across it.

It is often overshadowed by the presence and popularity of the more famous Mount Merapi.

Comparatively, there are very few foreigners or Singaporeans who would attempt Mount Merbabu.

However, it is an extremely popular destination for locals due to the numerous camping points and various trek routes.

The Mount Merbabu trek takes around up(1 way) take around 6-8 hours depending on which route you take. This makes it longer than the Mount Merapi trek. However, terrain wise, it is way easier as you don’t have to deal with volcanic scree. Therefore to me, the trek is longer but easier as compared to Mount Merapi trek.

At the top of Mount Merbabu, you will be rewarded with an amazing 360 degree unobstructed view of Mount Merapi as well as the other surrounding mountains in the region. One can see 7 significant peaks: Gunung Sumbing, Gunung Sindoro, the Dieng Plateau, Gunung Telomoyo, Gunung Ungaran, Gunung Merapi, and Gunung Lawu.

The mountains of Sumbing, Sindoro and Silkunir can be seen rising above the clouds. It is an extremely amazing and rewarding view for such a reasonably “short and easy trek”.

The only issue now is that as Mount Merapi is closed to visitors for hiking, there are much more people on Mount Merbabu. Although it is a huge mountain with different routes, the summit point will be extremely crowded and you will have to share the place with many other people, including those camping there overnight. 

Itinerary

There are 2 types of itineraries.

1. Overnight Sunrise Trek
2. Camping 

Either way, both itineraries would involve a sunrise summit trek so that one can see the sunrise at the summit of Mount Merbabu.

Overnight Trek

Mount Merbabu is most commonly done as an overnight sunrise trek. This means starting at night and reaching the summit by sunrise, before coming down. This overnight trek itinerary is similar to Mount Merapi trek, except that it is longer as one has to start earlier. 

The time to start differs for the various routes. The most common way is to start from Selo Village. 

This is a standard Selo-Selo overnight Itinerary

8.30 pm: Depart from Yogyakarta
11.00 pm: Reach Selo Base Camp and start the trek
5:00 am: Summit
11:00 am: Back down to Selo Base Camp
2:00p m: Back to Yogjakarta 


This is the much cheaper option as compared to camping as you wouldn’t need to pay for porter/food/camping equipment.

Camping Trek

Mount Merbabu can also be done as a camping trek. The benefit of the camping trek is basically going slower and having more time and daylight to appreciate the views.

The most common itinerary is a 2D1N camping trek with sunrise at the summit.

10:00 am: Depart from Yogyakarta
12.00 pm: Reach Selo Base Camp and start the trek
5:00 pm: Pos 4 (Camp Site)
3:30 am: Start night trek
5:30 am: Sunrise at Summit
11:00 am: Reach back Selo Base Camp
2:00 pm: Back to Yogjakarta


There are many campsites in Mount Merbabu and some of the locals spend a few days camping there. As travellers usually don’t have so much time and the mountain isn’t that fantastic a place to camp, I would suggest to do at most 1 night of camping.

Trek Routes

There are various starting and ending points for Mount Merababu. You can basically access Mount Merbabu from any direction. The villages circle the entire area of Mount Merbabu. 

The main villages which act as starting and ending points are

1: Selo (South)
2: Wekas (West)
3:
Suwanting (South-West)
4: Kopeng/Thekelan (North)

To decide which route to start and end, it will depend on the amount of time you have, where you are coming from, the scenery and the terrain you wish to trek through.

Selo is the most common starting point as it is around 2 hours drive from Yogyakarta and is the same village as Merapi.

Summary of Trek Routes

Here are some of the common routes so they all end in Selo. Feel free to reverse them or do any variation which doesn’t involve Selo. It is possible!

Selo – Selo: Fastest Route
Suwanting – Selo: Most beautiful route
Wekas – Selo: Similar to Suwanting route, just slightly different terrain
Kopeng/Tehkalan – Selo: Do it if you are coming from Semerang/Jakarta

I have only done Selo – Selo. From the summit of Merbabu, you can get a glimpse of the other routes. There was a nice ridgeline path through grasslands down to Wekas/Suwanting which would have been beautiful, but it might be boring to do that for another 6 hours. Maybe the best is to descend the quickest.

I am still debating which is the best route, and whether one should start from Selo or end in Selo.  It would be interesting to know what routes do people think is the best. 

The trek from Selo is the shortest and the most well-trodden route, but steeper. However, there is no water source on the trek from Selo. This would mean that you would need to bring all the water required for the trek up and down. There would be many locals stringing many empty bottles onto their backpack as they descend. 

The rest of the routes are longer and involves gentler slopes as well as walking through more grasslands or savannah. Wekas has a water source at POS 2. Kopeng/Tehkalan route and the Suwanting route has a water source at POS 3.  

As compared to starting and ending in Selo, the rest of the routes are longer and involves gentler slopes as well as walking through more grasslands or savannah. 

However, this is only applicable if you are trekking in the day. If at night, there is no reason to start from the other routes unless you want a longer trek because you will walk in the darkness and can’t see much anyway! 

I would think that the best route is actually Suwanting to Selo, if you trek during the day. 

Getting There

To get to Merbabu, first you will usually head to Yogyakarta. On how to get there, I have a post on it here. 

The following instructions on getting there is more focused on getting to the village of Selo to start the trek of Mount Merbabu. 

Public Transport

Selo

The cheapest way to get to Selo is by cheap public transport.

Step 1: Trans Jogja Bus towards Jombor Bus Station 

Ticket only IDR 4,000. You must go to the bus stop of Trans Jogja. Take Trans Jogja towards Jombor Bus Station (Terminal Jombor)

Step 2:  Change the bus to Semarang city, ticket is about IDR30,000

Step 3: Stop at Blabak Magelang

Step 4: Change bus to Ketep Pass

Step 5: Change bus to Selo Village

Summary of Steps: Go to the bus station and tell them you want to get to Selo Village, the drivers and locals will usually help you. Some of the buses are mini buses. 

For more information on the Jogja buses, you can either visit

1. https://www.yogya-backpacker.com/trans-jogja-bus-stop-halte/
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans_Jogja

Wekas

Step 1: Trans Jogja to Yogyakarta. Head to Bus Station Giwangan.

Step 2: Transfer to Magelang.

Step 3: Change bus to Wekas. 

Others

Tour Package

Since Merbabu is mostly a destination for domestic climbers, there are often no official tour packages available in Yogyakarta or any other city around. However, if you mention Merbabu you might get some quotations around. 

Tip: You could approach agencies headed to Merapi and request them to drop you at the start-off point to Merbabu as they are headed to Selo too.

Private Vehicle

Of course if you have more people, you can share a vehicle to Selo which is around 1,000,000 IDR (100 SGD)

Private Transport: 600,000 IDR – 1,000,000 IDR (60-100) Return to Yogyakarta (depends on which village and vehicle)
 

Motorbike

A much cheaper option is to either rent a motorbike yourself or to gojek/motorbike pillion to Selo.

Can you DIY it? 

Yes, you can. Absolutely. Merbabu can be easily done by yourself without a guide if you have the trek route in place or if you start from Selo. This is because the trek itself can be done within a day so the risk is low and there are many people on the Selo trail.  

The question is always who should do it without a guide? 

It all depends on your fitness and experience. If you are extremely experienced, Merbabu should be very easy for you. If you are going via Selo, an overnight trek will be better so you don’t need to carry so much camping equipment or water. 

If you are not so experienced, Merbabu still isn’t a very difficult mountain to do. If you input the GPS, I am pretty sure you can find the way to the various POS points. This is especially so if you go via Selo because it is the most well-trodden route. The trek is pretty obvious for Selo as it is a straight forward up-hill trek. I can’t say so for the other routes. 

There are many locals on the trek, most of them going via Selo. So it would be easy to tag-along. 

However, as usual, I always encourage using a guide in a foreign mountain. A guide is not too expensive and can help with making sure you don’t lose your way which is the most important thing (other than water). I would advise this if you are coming from anywhere other than Selo.

Cost

The cost would depend these various factors. 

1. Overnight or Camping
2. Number of guides
3. Number of Porters
4. Camping equipment
5. Transport from Yogyakarta
6. Number of Pax 
7. Entrance Fees


It would definitely be cheaper if you DIY it and find your own public transport there.

The easiest way is to find an agency to arrange all of it for you so that everything is packaged together. 

Entrance Fees

150,000 IDR for foreigners per pax
10,000 IDR for Indonesian per pax

Guide

Guide: 250,000 IDR – 500,000 IDR per day 

Porter

150,000 IDR – 250,000 IDR per day

Package Tour

For Mount Merapi trek, it can cost around 350,00 IDR – 450,000 IDR per pax for an overnight trek. That price becomes a good gauge if you intend to do an overnight trek for Mount Merbabu Selo – Selo.  Merapi and Merbabu share the same base village and the guides can do both Merapi and Merbabu.

However, the Merapi trek always have had high volume so the cost is low. As for Merbabu, it is so they might charge you more for Merbabu.

Usually, the price quote is 800,000 IDR for an overnight trek, but you can easily negotiate downwards. As Merbabu is not so common and is a longer trek, it will most likely cost more. 

Below are the lowest price estimates:

Mount Merbabu Overnight Trek Package: 500,000 IDR (50SGD) per pax
2D1N Camping Trek Package: 1,500,000 IDR (150 SGD) per pax

Do note that they are estimates and guidelines.

The price is usually 800,000 IDR per pax for overnight and 2,500,000 IDR per pax for 2D1N camping trek. 

You might be able to get it cheaper if you have more pax or if you do not need camping equipment or sleeping bags etc.

The Trek (Selo – Selo)

I did a 2D1N camping trek even though I knew it could be done overnight like Mount Merapi. This was done in June 2018. I wanted to see how the camping organization was like. We went via Selo and came back down via Selo.

One good thing about Mount Merbabu are the new signs that dot each POS (checkpoint).

There are a total of 5 POS for the Selo route. Each POS has a name, a new distance and duration marker which lets you know how long more you have going up and down, as well as the altitude. 

I uploaded my GPS route too just to check how accurate the markers are. Usually, the markers have a weird duration timings for certain instances, amplified if it is a steeper uphill trek. For example, it says 1 hour away but sometimes it only takes half an hour.

Therefore, my GPS timing is to give you a rough gauge on how long it takes to trek the whole route. It is broken into 3 parts

  1. Selo Starting Point – Pos 4 (Campsite)
  2. Pos 4 (Campsite) to the Summit
  3. Summit – Selo Base Camp

On top of the GPS timings, I included the marker information at the different POS for reference because I am a completionist. 

Selo Base Camp to Pos 4 (Camping Site)

Total Distance: 4.84km
Total Duration: 3.5 hours
Total Ascent: 970m
Altitude:1868m -> 2785m
GPS Route:
http://www.movescount.com/moves/move225843742Selo

Merbabu
Selo Base Camp and starting point

Merbabu Trek Starting Point: Selo Base Camp

Merbabu
Registration Centre via Selo

Altitude: 1868m
Time to POS 1(Dok Malang): 1h

The registration point is at the starting point. This is the place for anyone who wishes to DIY and to pay for the entrance fee or ask for a guide.
*If you DIY, there is a way to escape entrance fee. It is at the end of the post*

You could also ask for a guide at Selo village which isn’t that far a walk away, around half an hour if I remember correctly. There are also Ojek (motorbike) services around the area. 

The trail starts off with some steps before entering the primary forest trail. It is an extremely standard forest trail, nothing too steep or difficult. I was surprisingly quite tired on the way to POS 1, most likely because I had not warmed up coupled with the long hours of sitting down. 

There isn’t much of a view except for trees and after around an hour, we reached POS 1. 

Merbabu
Romantic trees

POS 1 (Dok Malang)

Merbabu (POS 1 Dok Malang)
Merbabu (POS 1 Dok Malang)

POS 1 (Dok Malang) Altitude: 2189m
Distance to POS 2 (Pandean): 939m
Time to POS 2 (Pandean): 1.5h


There are more “mud steps/soil steps” and incline on the way to Pos 2 but we were mostly still in the primary forest.

We were blessed with good weather. I can imagine the ground being really muddy being a forest trail, but it is extremely easy to walk.

There are no loose rocks nor narrow ungainly paths. It is a nice compact forest path.

At some points, the paths hit a clearing and gives you a glimpse of how high we were. It is a hint of the view to come.   

Merbabu
The nice compact ground
Merbabu
Clouds clearing
Merbabu
Small steps up

POS 2 (Pandean)

Merbabu (POS 2 Pandean)
Merbabu (POS 2 Pandean)

POS 2 (Pandean) Altitude: 2412m
Distance to POS 3 (Batu Tulis): 603m
Time to POS 3 (Batu Tulis): 45 min


POS 2 – POS 3 is pretty straightforward. Upon reaching POS 2, a green hill with a snaking trail awaits you. POS 3 lies at the end of the horizon on top of the hill. This is like a mid-game boss quest.

Although it looked quite far, I told the rest to take slow and steady steps. We reached POS 3 within half an hour.  

Merbabu
The Green Slope
Merbabu
Breaking view
Merbabu
Welcome to POS 3

Pos 3 (Batu Tulis) – Beautiful viewpoint

Merbabu POS 3 (Batu Tulis)
Merbabu POS 3 (Batu Tulis)

POS 3 (Batu Tulis) Altitude: 2593m 
Distance to POS 4 (Sabana 1): 648m
Time to POS 4 (Sabana 1): 1h


POS 3 is a definite crowd pleaser. It is a good midway point of the trek to rest because of its amazing view. This is the first taste of a proper mountain view and the first view of Mount Merapi.

It is a wide open area with many spots for camping. Within the distance, the full view of Mount Merapi looms. This is the mountain that had been erupting not many months back and is closed currently.

Although I had trekked Mount Merapi before, I had never seen it from this angle, the whole shape of the mountain. It looked so close as though I could touch it.

The best part of this viewpoint isn’t just the fact that there is a wide plain to accommodate many people, but there is a nice trail across the hill that leads to the edge and a view of Mount Merapi. It is as though there was a pathway to Mount Merapi. This made a fantastic picture spot, except there were countless other people around. We spent some time playing with the drone also. 

In fact, we loitered around POS 3 for so long we almost ended up reaching POS 4 after sunset. Time was not on our side, if not we would have stayed even longer. Some people do camp here, I guess it is your choice but you could save an hour of sleep time tomorrow by heading to POS 4.  

The trail from POS 3 – POS 4 is similar to the one before. It is just another uphill climb but slightly longer distance and steeper. 

Merbabu
Seems like a good camping spot
View of Mount Merapi at POS 3
View of Mount Merapi at POS 3
Merbabu
The path to Mount Merapi

Pos 4 (Sabana 1)

Pos 4 (Sabana 1)
Pos 4 (Sabana 1)

Pos 4 (Sabana 1) Altitude: 2770m
Distance to Pos 5 (Sabana 2): 323m
Time to Pos 5 (Sabana 2): 45 min


After the amazing view at POS 3, the trek to POS 4 was uneventful. The clouds had started to gather and it was only an hour more before darkness. We had to move fast to POS 4. Upon reaching POS 4, it was almost sunset but the light couldn’t even pierce the fog that engulfed us (that is why my pictures are off coloured). 

The porters and guides quickly found a spot to set up camp. POS 3 is a nicer place to camp because everyone is on this flat plain but POS 4 has a more undulating terrain. However, POS 4 is most commonly used as the campsite for those doing a 2D1N camping trek to Mount Merbabu. 

It started to get really cold. We were shivering in the tent while waiting for dinner. There was nothing to do due to the fog, howling wind and darkness. The sleeping bags given were not very thick and despite wearing 2 layers of merino wool socks, I still struggled to sleep due to cold feet. I was just waiting for the trek to start. 

I had requested for us to start earlier because we wanted to spend more time at the summit playing with the drone. The guide wanted us to wake up at 4 am initially based on our speed, but I pushed for 3 am.

He obviously wasn’t that pleased but seeing the first light was important to us. For him, he must have seen so many sunrises that he must have found it boring. Also, hiking early meant that he would have to shiver in the cold at the summit while waiting for us.  

Pos 4 (Camp Site) – Summit

Total Distance: 1.3km
Total Duration: 1.5 hours
Total Ascent: 376m
Altitude: 2785m -> 3,145m
GPS Route: http://www.movescount.com/moves/move225843730

POS 5 (Sabana 2)

Merbabu POS 5(Sabana 2)
Merbabu POS 5(Sabana 2)

Altitude: 2858m
Distance to Summit: 916m
Time to Summit: 1.5h


The altitude gain between POS 4 and POS 5 isn’t that much. It is a very gradual trek and an extremely short distance between POS 4 and POS 5. I am pretty sure one could walk it within 30 mins.

Therefore, it might make sense to camp at POS 5 to make it a shorter walk in the morning to the summit. However, I was told that it is colder at POS 5 because there is less shelter from the wind. That is why most people camp at POS 4. 

Our trek started at around 3.30am. The POS 5 picture was taken on the way down. Somehow, our guide seemed to be in a rush but I purposely walked slower to slow the pace down. I knew that if we walked too fast, we would reach within an hour and it would only be 4 am. I sensed that he was annoyed at me perhaps. 

The hardest part of the trek is perhaps from POS 5 to the summit, because it is a steeper gradient and covers a longer distance. However, it is one of the shortest “sunrise summit push” amongst all the other mountains in Indonesia.

Some parts of the trail were steeper and more slippery, with looser soil and rocks. Other than that, going up was not much of an issue and we reached the summit at around 5 am, just in time for daybreak. 

The Summit of Mount Merbabu

Merbabu Summit
Summit of Mount Merbabu

The summit of Mount Merbabu is one of the more memorable summits due to the number of mountains one can see, the number of viewpoints there are on the summit and the 360 degree view one can have. 

We arrived at first light and waited for the sun to slowly shine across the horizon. There were people already waiting for the past half hour. Can you imagine, they have been at the summit since 4 am? Sunrise is actually only at around 6 am. 

There are actually “2 summits”, Syarif (3,119 m) and Kenteng Songo (3,145 m). Some say there are 7 summits which I can understand because there are many hills around the area which leads to the different entrances/exits (Wekas/Suwanting/Kopeng etc).

The signposts and metal plates with the summit signs are swarmed with people waiting for their turns to take a picture. Some of the locals bring flags and extensive props as they aim to have the most instagrammable picture. Just check on #Merbabu and you’ll see loads. 

Having said that, the view is stunning. Picture yourself standing above the sea of clouds. On one side, is the view of Mount Merapi. On the other side, is the fantastic view of Mount Sumbing and Mount Sindoro, which I am aiming to do in the near future when I am back in Yogyakarta again. (At this time of writing, there was a forest fire that just occurred so it is closed for hiking) 

Not just that, in the further end beyond the clouds lie Gunung Lawu. There are also other smaller mountains around. As the clouds part, the different villages can be seen from Mount Merbabu. 

At this point, the trek (Suwanting) headed towards Sumbing/Sindoro looked amazing so we walked in that direction just to get a feel of it. This was the nicest part because it was a ridgeline trek. 

The undulating hills at the summit also remind me of my Batulao trek in Philippines

The summit also acts as a camping spot. There were some camps set up and our guide quickly disappeared into the tents while waiting for us. 

We spent close to 3.5 hours at the summit, waiting for sunrise, taking drone shots and in general admiring the view. It was only at 8.30am that we finally decided to descend. I can imagine our guide being pretty pissed and impatient. 

Merbabu
Route to Suwanting with Sumbing & Sindoro in the distance
Merbabu
Kung-Fu on Mount Merbabu
Merbabu
Walking back down from the summit

Summit – Selo Ending Point

Merbabu
Merbabu

Distance: 6.23 km
Duration: 4 hours
Total Ascent: 1190m
Altitude: 2878m -> 1787m
GPS Route: http://www.movescount.com/moves/move225843720

The trek down is the same way. However, I always tell my friends and clients that going down from the summit offers you one of the more enjoyable experiences because the view is better as compared to going up. The morning clouds usually part after awhile to give us an unfettered view of Mount Merapi.  

Merbabu
View of Mount Merapi on the way down
Merbabu
View of POS 3 with Mount Merapi
Merbabu
On the way to POS 3
Merbabu
POS 4 – POS 3
Merbabu
Cotton Candy

Heading down from the summit only took us 4 hours in total. In the end, our guide couldn’t take it so he raced ahead of us and disappeared. I guess he missed his family too much or felt this wasn’t worth any tip. The porter stayed with us and became our guide in the end. 

We walked almost 4 hours of downhill non-stop, with the exception of stopping at POS 4 for a light breakfast while they packed the tent.

The trek diverged slightly as the exit point was different than the starting point. I realised that there was no registration at the exit point and anyone could enter. In fact, there were some hikers starting at the “exit point” and many locals we met on our way down! 

I asked my porter/guide if anyone could enter from this point without paying and he nodded! What! I paid the entrance fee for nothing. So this is the loophole. 

TIP: Just use the GPS location of my ending point and backtrack it, you should find the path. 

Once we reached down, we got picked up back in our vehicle back to Selo village where we changed up and went on to do some cave tubing! That concludes the trek to Mount Merbabu. 

Conclusion

Merbabu
Last look at Merapi

Mount Merbabu is often touted as an extremely tiring climb as compared to Mount Merapi. I believe Mount Merbabu is longer in terms of distance and duration. However, terrain wise it is much easier to trek Mount Merbabu than Merapi. It is definitely more suited for people who are beginners or less fit. 

For me, the trek was quite boring because the terrain was the same throughout. Merapi had a variance in terms of the terrain and there was the challenge of doing the volcanic ash which makes it exciting. However, Mount Merapi doesn’t have such a good view.

In fact, there are not many mountains with such a view. The reward to effort ratio is really pretty high. 

If I could redo this, I would either do a 2D1N camping trek from Suwanting and ending in Selo, so I could have both the ridgeline view and the view of Merapi; or an overnight trek from Selo and end in Selo because it is the fastest. 

Other Links

  1. http://www.shorts-trip.com/southeast-asia/climbing-merbabu-night-without-guide/
  2. http://www.gunungbagging.com/merbabu/



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