Not to be mistaken with Mount Merapi in Java, this Mount Marapi is located in the Padang Highlands, West Sumatra about 24km southeast of Bukittinggi. With over 60 eruptions to its credit since the late 18th century, Marapi claims the title of the most active volcano in Sumatra. However, considering Marapi’s name is derived from the ancient Mignangkabau dialect meaning “Mountain of Fire” it seems likely this complex volcano has been highly active for thousands of years.
Most of Marapi’s eruptions are small to moderate explosions with no lava flows outside the summit craters since modern records began. Nonetheless, Marapi is a dangerous beast. Eruptions have claimed a number of lives between 1975 and 1992. In 1979 heavy rainfall shifted unstable volcanic material sending landsides down Marapi’s north and east flanks onto five villages and killing 80 people. An eruption in 2000 sent ash pluming 3km into the sky which later fell on to earth 350km away. A year later another eruption saw ash drifting 6km into the sky.
Despite Marapi’s volatile nature, or perhaps because of it, the volcano has long been one of the most popular climbing treks in Sumatra. Guides and transport can be easily arranged by your guesthouse or any of the tour desks in Bukittinggi. Don’t be afraid to haggle hard as some of the starting rates are exorbitant.
The starting point for the climb is from the road (Jalan Tantawi) just above the town of Koto Baru on Marapi’s eastern foothills, about a 50 minutes from Bukittinggi. You’ll need to register and a pay 10.000Rp permit fee at the warung located by some wooden huts at the trailhead. The trail begins through farmlands which is the only place you’re likely to get lost among the network of farm trails.
The remainder of the route is fairly well defined due to its frequent use and signage. There are several natural water sources on the lower flanks, camping areas and a couple of hikers shelters along the route. At about 1,700m the trail breaks out onto a ridge and the vegetation starts to thin out revealing lovely views across the Agam valley to Mount Singgalang to the west and Bukittinggi below. At around 2,400m the vegetation gives out and you’ll pass yet more camping areas before dropping down onto an old river bed before hitting the only really steep section of the entire trek; the final push up onto the crater rim. From there it’s a fairly easy half hour walk across this old crater to the high point Puncak Merpati (2,757m) where the smoking sulphur vents in the adjacent craters and superb 360 degree views await. The west you can see Mount Singgalang and distant Mount Talakmau, Bukittinggi to the north, Lake Singkarak and Mount Kerinci to the south. Marapi’s true summit (2,891m) lies about 1.5km to the northeast. Unfortunately it’s virtually unreachable due to dense foliage and very steep gradients.
The ascent usually takes 4.5-6 hours so if you’re planning to be on top of the mountain for sunrise, you need to be at the trailhead and on your way by midnight. Be prepared with a good torch, warm clothing to ward off the freezing temperatures on the mountain, plenty of water and snacks. Hint – buy your bottled water in Bukittinggi not at the trailhead as the prices there are highly inflated. The natural water sources we’ve referred to above shouldn’t be relied on and in any case are untreated; best considered as an emergency supply only.
There’s no accommodation in Koto Baru and but camping is permitted on the mountain. If you have the necessary camping gear, including warm bedding, this could be a good alternative to trekking through the night to make sunrise on the mountain top. The sunrise option is entirely optional of course but you should aim to reach the summit before midday as fog often rolls in and obscures the views later in the day.