Despite the danger, a volcanic mountain promises a jaw-dropping experience to its visitors, and Mount Merapi in Java Island, Indonesia is no exception. Located within one of the rings of fire, this mountain is very much still active. Since the 2010 eruption, tourism in Mount Merapi has grown even more popular, as people from all over Indonesia and around the world want to learn about the eruption, while also enjoying a fun and meaningful time.
If you plan to travel to Yogyakarta, Indonesia, get ready for dozens of lava tour offers, either from travel agencies or local guides. Ideally, you should join one recommended by a local you know and trust for the best experience and price. Here is an insider guide to what you should expect from a day trip lava tour to Mount Merapi.
A glimpse of nature’s power
Pick a lava tour to Mount Merapi that includes a visit to a local volcano museum. A few volcano museums were established after the 2010 eruption. These museums are actually houses locals used to live in before the eruption. Since the affected area is no longer livable, they turned the damaged houses into museums.
The effects of the eruption are preserved, so visitors can see the actual damage from the volcano ashes to melting furniture. Fragile items and sharp objects are kept inside glass cabinets, so you can wander around safely.
Inside the museum
The best part of these museums is that admission is free. However, they provide charity boxes for visitors to donate for the museum’s upkeep. As a local, I would say donating 10,000 IDR (less than 1 USD) per visitor will suffice.
In these local volcano museums, you will get to see photos of the eruption, volcanic ashes and rocks left behind, damaged furniture and households, and even the skeletons of cattle killed during the eruption.
Take as many selfies and photos at The Lost World Castle
A lava tour in Mount Merapi is not just about ashes and gloomy photos. You can visit newly built parks around the Merapi area, such as The Lost World Castle. Here, you get the chance to take home awesome photos with tons of replicas, from Game of Thrones’ The Iron Throne, Pirates of the Caribbean’s Black Pearl, Native American teepee, to dinosaur sculptures, as its name suggests.
This park is located in the affected area of the 2010 eruption. It is ironic to see the contrast between the newly built attraction and its ash-covered surroundings. However, that is a part of the lava tour itself: witnessing the new developments around the volcanic area.
More attractions around
Under the same management as The Lost World Castle, there are two other attractions you can visit near Mount Merapi: The Lost World Park and The Stonehenge. Like The Lost World Castle, these two also provide Instagrammable spots. In the park, you get to see a replica of a Hobbit house, overlooking the grand Mount Merapi. And as you can tell from its name, The Stonehenge features rock formations similar to its original.
Entrance and other fees
The three attractions are located close to each other, not more than a five-minute ride apart. A local lava tour may include all three places or only one, usually The Lost World Castle. If you want to visit all of them, do start at The Lost World Castle to get a cheaper bundled ticket to all three attractions for 50.000 IDR (around 4 USD). Don’t lose this ticket, because you need to show them on each attraction’s entrance. Individual tickets are available here as well.
Insider Tip: If you are traveling on a vehicle (motorbike, car, or bus), always have small changes of 5.000 IDR on you to pay retribution and parking along the way. It ranges from 2.000 IDR to 10.000 IDR (around 0.2 – 0.7 USD) depending on the place and the size of the vehicle. The retributions are a part of the local government’s policy. Your vehicle will be stopped at every village’s entrance gate and you will be charged 3.000 IDR (around 0.22 USD) per person.
Back to nature
After spending about an hour taking photos at the three attractions, it’s time to ride up to the notorious volcanic mountain. From the former neighborhood area where you can find some local volcanic museums, go to Bunker Kaliadem, one of the most popular bunkers of Mount Merapi. This bunker was all over the Indonesian news when two volunteers were found deceased inside the bunker due to the radiating heat of the eruption.
However, Bunker Kaliadem is still functioning today, even though it is surrounded by local gift shops and mostly used as one of the tourist attractions in Mount Merapi. It is open 24/7 and there is no entrance fee. You only have to pay for the parking fee. Like the attraction parks, the amount varies depending on your vehicle size and number of passengers.
Located only 4 km (2.48 miles) from Mount Merapi, this bunker is the closest you can get to Java’s volcanic force. Climb up the hill behind the bunker to take great photos of Mount Merapi, or better yet, sit down on one of the wooden logs to enjoy the breathtaking view before riding back down.
Now here’s the best part of a lava tour: the jeep ride
The best way to go around from one attraction to another on this lava tour is on a jeep. Almost all lava tour providers include this in the volcanic experience. And it is definitely recommended! Each jeep can take up to four passengers with a local experienced driver. My driver, Mr. Kanon, has been driving the jeep around Mount Merapi since 1970!
The lava tour I joined was run by a local, which I found only by asking around. Depending on the size of your tour, each jeep costs around 300.000 IDR to 450.000 IDR (21.5 USD to 32.3 USD) to rent. This fee includes driver, gas, and all entrance fees for 3-4 hours of fun adventure!
Safety tips before you go
Please put on the helmet and mask provided, and always have them on the entire time. Keep in mind that this is an off-road tour on an open-air jeep, so you should wear comfortable clothes you don’t mind getting dirt on. The road up to the mountain is rocky, so the ride can be rough. Therefore, this tour is not recommended for babies and the elderly.
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