Bukittinggi. Nestled between 2 volcanoes in West Sumatra, Bukittinggi surroundings are beautiful. It’s a great destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

Volcanoes (including the Marapi also called Merapi – different from the better known Merapi, close to Yogyakarta, in Java), beautiful countryside, big lakes… You can also get to see amazing bull races in small villages and trek in the jungle to see the Rafflesia (largest “flower” on earth).

On top of that, the region, home to the Minangkabau people has a unique culture and fascinating architecture. Finally (but do I really need to add more reasons to go?) the region is also known for its cuisine and tapioca crackers…

Although it has a few interesting sites (including a nice Canyon and Japanese tunnels), the city of Bukittinggi itself is not necessarily worth the trip. As often in Indonesia, you will need to explore the countryside to enjoy the real beauty of the area. However, most hotels and guesthouses are in the city and it’s a good base to explore the region.

The region is popular with Indonesian and Malaysian tourists. However, it’s pretty much off-the-beaten track for Western tourists.

How accessible is it from Singapore?

Ahem… I would lie if I say it’s easy but it’s not as complicated as it seems. Life was good when Tigerair had a direct flight from Singapore to Padang. It’s not the case anymore, this means you will have to either take a boat to Batam and fly from Batam to Padang (Citilink) or fly through Jakarta (Garuda Indonesia) . You could also fly through Kuala Lumpur and AirAsia but timings are not good for a long weekend.

Singapore to Bukittinggi journey details

If you do fly through Batam (still the best option given the flight timings for other routes), the total door to door journey from (your home/office in) Singapore to your hotel will take you about 8 hours and 10 minutes. The trip includes the boat, flight, and taxi transfers. Flying through Jakarta will take approximately the same time.

How much is this going to cost us?

West Sumatra is relatively cheap (compared to Bali for instance). The Ferry to Batam and Citilink tickets are cheap (see the “getting there” tab for details). What will impact your budget are the activities you want to arrange there. If you travel on your own or as a couple some might be a bit pricey so it’s best if you can group with other tourists interested in the same activity.

The total transport cost (return) for 2 people from Singapore to Bukittinggi  will be from SGD 450 (see the “getting there” tab).
Accommodation wise, you will find very cheap guesthouses, basic hotels and a luxurious but affordable hotel (see the”where to stay tab”).
Depending on the activities and transport mode (car, motorbike, guided/not guided, etc) you will need to spend a bit more to explore the region.

How remote and risky is it?

It’s a safe but remote destination. The medical infrastructure is not good and some activities (volcano climbing, cow races) can be risky. Weather is pretty unpredictable with a lot of hills and mountains around.

What about the kids?

West Sumatra is not an easy destination with kids or babies. Transportation, activities and infrastructures make it difficult for parents with children. If you have older kids (from 15 years old) then it can be a nice destination for exploration.

When should we go?

Bukittinggi is at 930 meters above sea level. So temperatures are cooler than in Padang or sea level places in Indonesia. The city also gets a lot of rain given its location. The best period to visit Bukittinggi – Marapi and avoid the rain season are the months of May, June, July, August, September and October. Refer to the chart in the sidebar for details about the monthly average rain volumes and rainy days.

Did you know?

The Minangkabau people (Minangs) are the world’s largest matrilineal society; properties such as land and houses are inherited through female lineage. Check out this Wikipedia page for more details.

Connections from Bukittinggi

Connecting from/to Bukittingi is not easy. Other Sumatra interesting sites such as Gunung Leuser or Aceh are far and difficult to reach (we are talking more than 10 hours on buses here). However, you could look at the resorts located close to Padang and combine your trip with a stay in a nice resort by the beach?

Getting from Singapore to Bukittinggi

The journey includes a few steps. It looks complicated but is not that difficult after all (assuming everything goes as planned)

Getting there:

  • Home to Singapore Harbourfront Ferry Terminal
  • Singapore Harbourfront – Batamcenter : 7:40AM Batamfast (1hour): SGD 24. Alternatively (for instance if the ferry is fully booked) you can take a Tanah Merah to Nongsa Ferry.
  • Transfer from Batamcenter Ferry Terminal to Batam International airport:  taxi IDR 80,000 (20 min)
  • Citilink Flight from Batam (BTH) to Padang airport (PDG)- 10.30 AM – 11.35 AM: IDR 273,264 (1h 05 flight) –take a seat on the right hand side to get the best view over the volcanoes when you approach Bukittinggi.
  • Private car from Padang airport to Bukittinggi. Around IDR 300,000 per car (2.30 hours). The road is hilly and curvy but in very good condition. Traffic can be heavy on Indonesian public holidays. To arrange transport, contact Jaka Ananta. (Whatsapp at +62852 7881 2345 or email at anantadjaka@gmail.com)

Coming back:

  • Private car from Bukittingi to Padang airport. IDR 600,000 per day per car (2.30 hours)
  • Citilink Flight from Padang (PDG) to Batam Internatioanl airport (BTH) – 6.15 PM – 7.20 PM: IDR 273,264 (1h 05 flight)  to Batam international airport.
  • Transfer from Batam International airport to Harbourbay:  taxi IDR 80,000 (40 min)
  • Batam Harbour Bay – to Singapore Harbourfront – 9:20PM Batamfast (1hour): SGD 24. This will give you some buffer in case your flight gets delayed. However, it’s technically feasible to catch the last ferry from Harbourfront at 8.30pm if your flight is on time.
  • Harbourfront Ferry Terminal  to Home

It’s quite a journey, isn’t it? The good news is that it’s relatively cheap: total cost SGD 450 return for 2 persons. 

Overall connections work fine but be prepared to wait a bit in Batam to buffer for some delay. The wait is OK as the airport has a few cafes (including a Starbucks). The same goes at the Harbourbay terminal on the way back. There are seafood restaurant, foodcourts and bars around the ferry terminal. Padang airport is basic with no international brands and quite a messy boarding gate security control (be prepared to queue for a while)

Citilink? It was our first flight with Citilink and it was OK. The plane is a bit old but all flights were on time and we did not notice any safety concerns. Citilink is the low-cost wing of Garuda Indonesia. It is NOT on the European Aviation blacklist.

Their tickets are sold through Tiket.com. It was the first time we used them as well. Basic design and interface but… it does the job and actually offers low rates for other flights on low cost and regular airlines as well.

Fly from Singapore to Jakarta 7:25 AM – 8:15 AM
then Jakarta to Padang 11:25 AM – 1:15 PM
then take a private car (see above) to Bukittinggi

On the way back:

Take a private car (see above) from Bukittinggi to Padang
Padang to Jakarta 4.40PM – 6:35PM
then Jakarta to Singapore 8.40 PM – 11.30 PM

Where to stay in Bukittinggi

There are a few hotels in Bukittinggi. Most of them are rather basic. However, you can stay at the luxurious Hills for less than SGD 60 if you book early. This hotel is well known in the region and fills up early as many officials stay there. If you are looking for something different, you will find guesthouses and other simpler options on Agoda. Personally we stayed in an old traditional house. The house and host were very nice but I would not recommend given the limited level of comfort for the price and the location out of the city center (and associated drawbacks to eat and arrange activities).

or, if you prefer, you can book with

To see & to do in and around Bukittinggi

The highlights are the outdoor activities but you can also learn more about the unique culture of the Minangkabau people.

Visit Bukittinggi

The city itself is not very interesting. However, there are a few sites worth a visit:

The Canyon: you will get a very nice scenary in this canyon with rice fields surrounded by cliffs and hills. You must also go to the Taruko Café Resto for its great location and view.

The Japanese tunnels: Japanese occupied West Sumatra for a few years during WW2. You can visit these tunnels.

The Clocktower place: this is the center of the city and is located on the higher side of the town. The clocktower is not particularly beautiful but has a unique architecture. There is a market if you are looking for souvenirs (stones from the surrounding volcanoes, etc). Overall, it’s very local and not particularly beautiful.

You can visit these places from your hotel. Rent a motorbike or ask if you can get a driver to take you around. If you can only see one due to time, go for the canyon.

If you are looking for beer and pizzas head to Bedudal Café. You may even meet a few Western tourists there.

Countryside around Bukittinggi

If you are looking for a guide to take you around for the following activities, you can contact Jaka Ananta. The best is to reach him on Whatsapp at +62852 7881 2345 but you can also contact him via email at anantadjaka@gmail.com. You can tell him you found his contact details on tripinasia. Jaka is a very friendly guy who can arrange a tour for you. He speaks English perfectly.

Minangkabau Countryside and Harau Countryside tour: # IDR 300k / person by motorbike min 1 person or # IDR 400k / person by car or minibus min 2 person (price is flexible depending on the group size). If there is a bull race happening that day, ask Jaka to take you there for a great experience. He will build this into the program (and you may have to pay a small fee to the village organizers).

We visited the Harau Valley and it was nice. Actually the road to get there was probably better than the Harau Valley itself. The waterfall is impressive but if you remember we are not fans of waterfalls and caves. Nice rice fields and a taste of the local countryside life on the way. If you go on your own (renting a motorbike for instance) there is a IDR 5000 entry fee. There is a stair up the cliffs over the waterfall and you can get a nice view over the valley from there.

If there is a bloomed Rafflesia flower when you visit, you can combine a tour to go see one with a Maninjau / Harau tour (additional cost IDR 50k/person)

The trek prices include transport from Bukittinggi as starting point and transport back to Bukittinggi, one meal and coffee breaks.

Maninjau Lake

This large (100 square km) caldera lake is located 35 kilometers from Bukittinggi. The lake and the surrounding countryside are beautiful and so is the road to get there. From Bukittinggi you will have to go down and survive the 44 bends (kelok) road and enjoy its scenic view. You can also get a nice view and stop for a drink or meal (or even spend the night) at the Nuansa Maninjau Resort. You can rent canoe or swim in the lake. 

Jaka can arrange a tour there for IDR 500k /person min 2 person. The trek prices include transport from Bukittinggi as starting point and transport back to Bukittinggi, one meal and coffee breaks.

Climbing the Marapi

The Marapi is the main reason we went to Bukittinggi. It’s an active volcano so you need to be careful and check the status before you go. It’s a day trip (or night trip should I say) trek. Although many Indonesians camp on the volcano, you can very well leave in the night and be back for lunch the next day (no camping). You can arrange your tour with Jaka (See details above) for:  IDR 400k / person min 2 person or with Amry amryteihiza@yahoo.co.id +62 852 7242 2755

You will usually start the trek in the evening. We left at 10:30 pm but this was too early as we had to wait for the sunrise for quite a while. Of course, it depends on your speed and condition so check with the guide what time is best.

After a 20 minutes car ride from the  hotel to the trek starting point, you will need to register at a desk. We were the only Westerners that day but there were many Indonesian tourists climbing and camping on the Merapi.

The trek itself (excluding breaks) took us about 3 hours and 45 minutes. We took a few breaks along the way including a long 1 hour break where we tried to make a fire and get some hot tea. It was very wet and we did not succeed (neither did the guide). We could have left around midnight to minimize the breaks and waiting time at the top.

The trail is pretty steep and the first hours are in the forest so you need to constantly watch where you put your feet as there are many roots and holes and you are walking in the night. The last portion is in the open and you will need to walk on sliding rocks and sand. A few portions are a bit scary but nothing too difficult overall (easier than the Semeru or Rinjani for instance).

It’s very cold at the top and you are tired by the time you get there. We were in the clouds and it was very very humid (we were completely wet). We walked around as it was very cold while waiting for the sunrise.

Unfortunately, as in many places in Indonesia, the ground is literally covered with garbage from the bottom to the top.

Once you reach the top you will be able to go around the crater and up to the Merpati (summit) once the sun is up and (if you are luckier than us) get a great view over the region, its hills and lakes). The crater itself is impressive and there is a strange atmosphere (you are tired, cold on an active volcano looking at a lunar landscape). Most people spend a couple of hours at the top before heading down.

The way back down is… long! It took us about 3 hours and 30 minutes and we could not wait to reach the end. It’s demanding on the knees as it is steep. The floor was slippery as we basically were in the clouds most of the way.

After a short drive back to your hotel you will be happy to get lunch, a good shower and a little nap.

Overall it was a nice experience. However it was not my best volcano experience. The weather definitely did not help (cloudy or rainy with low visibility). I would definitely recommend Gunung Semeru over the Marapi as I found it more beautiful and impressive (also more challenging physically). The Kawah Ijen and its miners is also exceptional and more mind blowing than the Marapi. However, it’s a nice trek if you are in the area.

Singkarak lake

On the way back from Bukittinggi to Padang we took a detour and stop by the Singkarak lake. It is a large nice lake (much smaller than Lake Toba but still very large). However, again, the main interest is the road itself rather than the destination. A very nice road up and down the hills with beautiful rice fields and traditional houses. And the road is in good condition! We stopped at the Pondok Flora restaurant in the middle of nowhere. It’s a classic stop for buses and tours but the setting is nice (if you put aside the captive animals) and the food was great. Ask your driver if you can take that road.

Padang Panjang Minangkabau PDIKM

Half way between Padang and Bukittinggi, this town hosts a traditional house turned into a museum. Free entrance. Pretty impressive house. It’s worth a stop on the way.

Rent a motorbike and…

As always, if you have a good GPS or a offline map such as Maps.me you can simply rent a motorbike and randomly explore the region. Roads are in good conditions and most places we saw on the way were nice. Just ask around if you are looking for a particular place.

More info to prepare your trip

Wifi is available in most restaurants and hotels.

What to pack for Bukittinggi

Trekking pack

If you are going to trek, chances are you will have to carry all your stuff all the way. So you want to be pick all you need but just what you need. Every gram in your bag is a extra weight on your back. 

  • Short sleeves tops: your main outfit. Everybody will see them on all your pictures. You really want to take that old Mickey Mouse T-shirt?
  • Long sleeves tops: to protect yourself from the sun or to enter religious buildings or to protect yourself from mosquitoes in the evening.
  • Pullover. Temperatures can be freezing when you climb up volcanoes or mountains. Above 2000 meters, even in the hottest countries, it is usually cold.
  • Short/skirt (you should be able to chose the appropriate one by yourself).
  • Trousers for the same reasons you need to take long sleeves tops. Jeans are usually not a good option. They are heavy and keep you too warm. They are also not comfortable to walk. Trekking pants are best.
  • Underwear: Cotton is good.
  • Shoes: take a pair of flip flap on top of your of (good) trekking shoes. Remember that you are going to spend most of the time on your feet. If your shoes are new, make sure you use them before you go for your trek.
  • Swimsuit: even if you don’t plan to go to the beach, you never know. A nice river, a swimming pool, a heavy rain? Always have one with you.
  • Rain / wind jacket
  • Jacket inner fleece or dawn
  • Cover for your bag. Even if you are visiting the country during the “best season”, you never know what the sky will be like.
  • Torch / lamp: head or pocket lamp with you. It comes handy when walking by night or in a tent.
  • Toilet bag: Shampoo, soap, toothbrush & toothpath, deodorant, sun screen, tiger balm, wet tissues, . Ideally, all these in miniature formats.
  • Sleeping bag liner
  • Warm sleeping pants, jumper and socks if you plan to camp in altitude.
  • Your IT stuff: iPad, eBook, laptop, memory card, batteries, etc. Check if you will have power on the way to size the battery you need.
  • Camera and its protection.
  • Dryer sheets: they will help keep a fresh smell in your bag.
  • Your passportcashcredit cards and other life saving items like your insurance card with emergency contact details. 
  • Your driver licence if you plan to rent a car or a motorbike (some countries are quite particular about this so take it with you in case you are not sure, even for a motorbike rental).
  • Your emergency medical kit: painkillers, mosquitoes repellent, dressing/plaster, disinfectant, anti diarrhea, eyewash, blister tape
  • Tissues and toilet paper (you will thank me later). Remember that in a lot of countries, you will not be provided napkins when having a meal.
  • Water – plastic bottles are a good option as they are lighter than a gourd/flask.
  • Biscuits (always buy some before you go when you are not sure what you will find. Always have “emergency” biscuit  and water in case you cannot find food around and need to recharge batteries)
  • Sunglasses: you’ll need them. Take them even if it’s raining. Weather can change very fast in the region.
  • Scarf (krama, or any kind of fabric that you can use to put around your neck, put on your head to protect it from the sun, cover your shoulders in temples, dry your sweat, etc). Can come very handy in some situation. It will not stay clean for long so it’s wise to pick a dark color…
  • Hat protect your head and face from the sun and heat or cold
  • Gloves (only if you plan to stay in high altitude or cold weather)
  • Trekking poles if you are going for a serious trek. If you don’t have some, ask the guide or porter if they can make some for you out of wood or bamboo.

It’s a good idea to put your key documents and IT equipment in freezer bags (zip-lock bag)  to protect them from the rain in case you get drenched. Pack a few plastic bags. They come handy to pack your dirty laundry

You will probably adjust the content of you bag after a few trips. Remove the stuff that you have not used and add the one that you missed. Post a comment to share your tips! Happy packing (it’s the worse part of the trip but it’s worth it…) and travelling!

Indonesia

Flag of Indonesia

  • Language: Bahasa Indonesian
  • Time zone: Jakarta, Sulawesi: GMT + 7, 1h ahead of Singapore;
    Bali has no time difference with Singapore
  • Currency: Indonesian Rupiah (IDR)
  • Phone: + 62
  • Electricity: 220V 50 Hz

Immigration and airport taxes on arrival

  • If you are eligible you will need to pay for a visa on arrival. The price is USD 25 or the equivalent in other currencies. It is valid for 30 days. Check as it may vary (some airports charge 22 EUR, some others 25 EUR).
  • If you travel to Bintan, Batam, or Karimun, you can get a 7 day Visa on Arrival for USD 10.
  • On busy weekends, expect to wait for quite a while at the immigration counter.
  • Make sure your notes are perfectly clean and without any note or stain. USD bills must be from 2003 or more recent. Coins are not accepted. Change (if any) is given in Ruppiah.
  • On departure, you will need to pay the airport fees. These fees are not included in your tickets when you book your trip (hence the price difference between the inbound and outbound flights to Indonesia). They vary from one airport to the other. They are usually around IDR 150,000 per person. You need to pay these in Rupiah

National Public Holidays in Indonesia

2015

Day Date Holiday
Thursday January 01 New Years Day
Saturday January 03 Maulidur Rasul
Thursday February 19 Chinese New Year
Saturday March 21 Hari Raya Nyepi
Friday April 03 Good Friday
Friday May 01 Labour Day
Thursday May 14 Ascension Day
Saturday May 16 Isra Miraj
Tuesday June 02 Waisak Day
Thursday July 16 Cuti Bersama
Friday July 17 Hari Raya Puasa
Saturday July 18 Hari Raya Puasa
Monday July 20 Cuti Bersama
Tuesday July 21 Cuti Bersama
Monday August 17 Independence Day
Thursday September 24 Idul Adha
Wednesday October 14 Muharram
Thursday December 24 Cuti Bersama
Friday December 25 Christmas Day

* check the exact date as it varies from one year to another, check this website for other years.When Public Holidays falls on a Sunday, the following day will be Public Holiday.