Merak (or officially Pulo Merak) is a town and seaport on the northwestern tip of the island of Java, in Banten province in Indonesia. While the town is relatively small, it is well known for its seaport, from where passenger ferries and cargo ships depart to the island of Sumatra on the other side of the Sunda Strait.
Pulo Merak is a district in the north of the city of Cilegon. Pulo means river bank, while merak means green peafowl. This endangered bird species does not live here anymore, but is still in the Ujung Kulon National Park about 150 km to the south. Pulo Merak is usually simply called Merak. Because of its seaport, and for being the western terminus of the Trans-Java toll road, Merak is well known in Indonesia, and especially in Java. Apart from the port, Merak also has some tourist attractions, such as beaches and mountains.
The 1 Merak ferry port is the reason for the significance of Merak. There is a highly frequent ferry route between Merak and the port of Bakauheni in the province of Lampung on the island of Sumatra, on the other side of the Sunda Strait. The Merak-Bakauheni ferry line is the main form of transport to connect the 150 million people living on the island of Java, and the 50 million living on Sumatra. Because of this, the port of Merak is very busy, and due to the ageing ferry fleet and infrastructure, the port and ferry service can often not cope with the number of passengers and trucks that want to cross. Especially during holiday periods, waiting times are often long (several hours). Waiting times for trucks can be several days.
The Merak-Bakauheni ferry route is operated 24 hours per day, with on average one ferry departure per 12 minutes. The passage of the Sunda Strait takes about 2 hours. An adult ticket is Rp14,500, children 8,500. More expensive tickets are available for reserved seating in an air-conditioned compartment. Taking a car on the ferry costs Rp343,000.
Merak is the western terminus of both the Trans-Java toll road and the original North Coast Road (known in Indonesia as Pantura), that leads all the way to the port of Ketapang near Banyuwangi, where the ferries to Bali depart, 1,316 km to the east. Using the Jakarta-Merak toll road, Merak is about 100 km west of Jakarta. The drive takes about 1.5 to 2 hours if there are no traffic jams, but because of the usual traffic congestion regularly up to 3 hours.
2 Merak railway station is in the port area, just 100 metres north of the ferry port. The station serves four trains per day to and from Jakarta, via Cilegon, Serang, and Rangkasbitung. By train, the trip from Jakarta to Merak takes about 4 hours, so in usual traffic conditions it is faster to take a bus. A one-way ticket in economy class is about Rp30,000.
The 3 Merak integrated bus terminal (Terminal Terpadu Merak) is about 300 metres from the ferry port. It serves many intercity buses to destinations throughout Java, including all major bus terminals of Jakarta. In addition, many buses on the way from Sumatra to Java or vice versa, that cross the Sunda Strait by ferry, make a stop at the Merak bus terminal. There is also a direct bus from Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport to Merak via Serang and Cilegon, operated by DAMRI. During daytime, this bus runs once per hour. The drive from the airport to Merak takes about 3 hours, and the ticket price is Rp60,000.
The main points of interest to travellers, i.e. the ferry port, railway station, and bus terminal, are all within walking distance. There are also angkots (minivans) that operate on a fixed route through Merak, and to the city of Cilegon as well as the town of Salira to the north. Another option is to hire an ojek (motorcycle taxi).
- 1 Pulau Merak Besar (Big Merak Island) (opposite the ferry port, 200 m off the coast). 20 hectares island. The island can be reached by a short hop on a small boat, that departs not from the ferry port but from behind the policy station (Kantor Polsek Merak). On the island you cand find a protected forest with many monkeys, and white sand beaches. Of course, the view includes the arrival and departure of many ferries. There are no facilities on the island. No fixed price for the crossing by boat, but usually about Rp25,000 per person.
- 2 Pulau Merak Kecil (Small Merak Island) (behind the police station, 200 m off the coast). Much smaller island, but with a similar landscape. The beach of Pulau Merak Kecil is increasingly popular among locals. No facilities are available on the island. The small boats depart from behind the police station (Kantor Polsek Merak). No fixed price for the crossing by boat, but usually about Rp10,000 per person.
- 1 Restoran Simpang Raya, Jl. Raya Merak No.87, ☏ . Chain restaurant with Padang (West Sumatra-style) food.
- 1 Hotel Feri Merak, Jl. Raya Pelabuhan Merak, No. 30, ☏ . Simple hotel opposite the police station, not far from the ferry terminal. Double rooms from Rp250,000 per night.