A Complete Sulawesi Travel Guide – Culture in Indonesia

Explore Cultural wonders in this Travel Guide to Sulawesi, Indonesia

It has been a while since I visited Sulawesi. During my exchange, when I was living in Indonesia, there was sufficient time to travel to known and lesser-known islands. Therefore, we also visited Sulawesi, Indonesia. Moreover, this Sulawesi Travel Guide covers the travel highlights in a 10-day Sulawesi Itinerary. This travel blog highlights my adventures in Sulawesi and shows you all reasons to visit this beautiful island in Indonesia, full of cultural and natural wonders.

For the Dutchies, Sulawesi might be known because of ‘Fort Rotterdam’ in Makassar. In total, we spent 10/12 days in Sulawesi. If you want to follow the same route, I would advise a minimum of 10 days, also because of the difficulty of getting to the Togean Islands.  

|| Explore Sulawesi's Capital Makassar (1 day)

Don’t expect too much of Makassar. We arrived in the morning and decided to take a night bus to Tana Toraja that same day. This left us with 1 day to explore Makassar. We bought a night bus ticket at the bus station and left our backpacks there to have some freedom to discover Makassar.

However, if you want to relax from a longer flight, I would advise you to stay in Makassar for the night. Some of the best hotels in Makassar are the Melia (~50 euros), Best Western (~30 euros) or Hotel Barkah (~10 euros).

Makassar’s main sight is Fort Rotterdam as said before. We decided to visit this place and even though it was rather interesting, it is not a must visit.

Fort Rotterdam in Makassar, Indonesia

In Indonesia, terraces are not as common as in many European cities. You can imagine, I did miss having a beer on a nice terrace in the sun enormously when living in Indonesia. That’s why we spent most of our afternoon at the harbour (opposite Fort Rotterdam, so you are already in the right direction) with a glass of beer and even some fries and chicken nuggets. 

Makassar, Sulawesi, Indonesia
Makassar, Sulawesi, Indonesia

|| culture in Sulawesi: Tana Toraja (Rantepao) - 2/3 nights

We arrived at our next destination by bus early in the morning. Tana Toraja is the cultural centre of Sulawesi and is famous for its typical houses. When visiting Tana Toranja, you can best stay in the main village, called Rantepao.

The best places to stay in  Rantepao, you can stay for example at Singki Home Family (~15 euros), Manubackpacker Zero Star Toraja (~10 euros) or Pias Poppies (~15 euros), where you can also eat the famous local Pa’Piong dish. In Rantepao, there is a visitor centre that already shows you the famous Tongkonan houses. 

Traditional houses in Rantepao, Sulawesi
Tongkonan houses in Rantepao, Sulawesi

1 || Visit londa, one of the most famous places on Sulawesi

One of the most famous places to visit in the area is Londa. I recommend renting a bike/scooter to drive towards Londa. Also, you will be rewarded with many great views in the area before arriving at our destination: the caves in Londa / Lemo. The cave is famous for its cave tombs and hanging graves. Also, ask your guesthouse for the latest information, as I have also found some news the Londa caves are closed.

Nature in and around Rantepao, Sulawesi
Nature in and around Rantepao, Sulawesi
Tau Tau in Londa, Sulawesi

2 || Visit kete kesu

After our visit to Londa, we continued our journey by bike to visit Kete Kesu. At Kete Kesu, you can find the famous Toraja houses – officially named Tongkonan houses. In front of some houses, they placed the so-called Tau-Tau, a doll representing the deceased. 

Traditional Longkonan houses in Kete Kesu, Sulawesi
Traditional houses in Tana Toraja at Kete Kesu

3 || try the local food food on Sulawesi

This dish called Pa’Piong sounds scary – however, it is one of the most commonly known dishes in Sulawesi. You have to order it in the afternoon for the restaurant to be able to serve it in the evening as it takes 8 to 12 hours to make. This is meat cooked in bamboo. If I’m correct, we ate it at Pia’s Poppies Hostel – one of the main backpackers’ hostels and therewith the perfect place to try the local food. 

Pa'Piong a local dish in Sulawesi's Tana Toraja

4 || book a tour and visit local tongkonan houses and a traditional funeral

When we visited Pia’s Poppies Hostel, we asked if there were funerals the next day. Visiting. a local funeral gives you the best local experience in Sulawesi and is the most special experience in this Sulawesi Travel Guide. Fortunately, the hostel arranged a guide and tour for the next day. If you ask at your hostel/hotel, they will inform you of this local experience.

Visiting a traditional funeral – sounds a bit weird, doesn’t it? However, it should be part of this Sulawesi Itinerary, as in Toraja a funeral is a big thing. The funeral may take place one year after the deceased passed away. They are building up a complete village, especially for the funeral. Next to that – sorry animal lovers – they are slaughtering buffalos at the funeral. The number of buffalos shows the wealth of the deceased and their family. Afterwards, the buffalo meat is served with some rice.

Traditional Funeral at Tana Toraja, Rantepao, Sulawesi Travel Guide
A traditional funeral in Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Travel Guide

You might wonder: is it inappropriate to visit a random funeral as a tourist? I thought I would feel awkward, however, it felt like our presence was appreciated. Also, don’t forget to bring a small gift, such as a pack of cigarettes. Lastly, I advise you to visit with a guide, as you will receive some context and feel more comfortable visiting with a local.

Local Children in Sulawesi Travel Guide
Buffelo in Sulawesi

We already visited Kete Kesu the previous day, however, our guide brought us to a local place with Tongkonan houses. The houses themselves weren’t used, however, the family who owned them was living in a small house next to them. We were received so friendly by the host and it was an experience to never forget. The locals don’t speak English too well, but thanks to our guide – we were able to communicate a little bit. 

Local experience in Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Travel Guide, Indonesia
Tongkonan houses in Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia
Tongkonan houses, Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Travel Guide
Tongkonan houses, Tana Toraja, Sulawesi

|| A Beach Destination on Sulawesi: The Togean Islands

Unfortunately and fortunately, the Togean Islands aren’t the easiest place to access and getting there will take you some time and will cause some pain. However, you know the saying ‘worth the wait’ and the outcome will be only greater and more impressive. If you want to learn more about how to get there, this is a great blog. Below, I’ll share my journey and experiences.

Part 1: Head to Ampana

Getting to Ampana from Rantepao wasn’t the best experience.  The drive was supposed to be 13 hours (we had a private transfer shared with 2 others, arranged in a restaurant), however, it took us 17 hours to get to Ampana. Sulawesi is not that well developed and they were still ‘building’ part of the road on the way which caused a massive delay. The boats towards the Togean Islands leave from Ampana in the morning, so we stayed the night here in a hotel called Oasis. If you rather book your hotel beforehand, go with Lawaka Hotel (~30 euros).

If you don’t want to head to the Togean Islands and want to enjoy a private resort, you can head to Buka Buka Island, where you find the Reconnect Private Island Resort.

Part 2: The boat to the Togean Islands - Sulawesi travel guide

We took the boat early in the morning (it left around 7 am – I always recommend checking the current departure times with your guesthouse or at the harbour). The boat ride takes 4 hours, however, the boat ride is stunning. 

Upon arrival at the Togean Islands. you can take a smaller boat that transfers you to your preferred island (I headed to Kadadiri).

Boatride to the Togean Islands from Ampana - Sulawesi
Boatride to the Togean Islands from Ampana - Sulawesi

Part 3: Enjoy time at the beach on the Togean Islands

Enjoy your time in paradise! Go diving, rest a lot, and enjoy a real undiscovered and local tropical island without phone reception. Do you want to know more about the Togean Islands? Check out the full guide I wrote here, including a full photo overview. I would recommend staying at Black Marlin, we loved our time and the food there. Unfortunately, I see that the latest reviews haven’t been up to standard. Another option on the island is Kadidiri Paradise, which now seems to be the preferred location.

Palmtree at the Togean Islands, Sulawesi
Black Marlin Resort, Togean Islands, Sulawesi Travel Guide
Travel Guide to the Togean Islands - Black Marlin
Togean Islands in Sulawesi Travel Guide, Indonesia

Part 4: Heading back to Ampana and Palu

Our way back to the mainland included the same ferry as on the way here. This landed us back in Ampana. We took a little van, including locals, to Palu where we stayed the night. Unfortunately, our van broke down, so we arrived in the middle of the night. After this trip, we rewarded ourselves with a more fancy hotel called Rama Garden.  Other options in Palu are the Best Western (~60 euros), Bukit Indah Doda (~35 euros) or RedDoorz Airport (~15 euros), That same evening we flew back from Pula airport to Surabaya. 

Sulawesi is an island that stuck with me, especially because of the Tana Toraja area and the beauty of the Togean Islands. In my opinion, this Travel Guide of Sulawesi – Indonesia describes a wonderful off-the-beaten-track destination in Indonesia. Do you want to read more articles about Indonesia? Check them out here. 


Sulawesi Travel Guide, Off-the-beaten track in Indonesia


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