It already has been a while ago since I visited Sulawesi. When living in Indonesia, I was allowed to miss some classes within 6 months. This allowed me to travel for a ‘longer’ time to some of the less famous islands of Indonesia. One of them was Sulawesi, which now results in this 1.5-week Travel Guide to Sulawesi, Indonesia. In this guide, I’ll tell you about my adventures and travels in Sulawesi including pictures and stories taking you along the reasons why you should visit this beautiful Indonesian island full of cultural and natural wonders.
For Dutchies, Sulawesi might be known because of ‘Fort Rotterdam’ being located in Makassar. We spend about 1,5 weeks in Sulawesi, also because it was quite difficult to head to the Togean Islands (read more about them here), and the huge travel distances without any easy type of transport.
We did arrive on a direct flight from Surabaya (my university city) to Makassar. I can imagine this might not be your most logical route, however as Makassar is Sulawesi’s main city, odds are high that you will arrive here.
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 meant, we only had one day to spend in Makassar. We bought a night bus ticket at the bus station and left our backpacks there to have some freedom to discover Makassar. If you would like to stay in Makassar, head to 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 as Dutchies and even though it was rather interesting, you wouldn’t miss too much about this place.
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 did spend 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.
We did arrive at our next destination early in the morning. The area is known as Tana Toraja for the famous houses. The main village to head to however is called Rantepao. When staying 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.
One of the most famous places to visit in the area is Londa. I would recommend renting a bike/scooter and touring towards Londa. We saw many awesome views along the way and in the end went into the caves in Londa / Lemo. These are places with so-called hanging graves and cave tombs. To be honest, it feels a bit scary to get in there. Ask your guesthouse for the latest information, as the internet tells you it is closed.
We visited Kete Kesu on the same day as we visited Londa and took our motorbike to do so. Kete Kesu is one of the most famous places to visit the Toraja houses – officially named Tongkonan houses. In front of some houses, they placed the so-called Tau-Tau. Tau-Tau is a doll representing the deceased.
This dish sounded scary – however, it was one of the most commonly known dishes in Sulawesi. You had 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. If I’m not mistaken, this dish is called Pa’Piong. This is meat cooked in bamboo. As far as I can remember, we ate it at Pia’s Poppies Hostel – one of the main backpackers’ hostels that also offers this local dish.
First of all, we did arrange our tour at the restaurant named at point 3. We just asked if there were funerals the next day and they arranged a guide for us to pick us up the day after. Ask at a restaurant or your guesthouse and they will probably be able to recommend you someone and help you out.
Visiting a traditional funeral – sounds a bit weird, doesn’t it? However, it should be part of this Travel Guide to Sulawesi – Indonesia 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 present tells something about the wealth of the deceased and their family. Be prepared, afterwards, the buffalo meat is served with some rice. You might wonder: how inappropriate is it to just enter a funeral of people you don’t know as a tourist? Well, I thought I would feel awkward but it felt that our presence was appreciated. Don’t forget to bring a small gift in the form of a pack of cigarettes though. I still would advise you to with a guide, as he will hear about the funerals taking place in the neighbourhood and you probably feel more comfortable with a local by your side.
Just driving around the area also rewards you with great experiences on the way, as you get to see the local culture.
The previous day we already visited Kete Kesu – however our guide brought us to a local place with Tongkonan houses. The houses themselves weren’t used, however, the family who owns 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.
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. Well – that’s to journey towards the Togean Islands. This website also describes some more details about how to get there. Below, I’ll share my journey and experiences.
Getting to Ampana was no fun. The drive was supposed to be 13 hours (we had a private transfer shared with 2 others, arranged in a restaurant), however, in the end, 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 in the morning from Ampana, 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.
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 around 4 hours, but don’t worry, the boat ride is stunning.
After you arrive at the Togean Islands – you can take a smaller boat that can transfer you to your preferred island (I headed to Kadadiri).
Enjoy your time here! 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.
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 did stay the night. Unfortunately, our van broke down, so we did only arrive 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 was an island that stuck with me – especially because of the Tana Toraja area and the beauty of the Togean Islands, especially because they are harder to reach. In my opinion, this Travel Guide of Sulawesi – Indonesia describes a wonderful off-the-beaten-track destination. Do you want to read more articles about Indonesia? Check them out here.