- 3 July
- 11 September
- 1 July next year
- 9 September
The enormous and oddly shaped island of Sulawesi is one of Indonesia’s cultural treasures, but often neglected by western tour companies in favour of better known Bali or Java. Yet it holds a wealth of treasures that should be on every serious traveller’s itinerary, with fascinating ethnic groups following elaborate social practices which cannot be seen elsewhere.
Our trip to this remarkable land encompasses both the north and south of the island, starting from the bustling capital Makassar and heading into the Tanah Toraja, an area of highlands where traditional architecture and practices are at their strongest. We explore villages with amazing carved houses where we hope to see some of their tribal festivals, we visit incredible ‘hanging graves’ and walk along picturesque rice terraces to reach little visited communities.
In Sulawesi’s north we visit parks and reserves in search of the island’s unusual wildlife, including the tiny tarsier, and enjoy traditional meals cooked for us by the inhabitants of local villages. We see the unusual ‘waruga’ sarcophagi of the Minhasa Highlands and explore colorful local markets where anything is considered food, from dogs to rats and much in between. This is an intriguing and almost mysterious part of the Indonesian archipelago with unique and complex social customs that are unlike anything you will have seen before. This two week trip encompasses the very best of this fascinating island, and will leave you wanting to explore more of this vast and varied region.
Day 1: Makassar. Arrive in Makassar, the capital of Sulawesi, and transfer to the hotel. Depending on your time of arrival it may be possible to stop en route at Paotere harbor, with its dozens of traditional wooden ships. The rest of the day is at leisure. Overnight Hotel Pantai Gapura or similar.
Makassar: Makassar (called Ujung Pandang between 1972 and 1999) is the lively capital of Sulawesi and due to its central location the city has functioned as a gate to the eastern islands of Indonesia for centuries. Makassar also has a rich historical past with two powerful kingdoms that were able to resist the Dutch colonial forces for many years.
The fort of Rotterdam (Benteng Ujung Pandang) in the center of Makassar is a well-preserved remainder of that past. In the evening the boulevard starts to liven up when many pushcarts are placed near the waterside and start selling all sorts of food until late in the night: for seafood dishes this is the best place to go. A part of the boulevard is closed for traffic, and you can see amazing sunsets from here.
Day 2: Malino. Drive to the refreshingly cool market town of Malino. Malino lies on the lower slopes of Mount Bawakaraeng, and was once the favorite weekend retreat for the colonial Dutch. We spend some time exploring its streets and visit the spectacular Takapala Waterfall. After a picnic lunch we head back to Makassar, visiting the tombs of the former kings of Gowa as well as Balla Lompoa, the palace of the former sultan. Overnight Hotel Pantai Gapura or similar. Includes: (B), (L).
Day 3: Sengkang. Drive to the small town of Sengkang to the north. On the way we stop at Bantimurung National Park, dominated by its limestone cliff scenery, and walk through rice fields and villages to a cave with prehistoric paintings. We take lunch in a small Bugis village before traveling through tropical forest and ending up in Sengkang. Overnight Pondok Ela or similar. Includes: (B), (L).
Sengkang: Sengkang is a small and quiet town with a population of Islamic Bugis, living mainly in traditional wooden pile dwellings. It is the capital of the district of Wajo, one of the most influential Bugis states of the 16th century.
Day 3: Lake Tempe – Tanah Toraja. Early in the morning we board traditional colorful motorized canoes, traveling through the small Walennea River to Lake Tempe, where we can see floating villages and local fishermen. We then visit some small villages nearby to see the process of traditional silk weaving. After lunch we head to the highlands of Tanah Toraja, home to some of Sulawesi’s most intriguing customs and a stronghold of traditional architecture. We pass Sanggala and the Torajan sights of Suaya and Tampang’allo, where we can see ancient graves and tau-tau puppets. Our final destination for the day is Rantepao, a market town in the highlands. Overnight Hotel Heritage or similar. Includes: (B).
Lake Tempe: Lake Tempe covers an area of at least 1000 hectares in the dry season and expands to around 35.000 ha during the wet season when all surrounding areas are flooded. Local fishermen use a variety of methods to catch fish here, including nets, rods and enclosures, and more than 20 species of water birds can be seen at this lake. Some of the fishermen live in floating houses near the edge of the lake, and we are able to visit one of these houses to gain an insight into local life.
Tanah Toraja: This mountainous district is the homeland of several ethnic groups who are called Toraja (Toraja means ‘the people of the mountains’ or ‘the people of the west’). The Toraja call their traditional religion Aluk to Dolo (rites of the ancestors) and they live according to rules defined by their ancestors and gods. These include the impressive rituals accompany the burying of the deceased, which involve pig and buffalo sacrifices and can last for many days.
The region is also known for its beautiful carved houses with the remarkable roofs, the so-called tongkonan, which are also built according principles of Aluk to Dolo. The Toraja were among the last people in Indonesia to submit to colonial rule, resisting until well into the 20th century. Although most Toraja are Christian nowadays, still many traditions live on.
Day 5: Tanah Toraja. Spend today exploring this remarkable region to get a good picture of the culture of past and present Toraja. Visit picturesque villages located in an amazing mountainous landscape dominated by rice terraces and bamboo forests. We see the different ways the Toraja bury their death, such as the traditional ‘hanging graves’ and the well known stone graves guarded by puppets, tau-tau, high up on rocks. We also see huge richly carved traditional houses with their rice barns. In the evening we visit a small village where the local people prepare a typical Toraja meal for us. Overnight: Hotel Heritage or similar. Includes: (B), (D).
Days 6-7: Village trek. We spend these days trekking through a unique part of Toraja not often visited by other tourists and spend one night in a local house in a typical Toraja village. Most of the trek takes us through landscape with astonishing views, walking through rice terraces balancing on narrow rice dikes and via small dirt roads only used by local people.
Sometimes we cross small rivers by bamboo bridge or wade through the water. The villages you pass are very traditional and in some you will stop to have some tea or enjoy your lunch. This is an unparalleled opportunity to explore this exciting region, with great opportunities for interaction with local people and insights into their complex beliefs. On Day 7 we return to Rantepao to spend the night. One night local house, one night in hotel heritage or similar. Includes: Day 6 - (B), (L), (D); Day 7 - (B), (L).
Please note: The trek is optional. If you do not want to walk then we can arrange for you to be transported by vehicle to the village where you will spend the night, and you will have more time to get to meet its inhabitants.
Village trek: The first day we will walk around 6 hours and the second day around 4-5 hours. You will be transferred to the starting point and pick-up from the finishing point by vehicle and luggage will be carried by porter or transferred by car, meaning that you only have to carry a day pack. On the evening of Day 6 you will spend the night at a local house – conditions will be basic but this will be an unforgettable experience.
Day 8: Makassar. A long drive through interesting and varied scenery takes us back to Makassar where we will spend the night. Overnight Hotel Pantai Gapura or similar. Includes: (B).
Day 9: Manado - Tangkoko. Fly from Makassar to Manado in the north of Sulawesi. We then transfer to the Tangkoko Batuangus reserve, where we take an afternoon walk in search of its interesting wildlife. Overnight Mama Roos or similar. Includes: (B), (D).
Tangkoko Batuangas Reserve: The reserve itself is a beautiful park, filled with fruit and palm trees. As fruits are abundant here, the forest can hold a large number of mammals and birds, many of which are endemic to Sulawesi. One of these is the black short-tail monkey, groups of which are usually easy to spot. Also to be found are cuscus, a marsupial relative which can also be found in Papua New Guinea, the maleo, a rare megapode type bird and the tarsier, the world’s smallest primate the size of a human hand. It feeds during the night and will only return to its sleeping tree just before sunrise.
Day 10: Tangkoko - Tomohon. This morning we take another walk in the forest in search of wildlife, before driving to Tomohon. We explore the fascinating Minhasa Highlands along the way, with its relics of traditional culture. This evening we visit a local home for some typical Minhasa food. Overnight Lokon Boutique Resort or similar. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Minhasa Highlands: At an average altitude of around 700-800 meters this district holds a wealth of treasures for visitors to explore. Most notable are the ancient waruga sarcophagi in which important people were buried sitting a fetus position – these can be seen in the small town of Sawangan. In Woloan we can see how people construct wooden houses to break them down again and to sell them as a ‘do-it-yourselves-packet’.
The region is known for its cuisine which includes such delicacies as rat kebabs and fried bat wings. Up until quite recently, the people of the area were renowned as headhunters, although that practice no longer survives, having been eradicated by missionaries from the 19th century onwards.
Day 11: Mahawu Volcano. We walk to the top of Gunung Mahawu, an active volcano which gives us great views of its crater lake as well as of the surrounding area including the Bunaken National Park. After descending we visit the colorful market of Tomohon. The Minhasa are known for eating everything with at least two legs, so you will find dogs, rats and bats ready to take home and to cook. The rest of the day is free to explore the town. Overnight Lokon Boutique Resort or similar. Includes: (B), (D).
Day 12: Manado. Transfer back to Manado. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore this interesting cosmopolitan city – the market in particular is well worth venturing into. Overnight Sedona Hotel or similar. Includes: (B).
Day 13: Bunaken Island. Visit Bunaken Island off the northern tip of Sulawesi. The island is part of Bunaken Marine Reserve and the sea around here is alive with stunning marine life, including turtles, whales, dolphins and rays. We take a boat out to snorkel and search for its inhabitants, and then have lunch on the beach before heading back to Manado. Overnight Sedona Hotel or similar. Includes: (B), (L).
Day 14: Manado. Transfer to the airport for your onward flight. Tour ends. Includes: (B).
Also see tour packages in:
Asia Indonesia Local Culture Cultural Journey National Parks