This orchid shaped island is the centre of the Wallacea, where Asian fauna meets Australian fauna resulting in a high percentage of endemism. Black macaques and cuscus, tree-dwelling marsupials, inhabit extensive areas of beautiful forests and other interesting habitats. Because of its particular shape its coastline is around 6100 kilometers long and often interrupted by fine white sandy beaches. Beautiful coral gardens await to be discovered near these beaches and in the heart of the island live several intriguing people with their own fascinating culture and architecture. In Sulawesi a visitor will find a range of most attractive and diverse destinations, all within a relatively short distance of each other. Within a period of three to four weeks it is easy enough to include trekking through tropical rainforest, visits to ancient cultures, relaxing at white beaches and diving or snorkelling at many famous spots.
Most travelers start their visit to Sulawesi in the capital city of Makassar in the south. This gateway to the eastern islands has played an important role in history. For centuries Makassar has been a major harbor from where trade between the western and eastern Indonesian islands was conducted. In the 16 th century the Dutch succeeded in conquering the city and managed to maintain control over it for a long time. The few remains of this historical past are now the main sights of this city. The Spermonde Archipelago at a close distance to Makassar offers another reason for visiting this city. The small, beach fringed islands present good opportunities for diving and snorkeling.
Only around 30 kilometres in northern direction of Makassar you will find the southern boundary one of Indonesia most unique national park. Bantimurung-Bulusaraung National Park (declared a national park in October 2004) covers an area of almost 45.000 ha and comprises of several forest area’s with different ecosystems. The limestone cliffs that dominate the park are of a unique and astonishing beauty, consisting of dramatically formed vertical tower karst. Within the cliffs at least 237 caves are hidden, of which many show distinctively formed stalactites and stalagmites. Some of the caves show evidence of human inhabitants and piles of shells can be found here (used for food before) as well as primitive drawings. Believed is that the caves were inhabited between 40.000 to 5.000 years before Christ by a hunter-gatherer tribe using tools for preparing animal meat and plants. The appearance of the vegetation around the hills of Bantimurung was described by Alfred Wallace, an English naturalist who visited and researched the area in the mid-1800s and who was astonished by the beauty of the area.
Different from other limestone cliffs is the amount of butterfly species that can be found within its boundaries: at least 147 species are identified by now, amongst them 4 species that are protected by law. One of the more spectacular butterflies known largely from Sulawesi limestone, presumably because its food plant is restricted to a limestone habitat, is the large swallowtail Graphium androcles. Several species of mammals inhabited the national park. Three of them are endemic to Sulawesi: black monkey (Kera hitam, Macaca maura), the marsupial Cuscus Sulawesi (Kuskus Sulawesi, Phalanger celebensis) and musang Sulawesi (Musang Sulawesi, Macrogolidia mussenbraecki).
Also not far from Makassar in northeastern direction against the slopes of the Bawakaraeng mountain you will find the small town of Malino. Historical known as the site where several peace negotiations took place, Malino is nowadays often visited by local tourist in the weekends. They travel the 75 km long road in search for fresh and clean air. The hills, mountains, waterfalls, small villages and rice fields are a guarantee for some wonderful walking with greats views. You will even find one of the few tea plantations in Sulawesi here. This beautiful located plantation is Japanese managed.
Leaving Makassar behind and heading southeast (or traveling via secondary roads from Malino), at the most southeastern point there is the white almost flourlike sandy beach of Bira. Bira is situated in an area inhabited by the Bugis, a seafaring people known for centuries for their great boat building skills. These wooden sailing boats, some of them called pinisi, are still being built and used for trade between islands, although they are nowadays equipped with engines. Some pinisi are suitable for tourist purposes and they can take you anywhere in the Indonesian archipelago. From Bira you can also take the daily ferry and head for Selayar Island for more spectacular diving and snorkeling.
Following the road further north you will pass the small town of Tanah Towa, where the Kajang people still follow a very traditional life using only that provide by nature. Dressed in their woven and black dyed clothes they work their lands and worship their spirits.
The Bugis town of Sengkang is the next stop north. In the capital of the once influential Wajo district many houses are still built on stilts and roofs decorated with fine open worked gable-finials. The main attractions are the home silk industry and the Tempe Lake. In some villages caterpillar eggs are left to hatch and the animals are fed with special leaves until they make a cocoon, which is then processed into thin silk threads. In other villages these threads are dyed and woven into colorful sarongs and clothes.
See our example tours for inspiration on your Sulawesi adventure:
Tempe Lake is actually a rather small lake but one that extends enormously once the rainy season has started and the surrounding lands are flooded. On this productive lake a lot of fish are caught by fishermen, as well as by the many species of birds that find a ‘heaven on earth’ here. To make their work easier some of the fishermen live in floating houses that are moved depending on their work area.
Continuing in northern direction the lowland will gradually make place for a mountainous region known as Tanah Toraja, the homeland of the Torajan people. This extensive area is one of the most beautiful regions in all of Indonesia and is worth a visit of at least several days. The high located villages with their traditional wooden and carved houses covered by boat shaped roofs, known as tongkanan, are set within a scenery of green and yellow rice terraces surrounded by high mountains. The well-known funeral ceremonies
that are executed with great grandeur are a very important aspect of the well-kept original culture of the Torajan. It is a delight to walk through rice fields and pass small villages shielded from wind and sight by bamboo trees. This area however also offers more adventurous mountain trekking and white water rafting or more easy going tours by comfortable car along the many points of interest like different traditional grave types and impressive
Leaving Toraja behind you enter the central and sparsely populated province of Sulawesi. The small town of Pendolo situated on the southern banks of the beautiful, crystal, clear Lake Poso is the first stop. From here it is recommended to hire a boat and cross the lake to Tentena, which is located on the northern shores of the lake. Try the local specialty, sugili, a large eel that is caught when it leaves the lake via the Poso River to the sea where it reproduces. Near Tentena you find the recently discovered Saluopa waterfall with inviting pools for bathing and along the road to Poso you can admire the deafening rapids of Sulewana.
From Tentena there are several directions to take that will lead you to different areas of interest. To the east you can travel within one or two days to Kolonedale and the nearby Morowali-park. This beautiful park with at least five different ecosystems is home to the indigenous Wana who still hunt for small prey with blowpipes. It is possible to do some trekking in this park and spend the night at small Wana settlements.
Continuing in a northerly direction, a mountainous road that branches off to the east, just before you reach the city of Poso and then follows the coastline, will take you to the town of Ampana. From this small harbor town boats bring you to a wonderful archipelago, the Togian islands. Only recently discovered by visitors, the Togian islands offer white sandy beaches, mangrove forests, lush green tropical jungle with interesting wildlife and superb diving and snorkeling. The Togian islands are home to several communities like the Bajau. Formerly a nomadic sea people, nowadays they are settled in permanent coastal villages but for their way of living they still very much depend on what the sea offers them. They will undertake journeys lasting for months to find pearls, coral, turtles, sea cucumber and sharks even as far as the waters of Australia.
A third direction will take you from Tentena to the Bada valley. This valley is one of several valleys situated within or near the borders of the Lore Lindu National Park, a vast protected area at relative high altitude where a large number of animal and plant species endemic to Sulawesi can be found. Only a few areas are sparsely inhabited, one of them is the Bada valley just outside the park. The Bada valley is known for the mysterious statues found scattered around of which no one knows who carved them and for what reason. A 70 km long mostly unpaved road connects Tentena with the
major village of the Bada valley, Gintu. After Gintu there are no roads just footpaths used to transport agriculture products by horse. It will take an exciting three days hike to reach the western borders of the park from where a paved road can take you to Palu, the capital city of Central-Sulawesi. From Palu the beach and coral of Tanjung Karang are just an hour away. A great place to relax in the small cottages built near the beach.
The most frequently visited part of northern Sulawesi is the mountainous Minahasa region, homeland of a well-educated and proud people who speak languages related to the ones found in the Philippines. The fertile volcanic soil allows for intensive cultivation of a wide range of agriculture products, however in many highland and coastal areas it is the clove tree and the coconut tree that respectively dominate the landscape. Some areas
however are still covered by tropical rainforest like the Tangkoko-Batu Angus Park in the northern point of Minahasa. This park guarantees lush tropical vegetation and an abundant animal life due to the high percentage of fruit bearing trees. Hornbills, black monkeys and probably the most endearing member of primates in Indonesia, the tiny and goggle-eyed tarsier, are relatively easy to spot.
An alternative way to experience some of Minahasa natural life is to join an exciting rafting adventure on the Minanga- or Tondano River in the heart of the region. Second, third and fourth-class rapids will bring you through a thrilling green landscape.
Being a part of the inner-volcano ring that also covers Sumatra, Java and Bali many active volcanoes rise high up in the sky. These ‘fire spitting mountains’ or ‘gunung merapi’ as the locals call them form another challenging attraction for visitors to northern Sulawesi. Some of them however, are relatively easy
to climb even for those with no experience. The Mahawu volcano near the town of Tomohon with a crater lake and spectacular views is an example of such an ‘easy going’ mountain.
Despite interesting forest life, challenging volcanoes and also some scenic lakes the main natural attraction of Minahasa is beyond dispute its world famous coral reefs fringing the islands of Bunaken Sea Park. The astonishing reef walls are rich in plant- and animal life and several dive schools and plenty of accommodation and restaurants offer a visitor all the facilities one needs for a stay here. Nowadays not only Bunaken offers dive- and snorkel sites as well as accommodation but also from several other islands and locations is it now possible to discover the richness of the sea while enjoying comfortable accommodation. Good examples are the Pulisan cape with its forests, white sand beach and good corals; Lembeh island near to Lembeh street great for muck diving; the white sandy beach islands of the Bangka region.
In cultural respect Minahasa also offers some interesting excursions. Old carved Minahasa sarcophagi were collected and set together near a Christian graveyard in the town of Sarangan. The carvings reveal fascinating historical and religious information of live before and during the rule of colonial Dutch.
See how inhabitants of Woloan built impressive wooden houses which are then broken down piece by piece and rebuilt wherever the buyer wants it to be put down. Or take a look at the way coconut oil is produced using traditional methods.
All the above mentioned points of interest can be easily visited using the capital city of Manado as a base or for those looking for a more cooler and quieter spot you can try Tomohon, a small town nestled between the Mahawu and Lokon volcanoes at an altitude of 700 meters above sea level, about 25 km south of Manado.