Sulawesi Island is in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago. The eleventh largest island in the world, it was originally two separate islands that combined: one half from the Australian continent from the west, and the other from Kalimantan in the east. As a result, Sulawesi’s diverse habitats range from Australian-style savannah to Southeast Asian tropical rainforests.
Visit Sulawesi to experience mist-covered mountains, unspoiled tropical jungles and volcanic lakes brimming with mysterious, coloured waters, green-stepped rice paddies and sprawling, sandy beaches. Sulawesi’s oceans are bristling with rainbow-coloured corals that lure divers beyond the marine shelf. On shore, its white, sandy beaches are fringed with coconut trees and quiet fishing villages.
Meet the People
Sulawesi is home to a variety of ethnic groups: the Bugis, Makassar, Mandar, and Buton peoples. Highly skilled sea voyagers, they live along the coastlines, fishing for flying fish, shark, tuna, squid and sea-cucumber, which they trade across Indonesia.
The highlands in the south are home to the Toraja people, whose colourful, vibrant and very distinct culture makes their highland province one of the most popular destinations for overseas travellers in Sulawesi. The Toraja live in traditional houses called tongkonan, with tall ship-shaped roofs, beautifully decorated in black and red ornamental carvings. Their unique funeral ceremonies honour ‘aluk to dolo’ or the ‘ways of the ancestors’, and feature animal sacrifices.
Makassar (formerly Ujung Pandang) is a booming, energetic cultural melting pot. Bugis, Makassar, Toraja, Mandar, as well as ethnic-Chinese, and Javanese people share this city, which is the largest port in eastern Indonesia. Makassar’s historical attractions contrast with its new developments, such as the impressive international airport, which opened in 2008, and the many new shopping malls and high-class residential districts. The streets hum with bechak (trishaws), bicycles, pete-pete (mini buses), taxis and motor bikes, and road-side stalls attract the local food-lovers.
The most famous attraction in Makassar is the historical Fort Rotterdam, build by Dutch colonists. This area hosts the best-preserved Dutch architecture in Indonesia, and is now a museum. Locals flock to Losari Beach to enjoy the beautiful sunsets, cool sea breezes and cold drinks at the beachside restaurants.
Makassar’s Port of Paotere is home to huge, traditional wooden ships called pinisi. These are still the main means of transporting goods across the thousands of Indonesian islands.
Indonesians say Makassar offers the best seafood in the country. Ready access to fresh seafood, and foods from across Indonesia, enriched by the city’s many different ethnic groups, have all contributed to Makassar’s seafood culture. Charcoal-grilled fresh fish at roadside stalls, Cantonese-style lobster and crab dishes in fine restaurants – Makassar offers a tempting menu. In the Tanjung Bunga district, there will be the local, very popular equivalent of the world famous Jimbarang beach restaurant area in Bali. With our food-loving guides, you can discover the secret seafood hotspots that only the locals know about.
Tana Toraja (land of the Toraja people) is one of Indonesia’s most special places. The Toraja region is located more than 1000 metres above sea level, which makes it cool and comfortable for travellers all year ‘round. Its small villages are surrounded by beautiful rice terraces and majestic mountains – breathtaking scenery that hasn’t altered for centuries A walk among the rice paddies at sunset among the waterbirds as local farmers finish their day’s work is an unforgettable experience.
Toraja’s unusual architecture is its cultural cornerstone and a feature for which this area is famous. Traditional Torajan houses have tall roofs shaped like ships, known as tonkonang, which symbolise Tana Toraja. To visit these homes – some which house working weaving looms – is to step into the daily lives of the locals.
Life, death and the afterlife are central to Torajan culture. Cemeteries have been built into cliff caves, and are filled with human bones, hanging coffins and tau tau (statues of the dead), all intended to create a happy life after death.
Funeral ceremonies are the most important event in a Torajan’s village life. Torajans invite many guests and there are songs, festive food, dances and sacrificial ceremonies. The larger the audience, the more successful the ceremony, so it’s possible you may be invited to participate in one of these memorable occasions. Many funerals occur between June and October, and during December.
Mamasa is a region located about 50 kilometres east of Toraja that remains relatively unexplored by travellers because, until recently, access by road was limited. The extra time it takes to get there is well rewarded – Mamasa has a wealth of untouched cultural treasures, including the unique traditional houses known as banua. These differ from Toraja’s tongkonan; banua roofs are more gently curved, made of wooden slates, and much larger. Many are hundreds of years old.
Mamasa also has fascinating festivals and a local market where you can buy fresh local fruits and vegetables, as well as local carvings and textiles.
Manado in the north of Sulawesi is internationally renowned for scuba diving, particularly in the world famous Bunaken Marine Reserve, which is just outside the city. An hour after landing at Manado International Airport, you can be diving among cascading shelves of coral brimming with sea life. Less well known, but just as fascinating, are the many small fishing villages near by – we can take you to some of our favourite havens. Most have bungalows along their white coral-sand beaches where you can amble along, and meet local fishermen, be amazed by the colourful corals and tropical fish only metres from the shore, or just enjoy the views and waves lapping so close to your bungalow’s balcony.
Manado has even more to offer inland. Located in a volcanic zone, you can tour its spectacular highlands – perhaps by horse and carriage, if you wish. The Tondano Lake and Tomohon high country are cool and relaxing, with tropical flowers to discover, active volcanic mountains to hike offering amazing views, and natural hot springs where you can soak your body and recharge your spirit.
Tangkoko Reserve is located east of Manado. It is one of the best-managed natural reserves in Indonesia. Tangkoko contains some of Sulawesi’s world-renowned wildlife, such as tarsiers – the world’s smallest monkeys, black macaques, and colourful birds like hornbills and kingfishers. Our knowledgable guides enjoy making it fun to learn about the local flora and fauna and habitat.