What image does the word Sulawesi conjure up for you? Have you even heard of it? Maybe if you’re older you might know it by the names of Celebes.
Sulawesi is one of the largest islands in the Indonesian archipelago, oddly shaped like an octopus or spider. Its northern tip and southern province welcome some tourists each year, but until recently the province of Central Sulawesi was off limits due to local unrest.
If visiting the temples of Java was my idea, adding Sulawesi to our trip was very much my husband’s, but the more I studied it, the more fascinating it sounded.
I’ll be sharing some more detailed posts about Sulawesi in the coming weeks, but if you only have a week or two, what are the must-sees in Sulawesi?
Tana Toraja, southern Sulawesi
A winding eight-hour drive through the mountains from the provincial capital Makassar, the first sign you are officially entering Tana Toraja land is a giant carved wooden gate over the two-lane road.
This represents one of the famous Torajan traditional homes, with a boat-shaped roof. Clusters of these, along with smaller rice barns, can be found in many villages throughout the region. The intricate carvings and decorations become more elaborate the higher the status of the family who lives there.
The Torajans have an unusual approach to death; when a person dies their body must be preserved and kept in the home until the funeral takes place. But as Torajan funerals are big, expensive, community affairs, this can take months or even a year. The Torajans believe that a person’s spirit remains on earth, with their family, until the funeral and burial has taken place.
The area is also home to cliff burials and tau-tau, effigies of those buried within the cliff. Look out for a detailed post about Tana Toraja soon!
Tangkoko National Reserve, northern Sulawesi
If you’re looking to spot some unusual local wildlife, this is the place for you. Tangkoko is home to a small population of the world’s smallest monkey, the tarsier.
The best time to see them is as dusk falls when they come out to feed at favourite spots in the forest. But the tarsier, with its saucer-like eyes and rapid movement, isn’t the only wildlife on show at Tangkoko.
Troupes of black macaques, the cuscus and the spectacular hornbill can also be spotted – watching the hornbill return to feed its young was a special experience.
You can also take a sunrise boat trip in the Lembeh Strait, which laps the edges of the Tangkoko reserve, to spot pilot whales and dolphins.
There is really only one village to base yourself in to be close to the park entrance, Batuh Putih. There are a number of cheap b&bs/homestays, plus a couple of simple shops in the village for basic supplies.
Tangkoko is about 2 hours’ drive from Manado, which has an airport.
Bunaken, northern Sulawesi
The sunsets and the views are spectacular, the snorkeling and diving some of the best in the world. If that isn’t enough to tempt you, this island is a wonderful place to just chill and relax for a couple of days, yet it’s only a 1-hour ferry ride from the docks at Manado.
It’s rare for me to recommend a hotel here, but the Happy Gecko gets a genuine recommendation from me. The owners Willeke (Dutch) and Jerry (a local) are really friendly, helpful and interesting people. You can easily arrange trips to different dive spots, reefs and drop-offs. But the best thing for me was the view from the simple but sweet wooden bungalows, just sitting on the balcony. The fresh fish is also amazing and (as you’d expect) super-fresh.
Go, you won’t regret it!