Can travelers watch the funeral in Tana Toraja, Sulawesi?

I will be traveling to Tana Toraja, Sulawesi and would like to watch the famous Torajan funeral rituals there. Are travelers allowed to watch the Torajan funeral rituals? If yes, when is the best time to catch the Tana Toraja funeral rituals?
– Grey

Yes travelers are allowed to join and watch the Toraja funeral rituals. The best time to catch the Torajan funerals are during the dry season which is between June to August.

Author: Pearl

Living in Jakarta for more than 20 years now, she still have not manage to cover the tip of Indonesia’s diverse destinations, people and even food! Pearl loves shopping as much as enjoying luxury but she knows all these have to be done sensibly and on a budget. Therefore you may find the best scoop and offers in Jakarta and beyond with her.

Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi

Tana Toraja, literally means land of Toraja, is a highland situated in the region of Southern Sulawesi, Indonesia. It is well known as the Land of Heavenly Kings. A place almost lost in time, it spans with green lush rice terraces, tall limestone and bamboo graves with misty blue mountains as backdrop.

The Toraja people still practices many ancient rites, despite many adopting Christians beliefs after the Dutch colony, and many say that they are obsessed with the idea of death, not in a morbid way but as something significant to them. You may find cave graves, hanging graves, tau tau (life-sized wooden effigies), baby tree graves and even mass slaughter of buffaloes, all these bringing you a sense of strangeness yet captivating.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia Map
Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia Map

Where is it

In the central highlands of South Sulawesi, about 328km north of Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi Province.

Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia - Salu Funeral
Salu Funeral

Why go

To see the rare, ancient rites and unique of the Toraja people, almost impossible to find nowadays inaccessible areas.Tana Toraja, almost unchanged for the last 100 years, is set in a stunning setting far out from globalisation or tourism, but still accessible given some small effort.

Graves at Lemo, Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia
Graves at Lemo

When is the best time to go

June – September is the dry season here and you may see more influx of tourists at this time too. This is the season where children are home from school, rice is harvested, and complex funeral for ancestors are done.

Located in the highlands of 300 – 2880 meters above sea level, Tana Toraja is generally cool at around 16- 28 degree Celsius thus making it ideal in terms of weather for travelling at most times.

What to see

Observe the burial rites of Toraja people. After the person’s death, the body is kept for several years while they save the money for actual funeral known as Tomate!

Tongkonan House at Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia
Tongkonan House

Marvel at the traditional Tongkonan houses. These houses with upward-sloping roofs are decorated with intricate design, and they have been used as a center for Aluktodolo (an old Toraja people’s religion or belief) rites. The Aluktodolo rites are like storing harvest in a carved rice barns or water buffaloes slaughter for ceremonies. Places with houses, granaries and/or ceremonial grounds and burials are Pallawa, Bori Parinding, Kande Api, Nanggala, Buntu Pune, Londo, Lemo and Tumakke.

Visit Ke’te Kesu as it is nominated for having a completed settlement with houses, granaries, burial place, ceremonial ground, rice fields and water buffalo pasture.

Pala’ Toke’, for although principally only a burial place, the location with towering limestone hill with rice field extending all around is almost sublime.

What to do

Take walks around the place to visit various grave sites or other popular sites, normally around 1 – 3 hours walk. If walking is not your thing, you may try taking short bemo (minibus) rides from Rantepao

Rice Bran at Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia
Rice Bran

Where to stay

You may find ranges of guesthouses to hotels to homestays here easily, as although they are more remote than your usual tourist place, it is well known enough to receive enough travellers to have accommodations set up. Most travellers will choose to stay at Rantepao * as it is the most convenient. A popular hotel here is The Heritage Hotel *.

-> Find the best hotel deals in Tana Toraja with Booking.com *

What and where to eat

You may find restaurants in Rantepao or Makale and they serve mostly local Indonesian Food and some Chinese or western food. Remember to try the Torajan specialty called pa’pion which is chicken / pork / fish cooked with vegetables in bamboo tubes while washing it down with local Torajan palm wine known as ballok. Coffee lovers may also find that Tana Torajan region is famous for their coffee and drinking it here is not only fresh but really cheap as well!

Kids, Tana Toraja People
Kids of Tana Toraja

How to get there

Fly into Makassar, Sulawesi, Indonesia. The Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport is located 20km away from town and has domestic flights from various points in Indonesia while international flights from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Singapore.

From Makassar, you may take the bus to Tana Toraja, which is 300km away with at least 8-10 hours drive away. It would cost 80,000 Rp for an air-conditioned bus from Makassar to Rantepao, with a choice of morning or overnight bus. To get to the bus terminal, you may hop on the frequent bemo (minibus) and would take about 40 minutes.

How to get around

Walk to feel the surroundings and blend with the people. But if you are going further or covering large areas, you may take a ride in bemo (minibuses) that cost around 2000 Rp to 10 000 Rp.

Limestone Cliff at Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia
Limestone Cliff

Photo credits from top: Burmesedays, Arian Zwegers, Arian Zwegers, Arian Zwegers, NeilsPhotography, NeilsPhotography and a_rabin.

Related articles:
Top 10 Must Visit Places in Sulawesi.
Sulawesi Travel Guide
Makassar Travel Guide