Top 5 Things to Do in Tana Toraja, Sulawesi

Having thousand of islands, each area in Indonesia has its own unique culture and ritual. Tana Toraja in Sulawesi is one which has the said unique feature. Tana Toraja means simply Toraja Land. To get here, you have to first get into Makassar, which is a capital city of South Sulawesi. There is no flight going to this area. That is why you would have to take a private car or bus from Daya Terminal in Makassar to get to Tana Toraja. It takes around 8 to 10 hours driving from Makassar to Toraja.

Most people make their way to this remote location to take part and view the famous ancient burial rites. Death is an important part of the Toraja culture and their funeral rites are definitely worth an experience. Besides this fascinating activity, here are our suggested things to do while you are in Tana Toraja.

Rambu Solo death ritual, Tana Toraja in Sulawesi, Indonesia
People gather around to have the most awaited ritual, Rambu Solo. Picture by : Marina & Enrique

Watch the ancient funeral ceremony

First of all, we must check out the funeral ceremony or burial rites of the Toraja people. It is, after all, the most intriguing part this mountainous region. The local people called this mortuary death ritual Rambu Solo. The history of this ancient rite go way back and the concept of death is deeply entrenched in the people of Toraja.

They believe that a dead person is just someone who is sick and not completely dead until his/her family conduct the ritual. Since a lot of money is required to set a Rambu Solo, many wait for a while until they can afford the buffalos and pigs for the ceremony. Consequently, Rambu Solo also becomes a tool to classify people based on their social structure. The more sacrificial animals they can afford, the more people will discover that a family belongs to the upper social class. The people in Toraja always help one other to run this sacred and obligatory ritual, whether in terms of cost or labour. There is no exact date for Rambu Solo but mostly the rituals are carried out in June, July, and August. Come to Tana Toraja during these months to have a chance to participate in this ritual.

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

Visit the amazing Graves of Lemo

Visiting graves is surprisingly one of the exciting activities in Indonesia. Take walks around the place to visit various gravesites 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. The most popular and photographed are the graves carved into the wall of the natural rocks at Lemo.

Graves at Lemo, Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia
Graves at Lemo. Photo by Arian Zwegers

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.

Tongkonan House at Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia
Tongkonan House. Photo by Arian Zwegers

Visit Ke’te Kesu village

This village is nominated for having a completed settlement in Tana Toraja. It has houses, granaries, burial place, ceremonial ground, rice fields and water buffalo pasture.

Learn The Traditional Spinning Process in Sa’dan Village

Learn how to spin the cotton with its traditional spinning process here in Sa’dan Village. Although not so well known by tourists, this is one of the must do things here. Grandma Panggau, one of few old people who is still strong and healthy, will teach you how to spin the cotton ball into a yarn. She is here with the support of government through Culture and Tourism Department to demonstrate this rare spinning process to tourists.

After that, buy some local-made woven fabrics to take home. All the fabrics here are directly distributed by the makers around Sa’dan. You may easily find many weavers in Toraja since almost all locals also rely on this job to earn some money. But it is now rare to find someone who can still process the yarn itself for the materials as per traditions.

Traditional Spinning Process in Sa’dan Village, Toraja, Indonesia
Traditional Spinning Process in Sa’dan Village, Toraja. Photo by Isti

View The Highest Statue of Jesus

Everyone knows about the world famous statue of Jesus in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with the height of 38 m. But few know about this other statue of Christ the Redeemer here in Toraja. Touted to be at the height of 40m, this may be the higher statue of the two!

Get yourself ready to climb the steep stairs 1km uphill to this statue. It is also good to spend your evening here to watch the amazing sunset. It is a picturesque viewpoint with the statue against the violet sky. Do be careful when you go downhill since this place does not provide proper lights along the pathway yet.

Highest statue of Jesus, Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia
The Highest statue of Jesus at Tana Toraja. Photo by Isti

Take a bath at the Tilanga Spring Water

If you wish to keep yourself away from the crowd, then this place is for you. Tilanga spring water is a natural pool away from the hustle and bustle of the city. This pristine lake is nestled between rocks surrounded by the lush trees and natural sounds. The deepest part is about 5 meters down.

This destination is located at Sarira Village, Makale, about 15 km south of Rantepao. You can reach this place without any trekking. A parking area is provided. A fun thing to do here is to throw coins into the lake, as the local children here will excitedly jump into the water to catch them.

Take a bath at the Tilanga Spring Water, Toraja, Indonesia
A kiddo is trying to look for coins inside the water. Photo by Isti

Catch The Land Above The Sky

Wake up in the early morning to catch the most beautiful sunrise in Toraja. This place is located 1400 meters above the sea level in North Toraja. Lolai is the name of this place, also known to the people as “The Land Above The Sky”. To get the great view up here, you have to arrive here at least at 4.30 AM. As the sun rises, you will be awed by the light up clouds beneath your feet.

A travel tip is to take your own motorbike here. Please be careful though since the road access to here is narrow with limited street lighting. Drive slowly and stay alert when facing oncoming vehicles down the hill.

Catch The Land Above The Sky, Toraja, Indonesia
Catch The Land Above The Sky of Tana Toraja. Photo by Isti

Toraja is such an exotic destination, not only for its rich culture and unique ritual of generations but also its relatively unknown nature and tourist attractions. Motorbike is the best option here to explore the area. You can rent a motorbike with only IDR 150,000-200,000/day. Also, stay in the tourist area at Rantepao, so that you can easily find everything that you might need there.


Where to stay at Tana Toraja

Most travellers will choose to stay at Rantepao * as it is the most convenient. Popular hotels here are The Heritage Hotel * and Toraja Misiliana Hotel *.

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

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Where to Stay in Indonesia: Homestay

How can you get the most out of your Indonesian holiday, save money and get to know local cultures and local people? Stay in a homestay!

Homestays are accommodations offered either in a local person’s home, or in a home-like setting.

Why Stay in a Homestay?

One of the best things about staying in a homestay is that your money goes directly to local people, which has a positive effect on their lives, and can have a positive effect on the environment. Some communities in Indonesia rely on slash and burn agriculture to survive, and tourism can provide an alternative source of income to reduce the threat of deforestation.

Homestays can often help you hire a car and driver, or offer you transportation in between cities or from the airport. They can also organize tours for you or connect you to local tour guides.

View from a Homestay in Indonesia

View from a Homestay in Indonesia

Favourite Homestay Indonesia

My favorite homestay is in Batuputih, North Sulawesi, near Tangkoko Nature Reserve. Ranger Homestay is located a few minutes’ walk from the park entrance. Sakar, who formerly worked with English-speaking NGOs, served as our driver and nature guide during our short stay. He and his daughter Fiona showed us the wonders of the forest: black tail macaques, cuscus, hornbills, tarsiers, and miscellaneous exotic birds. They welcomed us into their village, and even invited us to a family wedding. Ranger Homestay felt like our home away from home, in this small seaside village.

Tangkoko Nature Reserve, Indonesia

Tangkoko Nature Reserve, Indonesia

What to expect when you stay in a homestay

Accommodations are similar to how local people live. In Indonesia, this typically means the furnishings will be sparse (the mattress may be on the floor and dinner may be served on a rug), the toilet may be a squat toilet, and showers may consist of dumping a small bucket of water over your head. While these accommodations might be outside of your comfort zone, you can relax knowing that you’re being taken care of by a local family. Meals are usually included, which is a great way to try out local dishes. Most of the family will probably not speak much English, but don’t worry if you don’t speak Bahasa Indonesia – there is probably a younger relative who speaks good English.

Homestay in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Homestay in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

What to bring

Definitely bring cash. The local ATM might not work, and the homestay will only take payments in cash.

If you’re coming from a cooler climate, bring a sarong or bed sheet. Don’t be surprised if your room comes without a blanket, or with a very thick blanket. It’s best to bring your own sheet for covering up.

In the beautiful small towns of Indonesia where homestays are common, the nightlife can be quite sleepy. Bring a book, a deck of cards, an iPad loaded with movies, or other evening entertainment.

And definitely don’t forget your sense of adventure, and your curiosity! Homestays are a great way to get to know local people and to understand their way of life.

Heather Indonesia Travel Guide
Heather is an American living in Jakarta, surviving the macet and trying to get the most out of life in “the big Durian.” She loves traveling around Indonesia and writing about her discoveries here, and at OurInternationalLife.wordpress.com

Photo credits from top: Becky Stern, Lip Kee and yb_woodstock

Guide to Diving Wakatobi National Park, Sulawesi

Wakatobi National Park, a collection of islands that may sound familiar to many but somehow seem elusive to most. It is definitely one of the Top 10 Diving sites in Indonesia, being home to more than 25 coral reefs and 900 marine species.

The name itself Wakatobi is a combination of the four main islands – Wangi-wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia and Binongko. It is surrounded by the southeast Sulawesi district. It is now Wakatobi National Park and therefore actively being conserved. The untouched nature and amazing marine diversity and reefs had attracted many scuba divers from around the world.

The World Wildlife Fund had also been helping out the park management to improve and publicize its biodiversity. WWF released a film about Bajo, the nomadic sea tribe that lives on stilt homes around Wakatobi whom had been touted resourceful for diving with their handmade wooden goggles.

Map of Wakatobi, Sulawesi Indonesia

Map of Wakatobi, Sulawesi

Where is it

Wakatobi lies at the Southeast of Sulawesi, Indonesia. The capital is Wangi-Wangi, and the collection of islands lies in between Banda Sea, to the north and west, and Flores Sea, to the south and east.

Why go

Not only it is a world class diving site with incredible arrays of coral reefs and marine lives, it also have majestic pinnacles, ridges, ledges and overhanging cliffs. Diving here is an adventure itself that will be sure to wow even the most seasoned diver.

Beach at Wakatobi, Sulawesi Indonesia

Beach at Wakatobi, Sulawesi

While the sea is clear blue and serene for snorkeling and swimming. The beach almost deserted and long for quiet walks and peaceful sunbathing. The sunset is unforgettable over the crystal blue sea that seems to stretch endlessly.

The remoteness of the entire region itself is good enough reason to come to Wakatobi, you will be disappointed.

When is the best time to go

Indonesia has tropical weather and only two season of rain or dry. Come during dry season from June to September to maximize your day.

What to see

Sunset at Wakatobi, Sulawesi Indonesia

Sunset at Wakatobi, Sulawesi

Puncak Tomia (mountain) – you can hike up this mountain for a beautiful view of the surrounding islands.

Other notable tourist attractions in Wakatobi is:
Air Terjun Tirta Rimba (waterfall)
Lakasa Cave (goa)
Nirwana beach or Huntete beach
Bukit Kolemo (hill)

Catch the sunrise or sunset at Hoga which is praised for the most panoramic view.

Stargazing at night – the place is perfect with dark nights for sparkling stars.

What to do

Diving – explore the coral reefs and marine species like moray eels, dolphins, manta rays and sea turtles. There are many unexplored parts in the sea for divers with unbroken wall replete filled densely with hard and soft corals. You can do all sorts of adventure diving here and also night diving is notable for its beautfy for example in Marimabuk dive site.

Snorkeling – the calm and clear blue sea is ideal for snorkeling, with enough coral reefs to enjoy as well.

Dolphin watching – you can take the boat out to catch dolphins swimming by.

Island hopping – discover the rest of the islands dotted all over Wakatobi, few notable ones are like the inhabited Ndaa Island (pulau) which has white beach sand and Tomia Island for the best snorkeling spot.

Where to stay

Night Diving, Wakatobi, Sulawesi Indonesia

Night Diving, Wakatobi, Sulawesi

Most travelers will stay in Wangi-Wangi for the ease of transport as it is connected to the rest of the Wakatobi region to Kaledupa, Tomia and Binongo. Also most tourists come here to dive so they may stay in dive resorts which includes all dives and meals and transfers. Else you can choose to sleep in homestays or bungalows and if you want to splurge – luxury eco resorts.

For ease of transportation, the best place to stay is in Wanci on Wangi-Wangi Island *. There is no need to spend a night on the other islands as there is a speedboat or a boat that can take you to other Wakatobi regions, such as the Hoga, Kaledupa, Tomia and Binongo. Prices for accommodation here range from as low as 150,000 Rp to 380,00 Rp for most options.

-> Find available hotels near Wakatobi National Park *

How to get there

By Flight
Most frequent flights will require you to fly to Makassar (Ujung Pandang) or Kendari from major cities in Indonesia and then take a connecting flight directly to Wangi-Wangi. Alternatively, you may fly to Bau Bau (Buton Island) and then take a boat to one of the Wakatobi’s island. Now Lion Air had launched a direct flight from Jakarta to Wangi-wangi but only on certain days.

Wakatobi airport is on the opposite side of the island from the city. From there you would need to get a transport to city either via taxi or ojek which you might need to wait 30 mins for and then take another 30 mins ride into town. An ojek costs about 5,000 Rp to get into city center while a taxi may cost about 250,000 Rp, remember to agree on the price before getting on.

Coral Fan, Diving, Wakatobi, Sulawesi Indonesia

Coral Fan, Diving, Wakatobi, Sulawesi

By Pelni boat / ferry
You can opt for the cheaper backpacker version of travel by taking a 10 hours boat from Makassar to Wakatobi on a pelni boat, it is only once a month at the first week. There is also boat from Bau-Bau to Wangi-Wangi, everyday departing at Murhum Harbor.

How to get around

To move between the islands of Wakatobi, you may have to charter your own boat else you may take the public boat. There are boats everyday with about 2 hours in between frequency, check there for the detailed schedule.

Where to go nearby

Makassar – fly back to the city as a springboard to other places in Sulawesi.

Tana Toraja – 300 km away from Makassar with at least 8-10 hours drive for ancient funeral rites and cultural village visit.

Diving, Wakatobi, Sulawesi Indonesia

Diving, Wakatobi, Sulawesi

Travel Tips

There are reported thefts around here so always be mindful of your belongings and where you are walking and your surroundings. Also, it is safer not to wander around in dark places or at night.

Photo credits from top: Rachel, Jenny, ourtechclub, q phia, q phia and Craig D

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Top 10 Must Visit Places in Sulawesi

As one of the main islands of Indonesia and a part of Borneo, Sulawesi is a place worth a visit for its very own tourist attractions that are sure to please adventure and nature lovers. From the usual of having a city like Makassar and Manado to remote village with indigenous people like Tana Toraja to a diving paradise like Bunaken. Bring on your travel mind and camera to blend in and observe and capture the moments while also bring on your dive suits and trekking gears for the sun, sea and mountains!

Makassar

Makassar, also known as Ujung Pandang is your main hub to exploring Sulawesi in Indonesia. Fly in here to this largest city of Sulawesi and capital of the south. Besides the usual boons of a city, you can also go to the Losari Beach or Fort Rotterdam and also boat to nearby Pulau Khayangan and Pulau Samalona. Makassar is also the best starting point to go to the famous Tana Toraja, which is just 300km away.

-> Find the best hotel deals in Makassar at Booking.com *


Tana Toraja (Rantepao)

Travel to Tana Toraja to see the rare ancient rites and unique of the Torajan people, almost impossible to find nowadays in accessible 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.

-> Read our Tana Toraja Travel Guide
-> Read Top 5 Things to Do in Tana Toraja

-> Find the best hotel deals near Tana Toraja at Booking.com *

Funeral rituals at Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Funeral rituals at Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Lindu National Park

This park is situated in Palu and the experience of getting there itself is already adventurous and fun, going up the mountain in crazy roads. Known as Indiana Jones experience where you can experience like being the first in discovering an unexplored jungle which is rich with flora and faunas. You may find butterflies, hornbills, monkeys, snakes and also many wildflowers and plants.

Tentena

While on the way from South Sulawesi to North Sulawesi, Tentena is the place to go in the central. There is a beautiful white sand and clear blue lake called Poso Lake. You may also catch the Poso festival here every year in August at the lake. There is also a waterfall nearby call Saloupa. A good place to stay here is at Ue Datu Cottages * *.

Togean Islands / Togian Islands

Togean / Togian Islands are like islands lost in between the midst of everything in Northern Sulawesi (Sulawesi Utara) thus coining it as an almost a secret dive destinations. It invokes thoughts of real independent traveling there and diving in unexplored areas. One thing for sure is the water is pristine and you would not see many other divers around. There are around 3 dive sites among the 56 islands! Imagine all the places untouched! You come here for dive, dive and dive but of course, it can possibly be also for just a retreat.

-> Read our Guide to Togean Islands

Sunset at Togian Islands in Sulawesi, Indonesia

Sunset at Togian Islands in Sulawesi, Indonesia

Tomohon

Tomohon is a place to get into the rough and feel of rural highlands, with vast lands spread out that boosts relaxation. You can experience the local market scene here and the handicraft village for its architectures. For nature lovers and trekkers, there is Mount Mahawu Volcano for trekking and beautiful view.

Tangkoko National Park

Tangkoko Nature Reserve, with 9,000 hectre is a home to a lot of unique wildlife like Tarsiers, the smallest primate in the world, and also the Black Crested Macaque which can only be found in North Sulawesi.

Black Crested Macaque at Tangkoko Reserve, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Black Crested Macaque at Tangkoko Reserve, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Manado

Fly in to Manado to access to everywhere around North Sulawesi that is touted to be untouched and pristine beauty. Before heading out to see the rest of North Sulawesi, you may also go around sightseeing temples, interesting bustling Airmadidi market or beautiful serene Lake Tondano first.

Lake Tondano in Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Lake Tondano in Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Bunaken

Come visit Bunaken for diving and snorkeling, as it boasts a rich marine life in its Marine National Park. It has an amazing diverse marine life such as 70 different corals, five species of sea turtles, many fish species and even white tip and black tip reef sharks, the almost extinct dugongs, barracuda and even saltwater crocodiles!

Reefs and fishes in diving at Bunaken Island in Indonesia

Reefs and fishes in diving at Bunaken Island in Indonesia

Bitung – Lembeh Strait

Another diver’s paradise and famous as the best place for muck diving for critters and the beauty of unknowns. There is also a cool wreck diving here.

Photo credits from top: Arian Zwegers, NeilsPhotography, Lip Kee, sektordua

-> Find the best hotel deals in Sulawesi at Booking.com *

Related articles:
Top 5 Things to Do in Tana Toraja, Sulawesi
Sulawesi Travel Guide
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