Indonesia Travel Information - Sulawesi

Sulawesi: Beaches, Mountains & Traditions

Sulawesi is a major gateway to East Indonesia, and one of the country's most diverse and interesting islands in its own right.
Two the main cities here, historic Makassar in the South and modern Manado up North, both receive international flights and offer all the facilities you might wish for. But Sulawesi's real attractions are further afield. Sometimes much further - the island's unique shape, with four long, mountainous peninsulas stretching out from a central core, means that overland travel here can be time-consuming and even downright difficult, which keeps most visitors on a well-beaten path. The two main attractions of that path are the Tanatoraja region in the mountains of the South, with truly amazing traditional architecture, ceremonies, cliff burial sites among splendid scenery, and the very accessible Bunaken Marine Park up North, right in front of Manado yet one of the World's premier dive spots. In between these two, travellers tend to stop at the pretty Togean Islands and at huge Lake Poso.
For the adventurous with time on hand, Sulawesi has a lot more to offer. Several beautiful archipelagoes around its coast, such as Tukangbesi, Banggai and Sangir-Talaud remain little-visited, the forests of its national parks shelter truly unique fauna like the babirusa and tailless black macaques, mysterious ancient megalithic statues stand lost in the centre, and there are far less-visited traditional villages and tribes beyond famous Tanatoraja.
What I can list here is just a small taster...

Attractions Off the Track Getting There
Main Attractions

The district of Tanatoraja in South Sulawesi province is rightly the star attraction of this strangely contoured island.
In addition to striking traditional architecture, the easily observed unique funerary rites, with buffalo sacrifices and cliff or cave burial sites are the major attractions.
The stunningly beautiful mountainous countryside is also excellent hiking territory.
Togean Islands

This cluster of small, rugged islands with their once beautiful reefs (now sadly damaged) and beaches is the main tourist spot in Central Sulawesi.
There are many Bajo Sea Gypsy villages here.
Bunaken Marine Park

Just in front of the North Sulawesi capital of Manado, these very accessible islands are famous as one of Indonesia's top diving locations. They are also a cheap place for a time on the beach with excellent snorkeling.
Tangkoko Nature Reserve

This small reserve only about 2 hours from Manado is the best place to see some of Sulawesi's unique wildlife, notably black Crested Macaques, Bear Cuscus, tarsiers and hornbills.
Off the Beaten Track

This interesting village on the southern coast of South Sulawesi is the centre for traditional Bugis boat-building.
You can have a boat of your own built here!

Bira is South Sulawesi's most popular beach resort among foreign travellers. The beach is long and white (never mind my ugly photo of it!), though unfortunately (?) most of the accommodation isn't built right along it.

The Kajang region in the hills of the southern peninsula is home to the traditional Black Konjo people, who reject much of the "blessings" of modern civilization. Their villages are built of natural materials, and vehicles are banned from entering.

The Mamasa region in the remote mountains of the newly-created West Sulawesi province is just west of the more famous Tanatoraja.
It has very impressive traditional architecture and extremely friendly people in stunningly beautiful setting, though the ritual life of Tanatoraja has been replaced by devote Christianity.
Lore Lindu National Park

This huge park in Central Sulawesi is most famous for its ancient megalithic statues in the Bada, Behoa and Napu valleys.
It is also a great place for trekking and birdwatching.
During festivals, the distinctive traditional costumes (made of tree-bark!) and dances of the native ethnic groups can be observed.
Tomori Bay

This beautiful bay with striking rock formations and rock paintings off the town of Kolonodale on the east coast of Central Sulawesi, is most often visited en route to the Morowali Nature Reserve, but is worth exploring in its own right.
Morowali Nature Reserve

This remote reserve in Central Sulawesi is a great area for hiking. It is very beautiful, but is more famous for the traditional Wana people living in it than for its wildlife.
South-East Sulawesi

The entire province of South-East Sulawesi is the least visited corner of the island.
There is little to see in the mainland part of the province, but the large Island of Buton has the historic town of Bau Bau, and east of Buton the Tukangbesi Islands are a beautiful marine park.
Sengkang & Lake Tempe

Sengkang is a highland town on the shores of Lake Tempe in South Sulawesi.
The lake is noted for its prolific birdlife and unique floating garden and villages (the houses do float, really!), while the Bugis villages around its shores are also known for traditional songket weaving.
Sangir & Talaud Islands

These remote islands are scattered between the Philippines and Manado in North Sulawesi. They are volcanic and mostly covered with spice plantations. They have some fine, undeveloped beaches and very friendly people.
Getting There and Around

By Air

You can fly to Manado from Singapore on Silk Air, and to Makassar from Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia. The Air Asia flights are excellent value, often cheaper than flying to Sulawesi from Java! Both cities can be used as great gateways for Maluku or Papua if you want to bypass western Indonesia.

By Sea

There are no longer any reliable international connections with the Philippines, however close it looks on the map. Any rumours you might hear of this are based on services that dried up nearly a decade ago, or to a proposed new service from the Sangir Islands that seems to be very scarce (once every 2-3 months) and unpredictable - if it lasts at all.


By Air

You can fly to Sulawesi from various cities in Java, and there are limited air links from Kalimantan , Bali and Nusa Tenggara, too. Makassar is also a major transit points for flights heading for Papua, or Ambon in Central Maluku, while Manado is a major gateway to Ternate in North Maluku. Makassar even has a direct link to Batam in the Riau Islands of Sumatra.

By Sea

Sulawesi is right in the centre of Indonesia, and has connections by sea to all directions.
Java, Kalimantan and North Maluku are all connected to Sulawesi ports by both Pelni and private shipping lines, while Pelni can also take you to Ambon, Papua, Nusa Tenggara and the Riau Islands of Sumatra.


By Air

Sulawesi's strange shape, and the long distances between its main points of interest mean that flying within the island can be useful if your time is limited. The flight connecting Makassar with Manado is the most popular, but there are also flights to smaller places like Luwuk on the eastern peninsula or the Sangir and Talaud islands.

By Sea

A quick look at the map immediately explains why boats remain a more important form of transport between various regions of Sulawesi itself than in other large islands.
Ferries, hydrofoils and other watercraft connect those long peninsulas creating shortcuts, travel along roadless stretches of the coast, or carry passengers to the numerous archipelagos that surround the mainland.

By Bus

The main Trans-Sulawesi Highway running from Makassar to Manado is in good condition, if awfully long, as are roads fanning out of these cities to the most densely populated parts of their respective provinces.
Buses are a good option in these parts.
Once you leave the main roads, things can deteriorate rapidly though. Expect dust or mud aplenty, travelling in packed Kijangs.


Renting a car with a driver can be a good way to explore South or North Sulawesi, though distances are too long to make this an attractive option for seeing the whole island.
The same goes for motorbikes.