How to see Sulawesi

Makassar - Tana Toraja (Makale - Lemo - Londa - Siguntu - Karasik - Rantepao - Kete'kesu - Sangalla - Kambira - Suaya - Tampangallo - Bolu - Marante - Palawa - Tinimbayo - Lokomata - Batutumonga - Bori) - Tentena - Palu - Manado - Bunaken

Tags: Sulawesi, Indonesia


As a world eleventh-largest island, Sulawesi surely looks huge and impressive on a map. But only then you'll feel the size of the island when you have to move from one end to the other. Transportation in Sulawesi, due to the island's bizarre shape, is the biggest problem: it is either cheap but long (buses and ferries) or quick but more expensive (airplanes). 


Thinking we might know the island better if taking a bus, we went for the first option. We were very wrong. The land transportation in Sulawesi is horribly uncomfortable due to the bad condition of the roads (one exception is the newly built section between Makassar and Tana Toraja). And now planning our second visit to Sulawesi (mainly for Lore Lindu National Park, a place we have missed on the first trip), we are sure we won't make this mistake again, and all long distances we will cover by air.


Day 1: Makassar Airport. Bus from Makassar to Tana Toraja


Our trip to Sulawesi started with a setback: one of our bags got stuck in Jayapura (Papua). It took us some time to determine whether it would reach Makkasar before the departure of the night bus to Tana Toraja (9 pm), which we planned to take. 

Fortunately,  in the arrival hall of the Makassar Airport, there was a tour operator desk, where we were able to book the bus tickets without paying  (we explained the situation and the tour operator agreed to charge us later). Booking the tickets simmered us down a bit, as we heard the buses could sometimes be full.

Waiting for the luggage was hell. Literally. The arrival hall had no working AC, and there was hardly any place to sit. Again, we were fortunate: the guards allowed us to use the escalator to the upper level, where the departure hall was located, with all its benefits - comfortable seats, AC, and food corners. 

The luggage arrived on time, and the tour operator arranged a taxi to take us to the Bus Terminal (about a 20-minute ride). There are several bus operators, but we booked our tickets without asking which was it. It didn't matter; we simply wanted to carry on with the trip. We took the sleepers class, and the bus appeared to be extremely comfortable, which was a big surprise after our other bus trips in Indonesia. The only problem was speed - we were almost flying over the dark and not-so-wide road to Tana Toraja. We were traveling so fast that we reached the destination at 4 am instead of regular 6-7 am.


Day 2: Tana Toraja


It was tough to book a decent hotel in Tana Toraja. We ended up in Sahid Toraja, which is located in a bit remote area. But we didn't regret - the staff was great (they allowed us to check-in at 4:30 am!) and the room was huge. We slept until 8. After breakfast, the rented car picked us up from the hotel (again, the staff helped us to find a car with a driver). The driver helped us to modify our Toraja itinerary to see as much as possible during the two-day stay. He was also very patient with our numerous photoshoots on the way.

On the first day, we took the nearer loop: Makale - Lemo - Londa - Siguntu - Karasik - Rantepao - Kete Kesu - Sangalla - Kambira - Suaya - Tampangallo (Tampang Allo).

All the places were incredible, we write about them in another article. Some (like Kete Kesu) are on the UNESCO list, others (like Siguntu) are still inhabited villages, where the magic of tau tau influence the living. 

In Rantepao, we had lunch in Aras Cafe, near the place from where buses to Tentena leave. Very tasty food, also vegetarian options. 

Day 3: Tana Toraja


We started earlier, which gave us time to make the northern (longer) loop: Bolu - Marante - Palawa - Tinimbayo - Lokomata - Batutumonga - Bori

Today we saw less tau tau figures but more cave graves and breath-taking sceneries. 
We had a chance to visit the Bolu bull market (it takes place every six days), which appeared to be a rather sad experience (poor bulls!). The best part of the market was watching the bulls being prepared (washed and pampered) the day before, in all the villages we rode through yesterday. 

Day 4: Tana Toraja - Tentena (bus from Tana Toraja to Tentena)


At 7 am we left the hotel to catch the bus to Tentena. The bus leaves from both - Rantepao and Makale. Don't believe when the taxi drivers try to tell you it leaves only from Rantepao or only from Makale. Depending on where you stay, they always choose the more distant town. The bus was 30 minutes late. But the worst part was ahead of us. We were supposed to reach Tentena at 10 pm (other people we met on the bus were told it was 7 pm). Unfortunately, not far from our final destination, a lorry slipped from the road and blocked both lanes (the road to Tentena is very narrow and winding). We had to wait a few hours until they cleared the passing. We arrived... at 2 am.

At the Tentena bus station, there was no taxi waiting. The whole place was very remote and dark. We booked Siuri Cottages -  the hotel located 20 kilometers from the bus station, so the situation looked not too good. Fortunately, on the bus, there was another couple who booked the same hotel. They had a phone number to the reception, and the staff came right away. We went to bed before 3 am. 

Our comment: Never ever take the bus trip from Tana Toraja to Tentena! It was the worst bus ride of our lives. Most people we met take comfortable buses back from Tana Toraja to Makassar, and then they fly from Makassar to the north of Sulawesi. Paradoxically, it will speed up your journey and make it a lot more comfortable.


Day 5: Tentena. Siuri Cottages

We woke up at 10 and tried to get a car to Palu via Bada Valley (Lore Lindu National Park), where Chris wanted to see the human-shaped megaliths. The people at the reception told us it would be impossible. To do so, we would have to leave the hotel at 5 am. Unless we wanted to have a sleep-over in Bada and make this trip in 2 days (not possible - we had a flight from Palu to Manado already booked). We were forced to change the plans and skip Lore Lindu. 

Luckily, Siuri Cottages are located on the very shore of Lake Poso, and we could spend a relaxing day swimming and sunbathing.

in 10 days

Day 6: Tentena - Palu (bus from Tentena to Palu)


At the reception, we booked the bus tickets to Palu. We were told the bus would come for us at 9 am. At 9:30, we heard very loud music, which became louder and louder, and then we saw a ramshackle minibus. Yes, it came for us, it was our transport... The driver didn't bother with turning down the music when he charged us for the tickets. He also smoked inside the bus (as did other passengers) during the whole trip. Moreover, until 11, we drove around Tentena, picking up the people and some parcels. When we finally left the town... it was time for lunch. So we stopped for an hour at some dingy eatery where we didn't dare to order anything. A few kilometers from Palu, we stopped again for an hour at a similar "restaurant".  

We came to Palu at 8 pm. Long story short - it was the second-worst bus trip in our lives. 
Again - always take the flights instead of bus rides when traveling in northern Sulawesi! And if you face the necessity to travel from Tentena to Palu on four wheels - get a car with a driver. And avoid Ramona Raya travel company.


Day 7: Palu - Manado - Bunaken

We took the morning flight from Palu to Manado and landed in Manado at 10 am. 
From the airport, we took a taxi to the port, from where the public ferries to Bunaken Island leave. 

Unfortunately, it was a public holiday in Indonesia, and the ferries didn't run (they don't run on Sundays either). We had to take a private boat (well, the boat came from one of the resorts to pick up the guests, and we made some under-the-table arrangements with the skipper to join the group).

It wasn't the last surprise that day. The hotel we paid for (Kuskus Resort) was over-booked, and they "sold" us to the neighboring Manado Beach Resort. We had a cottage without AC, and it was hardly bearable. The food was great, though. 
We spent the rest of the day snorkeling and resting.

Sulawesi itinerary
Plan a trip to Sulawesi
Sulawesi itinerary

Day 9: Bunaken - Manado


After the last underwater encounter with marine life, we left Bunaken at 3 pm. The hotel helped us to find a place on a boat shared with other tourists.

In Manado, we went straight to the hotel (Aryaduta - we liked everything about it: the big room, excellent breakfast, and helpful staff).

In the evening, we found a taxi driver who agreed to take us to the whole-day trip the next day for a reasonable price. 


Day 10: Manado

We decided to sleep long and enjoy an amazing breakfast in Aryaduta.

At 10 am we left the hotel; our car was already waiting. 

We started with the viewpoint of Big Ben and Christ Statue. 

Then we went to the Kali waterfall.

On the way to Tomohon, we stopped at Tinoor Spot (the viewpoint of Manado, near a nice restaurant).

In Tomohon, we visited the beautiful pagoda Ekayena. We also wanted to see the flower market, but the driver misunderstood the request and took us to the "extreme market", where we saw the dogs being killed and their fur removed with a burner (I wish we had never seen it).  

On the way to Woloan, we saw some traditional dances near a local hospital.

In Woloan, we admired the craftsmen building the traditional houses.

Then we went to green, sulfurous Lake Linow where we had something to eat in a grand restaurant at the lakeshore.

After that, we went straight to Bukit Kasih. It is a weird place being a crossing between a sanatorium (plenty of basins with sulfur water for soaking weary legs) and some interfaith pilgrimage destination. We wanted to come here to see the enormous human heads carved in the rocks (bringing to mind Mount Rushmore).

On the way back, we stopped in Pulutan to see the pottery masters at work. 

The next stop was at Lake Tondano and its picturesque surroundings.

The last place we visited was probably the most interesting of all: Waruga cemetery and the museum in Sawangan village, located about 40 kilometers from Manado. Waruga Sawangan is the megalith cemetery park with the graves dating from 1600 AD and shaped like the traditional houses. The carvings on each tomb vary depending on the profession or social status of the person that been buried.

From Sawangan, we went straight back to Manado. The whole trip took us about 9 hours, but only because a few kilometers from Manado we got stuck in a massive traffic jam due to road construction. Usually, the whole loop shouldn't take more than 8 hours of driving.


To learn more about our trip around Manado go to What to see near Manado in one day.


Day 8: Bunaken


The whole day of snorkeling and sunbathing.

When it comes to snorkeling, it is possible only before 10 am and after 4 pm. At other times the tides are so low that it is dangerous (Gabriela tried and cut her foot on the reef). 

Those who don't dive or snorkel will not like it - there's almost no beach here. In general, Bunaken is no paradise island. If you come here with some idealized image in mind, you'll be very disappointed.

Plan a trip to Sulawesi
Plan a trip to Sulawesi



W H A T   T O   S E E   N E X T


INDONESIA: Sulawesi tourist attractions

INDONESIA: Batutumonga, Tana Toraja

The Jellyfish Lake in PALAU

How to plan a trip to Sulawesi (Sulawesi itinerary)

Plan a trip to Sulawesi
Sulawesi Indonesia

Day 11

Early in the morning, we went to the airport to catch a plane to Denpasar (Bali).

INDONESIA: Jayapura, the picturesque city in Papua

INDONESIA: Bori, Indonesian Stonehenge in Sulawesi

UZBEKISTAN: Shahrizabz - a birthplace of Timur (Tamerlane)

INDONESIA: Lake Poso, the pleasant break in our trip to Sulawesi

INDONESIA: Tondano, the biggest lake in North Sulawesi


INDONESIA: three colorful lakes of Kelimutu volcano (Flores) 


INDONESIA: How to travel Flores smart and stay within a budget


What to see in UZBEKISTAN


Ngerulmud, the weird capital of PALAU

INDONESIA: How to plan a trip to Sulawesi (10-day itinerary)


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