The main magnet attracting visitors to Sulawesi is Toraja Land, and we were no exception. The Toraja culture is so unique we can't imagine anyone coming to Sulawesi and skipping Tana Toraja. That's why the tourist attractions from that region take the top places on our list. To read more about Toraja see our article What to do in Tana Toraja. And to check how we organized our trip to Sulawesi go to How to plan a trip to Sulawesi.
Lemo (in Toraja Land) dates back to the 16th century which makes it one of the oldest burial sites in Tana Toraja. Here you'll find a spectacular cliff with rows of tau-tau (the wood-carved effigies). Near the cliff, you will find a small hut where the tau-tau maker lives and runs a small shop. Lemo is one of the places mentioned on UNESCO Tentative List.
Batutumonga (in Toraja Land) is a village, but in reality, it's not it's not just any village. It's a masterpiece among the most scenic places in the world. We guarantee, after every couple of meters, you're going to stop a car to take more photos. The rice fields below the cliff are the most beautiful we have ever seen so make sure to have plenty of time in the store to admire them.
Bunaken National Park was a bit disappointing, maybe because we pictured the island as a beach paradise. But in reality, Bunaken Island is almost beach-free. The beach appears only during the low-tides and is not very appealing. But snorkeling and diving are just excellent. The marine life is abundant, we even spotted several sea turtles near the shore (and we saw them each time we snorkeled - Bunaken Island seems to be a popular spot for them).
Waruga Sawangan is the megalith cemetery park with the graves dating from 1600 AD and shaped like the traditional houses. The tombs are in fact the stone sarcophagi used by the Minahasan people to bury their dead in a squatting position. The carvings on each grave vary, depending on the profession or social status of the person that been buried. Warunga Sawangan is located only 40 kilometers from Manado and can be visited along with other interesting places during a day trip.
Pagoda Ekayana in Tomohon will wake your inner child even if it's buried deep. The place is full of various statues and sculptures, all colorful and massive, which gives the temple a bit of Disneyland vibe. In addition, it's surrounded by three volcanos marking the horizon. We liked it a lot.
Besides Pagoda Ekayana, Tomohon is also known for the Extreme Market where the dogs and other animals are kept and killed for meat (dog meat is considered delicacy in Tomohon). We learned about the Extreme Market the hard way - we were looking for the flower market, but our driver didn't understand and took us to the dog market instead. To see the dead dogs (we hope they were dead) being scalded with gas-burners is something we will never forget. Unfortunately.
Lake Poso is the third-deepest lake in Indonesia. Its crystal blue-green waters offer a pleasant hideaway from the omnipresent heat. And thanks to the surrounding hills you never get bored with aimless swimming - you can just admire the view the whole day. In our opinion, Lake Poso is a must on your way to Bada Valley.
Linow is a volcanic lake near Manado. If someone told us that we would have fun just sipping tea in a cafe near the egg-stinking water, we would call them crazy. And yet, the show of "geysers" (hydrothermal vents) spewing gases above the emerald waters was mesmerizing. The place can get crowded on weekends.
W H A T T O S E E N E X T
Bukit Kasih (near Manado) is an interfaith shrine, and that's why it is also called the Hill of Love. It is a crossing between a sanatorium (plenty of basins with sulfur water for soaking weary legs) and a pilgrimage destination. We came here to see the enormous human heads carved in the rocks (resembling Mount Rushmore on a smaller scale). The place is perfect for people observation.
Tondano is the biggest lake in North Sulawesi and the all-favorite gateway for residents of Manado, having much cooler microclimate than the humid coast. We visited the lake as a part of a day-trip from Manado and didn't have the opportunity to indulge in water sports. But visiting the floating villages and observing local people at work was amazing. If you have time, hire a boat. Or stop for lunch at one of the floating restaurants near the road (there are many of them on the way).