To visit Sulawesi is an unforgettable experience. It offers the traveller amazing landscapes: mist-covered mountains, unspoiled tropical jungles and volcanic lakes brimming with mysterious, coloured waters, green-stepped rice paddies and sprawling, sandy beaches. A huge range of activities are possible: trekking, hiking, rafting, diving, snorkelling.
Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi
Safely protected beyond the lofty mountains and rugged granite cliffs of the central highlands of the island of Sulawesi, are the Toraja people who live in valleys that are lush with green rice terraces and fertile coffee plantations. “Discovered” and opened to the world from their long isolation only since the beginning of the last centry, the Toraja today still adhere to their age-old beliefs, rituals and traditions, although many of the people are modernized or have embraced Christianity.
When one travels to the Tana Toraja highlands, therefore, expect to be awed by the spectacular beauty of nature, at the same time experience how communities have through the ages sustained their beliefs and traditions in splendid isolation in order to survive this eternal cycle of life and death on earth.
The road from Makassar to Toraja runs along the coast for about 130km’s and then hits the mountains. After the entrance to Tana Toraja at the market village of Mebali one enters a majestic landscape of giant, gray granites and stones and blue mountains afar that form a sharp contrast with the lively green of the fertile, rain-fed terraces and the rusty red of the tropical soil. This is Tana Toraja, one of the most splendid areas in Indonesia.
Here, the nobility of Toraja are believed to be descendents of heavenly beings who came down by a heavenly stairway to live here on earth in this beautiful landscape.
To keep up the energy of the land and its people, the Toraja people believe that these must be sustained through rituals that celebrate both life and death, which are attached to the agricultural seasons. Here rituals in connection with life are strictly separated from death rites. Toraja is most well known for its elaborate funeral ceremonies that can take days and involve entire villages. These are not only moments for mourning but are moreover events to renew family ties and to ensure continued unity among villages and communities.
Death ceremonies, however, are held only after the last rice harvest is in and cleared, which is normally between July to September, while ceremonies celebrating life are held in conjunction with the planting season which starts in October. These timings are possible since the dead are not buried immediately but are kept for months, sometimes for years, in the ancestral house until time and funds allow for a proper funeral.
Tourists to Toraja, therefore, tend to be attracted by its unique culture and rituals, most of which are mostly centered around graves and death ceremonies. While others prefer to avoid the morbid images and go trekking through the spectacular, almost untouched Toraja countryside visiting remote villages or exhilarate in rafting the Sa’dan River rapids.
The capital of Toraja is Makale but visitors usually head to the town of Rantepao, the heart of Tana Toraja – the land of the Toraja people.
Pulau Bunaken, North Sulawesi
Ever fancy yourself as a mermaid? Being able to swim along with other creatures of the sea, moving to the rhythm of the waves? In the Bunaken Marine Park, you will encounter a real “mermaid”, and you can also get a glimpse of sea life here.
Bunaken is an 8.08 km² island in the Bay of Manado, situated in the north of the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia. Bunaken forms part of the administrative city of Manado , capital of north Sulawesi. The marine Park around Bunaken is part of the national Park that also includes the ocean around the island of Manado Tua – or old Manado, Siladen and Mantehage.
Within the Bunaken marine Park, visitors can see various strange and colourful marine life along its sea bed. To reach this park, you can take a motorboat. The journey from Manado takes around 40 minutes. Entrance fee is 25,000 rupiahs per person per visit.
The translucent waters of the Bunaken seas enable people to clearly view numerous sea biota. There are 13 species of coral reefs in this park, dominated by edge ridges and block ridges of rocks. The most attractive view is the steep vertical slope coral reef that plunges down as deep as 25-50 metres.
Feast your eyes on 91 types of fish found in the Bunaken national Park, amongst which are the locally known gusimi horse fish (hippocampus), the white oci (Seriola rivoliana), yellow-tailed lolosi (lutjanus kasmira), goropa (ephinephelus spilotoceps and Pseudanthias hypselosoma), ila gasi (Scolopsis bilineatus) and others. Divers may also meet mollusk like the giant kima (Tridacna gigas), goat head (Cassis cornuta), nautilus (nautilus pompillius) and tunikates/ascidian.
For those who enjoy scuba diving, this is a great place to be. With about 20 dive spots to choose from, divers will have the chance to swim below the sea, and frolic joyfully while admiring the sea creatures. Make sure to visit Bunaken during its best season between May and August. That way you can explore the Park to its fullest.