It’s fair to say that not everyone who visits Indonesia makes it to Sulawesi, which is a shame as this is one of the most stunning parts of the country, with a completely different flavor than much of the west. A few years ago Sulawesi saw some conflict than made it off limits for tourists but now there is no reason not to head over here for a unique look at the east of the country.
Tana Toraja literally translates as ‘Land of the Toraja’, the indigenous people of South Sulawesi. Tana Toraja is said to be the second most popular tourist destination in Indonesia after Bali, but this probably takes into account domestic travelers as well as it is not exactly crowded with foreign tourists. On a trip here expect a window into another world, one with homes in a distinctive Toraja style, and as Sulawesi is less geared to the tourist ‘experience’ and more towards ‘normal’ life, you can get a glimpse of how the community here has lived and worked for centuries. Just some of the sights not to miss are the traditional graves that are marked by carved effigies of the dead, and the local community markets that take place every Sunday.
The capital of North Sulawesi, Manado is the second largest city after Makassar. Many people think of Islam when they think of Indonesia, so Manado offers a different perspective with its Chinese temples and Christian churches, as well as the 4th tallest statue of Jesus Christ in the world. All rather unexpected, particularly if you have been taking in the grave sites of Toraja first. Another big reason to go to Manado is the national park on the island of Bunaken where you will find snorkeling and some decent diving. You can access the island of Bunaken by taking a ferry or speed boat from Manado.
Sulawesi will not be on everyone’s list when they first come to Indonesia, but landing here can be like visiting a completely different country, one with its own distinct set of cultures and fascinating traditions that you won’t find anywhere else in the region.