What it is:
If you’ve never heard of Sulawesi, don’t worry. You’re not alone. It’s a far-flung island surrounded by thousands of other far-flung islands. Its name means “Iron Island,” which refers to the famously rich metal deposits found among it’s beautiful topography. Forbidding ridges of jungle-capped mountains stretch across its width, as crystal-clear water teeming with life laps away onto hidden coves with sugary white sand beaches.
Because of its size- the eleventh largest island in the world- and distinctive K shape, Sulawesi is a cultural hotbed as well. Each “leg” of the island is more or less isolated from the other legs which, over time, allowed for a multitude of cultures to arise in relative isolation from one another. In all, more than 40 languages are spoken on the island. The famous hospitality and intriguing history of the various tribal groups living on Sulawesi are reason enough to visit. Combined with the fantastically paradisiacal surroundings of the island, Sulawesi is that dream paradise you never heard of but always wanted to go to.
One of the star attractions of Sulawesi is Tanatoraja. This remote village located in the highlands of southern Sulawesi is home to a tribe of people known as the Toraja. In addition to having a uniquely traditional way of life, the Toraja people are most famous for their distinct and spectacular burial rites. The festivals that take place during these burial rites are considered one of the most fascinating things to see in Sulawesi.
The Togean Islands are Sulawesi’s next biggest attractions. This cluster of rugged jungle-capped islands in Central Sulawesi is surrounded by impossibly clear water and craggy coral reefs that provide some of the best diving and snorkelling in Indonesia. It is here where you’ll find the fascinating Bajau Laut Sea Gypsies who spend their entire lives at sea on houseboats, only ever visiting land for fuel and necessities.
Close to Manado, the capital city of North Sulawesi, is the absurdly beautiful Bunaken Marine Park. Despite being easily accessed from the city, the marine park boasts some of the finest snorkelling and diving in the region. Just two hours north of Manado is Tangkoko Nature Reserve, where you can go for glimpses of the unique wildlife that live above the oceans, such as the famous Black Crested Macaques, Bear Cuscus, and Tarsiers.
The village of Tanahberu, in South Sulawesi, is also a worthy stop. There you’ll see the construction of traditional Bugis boats by people who have been constructing them for generations.
How to get there:
By Plane: The two major hubs of Sulawesi are Makassar International Airport and Manado International Airport. Makassar serves flights from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, while Manado only serves flights from the latter. Both have facilities to serve visitors receiving visas on arrival.