Eight days in Sulawesi – Sheer Drama

Makassar – to Rantepao via Pare Pare & Enrekang.

Sengkang – Bira – Makassar

Formerly known as the Celebes, Sulawesi dominates the Indonesian archipelago by its extraordinary “K” shaped presence. Our experience of this stunning island was brief but the impact was huge. Incredibly diverse in culture and people, its four peninsulas shelter the highland Torajans who practice ancient death rituals, the seafaring lowland Bugis, central highland tribes and Filipino descended Minahasans in the far North.

The scenery and landscape is as magnificent as it is otherworldly. In fact there’s a drama to it. You’ll first experience it on the road to Rantepao as you pass through the mountainous regions of Enrekang and Batutumonga. There’s an untamed wildness that surrounds the emerald avalanche of rice fields, volcanoes and lakes.

I would have loved to have spent longer than eight days here. It was way too short a time to fully explore the treasures of  Sulawesi. But I guess this was a taster that even now whets our appetite for future travels to Indonesia.

Sulawesi was compelling, unconventional, bizarre and beautiful.

A statue in front of Fort Rotterdam
Statue of Sultan Hassanuddin in front of Fort Rotterdam – Makassar

Makassar – 1 night

Previously known as Ujung Padang, Makassar is the provincial capital of Sulawesi. Historically a thriving cosmopolitan trading centre for spices, textiles and metals – Makassar was colonised by the Dutch in the early 17th century. Fort Rotterdam still stands today as a reminder of the colonial past.

We arrived in Makassar quite late. Luckily Mr Dodo, whom we had arranged the tour with a few days earlier, kindly picked us up from the airport and drove us to the hotel. We only stayed one night in Makassar giving us just enough time to grab dinner in a local restaurant where everyone kept staring at us! It didn’t bother us – in fact I think we were quite fascinated by their fascination!

From what we saw, Makassar was chaotic. It was a seething mass of people with hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and dark corners where ladies of the night gathered. I must admit we didn’t expect that. I don’t mean the ladies of the night, I mean we were just so surprised about how built up the city was! We were expecting less modernisation but well – this is Asia and it never ceases to surprise. The next morning a quick history lesson around Fort Rotterdam and a nautical photo stop allowed us to briefly glimpse local life in Makassar, before we drive to Tana Toraja.

Stunning rice fields of Tana Toraja with the Tongkonan (traditional houses) in the background
Stunning rice fields of Tana Toraja with the Tongkonan (traditional houses) in the background

Tana Toraja – 4 nights

Tana Toraja is an intoxicating mix of stunning scenery, bizarre culture and some of the most friendly people you’ll meet. Its intriguing and sophisticated culture of death rituals and animal slaughter are woven into the very being of this place leaving us with vivid memories that refused to leave our psyche. From experiencing eerie cave graves to the dramatic and elaborate funerals, Tana Toraja crept subliminally into our minds leaving us in awe of its people and hypnotic landscape.

Floating house - Tempe Lake, Sengkang
Floating house – Tempe Lake, Sengkang

Wadjo Sengkang – 1 night

Situated in South Sulawesi, Sengkang is a bustling market town famous for nothing more than silk weaving and Lake Tempe – a huge shallow lake fringed by wetlands, floating houses and a bird watchers paradise. You won’t come across many tourists here. It was a pleasant pitstop that broke up our long journey from Tana Toraja to Bira. We arrived in the heat of the afternoon sun.  After a well earned lunch, our guide who took us on a quick tour of the silk weaving factories complete with a predictable visit to a silk shop. The highlight was a tranquil boat ride just before sunset, through Lake Tempe where we visited Salotangah Village inhabited by fishermen who made their living from the freshwater fish in the lake. The village houses were built on floating rafts made from bamboo which meant they moved around freely. Imagine waking up every morning with a different view and a different neighbour! Mooring our boat by the side of one particular floating house, we enjoyed tea and Pisang Goreng – fried banana with the owners.


Bira – 3 nights

Bira was a sleepy beach village with goats and markets stalls lining the road leading to Pantai Bira Beach.

We had no choice but to relax here as wifi was non-existent and even a trip to the upmarket Amatoa Beach Resort proved futile when trying to connect to wifi. There was little to do here unless you were a diver which unfortunately we didn’t quite get round to learning even though we promised ourselves we would. So kick back we did and time stood still for a while. Bira beach was stunning. It’s powdery white sands and turquoise waters were amazing but the heat of the sun was so overwhelming it was almost impossible to stay out for longer than an hour. Unusual for us as we love the sun! One day we took a boat to the nearby island to enjoy Bara Beach and the fishing village close by.

The Bugis are renowned boat builders
The Bugis are renowned boat builders -Tanah Beru, Bira
Local fishermen – Makassar
Floating houses - Lake Tempe
Floating houses – Lake Tempe
Sunset over Lake Tempe
Sunset over Lake Tempe
Tana Toraja
Tana Toraja

Trip details

We arranged our trip through Mr Dodo who runs a very good tour.

The price included all hotels, except for the one night in Makassar that we had already booked. Transport was also included and was by air-conditioned MPV with a dedicated driver that stayed with us from Tana Toraja to Bira.

Mr Dodo kindly picked us up from the airport in Makassar late at night, dropped us off at the hotel and then drove us to Rantepao the next morning.  He was engaging, entertaining and basically a really nice guy. Watch out for his party tricks! We also had a guide in Tana Toraja and Sengkang. The only exception was Bira where you don’t really need one. However the driver is at your beck and call should you want to explore anywhere. I must admit we felt a bit sorry for our driver by the time we’d reached Bira as he’d covered so much distance and was looking a bit worse for wear! So we told him to take a break for two days even though he still waited for us eagerly every morning!

Enos the guide in Tana Toraja will take you to a funeral if one is taking place. These normally occur between July and September though they can occur all year round. We went in April and were lucky to experience one. I would recommend you go with a guide to get the most out of the experience. Enos answered all our questions and was patient, informative and fun. The guide in Sengkang was good too but we only spent a few hours with him so we didn’t get a chance to get to know him.

As for tips – we tipped Enos and the driver as they deserved it and really went out of their way for us. We saw everything we wanted to see especially in Tana Toraja and the driver was great as he stopped at scenic sites for photo stops.  It goes without saying we did a lot of this!

You can contact Mr Dodo on the link below:



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