Why You Should Add Sulawesi to Your Bucket List

F. Bruna Ferreira

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Why You Should Add Sulawesi to Your Bucket List

When it comes to South Asia travel destinations, Bali and the Maldives take center stage. Because of this, they can become expensive to visit. Some regions also focus too heavily on providing a “tourist experience” in place of an authentic look into local life. These are just some of the many reasons more people are turning to Sulawesi in Indonesia. If you’re wondering why you should take a detour from your Bali trip, you’ve come to the right place.

How To Spend Your Time

Most people choose their travel destination based on the available local attractions. Among the most highly recommended features in Sulawesi are the food, culture, architecture and natural environment.


Boat Ride in Togean Island by @kat00mba


In a lot of ways, Indonesian food has several overlaps with other South Asian cuisines. However, Sulawesi has certain unique dishes that are specific to the region. For cheap eats on the streets of Makassar, Sulawesi, travelers recommend Bakso Marthen Sentosa for its pork meatballs. If you prefer a more high-end sit-down experience, then Rumah Makan Raja Oci will meet your needs.


Cakalang fufu, Cured and Smoked Tuna on a Bamboo Stick by @glennwantalangi

When it comes to specific dishes, soup lovers often enjoy sop saudara. This is a spicy soup made from buffalo or beef. If you prefer seafood, you may like cakalang fufu. This special dish incorporates grilled meat and sauteed fish. Finally, you cannot leave Sulawesi without trying their grilled fish with spicy sauce. This is a common favorite in much of South Asia, but the sauce in Sulawesi has its own special kick.

For something sweet, many travelers cannot wait to eat some pisang epe. This dish serves bananas dripping in palm sugar. More adventurous foodies with strong teeth should challenge themselves to a bite of bagea. This hard pastry is rich with ingredients, including peanuts, walnut kernels, cinnamon and clove powder. Be sure to have a cup of coffee or tea on hand to wash it down.

eleanorfordfood | PotatoTuturoga

Fire Islands: Recipes from Indonesia by Eleanor Ford @eleanorfordfood 


There are two main religious faiths in Sulawesi: Islam, and a substantial minority is Christian. However, these beliefs often blend with local traditions related to animism. This contributes to the unique cultural identity of the region. There are also several ethnic groups that add another layer of diversity. You can visit them by taking ethical Asia tribe tours. One popular option is Adventure Sulawesi.

In the more mountainous southern region of Sulawesi are the Torjans. For a long time, the region occupied by the tribe remained isolated. This changed in the 1900s when Dutch missionaries first began to visit the tribe in an effort to convert them. In its earlier history, the tribe focused mostly on an agrarian lifestyle. Tourism has since created changes to their economic and social life.

In the northern part of the island is another well-known ethnic group known as the Minahasan or Mando people. This group is primarily known among foodies for exotic and sometimes controversial dishes that reportedly include bats, dogs and cats.


Water Buffalo Ready to be Sacrificed in Ritual by João Monteiro


Culture has always played an important role in how architecture developed in Sulawesi. Walking the streets flanked by local buildings is a one-of-a-kind experience. If you get the opportunity to tour the villages where the tribes live, then you can get a real taste of ancient Asia.

The most striking and memorable type of building you are likely to see during your visit is the tongkonan. These traditional ancestral houses boast a large roof that resembles a boat. Tongkonan buildings take a long time to build and require family and friends to pitch in to get the job done. The final result will leave you awestruck.

To see houses hoisted on sticks over the water, visit the Wakatobi islands. This is one of the most remote parts of Indonesia, which makes it perfect for some quiet relaxation. There is a dive resort in the area if you want to spend a few nights. This can also be a good time to splurge on a room with a waterfront view.


A Traditional Torajan Tongkonan Long House, Tana Toraja by João Monteiro

Natural Environment

One of the main reasons people visit South Asia, aside from the amazing food and culture, is to enjoy the natural environment. Whether you enjoy hiking through the mountains or swimming with sea creatures, Sulawesi has something for you.

If you prefer land adventures, the Maros Pangkep Karst Forest is a great way to see the inner beauty of Sulawesi. It’s the second largest karst area in the world. Here, you will find colorful butterflies, large cliffs, beautiful waterfalls, wild grasslands, adventure-ready caves and winding rivers. Lore Lindu National Park gives you a taste of the mountain air and rainforest views but requires a bit of courage to travel the mountain roads.

For the travelers who consider themselves to be avid fishermen and -women, Tempe Lake provides the perfect opportunity to catch dinner. This shallow lake is fed by almost two dozen rivers that bring in plenty of freshwater fish. You may also enjoy saltwater fishing in the Togean Islands.

Bunaken National Park provides the perfect opportunity for saltwater adventures whether you prefer to go snorkeling or scuba diving. In fact, the area is considered one of the best destinations in the world for both of these activities. This is due in part to the region’s commitment to protecting its biodiversity, thereby giving water adventurers plenty to see. You can find another great snorkeling spot in the Wakatobi Islands.


Snorkeling with Fish by João Monteiro

The Best Time To Visit

When to take a trip to Sulawesi depends on what is most important to you. If you want to spend a lot of time outdoors and at the beach, then your best bet is to visit between June and October when the weather is drier. If you decide to spend more time in the northern part of the island, then expect the dry season to start in July instead. Note that most tourists have this idea in mind, so prices are higher during the dry season.

If you plan to spend more time indoors and have no problem with heavy rainfall, then visiting in the rainy months can save you a lot of money on accommodations. As far as temperature goes, these months tend to be as warm as all the others, but the humidity can make it seem even warmer.

As a great compromise, consider going in May. This is at the end of the rainy season, so it averages about 17 rainy days for the entire month. This may sound like a lot, but compare it to as many as 27 rainy days per month during the monsoon season.


Backpacker in Sulawesi by João Monteiro

What To Pack

If you have never visited a tropical or equatorial climate before, you may wonder what to pack. One of the most important things travelers overlook when visiting foreign countries is the outlets. Indonesians use Type C outlets. Be sure to pack a travel charger that has power adapters to keep your cameras, phones, laptops and other devices charged.

No matter your skin tone, you need sunscreen in Indonesia. Many darker-skinned tourists are surprised to learn how easily they burn after a day at the beach. If you are of a lighter or paler complexion, then waterproof sunscreen is even more important for you.

Even if you don’t plan to visit during monsoon season, it rains all year round in Sulawesi. It’s a great idea to bring raincoats, waterproof shoes and other waterproof gear. A hat that can keep water off your face is a great idea as well. For regular clothes, stick to loose and airy materials that can breathe and keep you cool.

If you plan to take excursions into one of the many forests you might encounter, bring the appropriate gear. You’ll need comfortable shoes for walking, as well as headlamps if you want to go explore the inside of caves. Taking along your own snorkeling gear is an economical choice. Scuba gear, on the other hand, is a hassle to travel with, so consider renting this locally instead.

memes_on | togean islands

Togean Islands by @memes_on

How To Get Around Sulawesi

As one of Indonesia’s largest islands, you’ll need to do some commuting around the island to truly enjoy all it has to offer. To get to the smaller islands that form part of Sulawesi, most people travel by air. However, if you don’t mind waiting two or so weeks between trips, you can take ferries between the various islands.

For inland travel, rely on buses, mini buses and minivans to get around comfortably. If you prefer to drive yourself, then you can also rent a car. Enterprise is a popular car rental option on the island. For shorter distances, and if you’re up for the challenge, consider renting a motorcycle instead.

mr.ahmadnur | wakatobi island

Wakatobi Island by @mr.ahmadnur

How To Get To Sulawesi

The easiest way to get to Sulawesi is by flying into Sam Ratulangi International Airport. This is true even if you’re only taking two days or so away from your Bali trip to visit. For most people outside of Asia, flying to Sulawesi is expensive. This deters them from making the trip, especially when more popular destinations are nearby.

One effective way to finance your trips is by asking people to gift you skyhours. At just a dollar per minute, those hours can add up over time. 

F. Bruna Ferreira
Lisbon, Portugal
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