Exploring the vanishing tribes and unique rainforest of Sulawesi

  • Cost: US$2,700 per person for 11D/10N (all inclusive from start point to end point)
    (equivalent to approximately UK£2,000 or €2,380 at time of publication)
  • Start Point: Makassar, Sulawesi.
  • End Point: Makassar airport, Sulawesi.
  • Dates: For upcoming dates, click Join this Adventure on the right or email us.
  • Group Size: 6–10
  • Bespoke Tour: If you do not wish to join a group tour, we can customise a private trip to fit your dates and interests. Please email us for details and a quote.

The rarely visited island of Sulawesi is home to perhaps the most idiosyncratic tribal cultures of Indonesia, if not the whole of Southeast Asia. Made famous overseas by National Geographic's coverage of a nobleman's funeral in 1972, the Toraja tribe of the highlands has come to be known first and foremost for their unique death and burial rituals, not to mention their striking architecture and traditional way of life. The philosophies behind their practices frame how many of the people regard death, not as an ending to be feared, but the start of a new journey to be accepted and even celebrated; whilst always respectful of the dead, they have little squeamishness around human remains, and an annual festival even sees them exhuming the bodies of ancestors, dressing them in new clothes and taking them on parade before laying them to rest once more. Further south, the vanishing Ammatoa tribe live in small community compounds where modern technology ends at the front gate; always dressed in black, again because of beliefs regarding life and death, they see the trappings of modernity as nothing more than distraction, attending to their daily routines without technology. And on the coast, the Bugis, regarded as the original pirates of Southeast Asia, form fishing communities famous for their tremendous ship building skills.

During this adventure, we visit these three groups of native peoples to gain an insight into other ways of life that have remarkably persisted into the present day against all odds. Not to be ignored are their fine culinary traditions which, like much of the cuisine of the region, sees food prepared with locally grown ingredients combined into a staggering array of mouth watering creations. Finally, we venture north to the most famous national park on the island, the Tangkoko Batuangus reserve, where participants will aim to rub shoulders with the endemic black macaques, admire striking knobbed-hornbills and bear cuscus up in the trees, spot the impossibly cute spectral tarsier, and search for a variety of unusual birds and reptiles not easily seen anywhere else!

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Footage from our previous Sulawesi Orchids expedition!

Adventure Itinerary

Day 1: An early departure from Makassar sees us bound north for Tanah Toraja, the Land of the Heavenly Kings. This long journey takes us from the hot and humid lowlands to the cool mountain plateau region of northern South Sulawesi, passing by Bantimurung National Park, home to the second largest karst (limestone) landscape in the world. We stop en route at Pare Pare for lunch overlooking the lowlands and the distant coastline, and again for tea at Bambapuang to see the 'erotic mountain' of Buntu Kabobong. We arrive in Rantepao, capital of the Toraja region, usually just after sundown. The most popular dinner option is the local speciality 'ayam penyet', a fragrant fried chicken served with cooked vegetables, though an excellent fish alternative is available. We overnight in our local accommodation.

Day 2: After breakfast, we visit Kete'Kesu a village known for its traditional wood carvings, but also for its unusual hanging graves. We also visit Marante, which abuts a rocky outcrop and burial site. This village produces rice, and this vital commodity is stored in traditional raised granaries, alongside soaring Tongkonan houses. After lunch, we visit one of the best preserved Tongkonan sites at the village of Pallawa, whose thatched gables are covered in epiphytic plants, sometimes including orchids! We then move on to Loko'mata, an unusual burial site consisting of a large boulder into which graves have been bored, before stopping at a cotton weaving village, Sa'dan To'Barana, prior to dinner.

Day 3: In the morning, our first destination is a natural cave site used as a grave by generations of people at the village of Londa. Thereafter we move on to the striking Lemo, where the dead are hoisted into tiny cliffside chambers, in front of which are placed effigies of the deceased, looking out over the landscape like spectators. Next, the royal family tombs at Suaya make for a strong contrast with the more modest Lemo. After lunch, we pay our respects at Kambira, where an ancient fig tree is the site of hanging graves dedicated to holding the remains of only the smallest infants, and finally the village of Sangalla, where the tomb of King Sangalla lies amongst trees and bamboo. Some leisure time may expected in the afternoon before dinner.

Day 4: After an early breakfast, we descend to the east coast via the town of Palopo en route to our destination, the 'silk city' of Sengkang. After lunch on arrival, we enjoy a boat ride on Lake Tempe to the floating villages. Here, we witness the locals carrying out their daily activities. If time allows, we can visit a local silk weaving factory. In the evening, a traditional Bugis meal is served.

Day 5: Driving south, we journey towards the coast and eventually the southeastern tip of the South Sulawesi peninsula, with lunch served en route. Our destination is Tanjung Bira, a village famous for its traditional boat building community. Following our afternoon arrival, guests are at leisure to enjoy the beach and sunset before a dinner of local seafood.

Day 6: We make a morning visit to the Ammatoa tribe, a group of people that eschew modern technology, living traditionally in a village compound without electricity and speaking their own language, Konjo. Dressed all in black, symbolising the darkness experienced in the womb before birth and again after death, they are duty bound to pray for peace and the wellbeing of humankind. After lunch, we visit Tana Beru boat-building centre to see the the construction of traditional Pinisi boats.

Day 7: We depart for Makassar, arriving in time for a late lunch. Once checked in to our accommodation, guests are at leisure to explore the local shops or simply relax in advance of dinner at a seafood barbecue known for its grilled fish.

Day 8: We fly from Makassar to Mandao, where we transfer by car to the Tangkoko Nature Reserve, famous for its wildlife. Scops owls may sometimes even nest right above our accommodation, and other striking birds are not uncommon.

Day 9: At Tangkoko, we are guided to see black crested macaques (Macaca nigra), little spectral tarsiers (Tarsius tarsier) and (with luck) a flying dragon (Draco volans), a lizard with beautiful yellow or orange wing flaps. Knobbed hornbills and kingfishers are amongst the many birds also regularly sighted.

Day 10: A second full day at Tangkoko is always appreciated, offering the chance to locate any animals we may have missed, including the amazing local vipers, but also the chance to go snorkelling in the warm waters off the coast.

Day 11: The group returns from Tangkoko to Manado airport, where guests are delivered to a lunchtime flight back to Makassar, arriving mid-afternoon in time for onward departures.

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Getting there

This expedition begins and ends in Makassar, which is served by various airlines including Garuda Indonesia (Jakarta, Denpasar (Bali)), Silk Air (Singapore) and AirAsia (Kuala Lumpur). Flights can be easily booked through all major airline websites.

Adventure Rating: Relaxing

No strenuous trekking is required for this adventure or, if present, such treks are minimal and can be substituted for alternate activities.

Participants must be capable of walking on uneven ground and carrying a day pack with water, camera and appropriate weather protection.

Possible extensions

- Visit the volcanic Straits of Lembeh for 2D/3N of Scuba diving, staying at a PADI certified resort overlooking one of the best macro dive sites in the world! Price on application according to current availability.

To get a quote for any extensions, simply mention which extension(s) you are interested in when you apply to Join this Adventure!

Sulawesi simplified itinerary

What's Included

All transport during the itinerary
Professional guide
Porters for group logistics
Accommodation (on a twin/double basis)
All main meals during the itinerary

What's Not

International flights
Personal porters (if requested)