Sulawesi, the world’s eleventh largest island, sprawls across the sea in its unique “K” shape. Part of the Indonesian archipelago, much of the island remains off the mainstream tourist trail, but visitors are attracted to its coasts and islands for diving and snorkelling and these elements have made Sulawesi travel increasingly popular.
With a land mass of 174,600 square kilometres, undeveloped in parts and with narrow roads in poor condition, it would take a long time to explore all of Sulawesi. I travelled to South Sulawesi and visited three areas over ten days: Makassar, Tana Toraja and Pantai Bira. It would have been easy to spend longer exploring each area, and equally, there are many regions between my destinations that I only saw through a bus window.
Getting Around in Sulawesi
There are no trains on the island so all travel is by road, sea or air. The roads are in poor condition in many places, so prepare yourself for some long journeys. Air-conditioned buses are available on certain routes, such as Makassar to Tana Toraja, but for other journeys public cars and minibuses can be the only way to go.
I travelled from Pantai Bira to Makassar by public car (also called “kijang” from the make of car often used) and I was one of eleven people squeezed in – three in front, four in the middle and four in the back. It felt like a very long few hours. In Tana Toraja on a shorter journey I was one of twelve people in a car, the formation as above but with one person in the boot, lying on his side.
Hiring a motorbike is a great way to travel around within an area, but with the roads often in disrepair, it can be tiring. Automatic motorcycles won’t make it up very steep hills with broken asphalt, especially with two people, and less experienced riders should avoid some areas.
Cycle rickshaws are a fun way to tour around and in some areas motorcycle rickshaws called sitor can take you on longer, hillier journeys.
Travelling a long distance? It may work out more sensible to fly between destinations that are further afield, rather than spending days on a bus, especially if your time is limited. Boats can take you to the small islands around Sulawesi, and even between different parts of the main island.
As well as being a haven for divers, Sulawesi offers fascinating cultural tourism in Tana Toraja and stunning white sand beaches for sun-lovers. National parks and lakes provide opportunities for trekking. Regional culinary delights await visitors, in particular delicious fish and seafood. Sulawesi is waiting to be explored, with many areas completely off the beaten track, but familiar tourist comforts available at places dotted across the island.