Sulawesi: diving in Bunaken and driving through Tana Toraja

Disclaimer: all expenses on this trip came out of my own pocket. Reviews are only a reflection of my honest experience and opinion.

This is the second issue of a 2-part itinerary. Read the first part here.

Sulawesi

The first time my friend suggested we went to Sulawesi, I had to google it. It’s one of the largest islands in Indonesia (and the world), and yet I had no idea of what it was, where it was or what to do there. I know, I’m not exactly proud of me either. 

Froggies Diver's Resort features peaceful views in Indonesia

Sulawesi is, unbeknownst to me, famous for its National Parks – featuring unmatched diving sites and wild animals. Tarsiers and black-crested macaques are among the most popular but there is so much more to see. This island is home to the Torajan people, an ethnic group in Indonesia with very particular architectural designs and funerary practices. Let’s get into the details.

What I visited

Pulau Bunaken

If you’re a diver you’ll probably want to hit me over the head. Sorry in advance. 

A woman walks into the sea in Pulau Bunaken, with traditional fishing boats in the background

Pulau Bunaken is part of Bunaken Manado Tua National Park and incredibly popular among divers and tourists from East Asia. Hotels only exist on two of the beaches so the island remains pretty much local. 

Divers' paradise, Pulau Bunaken, features turtles in many diving sites

We stayed at Froggies Divers Resort, a locally owned all-inclusive hotel run by a Franco-german superpowered couple. Our stay involved early mornings, delicious food and beer, an introductory dive and some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in my entire life. Yes, this beats Mallorca. Treacherous, I know. 

A traditional fishing boat, moored for the evening, at sunset in Pulau Bunaken, Indonesia

Tangkoko

A two-hour drive from Manado is Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve. It comprises a huge extension of protected jungle (including some primary forest!) where near-extinct species can find solace. It’s particularly famous for homing tarsiers and black-crested macaques, but we also saw cuscus bears, eagles, kingfishers and tarantulas.

We only spent one night there but I’d recommend staying for, at least, two. Similarly to Kinabatangan River, animal sightings are not guaranteed so the longer you have, the higher your chances.

Tana Toraja

Torajan houses against a background of jungle in Sulawesi, Indonesia

Tana Toraja is an area in the centre of Sulawesi occupied by the Toraja people. It’s known for the local funerary practices, but overall, the area is mostly agricultural and banking on the trickle of tourism. Just getting there is an ordeal in itself, so any tourist will need the help of a guide to move around. 

Rice Paddies at sunset in Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia

We booked a 5-day tour. Mind you that the drive from Makassar airport to the starting point turned into 12 gruelling hours, so we lost 2 full days to driving. Visiting Tana Toraja was one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had travelling. Anyone planning a long trip to Indonesia should add it to their list – particularly now when the level of tourism is still low to moderate.

Stay tuned (aka hit the subscribe box at the bottom of the page), for a more detailed post on Tana Toraja. Coming soon!

Getting around

Moving around Sulawesi is tricky business. Even though it’s the eleventh largest island on the planet, it’s not serviced by a robust public transport network and everyone drives a car or scooter.

Choose cheap internal flights for larger distances, Grab or privately hired drivers for short to medium trips, and most definitely hire a guide to take you around.

What to eat

Be mentally prepared for an endless supply of fried noodles and rice. Overall, the food was mostly great. I didn’t know I missed Indonesian coffee so much until I had my first cup! It’s sweet, strong and dark. Just like my soul (I had to make the joke, soz).

I was unpleasantly surprised by the fruit. I was hoping to have an abundance like in Bali, yet fresh fruit was difficult to come by. Fish, as you might expect, was superb. Beware if you’re vegetarian or vegan – you’ll have a really hard time finding a suitable meal or explaining your dietary requirements!

And that’s it, folks. It’s taken me ages to finish writing this guide. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, see you soon!

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