Sulawesi Explorer Tour

Indonesia – Sulawesi Explorer Tour – a 15 day Small Group Tour.

Indonesia is a hugely diverse country, so it makes sense to break it down. Sulawesi is a world away from Jakarta’s polluted cityscape or Bali’s beach party scene. Some long days on the road are unavoidable but the journey is part of the reality, part of Sulawesi’s ‘otherness’.

Exploring wild landscapes, volcanic peaks and remote indigenous villages, this is certainly a different Indonesia to that most travellers will have experienced or imagined.

The enormous and oddly shaped island of Sulawesi is one of Indonesia’s cultural treasures, but often neglected by western tour companies in favour of better known Bali or Java.

Yet it holds a wealth of treasures that should be on every serious traveller’s itinerary, with fascinating ethnic groups following elaborate social practices which cannot be seen elsewhere.

Our trip to this remarkable land encompasses both the north and south of the island, starting from the bustling capital Makassar and heading into Tanah Toraja, an area of highlands where traditional architecture and practices are at their strongest.

We explore villages with amazing carved houses where we hope to see some of their tribal festivals, we visit incredible ‘hanging graves’ and walk along picturesque rice terraces to reach little visited communities. In Sulawesi’s north we visit parks and reserves in search of the island’s unusual wildlife, including the tiny Tarsier, and enjoy traditional meals cooked for us by the inhabitants of local villages. We see the unusual ‘waruga’ sarcophagi of the Minhasa Highlands and explore colourful local markets where anything is considered food.

This is an intriguing and almost mysterious part of the Indonesian archipelago with unique and complex social customs that are unlike anything you will have seen before. This two week trip encompasses the very best of this fascinating island, and will leave you wanting to explore more of this vast and varied region.

Tour ratings.

  • Fitness
  • Off the beaten track 
  • Culture
  • History
  • Wildlife

Tour Pace


Tour style


Relaxed Pace

Relaxed tours are easy paced with plenty of leisure time built in. The tour will in all probability still be off the beaten track, with the occasional early start and there may still be occasional long drives. In general on a relaxed pace tour you can enjoy easy-going activities and experiences with opportunities to absorb the sights and immerse yourself in the local surroundings.

Moderate Pace

Moderate pace tours are ideal if you want a tour experience that combines activities and experiences with some time to relax. Typically you will be active and busy for part of the day but then also have time to rest and recharge your batteries. In general on a moderate paced tour there may be some long journeys involved but the tour is not an expedition or a road trip. On a moderate paced tour it will be necessary to have some early starts.

Busy Pace

A busy paced tour means that you can expect to be doing, seeing or experiencing something new almost every day, and moving on from place to place to pack in as much as possible. There may be early starts, long journeys and tiring days along the way, but you’ll return home feeling you’ve really experienced as much as you possibly could.

Pioneer Class Tours

On our Pioneer tours, you will be amongst an elite group of intrepid travellers and some of the first to explore a country that few have been privileged enough to discover. Of course, exploring such areas of the world will come with its challenges; it may mean several nights camping, long journeys by 4WD and the need to maintain a degree of flexibility for when carefully laid plans change. These are challenging tours in countries and areas that may have poor infrastructure, high levels of poverty and illiteracy. This can translate in to low standards in hotels, bad roads and poor driving standards among other issues. We try and smooth out as much of these issues as we can but you should be prepared to experience the bad with the good.

Traveller Class Tours

Our Traveller itineraries are at the core of our programme. These journeys are designed for travellers who still want to discover a land away from the tourist crowds but expect minimum standards. Accommodation will be primarily hotel based, although you could still find yourself camping, or the guest of a local family. Depending on the destination and itinerary, you’ll likely be travelling in a private vehicle, with occasional use of public transport. This is adventure travel with some of the rough edges smoothed out.


On arrival in Makassar, the capital of Sulawesi, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Overnight at Aston Hotel or similar.

Today will be spent exploring Makassar by public transport accompanied by your guide. We begin with a visit to two markets in Makassar, a fish and a vegetable-fruit market, where you will purchase the necessary ingredients for a cooking class later today. We will cross the river by local ferry to a small village, where the cooking class will take place in the traditional kitchen of a local Bugis house. It is a rural setting, surrounded by rice fields, fish ponds and abundant gardens, so you feel as if you are in the countryside. In the village you will see many traditional Buginese houses on stilts. We will return to the centre and see some of the sights of Makassar including Fort Rotterdam, and Paotere Harbour, with its dozens of traditional wooden ships. Overnight at Aston Hotel or similar. (BL)

(Approximate driving time: nine hours)

After breakfast we leave Makassar for the highlands of Tanah Toraja, home to some of Sulawesi’s most intriguing customs, and a stronghold of traditional architecture. Lunch is taken in the home of a local family. We pass Enrekang driving onwards through Toraja to the market town of Rantepao. Overnight at Toraja Misiliana or similar. (BL)

We spend today exploring this remarkable region to gain a picture of the culture of past and present Toraja. We visit picturesque villages located in an amazing mountainous landscape dominated by rice terraces and bamboo forests. We see the different ways the Toraja bury their dead, including the traditional ‘hanging graves’ and the well-known stone graves guarded by puppets, “tau-tau”, high up on rocks. We also see huge richly carved traditional houses with their rice barns. For lunch we visit a small village where local people prepare a typical Toraja meal for us. Overnight Toraja Misiliana or similar. (BL)

Today we will continue to explore the area, walking and driving through the countryside, which will offer a further insight into the rural life of the region. Overnight at Toraja Misiliana or similar. (B)

*Please note that the format of the above two days will change if the opportunity to attend a funeral ceremony arises.

(Approximate driving time: five-and-a-half-hours)

Leave Tanah Toraja for the small town of Sengkang where we will visit a silk weaving shop making beautifully coloured local garments. Overnight at Semani Hotel or similar. (B)

(Approximate driving time: six-and-a-half-hours)

Early in the morning we board traditional colourful motorised canoes, travelling along the Walennea River to Lake Tempe. The lake is very scenic and is home to a number of species of birds, who share it with local fishermen, some of who live in floating villages where we will take tea/coffee in one of the floating houses. We continue to the refreshingly cool market town of Malino, which lies on the lower slopes of Mount Bawakaraeng, and was once the favourite weekend retreat for the colonial Dutch. Overnight at Malino Highlands Resort or similar. (BL)

Today we will take a walk through the surrounding area of Malino, approx. 4-5 hours. We will start from your accommodation following a path uphill and downhill, crossing a small river via a bamboo bridge or if broken (which often happens!) by wading through the river. We will pass the Biroro waterfall with the chance to bathe- the views are amazing. A simple lunch will be  served after which you will be picked up by car to begin the journey back to Makassar, stopping on the way to visit some local fruit markets. Overnight at Aston Hotel or similar. (BL)

An 8am start will take us to Maros, with a visit to the lovely Bantimurung National Park, situated in an area of limestone cliffs, rice fields and small villages. The park is celebrated for its butterflies and waterfalls, and we can explore on foot and by boat, including a visit to the village of Rammang Rammang. Nearby are the Leang Leang caves known for their surviving ancient paintings. We will transfer to the airport for our flight from Makassar to Manado in the north of Sulawesi on Citilink Indonesia (QG307 1640:1820), and on arrival we will transfer to our hotel. Overnight at Aryaduta Hotel. (BL)

(Approximate driving time: two-and-a-half-hours)

Spend the morning exploring Manado town and its surroundings, visiting the local fish market where all the fish from the surrounding areas is sold. Proceed to the largest Chinese Temple in town, a beautiful landmark, and continue to the North Sulawesi Provincial Museum where we will be guided through the history of North Sulawesi. Around noon, set off on the drive to Tangkoko Batuangas Reserve, and after checking into our hotel we will take an afternoon walk in the reserve (approx. 2 hours) in search of its unusual wildlife, including Tarsiers and Cuscus Bears. Overnight at Tangkoko Lodge or similar. (BD)

(Approximate driving time: two-and-a-half-hours)

This morning we take another walk in the forest in search of wildlife (approx. 3 hours), before continuing on. We explore the fascinating Minhasa Highlands along the way, with its relics of traditional culture. In the afternoon, explore the surroundings of Lake Tondano and visit the nearby sulphur Lake Linow which is known for its changes of colour. This evening we visit a local home for some typical Minhasa food. Overnight at Gardenia Country Inn or similar. (BD)

This morning we will visit the colourful market of Tomohon. The Minhasa are known for eating most things and you will find some unusual “ingredients” ready to take home and cook. We then head to the rim of Gunung Mahawu, an active volcano which gives us great views of its crater lake as well as of the surrounding area, including the nearby island of Bunaken. We reach it by a combination of driving and walking (it entails climbing around 250 steps). In the afternoon, you have the opportunity to rest at the hotel or continue the adventure with a visit to either Pinaras Waterfall or Tekaan Waterfall and the hotspring at Ranolewo. Overnight at Gardenia Country Inn or similar. (BD)

(Approximate driving time: two hours)

Check out of your hotel and transfer back to Manado. The rest of the day is free to relax or further explore this interesting cosmopolitan city. Overnight at Cocotinos or similar. (B)

Today our destination is Bunaken Island off the northern tip of Sulawesi. The island is part of Bunaken Marine Reserve, and the sea around here is alive with stunning marine life including turtles, whales, dolphins and rays. We take a boat out to snorkel and then take lunch on the beach before heading back to Manado. Overnight at Cocotinos or similar. (BL)

Please note: Snorkelling equipment can be rented for approx. RP100.000 (£6)

Transfer to the airport for your onward flight. Tour ends. (B)

Dates & Price.

Tour Notes

This group tour operates subject to a minimum group size of 3 travellers.

Single Supplement from £530.

Return flights from London to Makassar (Ujung Pandang) and back from Manado start at £1,200. Contact us for a quotation.

Airport transfers are included if you are booking pre and/or post tour accommodation at the hotel mentioned in our tour dossier.

Extra night price in Makassar from £50 per night.

If you do not wish to be part of a group tour then you can do the same tour on a private basis. Please contact us for prices.

Kindly note that we can also tailor a similar or totally different itinerary to meet your requirements. Please get in touch with us so that we can tailor your perfect tour of the Sulawesi.

Mapped itinerary.

Want to see details of your itinerary on a map?

Download PDF.

Download the full tour dossier for this trip here.

Indonesia - Sulawesi Explorer Tour Map

For expert advice get in touch now with our passionate,
well-travelled team.

+44(0) 191 296 2674 from THE UK
1-800-614-2967 from THE US & CANADA
1-300-956-415 from AUSTRALIA

Tour inclusions.

  • Arrival and departure transfers
  • Domestic flight from Makassar to Manado
  • Transport throughout
  • All accommodation
  • Services of English speaking guide / tour leader
  • Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
  • Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary unless otherwise stated

Tour exclusions.

  • International flights
  • Any airport taxes
  • Travel Insurance
  • Visas
  • Drinks
  • Donations during possible ceremonies.
  • Snorkelling equipment on Bunaken Island – approx. Rp 100,000 per person (£6)

From start to finish, it was a truly amazing experience and every day brought with it new wonders and surprises. Nothing went wrong on this tour; absolutely nothing. All accommodation was either good or adequate as expected; no complaints. Guides and drivers were dependable and punctual, in fact they were invariably early.


Frank and Nicola Grace, UK