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, meet your driver and transfer to your hotel accommodation. Overnight at Aston Hotel or similar. No meals are included today.

Today, accompanied by your guide, discover the many flavours of Sulawesi’s public transport system while exploring Makassar. Visit the fish and vegetable markets and source ingredients for a cookery class. Cross the river by ferry to a small village inhabited by ethnic Bugis people where a traditional domestic kitchen serves as a cookery classroom. It’s a very rural setting, surrounded by rice fields, fishponds, abundant gardens and Buginese stilted houses. After lunch, return to the town centre for other sights including Fort Rotterdam and Paotere Harbour’s dozens of 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 where indigenous ethnic people maintain a strong identity and are known their distinctive architecture. En route lunch is taken at the home of a local family. Passing the regional capital of Enrekang, we drive onwards through Toraja to the market town of Rantepao. Overnight at Heritage Hotel or similar. (BL)

Today is spent exploring a remarkable region, attempting to gain a picture of the culture of past and present Toraja. We visit picturesque mountain villages located among rice terraces and bamboo forests. Indigenous funeral practices are investigated, including ‘hanging graves’ and the characteristic stone graves guarded by ‘tau-tau’ puppets, high up on rocks. There’s time too to see huge, richly carved, Toraja houses and rice barns. For lunch, we visit a small village where women people prepare a typical Toraja meal. Overnight at Heritage Hotel or similar. (BL)

Today we continue to explore, walking and driving through the countryside, and learning more of the rural life of the Toraja. Overnight at Heritage Hotel or similar. (B)

Please note: 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)

This morning we leave Tanah Toraja, driving to the small town of Sengkang where we visit a silk weaving shop known for beautifully coloured garments. Overnight at Semani Hotel or similar. (B)

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

Early this morning we board a colourful motorised canoe to travel along the Walennea River to Lake Tempe. The lake is home to myriad bird species that, together with villagers, benefit from a fecund fish population. We call in at one of the lake’s floating fishing villages for tea and coffee. Continuing, we drive to the refreshingly cool market town of Malino, on the lower slopes of Mount Bawakaraeng, once a weekend retreat favoured by Dutch colonialists. Overnight at Villa Tengah Sawah or similar. (BL)

After breakfast we hike through the area surrounding Malino for four to five hours. Starting from our accommodation, the undulating path crosses a small river via a bamboo bridge, or if this has collapsed (which is often the case) by wading through the river… We pass the Biroro waterfall, with the chance to bathe (see bridge…), take in remarkable views and enjoy a simple lunch. Afterwards, vehicles arrive to begin the journey back to Makassar, stopping on the way at a fruit market. Overnight at Aston Hotel or similar. (BL)

An early start sees us on the road by 8:00am, heading for Maros and Bantimurung National Park. Siituated in an area of limestone cliffs, rice fields and small villages, the park is celebrated for its butterflies and waterfalls. We explore on foot and by boat, including a visit to the village of Rammang Rammang. Nearby, the Leang Leang caves are known for ancient hand-print paintings 35,000 to 40,000-years-old. 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)

Today we spend the morning exploring Manado and its surroundings. Visits include the fish market, the town’s largest Chinese temple, and the North Sulawesi Provincial Museum. At around midday we drive to Tangkoko Batuangas Reserve. After check-in we take a two-hour guided walk in search of the reserve’s unusual wildlife, including tarsiers and cuscus bears. Overnight at Tangkoko Lodge or similar. (BD)

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

This morning starts with another guided walk in the forest in search of wildlife before continuing by road to Tomohon. En route we explore the fascinating Minahasa Highlands known for its relics of traditional culture. This evening we visit a local home to enjoy typical a Minahasa diner. Overnight at Highland Lodge or similar. (BD)

Today visit the colourful market of Tomohon. The Minhasa are known for eating most things and you may find some unusual ‘ingredients’ ready to take home and cook. Later, visit the rim of Gunung Mahawu volcano for great views of its crater lake as well as the surrounding area and the nearby island of Bunaken. The crater rim is reached by a combination of driving and walking, entailing a final 250 steps. After descending the rest of the day is free for independent exploration of the town. Overnight at Gardenia Country Inn or similar. (BD)

(Approximate driving time: two hours)

After breakfast we check-out and drive back to Manado. The rest of the day is at leisure to relax or further explore this cosmopolitan city. Overnight at Cocotinos or similar. (B)

Today’s destination is Bunaken Island, just off the northern tip of Sulawesi. The island is part of Bunaken Marine Reserve set up to protect rich ocean life, including whales, dolphins, sea turtles and rays, inhabiting surrounding waters.  We take a boat excursion to snorkel over the reef, before enjoying lunch on the beach and later heading back to Manado. Overnight at Cocotinos or similar. (BL) 

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

After breakfast the tour ends with transfers to the airport for onward flights. (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