Sulawesi: the most beautiful island in Indonesia

Sulawesi: the most beautiful island in Indonesia

Sulawesi is perhaps the most beautiful island in Indonesia. This island really has everything: beautiful nature, impressive volcanoes, great beaches, culture, jungle and one of the most beautiful diving locations in the world. Yet this island is still relatively undiscovered which may make Sulawesi extra special. It is one of the few vacation destinations where you have the most beautiful beaches all to yourself.

It is possible to combine Sulawesi with several islands, but you must have the time. Sulawesi, also called celebes is in fact the second largest island in Indonesia after Kalimantan. From Makasar (south) to Manado (north) is 1,700 km and will take you at least 40 hours of driving if you are lucky, as road conditions are slightly different than in the Netherlands. We traveled from south to north in 4 weeks and still ran out of time. Although we still want to see an enormous amount of Sulawesi, we can already conclude that this is perhaps the most beautiful island in Indonesia.

Sulawesi trip
Sulawesi tips

Best travel route through Sulawesi

Sulawesi is incredibly large, so you will need quite a bit of time to explore this island. The distances are huge, making bus rides of +10 hours fairly normal. Most people travel from South to North. If you have a little less time, you can choose to visit only the South or the North, for example. In 4 weeks, we traveled from Makassar to Manado to end on the fine island of Siladen, Bunaken National Park.

Sulawesi trip

In 4 weeks we had a wonderful trip. However, there are still destinations we would have loved immensely to visit, such as Wakatobi National Park, the beautiful Bada Valley and the jungle Lore Lindu National Park. So enough reason to book another trip to Sulawesi someday.

Route 4 weeks Sulawesi from South to North

  • Makassar: visit Rammang Rammang here
  • Tana Toraja: unique funeral ceremonies and imposing landscapes
  • Tentena: lovely village on the beautiful Poso Lake
  • Togian Islands: paradise on earth!
  • Gorontalo: go diving with whale sharks
  • Manado: base for Bunaken National Park and perfect for muck diving
  • Tomohon: local market and volcanoes
  • Tangkoko National Park: spot the cute ghost animal here
  • Bangka Island: bounty island
  • Siladen: even more paradise and the most beautiful dive sites
  • Manado: one last day of Sulawesi

Also read the article“Route Sulawesi 4 weeks

What to do in Sulawesi

Attending funeral ceremony at Tana Toraja

It sounds very crazy, but if you go to Sulawesi you really shouldn’t skip a funeral ceremony. The highlands of Tana Toraja are home to countless rice fields and spectacular valleys. But this area is best known for its multi-day special funeral ceremonies. Death plays an important part in the culture and funeral ceremonies last for days and have been the same for centuries. Intense but very nice to experience once.

Also read the article “Attending Funeral Ceremony in Tana Toraja

Sulawesi trip

Diving in Bunaken National Park

Diving enthusiasts take note, as Bunaken National Park is home to one of the most beautiful diving areas in the world. The imposing coral walls, sometimes hundreds of meters deep, are especially impressive.

Sulawesi trip

Swimming among the jellyfish at jellyfish lake

It may sound like something you absolutely do not want to do, but trust me this is sooooo cool. This is because the thousands of jellyfish that live in this lake no longer have a natural enemy that has caused them to lose their tentacles, so they can no longer sting.

Also read the article “Jellyfish lake Togian Islands


Visit Rammang Rammang

Just an hour’s drive from Makassar you will find the Rammang Rammang area. Through the mangrove you sail Rammang Rammang where you can spend the whole day wandering among rice fields, trout ponds with most impressive cabinet mountains in the background.

Also read the article “Rammang Rammang


Relaxing on Bangka Island

If you want to completely de-stress then you must travel to Bangka Island. Bangka Island is truly an undiscovered gem in the middle of nowhere. You really do find the most beautiful beaches here that you have all to yourself almost every day and there is a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere.
Also read the article “Bangka Island


Island hopping on the Togian Islands

Even more paradise in Sulawesi can be found in the Togian Islands. This archipelago is among the most beautiful islands in Indonesia. If you are a beach lover, then you should definitely go island hopping for a few days in the Togian Islands. No wifi, no TV and even slippers are unnecessary! Just white beaches, bamboo huts, coral gardens and crystal clear water. In the Togian Islands, you don’t have to do anything at all and that is so nice.

Also read the article “Togian Islands


Spotting ghost animals, black macaques and tarantulas in Tangkoko National Park

In northern Sulawesi you will find a the national park Tangkoko. Although the jungle is not hugely impressive, you will find some rare dieer species here, such as the most adorable animal in the world the ghost animal. But you can also spot black macaques, bear-cowls, numerous tropical birds and even the tarantula in Tangkoko while trekking.

Also read the article “Tangkoko National Park

Sulawesi trip

Hotspots & food in Sulawesi

Sulawesi I think is one of my most beautiful destinations so far it lacks only 1 thing, which is good food and nice restaurants. Not that you cannot eat well in Sulawesi, but compared to Bali or Java, the cuisine here is not very special. You definitely have some tasty local dishes like Pa’piong a traditional dish from Tana Toraja or Coto, similar to Soto. But nice places to eat are scarce.

All together at the dinner table

Whereas in Bali you can enjoy hotspot hopping, in Sulawesi it is quite common to eat together at the accommodation. Only in the larger cities like Gorontalo, Manado and Makassar do you go out of town a little faster. However at most destinations, such as Tentena, Togian Islands, Bunaken and Tangkoko national park you eat at your accommodation. Often all together. We often found this to be immensely enjoyable, but I myself enjoy eating out once in a while. After all, a poké bowl, pizza or burger once in a while is not bad either.

Some really cool hotspots we found in Sulawesi anyway are:

  • 88 Noodle house in Makassar: food here is really great! Especially the dumplings are highly recommended.
  • Cabal in Manado: wonderful place to have a nice dinner out
  • Clapboard cake at Christine’s in Manado: an absolute must!

By the way, this does not mean that we did not eat delicious food during our trip. At many accommodations, the food is really great. At some accommodations, we were really surprised by the food, such as at Coral Eye in Siladen. There the food was really a feast with so many delicious dishes. At most accommodations, you get a mix of traditional and a little western. Always super fresh and very tasty.

Best time to travel to Sulawesi

The best period to visit Sulawesi is from July to October. During these months, the least rain falls. The rainy season starts in December and ends in March.

Transportation in Sulawesi

Most people traveling through Sulawesi book a guide for a few days. It is not really a backpacking destination (yet), so arranging transportation can sometimes be a bit difficult or relatively expensive. But backpacking is certainly possible. There are big buses or you go by private car. The buses are very good, but your final destination is often the bus station and transportation to your accommodation can then be a bit tricky.

On other islands in Indonesia, you often find simple roadside stalls where you can arrange transportation or have apps like uber, gojek or Grav. In Sulawesi this is unfortunately not so with the exception of some larger cities. Transportation can be arranged through your accommodation, your guide or you can go to the bus station.

You can also arrange some sort of gojek for smaller distances. Everywhere there are locals with motorcycles ready to take you from a to b. It is not entirely clear who is and is not a gojek, but if you stand by the road looking for a moment, the people themselves will come to you.


Which budget do i need in Sulawesi?

With about 20 euros per person, you can travel around Sulawesi very well. Food and drinks are very cheap. Public transportation is also good for your budget but not always practical. Because of this, it can sometimes be nicer to rent a private car, and then, unfortunately, you’ll spend a little more money.

Because Sulawesi is not yet a real backpacker destination, you will find almost no hostels here. Especially in popular destinations, accommodation prices are somewhat higher than on other islands.

Diving costs about the same as on other islands, but you often have to rent equipment here as well. As a result, you often lose a lot more.

Practical information about Sulawesi

  • Before leaving, learn a few words of Bahasa, such as good morning, tasty food, thank you. Locals always really like this.
  • Google translate is really a must. Not everyone on Sulawesi speaks English.
  • Most inhabitants of Sulawesi are Muslim, keep this in mind. At many hostels, for example, you don’t have communal dormitories (we found this out a little late). And also keep a little consideration for your outfit.
  • Much of the accommodations are not on booking or airbnb. Best to google “place + accommodation”, do some sleuthing via googlemaps or arrange overnight accommodation locally
  • Alcohol is not always available everywhere.
  • Download the currency app. Converting to euros can sometimes be a chore.
  • Take a credit card with you when you travel. Sometimes maestro may not be accepted. It is always nice to have an extra card behind you then.
  • Also, at most banks you pay a fair amount for withdrawing money abroad. We therefore applied for a KNAB account. That’s because at Knab, you never pay extra fees.
  • Download the apps Grab and Gojek for cities like Manado
  • Want to save money? Then try to travel only with carry-on luggage. This will save you quite a bit of money on domestic flights.
  • Before leaving, always check that you have all vaccinations. A malaria emergency kit may also be useful. Tip! CHeck about on Facebook or marketplace if people might have any lying around. In fact, the chances of having to use them are very low, leaving many people with an emergency kit after the trip. Still, saves another 100 euros per person.
  • Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months.
  • If you want to stay in Indonesia longer than 30 days, you will need a different visa. You can extend your visa once on location, but this often takes a lot of time. It is also possible to apply for a 60-day visa in advance at the Embassy of Indonesia in The Hague before departure. Another option is to take a trip to another country after 30 days, e.g.. Malaysia or Singapore.
sulawesi trip
sulawesi backpacking
sulawesi tips

What are nice places to stay in Sulawesi?

Coral Eye

Coral Eye is located right on a pearly white beach and hidden among palm trees. The building is truly a picture to behold. It looks like a giant, state-of-the-art bamboo hut. Designed by Studio ARC. and built using the craftsmanship of local artisans, using local resources and traditional construction techniques.

Kuda Laut, Siladen

Kuda Laut is Celebes Divers’ newest resort. The resort has been open for just over a year now and already a great success. Not surprisingly, with its fabulous spacious beach villas right on the beach, this is truly one of the most beautiful places we have ever had the pleasure of staying. You literally almost roll from your bed into the sea.

How to get to Sulawesi?

Tickets directly to Sulawesi are quite pricey. The cheapest option is to book a ticket to Jakarta, Denpasar or possibly Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. We opted for Denpasar, so we could spend our last few days enjoying Bali’s fun hotspots, fine nightlife and luxury.

You can easily arrange a domestic flight from these places (e.g. with Airasia) to Manado or Makassar. We spent a total of about 600 euros per person on airfare incl. domestic flights.

To find cheap flights, we set alert at comparison sites. In addition, try to be flexible in your dates; this can save a lot of money.

  • We prefer to fly Qatar Airways. We always like a stop in between and Qatar offers really excellent service.
  • We also enjoyed flying with Ethiad immensely. The tickets tend to be a bit more expensive, but they are one of the best airlines.
  • If you want the cheapest ticket then we recommend you compare tickets on, tix or skyscanner.

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