Located on top of a coral triangle, with a mountainous jungle-clad interior, the strangely-shaped island of Sulawesi is gradually emerging as a tourist destination, as more people are attracted by the chance to experience the amazing marine life, stunning scenery, prehistoric remains, traditional culture and incredible Tongkonan homes.
Lying northeast of Bali and across the Makassar Strait to Borneo, Sulawesi is shaped like the letter ‘K,’ with such a confusing topography, that when Dutch explorers first tried to map the island in the 16th century, they believed it to be an archipelago. The four separate peninsulas are in fact, isolated from each other and the outside world by a range of central mountains, which has allowed a unique blend of cultures and habitats to develop which you won’t see elsewhere in Indonesia. Rare species, such as the nocturnal tarsier monkey and the pit-digging maleo bird thrive here, as do traditional cultures isolated by their topography.
Various isolated tribes dominate the central highlands and the Filipino-descended Minahasans reside in the far north of the island, but the most settled part of the island is South Sulawesi, split between the highland Torajan peoples and the lowland Bugis, Indonesia’s most famous seafarers. The capital of this busy region is Makassar, which has a long and distinguished history as a trading port and the harbour is still an interesting area to explore, along with Fort Rotterdam, one of the best-preserved examples of Dutch military architecture in Indonesia.
For those interested in Torajan culture, the northern highlands of South Sulawesi, Tana Toraja, is full of traditional villages, wooden Tongkonan houses with their over-sized roofs and interesting burial sites. Another highlight and a great place to break the journey between Makassar and Toraja, is Sengkang, an eight-hour drive from the city where the main attraction is the floating houses of Lake Tempe.
While Sulawesi is only just developing as a tourist destination, we would recommend the island to travelling pioneers with a thirst for new places and adventures.