TANA TORAJA. The beautiful land of the Toraja people.
Besides its amazing dive and snorkel spots Sulawesi has much more to offer and explore. One off the most outrages places to visit is the Tana Toraja - where the citizens still hold on to their old traditions, rituals and animism belief. Get lost in a culture which differs a lot to the common. Besides that, the area is rich in flowers, vegetables, coffee, pepper and fruits. It´s a little bit more chilly in the Torajan highlands (especially at night) and it can rain a lot. A perfect alternation to the mostly sunny & hot weather at the Togian Islands.
How to get there?
Sulawesi covers an area of 190.000 square kilometers, quite similar to the size of Cambodia (181.000 km²) or half the size of Germany. So if you are planning a trip to Sulawesi, don´t underestimate the distances between the spots you want to visit.
The center of Tana Toraja is the town "Rantepao", which is about 300 km from the capital Makassar. Rantepao is a small town, where you can find a lot of restaurants with good food, freshly roasted coffee and the famous buffalo market. It also divides Tana Toraja in a North and South region. This might not be too important for your visit, but North and South have a different Bupati (= regent of an certain area) and the cultural rituals can differ a little. Furthermore the roads are in much better shape in the southern region.
From MAKASSAR to RANTEPAO
Even if Google tells you differently, it`s about a 9 to 11 hour bus ride from Makassar to Rantepao. There are several bus companies operating on this route, a lot oft hem offer VIP buses which are very comfortable and are equiped with large soft seats and a lot of space for long legs. Coming closer to Rantepao the road will get more curvy, so sleeping is easier at the first part oft he ride.
Most of these buses are night buses, so if you are on a bit short on time it`s a wonderful option to travel the route overnight.
BUS: Makassar to Rantepao - Duration around 10 hours & Costs around 200.000 IDR per person for the VIP bus.
If you don´t like long bus rides you can also fly from Makassar to Palopo. From Palopo it is only a two hours car ride to Rantepao.
FLIGHT: Makassar to Palopo - Bookings via www.traveloka.com (WingsAir), costs around 900.000 IDR per person
FROM the TOGIAN ISLANDS/ TENTENA to RANTEPAO
As there are not many opportunities to stop on the way, this route might be the most exhausting one during your trip through Sulawesi. Make sure to not miss out on Tentena, and plan a stop in this small town. Have a look here to find out more about Tentena and the area of Lake Poso.
Bus/ minivan from Tentena to Rantepao: 10 to 12 hours ride. Costs around 200.000 IDR per person for the bus, 150.000 IDR per person for the minivan. A shared car should be around 1.500.000 IDR.
If you don´t want to make stop in between there is the option to book a shared car from Ampana to Rantepao. It´s than a 14 to 15 hours car ride and the costs for the car are about 2.500.000 IDR. There is no direct bus going from Ampana to Rantepao. If you wish to go by public transport you have to change bus in Poso. Mostly there are two buses going from Ampana to Poso per day, one in the morning (around 10:00) and one in the evening (around 17:00).
As there is no direct flight from Poso to Palopo there is no "easy" flight option to reach the Tana Toraja from Ampana or Tentena. A flight plan would lead you to Makassar first. Going by road is the fastest option.
ACCOMODATION. Where to stay?
Want to sleep in an original Toraja house? Meyske and her family run a lovely homestay next to one oft he main attractions in Toraja „Kete kesu“. The house is only a 10 minute motorbike ride outside from Rantepao. The rooms are very simple but decorated with lots of love. Meyske is a wonderful chef and you should not miss her breakfast or dinner. From the lovely small balcony you can enjoy the view over the torajan style rice storages. Meyske also guides groups and does an amazing job to introduce you to the Torajan culture. She will also show you the smaller buried sights "off the track" or visit Torajan families with you. All in all an amazing place to stay!
Costs: Around 350.000 IDR for 2 person/night 200.000 IDR for 1 person/night (including breakfast)
Located in the center of Rantepao you will recognize the CASTEL immediately. Sarah and her family take very good care of their guests. The rooms are well equipped and very clean. There are also lots of good comments on the food. The Sulawesi Castle has a bit higher standard than the usual homestay but is just as lovely managed.
Costs: around 500.000 IDR for two person/night (including breakfast)
This is for all the people who want to be off the grid, or spend some of their time volunteering. We learned about this homestay from one of our very first guest (Hi Magarete :- ), who helped Natsir to build up his homestay and community work. It´s a quite simple room but you will learn a lot about organic farming, how to produce chocolate or catch some village vibes. Natsir has a small community project which includes english lessons for the kids. So you are welcome to help out in the school. Natsir´s home can also be booked for a longer stay to volunteer in the village, please contact him upfront to ask for the exact conditions. The homestay is located in Remban, which is around 1 hour south/west from Rantepao, close to Makale. If you stay there and visit POKI POKI afterwards, take some of the amazing self made chocolate for us. We will buy it from you :-) Btw. cashew and seasalt are our favorite flavors.
Costs: 500.000 IDR for two person/night INCLUDING THREE meals, coffea/tea/drinking water and fruits.
ACTIVITIES. What to do?
Rent a bike.
Yes, we are all visiting Tana Toraja because oft its impressive culture and the incredibly interesiting rituals. But make sure to take your time beside the funerals, weddings etc. to be astonished by the surrounding nature. The thousands of hills with the rice fields, the cacao trees, coffee bushes and the fruit trees. The ground is rich and between the sunny hours it does rain quite often. So take a motor bike and just cruise around, stop in several viewing points with coffee occasions and enjoy the surrounding. Make sure to take a rain jacket with you, sometimes you are passing the rain clouds on the hills. Also be aware that the roads are not always in good shape, especially in the northern region. Make sure to find a good motorbike and you should be quite confident/experienced in driving it.
The Buffalo Market.
Or shop for coffee, white pepper, baskets and more at the local market.
The Buffalo market, like the name suggests, is for selling water buffalos. Twice a week all the farmers will come to the market to sell their animals (pigs, goats, chickens and so on). It´s quite impressive to see. Best is to take a short walk on the buffalo market and than turn to the large market beside the animal sector. You will find a lot of great woven work, pepper, coffee, tee, spices which we always love to buy on the road to take home. Most of the products are from the area. Ask your hotel staff or your guide on which day the buffalo market is, because only on that day the farmers will come from the villages to sell their products.
The grave sides.
The Torajan people bury their dead in caves. Therefore they carry the corps accompanied from their relatives through their village to the grave side. In front of the graves you can find wooden statues which represents the dead person. They are masterpieces of wood work. In the past, when a newborn died, parts of the Torajans buried their small ones in trees. They beliefed that this way the good souls can reach heaven best.
You can visit several of this funeral sides. Get a map of the different spots and go around with the motorbike. Of course a guide can show you the not so well known ones and tell you more about the beliefs behind this special grave yards. Its highly recommended to take a good guide to discover the culture.
There are Christian and Muslim Torajan people. But beside this "modern" religion beliefs there is still a strong Torajan culture which comes with a lot of rituals and rules. Life is usually about the "life after death" which is one oft he most important things to concern for an Torajan in his lifetime. The water buffalos are playing a main role in this rituals, as they guard the Torajan people their way to heaven. Also the buffalos are a symbol of wealth and power. Nearly every child gets its own buffalo to take care during his/her life.
We will not go into details here, because you will explore on your own what this all means exactly. Also we are not Torajan people, so we don´t want to share wrong informations based on our visits there. Your guide in Tana Toraja will give you exact information about his own culture. We can just give you the recommendation to book a guide who can introduce you to his/her culture. Every hotel or homestay will have a guide they are working with, make sure to discuss upfront your expectation and what is included in the price.
You might already know that there is quite a lot of animals getting slaughtered during a funeral ceremony. Well that is true, but if you don´t want to witness the buffalo killing there are other options. A funeral mostly lasts for three days. The first day is the introduction day, where all the friends, family members and neighbours will bring their presents. This will be accompanied with music and dances from kids and woman in beautiful clothes. They will also slaughter some animals on this day to provide some food for all the guests in the evening, but it won´t be the main ritual like the slaughtering of the bulls on the second funeral day. So talk with your guide about which day will be the best for you to attend the funeral. If you are attending a funeral your guide will introduce you to the closest family members and it´s common to bring presents like cigarettes with you. Sometimes also the guide will take care of the presents. Also ask your guide what to wear, long cloths should be chosen. You will drive to the funeral sides, which the relatives built for weeks. There are different Bamboo strolls decorated with the beautiful Torajan pattern in which you can sit and watch what is going on. The family members will offer you coffea, tea and sweets. It´s not a sad occassion where everyone is wearing black crying for their lost ones. It´s more a village gathering- people chatting, children playing and there is singing and dancing. Sit down and be part of it, most probably you will stay between two and three hours.
If a Torajan dies, he/she is considered to be sick as long as she/he is not buried in a grave. So it happens (also for money reason because of the expansive funerals) that a corps will be kept in the house for years before their funeral. The family will give the dead family member food, drinks and talk to them every day like he/she is still alive. You can ask your guide to visit a family who lives with a corps. This might sounds creepy or not very polite, but for the family it´s an honor to have foreigners visit the „sick one“. Also it is a really nice experience to see how kind the people treat this dead family members, in this way one can realize what great a role death plays in the Torajan culture.
Visa extension. Stop Over in Palopo.
Paolopo is a very neat, clean city only two hours from Rantepao. In terms of sight seeing there is nothing special to see, just a normal Indonesian city life. A lot of young people attending the university in Palopo, so there is a lot of street life. We recommend to visit the night market, on the big square in front of the "Kantor Walikota Palopo" where you can find good food, fruit juices and coffee as well as music or a few talks with students who want to practice their English. The city is a good stop over to extend your Indonesian Visa. The immigrasi (immigration office) mostly gets it done within one day.
Tip for adventurers. Go beyond Rantepao.
Sulawesi is such a huge wonderful island, there are many regions and corners to explore. If you are fine with staying in homestays or simple huts, you can go west from Rantepao to the Mamasa region or you can make stops in between heading to the Togian Islands. We are curious to hear your stories at the Togian Islands about other regions we haven´t explore yet!