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Epic Backpacking in Sulawesi Travel Guide

Backpacking in Sulawesi, Indonesia, is without a doubt one of my favourite destinations in the world and I have been there twice now on separate trips.

This is my guide on the main places to visit for your backpacking trip there to get the best out of the region.

Backpacking in Sulawesi

Sulawesi has it all—ancient cultures, beautiful islands and beaches, vibrant cities, and excellent hiking opportunities.

You can do these options that I am giving you in either direction. Start in Makassar and finish in Manado, or start in Manado and finish in Makassar. There are other options for backpacking in Sulawesi than these here but if you have a few weeks there then these are the main places you will want to see.

If you have a lot more time and want to get off the beaten path then there are of course other places to visit.

Tip: I recommend getting the Lonely Planet Indonesia travel guide to help plan your backpacking in Sulawesi trip.


Start your journey in Makassar which is a bustling and dynamic metropolis with a rich cultural heritage and is the capital of South Sulawesi. Personally, if you’re not interested in cities, then just spend 1-2 nights here then head north to Tana Toraja which is much more interesting and worth more of your time.

Fort Rotterdam is a must-visit attraction in Makassar if you plan to spend some time there. It has a unique blend of Dutch and indigenous architecture and provides a glimpse into the city’s colonial past. Inside the fort, you’ll find museums and exhibitions showcasing local history and culture.

Losari Beach is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. The boulevard along the beach is a great place for an evening stroll, and you can enjoy beautiful sunsets. There are also street food stalls where you can try local snacks.

Visit Paotere Harbor to witness the bustling maritime activities. You can see traditional wooden sailing ships which are an essential part of Sulawesi’s seafaring culture.

Makassar is known for its delicious local cuisine. Don’t miss trying Coto Makassar, a traditional beef soup, and Konro, which is a flavorful beef rib soup. Seafood is also abundant, given the city’s coastal location.

Explore local markets such as Pasar Terong and Pasar Butung for a taste of daily life. You can find a variety of goods, from fresh produce to traditional crafts.

Makassar also has a vibrant Chinatown, known as Kampung Cina. Explore the narrow streets, visit temples, and sample Chinese-Indonesian dishes.

Tana Toraja

Head north to Tana Toraja after Makassar, which is known for its unique burial traditions, traditional houses, and stunning landscapes.

When you are backpacking in Sulawesi make sure to make a trip to Tana Toraja as it’s one of the best cultural experiences you will have there.

Tana Toraja is famous for its traditional houses called Tongkonan, characterized by their boat-shaped roofs. These houses are not only architectural wonders but also play a significant role in Torajan culture. Take the time to visit local villages and witness the intricate carvings and designs on these traditional structures.

The main town in Tana Toraja, Rantepao, serves as a convenient base for exploring the surrounding villages and attractions. The town itself offers markets, shops, and a chance to experience the local way of life.

Tana Toraja is known for its elaborate funeral ceremonies and unique burial practices. Visit the Londa Burial Cave, where you’ll find burial caves carved into the rock walls, housing coffins and wooden effigies of the deceased. It’s a fascinating and somewhat eerie experience.

Kete Kesu is a traditional Torajan village known for its well-preserved Tonkonan houses, ancient stone graves, and unique hanging graves.

Experience the rich cultural heritage of Tana Toraja by attending a traditional dance or music performance. These events often showcase the vibrant traditions and rituals of the Torajan people.

Explore the scenic countryside by trekking to Batutumonga, a highland village offering panoramic views of terraced rice fields and lush landscapes. Buntu Pune is another viewpoint that provides breathtaking vistas.

Visit Lemo Stone Graveyard to see an impressive collection of ancient stone graves, including Tau-Tau, wooden effigies representing the deceased. The location offers a serene atmosphere surrounded by green hills.

Tana Toraja is a paradise for nature enthusiasts. Consider taking hikes through the lush countryside, exploring rice terraces, and discovering hidden waterfalls. The landscapes are stunning and offer a chance to experience the region’s natural beauty.

Explore the vibrant local markets in Rantepao, such as Pasar Bolu and Pasar Rantepao. These markets are excellent places to witness daily life, buy traditional crafts, and taste local snacks.

If possible, attend a Torajan funeral ceremony, one of the most unique and elaborate cultural events in Tana Toraja. These ceremonies can last for several days and involve traditional rituals, dances, and feasts.

Read my separate article all about Tana Toraja.

The Togian Islands

The Togian Islands, located in the Gulf of Tomini in Central Sulawesi, are a remote and pristine archipelago known for their crystal-clear waters, vibrant coral reefs, and diverse marine life.

The islands consist of around 56 islands, each with its unique charm. Popular islands to visit include Kadidiri, Malenge, Batudaka, and Una-Una. Consider island hopping to explore the beauty of the different landscapes and marine environments.

The Togian Islands are a paradise for snorkelers and divers. The coral reefs are teeming with colourful marine life, including various species of fish, turtles, and coral formations. Some popular dive sites include Una-Una, Batudaka, and Kadidiri.

Visit the traditional Bajo village of Dolong to learn about the sea gipsy way of life. You can observe their unique stilt houses, interact with the friendly locals, and gain insights into their fishing practices.

Explore the uninhabited island of Batu Gila, known for its stunning coral formations and excellent snorkelling opportunities. Karina Beach on Batudaka is another beautiful spot with white sand and turquoise waters.

The Togian Islands are part of the Coral Triangle, one of the most biodiverse marine areas globally. Be mindful of the delicate ecosystems and support local conservation efforts. Follow responsible snorkelling and diving practices to minimize impact.

Manado and Pulau Bunaken

The city of Manado itself is not that interesting but it is the gateway to the north and is a good place to do some day trips to nearby areas or to take the boat to Pulau Bunaken.

The one thing I did love in Manado was Wakeke Street which is famous for its culinary delights. Explore the street and try local snacks, desserts, and seafood dishes. It’s an excellent opportunity to experience the local food scene.

Manado is known for its spicy and flavorful cuisine. Don’t miss trying local specialities such as Cakalang Fufu (smoked skipjack tuna), Tinutuan (Manado porridge), and Rica-Rica dishes (spicy dishes with various types of meat).

It is renowned for its world-class diving and snorkelling opportunities, particularly in Bunaken Marine Park. The park is home to vibrant coral reefs, diverse marine life, and crystal-clear waters. Spend time exploring the underwater world and witnessing the incredible biodiversity.

For wildlife enthusiasts, Tangkoko Nature Reserve is a must-visit. The reserve contains various species, including black macaques, tarsiers, and hornbills. Guided tours can take you through the lush rainforest to observe these fascinating creatures.

Getting to and Around Sulawesi

Sulawesi is well-connected by domestic flights. You can fly into major cities like Makassar or Manado and then use buses, minibuses, or rental cars to travel within the island.

As you’re most likely backpacking in Sulawesi it’s best to use the buses and minibuses and you can also rent motorbikes for the day as well which is actually one of the best ways to get around in places like Tana Toraja.

To get to the Togian Islands you can take a ferry from Gorontalo which is a city several hours drive away from Manado.


Go backpacking in Sulawesi, especially if you’re already in southeast Asia and looking for a very unique and interesting place to visit.

Here are some tours you may be interested in in the south of Sulawesi for Tana Toraja and Makassar if you’re short on time and want to spend some money to see a lot in a shorter time:

Exploring Sulawesi’s rugged landscapes, vibrant culture, and diverse wildlife is a truly unforgettable experience for any backpacker. From the bustling markets of Makassar to the serene shores of the Togian Islands, Sulawesi offers a kaleidoscope of adventures waiting to be discovered.

Whether you’re trekking through remote jungles, diving into crystal-clear waters, or immersing yourself in the traditions of local communities, each moment promises to be filled with wonder and excitement.

So pack your bags, set out on the trail less travelled, and let Sulawesi captivate your heart and soul with its endless treasures.

Tip: I recommend getting the Lonely Planet Indonesia travel guide to help plan your backpacking in Sulawesi trip.

I recommend using SafetyWing Travel Insurance as backpacking travel insurance for your trip, just in case, it’s best to be prepared.

For more on the region have a look at my guides to Indonesia.

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