Sulawesi

Overview

Introduction

Referred to as "the orchid-shaped island," Sulawesi offers two distinct parts. The north is Christian and relatively modern, and the south is more primitive and much more interesting.

Makassar (or Ujung Pandang) is the major point of entry for most visitors. This hot and dusty city has little of interest aside from the well-preserved Fort Rotterdam and a few nearby sights, such as Bantimurung Waterfall and the butterfly reserve. Some tensions have been reported in central Sulawesi between Christians and Muslims.

We recommend departing immediately for the Tana Toraja region, the highlight of Sulawesi. This area is centered on the town of Rantepao. While in the region, visit the Hanging Graves, with coffins hanging in trees and from cliffs. Tau tau—full-size carvings of the dead—are placed on platforms outside caves chiseled into the cliffs. If you visit in July or August, you'll have a good chance of observing a funeral procession (which can be held years after a person's death)—this period is considered funeral "season." These large, dramatic spectacles sometimes include the sacrifice of water buffalo and other animals—the more animals slaughtered at the funeral, according to belief, the better the hereafter will be for the deceased.

Also see the highly decorated traditional houses, which are built on stilts and have prow-shaped roofs intended to resemble the boats local residents believe brought their ancestors there 5,000 years ago. A visit to the market in Rantepao is another attraction—it's a great place to people-watch (the local dress is very colorful) and also a fine base for trekking in the surrounding area. We suggest at least two nights for this rural, tribal area.

In central Sulawesi is the magnificent Lore Lindu National Park, but this area has experienced violence between Christians and Muslims and is probably best avoided. Near Manado, in Sulawesi's northernmost peninsula, are the Tankoko Batu Angus Reserve and Bunaken National Marine Park. Bunaken and its surroundings have some of the most exciting diving in the world; new species are still being discovered among the coral. Tangkoko is home to one of the world's smallest primates, the tarsier, as well as endangered crested black macaques, cuscus and hornbills.

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