Sulawesi is one of the main islands of Indonesia and enjoys a strong domestic tourist market, making it one of the top travel destinations in the country. Foreign visitors to Indonesia however often leave it off the list in favor of Lombok or Bali, but anyone willing to make the trip will be rewarded with amazing attractions and some truly stunning scenery.
Sulawesi is divided up into North, South and Central Sulawesi and is also surrounded by a wide variety of islands. This means that it can take a little longer to get around, but it also means that there is just so much to explore here and each region has a unique flavor to it. As a result, you can flit from tropical islands to big cities, and this is also a chance to see how Indonesia’s Christian community lives, as the majority of inhabitants here are Christians which is a marked difference to other islands like Java.
This island is also known for its strong and unique culture, as this is the home of the Toraja people, and you can visit a huge range of attractions here that will fill you in on all the history of Sulawesi and its inhabitants. As well as a chance to see a completely different culture to much of Indonesia, Sulawesi also has some of the best diving opportunities in the archipelago and diving aficionados have been coming for years due to the visibility and amazing range of sea creatures found in these waters.
Let’s explore the best places to visit in Sulawesi:
Makassar is also sometimes referred to as Ujung Pandang and is the capital city of the south of the island.
Most people use Makassar as a way of entering and exiting Sulawesi, but if you are in town then make the most of it by visiting some of its main attractions.
One of these is Fort Rotterdam which was built during the Dutch colonial period, as well as Losari Beach which is a pretty and unexpected tropical delight.
From Makassar you can also easily travel to neighboring attractions like Tana Toraja and Pulau Khayangan.
2. The Wakatobi Islands
The Wakatobi Islands take their name from the first letters of the four islands in this archipelago is southern Sulawesi.
There are Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko and most people visit the islands for the splendid diving opportunities that abound here.
You can fly across to the Wakatobi Islands from Bali, although you will get a completely different beach experience as this is one of the remotest parts of Indonesia.
Expect jet blue seas and clean sands that stretch for miles on a visit here, which more than makes up for the journey.
3. Tana Toraja
Tana Toraja is probably the premium attraction in Sulawesi and it is here that you can learn all about the Torajan indigenous group who call this island home.
At Tana Toraja you can see how people have lived for centuries and there are a range of celebrations here that are unique to Sulawesi such as the elaborate funerals held here.
Make sure to look out for the grave sites which feature effigies of the dead, and you will also find ornate homes, traditional architecture, and local communities.
4. Lindu National Park
The Lindu National Park is located in Palu and even just getting there is something of an experience in itself.
The park sits at the end of a series of mountain roads, and when you get there you will find vast swathes of lush rainforest.
Those who love nature won’t be disappointed, and can enjoy colorful butterflies, majestic hornbills, and cheeky monkeys living in the forest.
The forest also abounds with indigenous exotic plants, and its location is so secluded that it truly feels like you are getting off the grid.
Located in Central Sulawesi, Tentena is best known for Poso Lake which sparkles with an azure hue and is not to be missed if you are in the area.
This is particularly true if you happen to be here in August and you can enjoy the annual Poso Festival which takes place at the lake.
Other attractions in the area include the Saloupa Waterfall, and if you are travelling across from North to South Sulawesi then Tetena makes a great place to stop off for a few days.
Manado is the capital city of North Sulawesi and also the second largest city in Sulawesi.
It is one of the most vibrant spots on the island and is famous for its mix of religious buildings such as Chinese temples and Christian churches.
It also has a rather unexpected attraction in the form of a statue of Jesus Christ which is the fourth tallest statue of its kind in the world.
As Indonesian is a predominantly Muslim country, with over 80% of the population believing in Islam, this kind of Christian architecture is unusual and definitely worth a visit if you are in Manado.
7. Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park
Located in Northern Sulawesi is the Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park which can be easily visited from the neighboring city of Gorontalo.
The main draw here is the acres of pristine rainforest and many tourists don’t make the trip here meaning that you are unlikely to be plagued by crowds and will be able to explore in peace.
There are a range of trails all over the park and you can either hire a guide or go it alone.
Whatever you decide you will find a plethora of plant and animal life here including monkeys, snakes, and birds.
8. Togean Islands
The Togean Islands are one of the best kept secrets in Indonesia, especially if you like diving and you want to check out some of the amazing underwater creatures in this part of the world.
It takes some effort to get to this small archipelago which sits in the Tomini Sea in the north of Sulawesi, but it is more than worth it for the pristine sands and sparkling turquoise seas.
Most people who do make the trip out here do so for the diving, but even if you don’t dive you can still enjoy this beachside paradise that is rarely visited by travelers to Indonesia.
Nature lovers should look no further than Tomohon if they want to see some of the best scenery and natural highlights of Sulawesi.
The big draw here is Mount Mahawu Volcano and this is a top spot if you like trekking, with several different routes and walks available up the mountainside depending on your time and budget.
From the volcano you can take in the lush rural highlands that Tomohon is famous for and you can also enjoy the little handicraft villages that are dotted around the area.
10. Tangkoko National Park
Tangkoko National Park sprawls over an impressive 9,000 hectares of land and is the home of some of the most amazing indigenous animals in North Sulawesi.
As you trek around the various trails in the park look out for tarsiers which have the claim to fame of being the smallest primate in the world as well as Black Crested Macaques which are indigenous to the island.
As with many attractions in Sulawesi, a trip to the park makes you feel as if you landed in the middle of nowhere, so if you are looking for a holiday that lets you get away from the crowds then this is the place to come.
Bunaken Island is one of the best places in the world to dive or snorkel, but because it takes some time to get here many people never get the opportunity to sample its underwater delights.
Bunaken is also part of a wider marine national park and has an impressive array of marine life including 70 different kinds of coral and 5 species of turtles.
On a dive trip here you can expect to see hundreds of species of colorful fish and if you are lucky you might also get the chance to see white and black tip reef sharks.
Other highlights include dugongs, pygmy seahorses, and barracuda.
12. Lembeh Island
If you travel to the city of Bitung you can easily hop across to Lembeh Island which is another one of Sulawesi’s premium diving spots.
The island is known for its muck diving and anyone who likes macro photography absolutely shouldn’t miss it off the itinerary.
The natural sediment on the sea floor here is home to a huge range of underwater critters like harlequin and skeleton shrimps as well as nudibranchs, blue ringed octopus, and orangutan crabs.
There is also an array of amazing fish such as sea robins, devil fish, and banded eels, and you may also see other creatures like banded sea snakes.
13. Lore Lindu National Park
Lore Lindu National park lies in the highlands of Central Sulawesi and is one of the nicest of all the national parks in the areas.
Due to the elevation you can enjoy sweeping views over the surrounding area and the flora and fauna here is superb, and many of the plants here are indigenous to the Besoa and Napu valleys.
You can trek all over the region although many of the trails here require several days to complete and you will need to hire a guide.
This also means that you will camp out overnight as part of a trek and many people find this experience is the highlight of a trip to Sulawesi.
Most people treat Gorontalo as an entry and exit point for the Togean Islands, although this vibrant city should be a tourist hotspot in its own right.
The city is covered in pretty architecture from the Dutch colonial period and is also notable as it is close to a number of attractions just outside the city limits.
These include majestic waterfalls, bubbling hot springs, and colorful coral reefs, so whether you want to explore the city proper or check out the surrounding scenery, you won’t be disappointed if you spend a day or two here en-route to the Togean Islands.
15. Lake Tondano
Lake Tondano sits around 15 kilometers from Tomohon and if you are in the area then it is well worth the trek out here to take in the beautiful scenery and glassy waters.
You can rent a motorbike that will let you drive around the lake, and there are a variety of trails if you like hiking.
The scenery at the edges of the lake is stunning and it is popular with families who come here at the weekends, so if you are looking for a nice day trip from Tomohon then this is a top choice.