From Bali to Tana Toraja | Discovery of a millennial animist culture!
Tana Toraja is an ethnic region and not a city. The Toraja people live in a mountainous region in South Sulawesi. The majority of the Torajas are of the Christian religion (Protestant then Catholic): the bell towers of the Protestants are distinguished by a rooster. There is no direct flight from From Bali to Tana Toraja. The fastest flight lasts 7h 30m and includes a stopover. Tana Toraja, a mountainous region where lives a people who knew how to preserve their ancestral traditions and an extraordinary culture.
The Torajas are known mainly for their rites and funerary sites as well as the architecture of their habitat. Between July and August, the small villages are a buzz of activity as it funeral season.
Death is not considered as a sad event but as a time to celebrate, with elaborate festivities. The squimish may want to pass as the celebration includes buffalo slaughter.
Boat-House Mausoleum. Kete Kesu Village, Tana Toraja. A modern form of burial in Toraja is to inter the deceased in mausolea such as this. The burial chamber is cylindrical in form, but its cross-section resembles a leaf or a bud from nature. The end of this one is decorated with a sunburst motif, that resembles the Majapahit Sun on Java. The burial chamber is encased in a boat-shaped bier; the “boat house” architecture is ubiquitous in Toraja, unique to that place, and used both in the distant past and today for houses, granaries, and coffins. Traditional sun-and-moon roosters and other decorations are painted underneath the roof, and portrait photographs of the principal deceased couple (other family members may also share the burial chamber) are affixed below the pediment. Michael Gunther, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The Torajas are said to be former sailors from southern China or Burma. After having conquered the coasts of Sulawesi, they took refuge in the mountains before the invasion of the Bugis peoples and the arrival of Islam.
In Sulawesi, it is the originality of their culture and their impressive funeral ceremonies that have made the Toraja famous. The very particular architecture of their houses in the shape of a boat and the fantastic landscapes of rice fields will make you understand to what extent the Tana Toraja is a land of encounters, sacred rites and beauty…
So, isolated from the world and to meet their needs, they learned to use every plot of land, abandoning slash and burn cultivation for terraced rice fields. So many vestiges for you to discover!
Tongkonan, the traditional house of the Toraja tribe. The roof is curved like a boat, consisting of a bamboo structure (currently some tongkonan use zinc roof). The location of this Tongkonan is in the Ne’Gandeng Museum, Tagari, North Toraja. Ribkha Tandepadang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
From Bali to Tana Toraja by Plane
This is the best travel itinerary from Bali to Tana Toraja by plane (at the moment):
- Ngurah Rai Airport (DPS) to Sultan Hasanuddin Airport (UPG) flight time: 1 hr 20 min.
Stopover in UPG.
- Sultan Hasanuddin Airport (UPG) to Toraja Airport (TRT) flight time: 55 min.
- And only around 1h 15mn drive from TRT airport to Rantepao (biggest city in Tana Toraja)
Example flights from Bali to Tana Toraja:
- Ngurah Rai (DPS) > Makassar (UPG) > Toraja Airport (TRT)
- Flight time: DPS to UPG 1h20mn and UPG to TRT 55 minutes. Total flight time: 2h 15m (excluding transit). With transit, sometime it takes 7 to 9 hours in total (flight time and transit time).
- And only around 1h 15mn drive from TRT airport to Rantepao (biggest city in Tana Toraja)
- Ngurah Rai (DPS) > Makassar (UPG) > Lagalio Palopo (LLO)
- Flight time: Ngurah Rai (DPS) to Makassar (UPG) 1h 20m flight. STOPOVER. Makassar (UPG) to Lagalio Palopo (LLO) 1h flight. Total flight time: 2h 20mn (excluding transit).
- And from (LLO) drive to Tana Toraja Regency takes around 4 hours drive by car.
- Ngurah Rai (DPS) > Jakarta (CGK) > Makassar (UPG) > Toraja Airport (TRT)
- Flight Time: DPS to CGK 1h 50m and CGK to UPG 2h 25m and UPG to TRT 55m. Total flight time: 4h 10mn (excluding transit).
- And only around 1h 15mn drive from TRT airport to Rantepao (biggest city in Tana Toraja)
- Ngurah Rai (DPS) > Makassar (UPG) > Mamuju (MJU)
- Flight time: Ngurah Rai (DPS) to Makassar (UPG) it takes 1h 20m by flight. STOPOVER in Makassar Sultan Hasanuddin (UPG) to Mamuju (MJU) it takes 1h. Total flight time: 2h 20mn (excluding transit).
- And from Mamuju (MJU) to Tana Toraja Regency takes 7 hours drive by car / bus.
- Ngurah Rai (DPS) > Makassar (UPG)
- Flight time: Ngurah Rai (DPS) to Makassar Sultan Hasanuddin (UPG) it takes 1h 20m by flight. Total flight time: 1h 20mn.
- And from Makassar airport (UPG) to Tana Toraja Regency takes 9 hours drive by car / bus. But along the way you’ll pass the scenic rice terrace and Bugis traditional house.
Airlines from Bali to Raja Ampat:
How to get to Toraja by bus or car from Makassar, Ten Tena or Ampana?
The big city of the Toraja country is Rantepao. I fyou decide to fly from Bali to Makassar, you have to get to Toraja by private car or bus. The journey is long… very long, whether you come from North or South Sulawesi.
- Makassar (south) > Rantepao: duration 9 hours – € 12 / IDR 200,000
- TenTena (north) > Rantepao: duration 13 hours – € 11 / IDR 180,000
- Ampana (north) > Rantepao: duration 17 hours – € 15 / IDR 250,000
- Manado (north) > Rantepao: duration 26 hours – € 40 / IDR 600,000
- For night journeys, remember to put on your pants + a sweet because like everywhere in Asia, the air conditioning is on full blast in the night buses and it is very cold!!
- You can also privatize a mini van with driver for more comfort. It won’t be much shorter but you won’t be with other people. Personally, I find that night buses are more comfortable (seat almost bed) and safer. Minivans tend to drive a little fast and on this type of road, in the event of an accident it is always better to be the bigger one
The strong points in Tanatoraja
◊ Visit of traditional villages to discover the Toraja way of life.
◊ Discovery of funerary caves and their impressive balconies with mortuary effigies.
◊ Drive through sublime landscapes and cross Bugis villages.
◊ Discovery of the animist beliefs preserved by the Toraja people with perhaps the chance to participate in a funeral ceremony if planned in the region during your stay.
Things to do and see in Tana Toraja
1. Rantepao, capital of the Tana Toraja
The big city of the Toraja is Rantepao. This is the city that serves as a starting point for the discovery of the Toraja.
When you visit Rantepao and the Toraja, you quickly realize that the whole life of the islanders is organized around death and funerals.
Rantepao is both the tourist capital of the Toraja country and the base camp to discover the traditional Toraja villages and the incredible landscapes of the region. Indeed, it is an excellent starting point to meet the Toraja people known for their unusual funeral ceremonies and rites.
The city itself is not very big. It is discovered quite quickly through its 3 main arteries. However, in spite of its size, the guetshouses, the restaurants as well as the souvenir shops abound there.
Although it is the tourist capital of the Toraja country, there are not many things to do in Rantepao. The main attraction of the city remains its market housing a traditional market and a market for animals. The first takes place every day. You will find a succession of stalls rich in colors offering fresh products such as fruit and vegetables, fish, rice… The market for animals, meanwhile, takes place every Friday. It is renowned for its buffaloes, a sacred animal central to the beliefs of the Toraja people. If any buffalo costs between € 3,000 to 4,000, an albino buffalo, recognizable with its pink skin and blue eyes can be worth up to € 45,000.
From Rantepao, it is easy to discover the surrounding landscapes, made up of mountains and rice terraces. Make a few stops in traditional villages like Palawa where you will discover the atypical houses called Tongkonan.
When to go?
The city of Rantepao enjoys a humid tropical climate with two distinct seasons. A rainy season between November and April, and a dry season, between May to October. The best time to visit this region is between the months of June to October.
How to get there?
Most tourists who wish to travel to Rantepao by bus do so from Makassar in the south, and from Tentena in the north.
Bus to Rantepao from Makassar:
From Makassar, two main companies namely, Litha and Bintang Prima, travel to Rantepao. In addition, their buses are comfortable and allow you to rest during the 8 hours of road necessary to cross the 350 km which separate these two localities. The trip costs around 150,000 Rp/pers.
Bus to Rantepao from Tentena
From the town of Tentena, several bus companies offer trips to Rantepao.
Several bus companies offer trips from different towns north of Rantepao. The cost of the trip is around Rp 170,000 and the trip lasts between 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
2. KeTe Kesu (Tongkonan Village)
KeTe’Kesu is an old Toraja village on the edge of a pond where you can see Tongkonans (the famous Toraja houses) and a sanctuary cave where chiefs would be “deposited”. One can enter the Tongkonans if they are open.
These houses (the Tongkonans in general) have the particularity of not being able to be bought or sold. Only on family inheritance.
This village is indeed famous for its traditional Toraja cemetery where the bodies are placed on cliffs and caves behind this village. There are also several tombs that are considered modern, namely tombs that use buildings such as houses and have photos of family members who have been buried in them.
KeteKesu, Tana Toraja. Kete Kesu is one of the villages that has been designated by the Indonesian government as a national heritage site and, more practically speaking, as a tourist destination. It is arranged in the traditional way, with granaries to the left and houses to the right. The buildings are of course modern, but the boat shape of their roofs is very old, and is thought to trace back to the seafaring origin of this Austronesian people. Michael Gunther, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
3. Londa cliff
Londa, a small village located not far from the capital of the Toraja country has become an essential stopover thanks to its unusual rites and traditions. Indeed, in this village, the deceased are placed in a cave (about 1 km deep) located on the side of a cliff. At the entrance to this cave, there are also the famous Tau-tau, these small wooden figurines carved in the image of the deceased. If the sight of a few bones doesn’t scare you, visiting Londa Cave will give you a memorable experience during your stay in Indonesia.
The presence of the Tau-tau, some of which are several hundred years old, proves that the Londa cave served as a cemetery for the inhabitants of the region since very remote times. A legend also says that in the past, a couple whose relationship was forbidden found themselves in this cave to kill themselves. For some, they jumped off the cliff. For others, they hanged themselves. But no matter how they died, visiting the cave you will find the bones of a man and a woman placed side by side.
Visit Londa Cave
The village of Londa is located 6 km (3.7 miles) from Rantepao, the capital of the country Toraja, the most visited place in Indonesia after Bali and Java. Like all the villages that make up the Toraja country, Londa has its own funeral rite which has become a real tourist attraction over time. Indeed, the village is famous for its rather special tombs. Located on the side of a steep rock, two natural caves with a length of about 1 km (0.6 mile) serve as a vault for the deceased of the village.
With the company of a guide, you have the opportunity to visit these burial chambers. However, the course is not easy and requires good physical condition. Given the depth of the cave, you should also have a good source of lighting, or failing that, you can always rent oil lamps, better known as Petromax, at the entrance to the site. For the local guides on site, you should know that most of them are family with the deceased. Thus, they will not only be able to lead you through the cave, but also tell the story of this place and explain to you why certain deceased are placed in such a place.
Tau Tau figurines
But before visiting the cave itself, one of the things that will not fail to attract your attention are the many statuettes carved in the image of the deceased located just above the entrance to the cave. Known as Tau-tau, these wooden figurines indicate the presence of a person who belonged to a high social stratum. Of great artistic and cultural value, the Tau-tau, some of which are hundreds of years old, are prone to theft due to their high price.
Inside the cave, hundreds of skulls and thousands of bones are strewn all over the floor, while the coffins are hung high. But despite all this, the air is breathable and there is no unpleasant smell. If the first meters of the cave are easily accessible, the deeper you go inside, the more access becomes more and more difficult. You will even have to crawl to reach the last burial chamber.
How to get to Londa?
The village of Londa is only 6 km (3.7 miles) from the town of Rantepao, in the direction of Makale. 15 minutes is enough to get there by car, and even less if you go there by scooter.
4. Visite funeral sites
There many funeral site, below are the most commons.
And yes, to attend a funeral ceremony in the Toraja Country, you will necessarily have to be accompanied by a local guide. Or at least the first time. Indeed, the guide has the authorization to introduce tourists during the ceremonies.
Moreover, by going there with a guide, you will have all the explanations. And a funeral ceremony in the Toraja without explanations is of no interest. Plus, it will be exactly where to go and when.
Lemo is the largest troglodyte cemetery in the Toraja Country.
There are only 2 or 3 people left who still know how to dig graves in the traditional way… that is to say, by hand!
From Rantepao to Lemo it takes around 20 minutes by car.
The particular case of Bori Rante. When we visited, the ceremonial ground was in the middle of nature. Today, the only photos found online show a site of megaliths surrounded by tongkonans. It would seem that these tongkonans are houses for funerals, like in Sa’dan.
A site with huge megaliths and troglodyte tombs. At the time, the site hosted animal sacrifices.
Boro Parinding or Bori Rante, is a grave complex of stone burrows and rante or the place of the death ceremony of Rambu Solo which is located in Bori Village, Sesean District, North Toraja.
Leaving the site from the back, passing in front of the recent troglodyte tombs and going up in the direction of the “200 buffalo horns” we come across a Tongkonan with a lot of buffalo horns (is it the 200 buffalo horns?).
Only 5 km (3.1 miles) from Batutumonga, on the road to Pangalla, Lokomata is visited by a few tourists because of its large rock. This circular mastodon, a good 20 meters (65 ft) in diameter, is dug with graves. The village behind is, like many others in the region, denatured by corrugated iron.
Tampang Allo (The Chiefs Cemetery)
Open cave containing several “sarcophagi” of what would be former Toraja caste leaders. The burial cave is like a cemetery but of a particularly special kind. The one chosen by our guide is not touristic, it is small but representative of the customs of the Toraja country.
The coffins are wooden, and most of them are very damaged, the bones and skulls have fallen out. These were therefore replaced in a well-ordered manner in different places in the cave. You will also find “tau tau”, small symbolic wooden effigies. It was an opportunity to ask him a thousand questions about this culture so incredible and different from ours. In this cellar, the oldest coffins date back more than 400 years.
5. Do Trekking
- In the middle of rice fields and mountains in the vicinity of Lemo. Being invited to share a delicious toraja coffee in the middle of the rice fields by the farmers.
- From Makale: Suaya, Tampangallo, Kambira (babies in the trees).
- The landscapes around Batutumonga (rice fields in water, funerary sites).
- Batutumonga, Lempo, Deri, Palawa: landscapes, funerary sites, traditional villages.
The landscapes around Mamasa, with many villages.
6. Visit Traditional villages
- Kete Kesu: Tongkonan houses and burial site.
- Palawa: tongkonan.
- The villages around Mamasa, with a different Tongkonan architecture: less colorful, lots of geometric patterns and pointillism and no animal painting. And boat-shaped coffins – the Mandar come from the sea.
- Ballapeu and its surroundings.
7. Visit Statue of Jesus Christ Blessing (Jesus Buntu Burake)
Jesus Christ Blessing is at Makale in Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi. It stands on the top of Buntu Burake hill at about 1 700 meters (5 577 ft) above sea level and offers a great panorama. With a total height of 40 meters (130 ft), it is one of the tallest statue of Jesus Christ in the world.
8. Tilanga Natural Pool
This picturesque place with clear blue waters is located very close to Lemo or 10 km north of Makale. We weren’t going to go there at all, jump in another truck for Makale, but on the way the man told us about the lake, and we turned back.
From the main road in Tilanga, walk a few miles, but what a beautiful views on the sides.
Other Best South Sulawesi places to visit
Makassar, the main city of Sulawesi
Makassar (also known as Ujungpandang) is a city located in South Sulawesi. This beautiful city that mixes tradition and modernity is the capital of the province of South Sulawesi.
The city of Makassar is very pleasant to visit. There is a long walk to do on the coast. You will also be able to visit Fort Rotterdam and a floating mosque.
The atmosphere of Makassar is very warm and the location of the city is ideal for natural explorations in the region.
From Bali to Makassar
It takes 1h 20 minutes from Bali to Makassar airport.
Here are some ideas of places to visit in Makassar on the island of Sulawesi:
- Fort Rotterdam
- Losari Beach
- Samalona Island
- Akkarena Beach
- Dome 99 Mosque
From top, left to right: Karebosi Skyline, Trans Studio Makassar. Floating Mosque Makassar, Traditional Macasssr houses Makassar-Gowa road, Statue. File:Makassar CBD Skyline.jpg: HumaidynursaidyFile:TransStudioStreet.JPG: SankoFile:Floating Mosque Sulawesi.jpg: IkhvanFile:Bugis houses Sulawesi.jpg: BanjuniFile:Fisher Statue.jpg: SergeyFile:FortRotterdam3.jpg: SankoFile:Losari Beach.jpg: Closariderivative work: Badpuccini, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Lake Tempe and its floating homes
Tempe Lake is a large lake located in the South Sulawesi region. It is a magical place where you can find floating houses inhabited by Indonesians.
The houses move according to the wind and the currents. The inhabitants of this houses are mainly fishermen.
Visit Lake Tempe in a traditional canoe, admire the beauty and serenity of this lake, as well as the daily life of fishermen who live around it with their floating houses. Considered one of the greatest freshwater fish products in the world!. Then continue to visit Palopo with the boat port and fishing village, the road climbs with the magnificent landscape between the mountains, hills and the sea.
You could try to stay with the locals in one of these floating houses in order to experience an extraordinary adventure! It’s quite easy to visit the floating village by chartering a longboat from the bustling market town of Sengkang. It generally takes about an hour to reach the floating village and you’ll need at least an hour to float among the homes and watch the fishermen pulling traps or casting nets.
Taka Bonerate National Park (Selayar Island)
The Taka Bonerate National Park is located on a collection of small islands in the Flores Sea in southernmost Sulawesi. It extends over 15 islands for a total area of 5 308 square meters (57 134 square feet). According to Wikipedia, it is the 3rd largest atoli in the world.
Taka Bonerate National Park is a marine park which includes the Takabonerate atoll islands, located in the Flores Sea, south of Sulawesi island of Indonesia.
The area, which consists of the atoll islands and surrounding marine area was granted national park protection status in 1992. In 2015 the Taka Bone Rate National Park has been included in the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves. RaiyaniM, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Taka Bonerate National Park is renowned as a scuba diving destination. It is a nature reserve that protects many marine species but also many species of birds. There are some wonderful coral reefs here. So, do you want to go diving in one of the most beautiful marine places in the world?
How to go to Selayar island?
In fact, Selayar is very accessible, only 40 minutes by plane from Makassar, for 25 euros via wings air. To get the tickets, you can use Traveloka (the tickets are not more expensive there, and above all it solves the problems linked to the lion air / wing air site which does not work with all credit cards). The airport is located near the main town of Benteng, a small seaside town (taxi journey IDR 150,000) where you can ask the inhabitants for homestays. You can enjoy fresh fish on the port, sarraba (drink ginger coconut palm sugar, to die for).
The following destinations are served from H. Aroeppala Airport (KSR):
- Airlines Destinations
- Aviastar Mandiri: from Bone, Kendari, Labuan Bajo, Ruteng
- Citilink: from Makassar
- Susi Air: from Bima, Bone, Kendari
- Wings Air: from Makassar
Or you can drive from Makassar Taka Bonerate National Park (Selayar island) by driving and then ferry
it takes around 5 hours 30 minutes.
In the surroundings, you can negotiate with a boatman to take you to the beach of Liang Kareta (count in IDR 300 000 for about half a day, you can also ask to take you snorkeling in the surroundings, in particular the site of ujung lola, in the northwest of the island opposite Benteng, pulau pasi, but people call it by the name of the villages, especially that of Gusung, go for a walk there too, there are mangroves). You can rent fins for IDR 20,000 a day from shops in Benteng.
In the vicinity of Beteng (15 minutes by scooter) there is also the village of Bitombang, known for its houses over 100 years old, built on huge stilts (7 to 12m), and the many centenarians who populate the city.
Bantimurung-Bulusaraung National Park
Bantimurung-Bulusaraung National Park is located in South Sulawesi, north of Makassar.
This is a huge park with an area of more than 43,000 square meters (462 848 square feet). The park is composed of 3 distinct types of ecosystems: a karst region, lowland forests and low mountain forests.
It is a region where rare species of butterflies, birds and insects are found. There is also the butterfly museum.
If you visit the Bantimurung-Bulusaraung National Park, you should take a trip to the famous Bantimurung waterfall. It is a magnificent waterfall 15 meters (49 feet) high.
There are also many caves in the park and beautiful hikes to do in this beautiful park to visit in Sulawesi!
Bantimurung-Bulusaraung National Park is a national park in South Sulawesi in Indonesia. The park contains the Rammang-Rammang karst area, the second-largest karst area known in the world after the one in South-Eastern China. The park is in Maros Regency, 50 kilometers (31 miles) to the north of Makassar (one hour drive) or just 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) from Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport (30 minutes drive). Most of the Karst formations are tall and steep at almost a 90-degree angle line along both sides of the road from Maros city to Bantimurung continuing on up to the Pangkajene and Islands Regency (Indonesian: Pangkajene dan Kepulauan, commonly abbreviated as Pangkep). Aalmarusy, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo description: funeral ritual Rambu Solo in Tana Toraja.