10 things to do in Sulawesi, Indonesia

There are many interesting things to do in Sulawesi, here’s a list of my favourite ten.

At the end of April, I spent a week in Indonesia as part of a media familiarisation trip. We travelled around Sulawesi and visited Ambon in Maluku Islands. This post is based on my experiences during this trip.

1. Eat street food in Palu

Our impromptu night city walk in Palu turned into the greatest street food discovery night. As we were walking past a roadside stall, I couldn’t stop staring at what they were making. I already knew the meat-filled murtabak but there was something else that captured my attention.

What are those giant spongy looking pancakes? Terang bulan – pancakes (made of flour, eggs, sugar and coconut milk) cooked in a large round frying pan. The name can be translated to “full moon”. There were many toppings to choose from, like sugar, chocolate, peanuts and cheese (yes, cheddar cheese in a dessert). Toppings are sprinkled on the pancake, then it’s folded in half and cut into smaller pieces.

We went for the cheese-peanuts combo. Beautiful! Reminded me of a sponge cake with peanut butter – we couldn’t taste the cheese, but it for sure made the pancake nice and moist. Cost: 20 000 IDR = A$2

2. See black macaques and tarsiers in Tangkoko Nature Reserve

The Tangkoko Nature Reserve is a flora and fauna conservation area on Mount Tangkoko in the province of North Sulawesi. The drive there from Manado felt quite lengthy (must have been over 2 hours) but it was worth the journey. We trekked through the jungle for about 20-30 minutes and suddenly, out of nowhere a large group of black crested macaques, endemic to Sulawesi, appeared.

They were quite comfortable in front of cameras, keen to pose for photos and gave us quite a few peep shows too. Seeing macaques in Japan before, I expected a bunch of misbehaving monkeys, but they seemed much calmer and kind of majestic (yes, except the ones showing us all their “goods”).

To see the tarsier (one of the smallest primates in the world) we walked closer to the beach, about 15 minutes away from where we met the black macaques. It was completely dark by then, so one of the guides had to use a small torch in order for us to see the tarsier.

The guides told us it is better to come in the morning – the animals are much more active then and it’s also the best time for birdwatching.

3. Climb the Hill of Love

If you’re up for a challenge (because climbing 2345 steps on a hot & humid afternoon is a challenge!) climb the Hill of Love. If you don’t feel like sweating just walk around the base of the hill, it’s still pretty interesting from down there.

The name Hill of Love comes from the five houses of worship standing in harmony at the top of the peak. It is where people from different religions can gather and worship side by side.

We assembled a crazy-do-it-all team and not only hiked around the hill but also climbed to the huge cross at the top of the hill. Teamwork at its best! (team pic below by Kerri) I liked how the sulphuric steam mixed with the low clouds and made the entire area look very mysterious and special.

4. Eat street food in Makassar

Waterfront area in Makassar is a great place for an evening stroll. Across the road, you can find many street food stalls (it was once known as “the longest restaurant in the world” because of the continuous line of food vendors along the beach). That’s where we found pisang epe – charcoal grilled, flattened banana with palm sugar sauce. Sticky and sweet, lovely way to end the day. Cost (3 bananas): 10 000 IDR = A$1

5. Have lunch on the Tondano Lake

We had a great lunch (one of my favourites of the trip) at Astomi Restaurant. Beautifully located on the Tondano Lake, it felt very relaxing and friendly.

The lake area is also one of the prettiest. We drove past rice paddies and fish farms. I wouldn’t mind stopping there for longer and getting a chance to explore a bit more.

6. Relax at one of the many beaches

Sulawesi has some pretty spectacular beaches. We had a chance to spend half a day at Tanjung Karang Beach (thanks to Prince John Dive Resort- unfortunately, it’s permanently closed now) – what a beautiful, quiet location. Cheeky Bintangs and cocktails started for us before 10am and it wasn’t easy to say goodbye.

7. Go snorkelling (or diving)

Apparently, this area has some of the best diving and snorkelling in Indonesia. I don’t feel comfortable in open water, so when we took a trip to Bunaken Marine Park I asked Juli & Sam to use my GoPro and capture some of the underwater world. They returned victorious, with photos and footage of a curious turtle.

8. Interact with locals

– Selfie, selfie, mister! – if you visit Sulawesi you must be ready for hundreds of selfies with locals (and yes, some will call you mister even if you’re a woman). But it’s not just selfies, they’re happy to chat, ask you questions about your travels or if they don’t speak English even a quick hand wave or peace sign will do the trick. And smile – smile is the international language. All those encounters made me very happy 🙂

This happened one day when our flight was delayed:

9. Visit the black sand beach

It wasn’t planned and I wasn’t sure if we will have enough time to see the black sand beach in the Tangkoko Reserve, but we made it just in time for the last minutes of sunset. The black sand was soft, it wasn’t easy to walk on and it looked quite surreal. I still keep finding it in my shoes!

10. Book a window seat!

Sulawesi is a massive, beautiful island. You most likely will travel around by plane, so do yourself a favour and book a window seat. The views are stunning – you’ll get everything from palm plantations, through sandy beaches, spectacular mountains to some impressive clouds and sunsets.

watch my Indonesian adventures:

I visited Indonesia as an invited guest of Indonesia Tourism Board.

Have you been to Sulawesi? What captured your attention?


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