A stone garden in the prehistoric Leang caves area, Bantimurung district, South Sulawesi. (Shutterstock/krisbiantoandy)
If you’re looking for an Indonesian destination rich in culture, active pursuits and unparalleled marine life, don’t miss South Sulawesi.
This diverse destination seemingly has it all; from UNESCO-listed scuba diving to white-sand islands, impressive karst landscapes, hiking and cave paintings dating back over 35,000 years.
Now is the best time to visit, so pack your bags and remember to take your best camera — you’re going to need it.
1. Explore the wonders of Bantimurung Bulusaraung National Park
The lush Bantimurung Bulusaraung National Park is well worth visiting to see some of the numerous butterfly species found there.
Just 50 kilometers from Makassar, this diverse park consists of lower montane forests, lowland forests and striking karst landscapes, dotted with stalactite-filled caves and photogenic landscapes.
Take your camera; the steep karst walls of the park are dripping with tropical vegetation and host various species of rare butterflies, birds and insects.
Be sure to visit the butterfly museum to discover more about the unique species in the area and take a walk to the impressive multi-level Bantimurung waterfall.
2. Hike the impressive Mouth of God
For one of the best views of South Sulawesi, put your hiking boots on and hike the popular Bawakaraeng Mountain.
This “Mouth of God” is a well-trodden trail, making it relatively easy to find your way up and marvel at the panoramic views that await you.
It’s a popular hiking spot so set off early to enjoy the trails in peace before it gets busy.
3. Discover ancient Dutch architecture at Fort Rotterdam
Step back in time at Fort Rotterdam, where you can see the best example of Dutch architecture in Indonesia; dating back to 1545.
The well-known Fort of Makassar harbor also has an art gallery and the La Galigo Museum, where you can discover Paleolithic artifacts, Polynesian and Buddhist statues and more.
4. Immerse in Indonesian burial traditions at Londa Burial Caves
The extensive and popular burial caves of Londa are not to be missed to learn more about Indonesian burial traditions whilst you marvel at the impressive architecture of the burial caves.
English-speaking guides will tell you all about the local myths and history of the caves as you pass by piles of coffins and bones nestled among the stalactite and stalagmite-filled caves.
5. View ancient cave paintings and handprints
The ancient carvings of hands in the rock face of the Leang caves will send a chill down your spine as you feel the humanity of years long gone by and think about the artists who created them.
These caves are known for their ancient paintings and handprints dating back over 35,000 years – making them among the oldest pictographs in the world.
6. Snorkel waters teeming with life at a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve
After immersing in the culture of South Sulawesi, it’s time to head to the ocean and experience some of the activities this region is best known for, in the stunning Wakatobi National Park.
Wakatobi, a protected UNESCO Marine Biosphere Reserve covers a huge 1.39 million hectares and is absolutely teeming with marine life.
Grab your mask, snorkel and fins and you can explore the shallows at numerous places throughout the park.
You’ll likely spot sea turtles, seahorses, plenty of colorful reef fish and harmless reef sharks as you swim over the pristine coral reefs.
7. Dive some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world
For a more immersive Wakatobi experience, you can’t beat scuba diving as you island-hop your way through the national park.
This special area is home to some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world and has a large variety of dive sites to discover.
If you visit from November to April you might see short-finned pilot whales, whilst July to August offers the chance to see huge shoals of fish as they gather to spawn in their thousands.
Whichever time of year you visit, be sure to look out for dolphins. They’re known to frequent the park around dawn.
8. Discover Indonesia’s UNESCO-listed Art of Boatbuilding in South Sulawesi
If you go island-hopping and diving at Wakatobi, you’ll no doubt find yourself admiring the elegant Indonesian wooden boats drifting atop the turquoise seas.
Indonesia has a rich boat-building history – so much so that South Sulawesi’s Art of Boatbuilding is UNESCO-listed.
Take a trip to Pantai Tanah Beru, a bustling center for traditional phinisi shipbuilding, to find out more and watch these gorgeous sailing vessels come to life.
9. Meet Indonesia’s nomadic sea gypsies
Wakatobi might be best-known for its incredible diving but there are some non-diving hidden gems you won’t want to miss. A visit to the Bajo Tribe is one of them.
Once known as nomadic sea gypsies, these people have lived in the water for centuries and are outstanding freedivers – capable of diving to 50 meters without scuba gear and walking on the ocean floor.
Be sure to visit their stilted homes with a local guide and experience their way of life first-hand.
10. Visit the ‘beach with a thousand turtles’
If you’re a fan of sea turtles, make sure you take a trip to Anano Beach at Anano Runduma Island, Wakatobi.
You can enjoy beach walking, exploring the small forest on the island and searching for sea turtles.
This island is known for its numerous green and hawksbill turtles. Visit during the full moon and you may get to see green turtles gathering at the beach to lay their eggs.
11. Relax in paradise at Hoga Island
For a truly idyllic end to your South Sulawesi trip, spend a day relaxing on Hoga Island. You can dip your toes in warm water as it laps against the white-sand beach or stroll along the palm-fringed shores.
Either way, this remote island is not to be missed.
12. Capture the sunset at Akkarena Beach
Got time for one last stop before you go home? Take a 10-minute trip from Makassar city and watch the sun go down at Akkarena Beach.
The black sands and boardwalk are striking against the setting orange sun; perfect for a final photographic memory to take home. (kes)