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Sulawesi, Indonesia

Toraja Cultural Immersion

Visiting Toraja is to experience a culture like no other. Many of the Torajan people continue to hold on to their ancient animist belief of Aluk To Dolo (The Way of the Ancestors) and the Torajans are known for their elaborate funeral ceremonies. A few days in Toraja will immerse you into a mystical world of extravagant boat-shaped houses, stone graves carved out of rocky cliff faces and beautiful bamboo forests. You may also encounter a funeral ceremony, during which buffalos are slaughtered and hundreds of guests are hosted. It's an otherworldly place.


The experience starts from Rantepao, which is one of the biggest cities in the Toraja region. The closest airport hub to Rantepao is Makassar airport (there are direct flights from Singapore, Jakarta and Denpasar and many more Indonesian cities). The guide will pick you up from Makassar airport to take you to Rantepao, which is approximately 8 hours' drive away.

You can self-drive around the Torajan countryside but we wouldn't recommend it as that would only give you a very superficial understanding of this fascinating place. Having a local guide with you will give you color on what you're seeing, and background on the history, culture and traditions of the region. They will also know when/where the funeral ceremonies are being held and take you to one so that you can be fully exposed to the unique traditions of the Torajan people.

You don't need to train up, though you should be able to handle light walks for a few hours at a time. The guides are also very flexible and are able to accommodate varying fitness levels, so you can walk as much or as little as you would like!

You can visit Toraja any time in the year.

If you would like to encounter a traditional funeral ceremony, the chances of doing so are higher in the period from July to August - there are many local holidays during these months so the Torajan people tend to plan the funeral ceremonies for then. Do note though that this period coincides with peak travel season, so it may be busier than usual in Toraja.

You will need 5 days in total - 3 days in Toraja and 2 days getting there and back.

Each of the guides offers a similar itinerary so you should pick based on what type of guide you prefer, and level of accommodation (see below).

In terms of accommodation, Erwin and Markus both put their guests up at Indra Hotel, a basic 1 star hotel which is well-maintained and clean. Lisa Soba puts his guests up at Hotel Luta, a 3 star hotel which is nicer and more comfortable.

In terms of the guides, Markus is good with families and people who are taking it a bit slower. Erwin is good with young people (i.e. couples and groups) and is a good choice for those who would like more trekking. Lisa is incredibly knowledgeable and well-regarded, and is a good choice for those who would like more in-depth history of the area.

Below is a sample itinerary - though what you see will largely depend on what local activities are taking place during the period of your visit. The guides are also very flexible and are happy to accommodate any specific interests you have!

Day 1: Pick up from the airport in Makassar and take a scenic drive from Makassar to Rantepao (about 8 hours' drive), with stops for food and to see local life along the way. Spend the night at the hotel in Rantepao.

Day 2: Drive around Rantepao to see some of the special sights of the Torajan people, such as graves carved into rocky cliff faces, tombs in the shape of boats, the buffalo market (if your trip falls on a Tuesday or a Saturday) and the Ke'te Kesu' traditional village. You may also get to experience a funeral ceremony (this will depend on whether/when a ceremony is planned). Spend the night at the hotel in Rantepao.

Day 3: Go deeper into the Torajan countryside on foot to immerse yourself fully into the lives of the Torajan people. The hike will take you through traditional Torajan villages, rice fields and bamboo forests. Spend the night at a homestay in a traditional Torajan village.

Day 4: Continue your trip into the heart of the Torajan villages through rice fields and traditional villages. If your trip coincides with rice harvesting season, you'll see families reaping the fields together all around the countryside. Return to Rantepao to spend the night at the hotel in Rantepao.

Day 5: Depart Rantepao for Makassar.

Rain jacket
Mosquito repellent
Sunscreen
Hat
Sunglasses
Comfortable walking/trekking shoes
Warm jacket/sweater for night time
Toiletries
Small overnight backpack
Towel (for the village homestay)

One of the hidden delights of Toraja is its coffee. Tucked in the back of the Pison hotel in Rantepao is an amazing little cafe called the Kanna coffee shop, that serves delicious Arabica coffee. Mr Eli, the owner of the cafe, also has a water wheel powered roaster right inside the hotel - it is worth seeing even if you don't like coffee!

Do also make sure you try the buffalo steak when you are in Rantepao. Rimiko Restaurant is recommended by the locals and travellers alike as a good place to have it.

A few notes about the funeral ceremonies:

Word of Caution: Please note that the funeral ceremonies involve the slaughtering of buffalos and other animals. This involves a lot of blood and may not be for those sensitive to these type of images. If you do not want to see this, please let us know and we will let your guide know that you would prefer to see other parts of Toraja instead.

Also, please note that these are real ceremonies where people come to pay last respects to their loved ones. Although most locals see it as an honour when travellers join in the ceremony and are happy to welcome you into their homes, they do expect that you follow the rules. Please listen to your guide's instructions to ensure that due respect is shown to the Torajan families and their departed loved ones.

Finally, because these are real ceremonies, there is a chance that none are scheduled during your visit. This is rare, as they do happen often, but it is possible. The dates of the ceremonies are often not fixed until a week or so before, so planning your trip to coincide with a ceremony is not always possible either. As mentioned above, the peak season for funeral ceremonies is during July to August, so visiting Toraja during those months increases your chances of seeing one but it isn't guaranteed.