Tana Toraja: breathtaking landscapes and the most extraordinary rituals

Tana Toraja: breathtaking landscapes and the most extraordinary rituals

Tana Toraja is the most visited and best known part of Sulawesi. This area is best known for its special culture and unique burial ceremonies. And although we had read up quite a bit about this part of Sulawesi, we were overwhelmed by its beauty. We had read some things about the beautiful surroundings of this region, but it was far beyond our expectations. At every 100 meters, we wanted to stop and enjoy the view. It is perhaps one of the most extraordinary, green and beautiful regions of Indonesia. If you are a nature or culture lover then Tana Toraja is truly a must-visit.

First, it is important to note that the area is really huge. The area is hilly with an area of more than 2,000 kmĀ². You need at least a few days to explore the area. If you only have two days, then we recommend splitting North and South Tana Toraja.

Culture Tana Toraja

The Torajan religion has existed for more than 3,000 years. However, during colonization with the Netherlands, Christianity was also taught, creating a strange mix of the two since then.

The locals from Tana Toraja believe that people come from the sky sky and so also go to the next world, which they call Puya. Because of this, people are not buried underground after death, but are placed in a cave. The higher someone is buried, the easier the way up. Only people of high prestige are buried high in a cave.

Death plays an important role in the Torajan people’s religion. A funeral takes days and is very costly. Thus, many, sometimes hundreds of water buffaloes and pigs are sacrificed in honor of the deceased. The Torajenese do this because they believe the deceased can take their wealth or status with them to the next world.

Since burial is incredibly expensive for families, the deceased is first embalmed and kept in the family home. This can sometimes take years and gives the family time to organize the ceremony. The family also sees this as extra time to say goodbye to their loved one. Indeed, the Torajenese assume that the mind remains in the body. In some people, a tau tau is also made. This is an image that looks exactly like the deceased. These statues are often visible outside near the graves.

Although the funeral is an emotional time, it is also a time of celebration, laughter and dancing. Most people have been saying goodbye for months and still want to celebrate the last days on earth with joy.

To do in Tana Toraja

Although you read mostly about the funeral ceremonies in Tana Toraja, which you also absolutely should not miss, there is much more to see in the area. In addition to the beautiful valleys and countless rice fields, you will find quaint villages and cemeteries.

Attending a funeral ceremony in Tana Toraja

It sounds a little crazy, but attending a funeral ceremony is actually a must when you are in Tana Toraja. Numerous ceremonies take place throughout the year, but most are held during the months of June, July and August. This can also make the area a lot busier. We chose to stay overnight with a mother and son in the area. The son took us out the next and to a ceremony. one of the most extraordinary experiences. More on the funeral ceremony in Tana Toraja soon.

Grab a scooter and explore the area

Sulawesi is not really a backpacking destination “yet.” Most people hire a driver/guide for a few days. However, this is not necessarily necessary. 1 of our highlights in Sulawesi was exploring the Tana Toraja area on our own by scooter. And while you’ll be bombarded to death with bike rentals almost throughout Indonesia, you won’t find them anywhere in Sulawesi. Therefore, find a homestay where you know this is an option. Many accommodations are available through Airbnb. Ask in advance if they have a scooter available for you. Indeed, many roads are not available to cars. And these very roads often took us to the most beautiful places. So do it!

Baby Graves

Yes you read correctly, baby graves. We too thought it was a little crazy to go here, until we heard the story behind these graves. Indeed, a baby cannot have had a sin according to the Torajenese. To protect them, babies are buried in a tree. This is how the tree helps them grow toward heaven. One of these trees is called baby kambira grave.

Burials caves

In the area you will find countless perhaps hundreds of burial caves. It is impossible to visit them all. We visited including:

  • Lemo
  • Londa (one of the most famous and largest caves. Visit Londa around 4-5 p.m.)

Viewpoint

It took us almost 2 hours by scooter to reach the top, but then you had something. The view is breathtaking. During your visit in Tana Toraja, also plan a moment somewhere on top of a mountain.

Traditional villages

Throughout the area you will discover beautiful traditional villages with unique cottages. The houses here have an unusual shape with colorful roofs. You will encounter several villages along the way where you can take a look around. Kete Kesu i one of the largest and most famous villages. This village is especially worthwhile because here you can also see the inside of a traditional house.

Travel time Tana Toraja

Since most ceremonies take place from June t/ August, it is wise to go around this period. However, we were there in September. Although there won’t be a daily ceremony then, you can often visit one. Inform in advance so you can adjust your schedule accordingly. The rainy season begins from November.

Eating in Tana Toraja

In Sulawesi, they really do eat everything. From buffalo to snakes to even dogs. If you prefer to skip dog, always inquire about the dish. When you want to explore Tana Toraja, the best place to stay is in RantePao. This is a small village where you will find many accommodations, a few restaurants and some stores. Although it is not bursting with trendy hotspots here, we obviously have 2 great dining tips for you.

  • Restaurant The House: for something a little different, head to The House. A super hip little restaurant with delicious (even Western) food and great Vietnamese Egg Coffee. The Gado Gado was also very good.
  • Restaurant Aras: the menu features many traditional dishes. Here they serve Pa’Piong, among other things. A traditional Torajan dish. In a bamboo stick, meat is cooked together with spices and rice over fire. You do have to order the dish a day in advance.

Transportation in Tana Toraja

If you didn’t manage to get a scooter, you always have 3 options:

  • Public bus: about 0.20 but only runs until about 6 and is pretty hard to spot. Some help from locals is often required. But then have a cheap elevator to your destination.
  • Ojek: about 1 euro. If there are some men with scooters next to the road, they can often take you to your destination. Unfortunately, you can’t recognize them anywhere by it. However, if you get a little lost along the road, they often recognize you ;p
  • Tricycle: about 1.50 euros. Always fun, a tricycle. Our favorite, but unfortunately not always the fastest option.

Practical information for Tana Toraja

What is important to know in advance is that Sulawesi is not the standard backpacking destination. Because of this, transportation and accommodation can sometimes be a bit difficult to find and you don’t have as many choices when it comes to nice restaurants. Also, arranging accommodations locally with your backpack on your back can be a bit trickier in this area.

How do I get to Tana Toraja?

From Makassar, the transportation to Rantepao is really top-notch. For example, super luxury night buses go every day. Buses leave around 10 p.m. and take about 9 hours. The most upscale option is Prima Donna and will cost you about 20 euros. We chose Litha which was also more than fine and the bus ride with this company costs about 10 euros. If you don’t feel like a broken night (like us), you can also catch a bus in the morning. Your options are then just a bit limited. You will then arrive in Rantepao in the evening.

I would not recommend renting a private car for this stretch, as the buses here are very luxurious and wonderfully organized.

The beautiful people of Tana Toraja. . . We were so grateful to have had the opportunity to visit a funeral ceremony. Yes I know it sounds really weird, but it’s one of the most important aspects of the Tana Toraja culture. They respect and honor their family members and friends in their own way. They balm them first and keep them close to their homes for months. After a couple of months its time for the ceremony visited by hundreds or even thousands of peoples. Pigs and cows will be offered and the ceremony will take several days. Eventually, the people will be placed in a cave, already a step to heaven. #sulawesi #tanatoraja #toraja #celebes #rantepao #indonesia #indonesiatravel #discoverindonesia #exploreindonesia #asia #travelblog #travels #instatravel #instago #instaindo

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Staying overnight in Tana Toraja

Don’t expect luxury resorts in this area. Most accommodations are simple homestays where you stay overnight in a traditional home. Although the offer on
Booking.com
is quite limited, Airbnb is full of choice. Be quick, however, because the nicest accommodations often fill up quickly. We found a homestay on the outskirts of Rantepao with incredibly sweet people, only the room was really terrible. So the two of us slept in a mini room on a single bed and let me remind you that Leroy is almost 2m. In itself quite doable, but in the room there were really dozens (to my mind hundreds) of gigantic cockroaches. We found them on the bed, by the clothes and even in bags. And no there was no mosquito net. Not so nice, then. After 2 nights we left for a hotel.

Tip! Hotel Airy Rantepao

After 2 nights of chasing cockroaches away, this was such a relief. Normally we are more of the homestays, but this hotel was so incredibly nice for a night of luxurious refueling. It was clean, large and also cheap. The hotel still had too few reviews for a grade, so a bit of a guess. But how pleased I am with this. Really a big tip if you are looking for a fine accommodation in Tana Toraja.

We also heard only favorable stories about Sulawesi Castle. Unfortunately, this accommodation was fully booked during our stay.


Booking.com

Further travel

One of the longest journeys you will have to make during your tour of Sulawesi is the drive from Tana Toraja to Tentena. Most people take the bus here. This one doesn’t go until about 10:00 a.m. and takes as much as 13 hours, if you’re lucky.

We decided this time to ignore our budget (of course, we had already saved a bulk of money by sleeping among the cockroaches for 2 nights) and book a private driver to Tentena. The ride cost a whopping 80 euros, but was worth every penny. We were able to leave nice and early, our driver stopped at the most beautiful places and we were at our destination within 9 hours. This still allowed us to enjoy dinner with a beautiful view of Lake Poso.

The other guests who did catch the bus arrived around 11 p.m. after a hellish 13-hour drive, which unfortunately meant that no food could be ordered.

Best tip for your tour of Sulawesi. Forget the bus, go with a private driver from Tana Toraja to Tentena, leave nice and early, save 4 hours of travel time and you still have something to do on your first day in Tentena.

Our verdict

Een dikke vette 9+! Want was is deze regio mooi. Ga een paar dagen naar Tana Toraja en laat je verrassen. Dit gebied is zo mooi en uniek. Een ervaring om nooit meer te vergeten.
9 / 10

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Often Foetsie and a bit of a foodie. That's me in a nutshell. I prefer to be away as much as possible, traveling, exploring the world. I do not do this alone, but together with my great love (almost husband) and very occasionally our sweet, old, grumpy pug. But also with friends and family of course. From scuba diving to climbing gigantic mountains, eating on the street to luxury villas, from doing nothing at all to running blisters under our feet.

Foedsie