Tana Toraja is a unique destination in South East Asia. Although tourism is slowly starting to pick up, Tana Toraja is still exceptional and has kept its traditions, architecture and culture. It is a great destination for whom wants to discover something truly different.
How accessible is it from Singapore?
Although it’s not very far from Singapore, Tana Toraja is not easy to reach. Maybe that also explains why it remains relatively authentic today.
The total door to door journey is 12 hours 50 minutes from (your home/office in) Singapore to your hotel our guesthouse room in Rantepao. The fastest you can get there is by flying direct to Makassar (3h05) and hire a car with a driver (8 hours) to reach Rantepao from Makassar. If you take the bus the total journey will be longer as you will need to wait for the bus.
You will need a minimum of 4 days to enjoy the area given the long journey to get there. Ideally 5 days or a full week would be better if you want
How much is this going to cost us?
Transport from Singapore to Rantepao will cost you about SGD 940 return for 2. This estimate includes the flights and car rental. It does not include the motorbike or drivers that you use to explore the region once in Rantepao.
Accommodation wise… you will find a range of hotels in Rantepao and around for about any kind of budget. From cheap guesthouses to nicer hotels. Prices are relatively OK.
How remote and risky is it?
Rantepao is a small town with limited medical infrastructure and you want to avoid being treated there. However, since you are 8 hours away from the main city Makassar, you may have no choice. Security wise, check the news as there are reports of clashes between different communities in the region. However, we did not notice any issue or risk when we visited the region.
What about the kids?
If you have a choice, you will probably enjoy the place better without kids as you will be free to move around. However, you can take the kids with you if you rent a car with a driver to explore Tana Toraja. Some roads are in very bad condition so be careful and check if a baby car seat can be provided (or bring one with you). The main challenge will be the long hours on the road from Makassar to Rantepao. Ceremonies with animals being slaughtered, cemeteries, caves, coffins in trees, etc can be difficult experiences for children. You may want to take them for a walk when it gets too violent.
When should we go?
Connections from Tana Toraja
If you have time and want to discover more of the large and diverse Sulawesi island you can combine this trip with a trip to Bunaken (Manado). Another option is to spend a few days in Jakarta since you may have to connect there anyway.
Getting from Singapore to Makassar – Ujung Pandang
Air Asia stopped operating their direct flight from Singapore to Makassar Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport (UPG).
Silkair and Singapore Airlines have a few direct flights a week. If you plan to use these flights you need to aim for a trip from Thursday to Tuesday
Getting there: SilkAir– SIN to UPG 7:55 AM – 11AM (3h05) then Tuesdays and Thursdays only
Coming back: SilkAir UPG to SIN 12PM – 2.45 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays or 6.45 PM – 9.30 PM on Saturdays.
Return ticket from SGD 330.
Alternatively, Lion Air and Garuda Indonedia fly there, via Jakarta
Getting there: Lion Air– SIN to CGK 5:15 pM – 6:05 PM (1h50)
then (2h15 layover) CGK to UPG 8.20 PM – 11.45PM (2h25)
Coming back: Lion Air UPG to CGK 2.05 PM to 3.30 PM (1h50)
then (2h25 layover) CGK to SIN 5.55 PM – 8:35 PM (1h50)
Return ticket from SGD 325.
Get your ticket NOW to enjoy the best fares.
Getting from Makassar airport to Rantepao
Makassar is not really worth staying unless you have no choice. To get to Rantepao (main city in Tana Toraja) your only way is by road. You can either take a bus or a private car.
- By Bus (with AC)
You can either take the bus during the day or at night. The journey takes around 8 hours. If you can, take at least one day trip to enjoy the scenery as you travel from the plains to the mountains. The night trip is slightly shorter as there is less traffic than during day time (but don’t expect to sleep too much as the road around Rantepao is quite curvy).
– From Makassar bus terminal to Rantepao: Buses leave at 9AM, 10AM or 10PM – they will take drop you in the center of Rantepao 8 hours later – 100 000 IDR / pax.
– From Rantepao to Makassar – you will need to book your tickets through an agency in Rantepao. Night buses leave between 10PM and 11:30PM. They will pick you up on the main road in front of your hotel. You will reach Makassar bus terminal around 5AM.
- By private car
Private car can be interesting if you are travelling with children or if you don’t want to lose time and get to Rantepao straight from the airport. It’s a 6 or 7h drive. You can contact Mursalim Dodo email@example.com / dodopenman.blogspot.sg, he can arrange a car and a guide to visit Rantepao from Makassar.
Approx. USD 500 for 5 days.
Where to stay in Rantepao
Rantepao is a small city with one main road, you can easily walk and explore the city on foot. There is not much to see in the city itself but it’s the best place to stay to explore the region. Have a look at the guesthouses available with Agoda to compare and make your booking.
or, if you prefer, use
Pia’s Poppies hotel is a nice guesthouse with a quiet atmosphere- you can either stay there or just have dinner (the food is good!). In both cases, reservation is needed (call +62 0423 21121).
To see & to do in the Tana Toraja
Tana Toraja is simply unique. A cultural island, hemmed in by mountains on all sides. Below is a selection of must do as 1 day trips from Rantepao (where you will most likely stay – as there are not many alternatives). If you have time, it is worth taking bemos to visit the surroundings of Rantepao. On the way, you will meet local people in their daily life. Just ask around where you can find a bemo going to your destination. People will show you where to catch one.
On average, entrance fees to tourist sites is between 10 000 –and 20 000 IDR / pax. But there are many things to see and visit for free.
The traditional Tongkonan houses – Nanggala village
In Nanggala – 16 Km east from Rantepao – you can visit a village of traditional houses and nice wooden carved rice barns. Along the way to the different places you may visit around Rantepao you will be fascinated by painted houses with boat-shaped roofs. On the front of those houses you may see some piled buffalo horns. The more buffalo horns are visible, the higher up in the social ladder is the family.
The funeral season is usually during the months of July and August, during the dry season and when the people from Toraja working elsewhere return home for celebrations (no there is no pick of mortality in the summer in Tana Toraja, it’s just that people wait for this period to celebrate their deads). These ceremonies usually include pigs or buffaloes sacrifices. To know in which village ceremonies are organized ask some Indonesians in the bus from Makassar. If you’re nice and lucky (like us) they may offer you to go with them to their family ceremonies.
Otherwise in Rantepao, many drivers / guides offer you ceremonies 1-day tour by car or motorbike. Note that a lot of guides would go to the same village so it might feel a bit weird to see many tourists around these ceremonies. If you can and want, try to find one on your own and get there by public transportation or motorbike (for really experience drivers only as the roads are in very bad condition). You can ask your guesthouse or -even better- villagers for more details.
Batutumonga & rice paddies
- by motorbike:1 day rental: 70 000 to 100 000 IDR
- by bemo + hike: take a bemo at Bolu market terminal outside of Rantepao. Ask the drivers which bemo is going to Lempo, about 2km from Batutumonga. You can walk from there. 10 000 IDR / pax.
Londa caves & Lemo graves
The hanging graves in Londa are situated about 6 km south of Rantepao. There is a massive cliff and as you get closer to it you will see rows of ‘tau tau’ guarding the entrance to the caves. You can visit the caves if you do not suffer from claustrophobia. It is worth asking for a guide as he will provide light in the caves, warn you about the slippery paths and tell you the Torajan version of Romeo and Juliet.
Lemo (10km south of Rantepao) is the best-known rock-grave site. After looking at the cliff for a while you can walk around the side of the cliff to see some more rock graves, and fallen and hanging coffins. If you can, visit Lemo in the morning to avoid the crowd. You can get there by bemo.
The Bolu Market is held every six days – regardless of the day being any particular occasion. You may think you have already seen similar local markets but this one is impressive and you should not miss it! It is mainly a livestock market. Torajans come here to bargain for pigs or buffaloes to be used as funeral gifts/sacrifices at. Albinos buffalos or pigs are the most expensive! You can easily walk to the market from central Rantepao or you can catch a bemo.
More info to prepare your trip
Wifi is available at a few internet cafes in the city center of Rantepao.
What to pack for Tana Toraja
Your main bag
That’s the one you leave at the hotel. Ideally you want to avoid checking in your luggage when flying. So check the weight and dimensions for hand carry luggage with your airlines (some airlines will allow only 7kg, some will allow up to 10kg). From head to toes.
- Short sleeves tops: your main outfit. Everybody will see them on all your pictures. You really want to take that old Mickey Mouse T-shirt? Be mindful that you will be in a different environment so it might be a good idea to adjust your wardrobe.
- Long sleeves tops: to protect yourself from the sun (if you’ve stayed for 5 hours on a motorbike with short sleeves you know what I mean) or to enter religious buildings or to protect yourself from mosquitoes in the evening.
- Pullover. Yes I know, you’re going to a country where the temperature never goes down below 25 degrees and you need to pack a pullover? You will thank us when you’re back. Remember that flight during which you were freezing? Or this museum where the aircon is set to the “polar bear” temperature?
- Short/skirt (you should be able to chose the appropriate one by yourself).
- Trousers for the same reasons you need to take long sleeves tops. Jeans are usually not a good option. They are heavy and keep you too warm.
- Underwear: well, you know. If you plan to walk or ride motorbikes for long hours, take something comfortable as the combination heat + friction can make you regret this sophisticated silk underwear. Cotton is good.
- Shoes: one pair of flip flap and one pair of confortable shoes. Remember that you are going to spend most of the time on your feet. Forget about high heels and leave your Westons at home.
- Swimsuit: even if you don’t plan to go to the beach, you never know. A nice river, a swimming pool, a heavy rain? Always have one with you.
- Raincoat and protection for your bag. Even if you are visiting the country during the “best season”, you never know what the sky will be like.
- Torch: take a pocket torch with you if you visit countries where the power is not reliable… Can come very handy when stuck in the dark in your room.
- Toilet bag: Shampoo, soap, toothbrush & toothpath, deodorant, sun screen, tiger balm. Ideally, all these in miniature formats.
- Sleeping bag liner (if you plan to stay in very cheap or dirty places, not required if you are staying in a 5-star hotel…)
- Your IT stuff: iPad, eBook, laptop, chargers, memory card, batteries, etc.
- Dryer sheets: they will help keep a fresh smell in your bag.
Your small bag
That’s the one you keep with you, all the time. Hence, a backpack is the best option.
- Your passport, cash, credit cards and other life saving items like your insurance card with emergency contact details. Not a bad idea to put them in a zip-lock bag in case it rains. It will keep your documents dry.
- Your driver’s licence if you plan to rent a car or a motorbike (some countries are quite particular about this so take it with you in case you are not sure, even for a motorbike rental).
- Your emergency medical kit: painkillers, mosquitoes repellent, dressing/plaster, disinfectant, anti diarrhea, eyewash
- Tissues and toilet paper (you will thank me later). Remember that in a lot of countries, you will not be provided napkins when having a meal.
- Water – plastic bottles are a good option as they are lighter than a gourd/flask.
- Biscuits (always buy some before you go when you are not sure what you will find. Always have “emergency” biscuit and water in case you cannot find food around and need to recharge batteries)
- Sunglasses: you’ll need them. Take them even if it’s raining. Weather can change very fast in the region.
- Scarf (krama, or any kind of fabric that you can use to put around your neck, put on your head to protect it from the sun, cover your shoulders in temples, dry your sweat, etc). Can come very handy in some situation. It will not stay clean for long so it’s wise to pick a dark color…
- Camera and its protection.
- Language: Bahasa Indonesian
- Time zone: Jakarta, Sulawesi: GMT + 7, 1h ahead of Singapore;
Bali has no time difference with Singapore
- Currency: Indonesian Rupiah (IDR)
- Phone: + 62
- Electricity: 220V 50 Hz
Immigration and airport taxes on arrival
- If you are eligible you will need to pay for a visa on arrival. The price is USD 25 or the equivalent in other currencies. It is valid for 30 days. Check as it may vary (some airports charge 22 EUR, some others 25 EUR).
- If you travel to Bintan, Batam, or Karimun, you can get a 7 day Visa on Arrival for USD 10.
- On busy weekends, expect to wait for quite a while at the immigration counter.
- Make sure your notes are perfectly clean and without any note or stain. USD bills must be from 2003 or more recent. Coins are not accepted. Change (if any) is given in Ruppiah.
- On departure, you will need to pay the airport fees. These fees are not included in your tickets when you book your trip (hence the price difference between the inbound and outbound flights to Indonesia). They vary from one airport to the other. They are usually around IDR 150,000 per person. You need to pay these in Rupiah
National Public Holidays in Indonesia
|Thursday||January 01||New Years Day|
|Saturday||January 03||Maulidur Rasul|
|Thursday||February 19||Chinese New Year|
|Saturday||March 21||Hari Raya Nyepi|
|Friday||April 03||Good Friday|
|Friday||May 01||Labour Day|
|Thursday||May 14||Ascension Day|
|Saturday||May 16||Isra Miraj|
|Tuesday||June 02||Waisak Day|
|Thursday||July 16||Cuti Bersama|
|Friday||July 17||Hari Raya Puasa|
|Saturday||July 18||Hari Raya Puasa|
|Monday||July 20||Cuti Bersama|
|Tuesday||July 21||Cuti Bersama|
|Monday||August 17||Independence Day|
|Thursday||September 24||Idul Adha|
|Thursday||December 24||Cuti Bersama|
|Friday||December 25||Christmas Day|
* check the exact date as it varies from one year to another, check this website for other years.When Public Holidays falls on a Sunday, the following day will be Public Holiday.