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Introducing Sulawesi

The first thing everyone notices about Sulawesi is its strange shape. There must have been some serious tectonic action in this region to produce an island so bizarre. But bizarre is beautiful and in its contortions are its character, with an incredible diversity of people, cultures and landscapes spread across its length and breadth. Great seafarers like the Minahasans and the Bugis helped to shape modern Indonesia as they took to the seas in trade and conflict, but it is the land-locked cultures of the island that are most mysterious. Tana Toraja is spellbinding, home to a proud people hemmed in by magnificent mountains on all sides. The scenery of volcanoes and rice fields is stunning. However, the Toraja’s elaborate death rituals are something else. Cave graves, tau tau (carved wooden effigies of the dead), a buffalo cult, houses shaped like boats and the dead treated like the living – a visit here is out of this world.

Known to the Portuguese as the Celebes, the island’s most popular overland route is Ma­kas-­sar–Tana Toraja–Danau Poso–Togean IslandsManado–Bunaken, and there are also plenty of rewarding side trips to be made throughout the region. Sulawesi is full of natural attractions. The leading national parks see few visitors and include such diverse draws as ancient megaliths in Lore Lindu and bug-eyed tarsiers in Tangkoko. However, it is the waters of Sulawesi that harbour its real treasures. Just offshore is some of the best diving and snorkelling in Indonesia, if not the world. Pulau Bunaken and the Lembeh Strait take top billing, but for those prepared to venture off the trail, there are the beautiful beaches of the laid-back Togean Islands in Central Sulawesi and the incredible Wakatobi Marine National Park in the far southeast.