Most travelers go to Ampana because you can get to the Togean Islands easily from its port. There is a public ferry from Amapana to Wakai on the Togeans on most days, and the more expensive speed boat goes there daily — if the weather permits. Better plan an extra day to get to and from the Togean Islands, maybe even two if you need to catch an expensive international flight.
To get to Ampana, we took a public car (11 people, 1.5h) from Tentena to Poso. There we changed to a minibus which took about 4.5h to get to Ampana. The street from Poso to Ampana is in excellent condition and also offers great views.
Ampana is a nice small town stretched out along the water in a long bay. It has various ATMs and banks now. You will have to spend the night there to take the ferry in the morning, so take the time to visit the market and the port area.
We stayed at Marina Cottages, where Eddie at the info desk speaks good English and has lots of information on the Togean Islands.
The city of Tentena lies at the northern tip of lake Poso in Central Sulawesi. It’s a small, predominantly christian town that is famous for the eels and gold fish which are caught in the lake. Sadly the road from Rantepao to Tentena is in pretty bad shape, and the 360km took us about 15h.
There’s not much going on in Tentena itself, but it is an excellent base for exploring the surroundings with a few restaurants and hostels. And it is not that hot in Tentena because it is a few hundred meters above sea level.
The water in the lake and river is very clear, as you can see from the two bridges which connect the 2 parts of the city at opposite riversides.
We visited a waterfall near a Balinese village and a beach on the western side of lake Poso. You may have seen way too many waterfalls already in Indonesia, but this is one of the better ones.
We stayed at the great Losmen Tropicana hostel. There we also met Nyong, a guide with whom we went on a 2 day rain forest trek west of Tentena.
The small city of Rantepao (population 40,000) in South Sulawesi lies in Toraja, a region that is known for being the cultural center of the Toraja ethnic group. Traditionally, the people in the region are rice farmers. Rantepoa lies in the highlands and is less hot than Makassar.
The Toraja are known for their traditional culture, which includes animal sacrifices during ceremonies held at various events, e.g., a funeral or when a traditional house has been build. I read about it in our guide book before coming to Toraja and expected there would be some traditional museum village filled with actors that perform for tourist groups – something I’d rather skip to be honest. I thought we would just go to Toraja for some trekking in the great scenery.
But it turned out that the culture of the Toraja is still alive everywhere in the region, and that the people were very friendly and interested in talking to visitors. One morning, a guy we met at the Wisma Maria hostel was talking to Johannis, a guide from Toraja, about visiting a ceremony. After asking Johannis lots of questions, we decided to join, and I did not regret it. It was a very interesting day. I strongly recommend to invest the time to find a friendly and good guide from Toraja who suits you, personally knows the people you will be visiting and also knows about the culture.
The scenery around Rantepao is great, and you can rent a motor bike or just walk around. We walked near Batutumonga one day, and from Rantepao to the village Kesu (near the larger Ke’te Kesu) on another day. Both were great trips.
Makassar, also known as Ujung Pandang, is the largest city in Sulawesi with a population of more than 1.2 million. It is an important transportation hub with a large port that has dominated trade in the region for centuries.
The city is very hot, and even hanging out near the waterfront does not help much. We checked out the area near the waterfront and Fort Rotterdam. In the southern part of the waterfront, you can find the floating mosque. In the evenings, many people hang out in the area, and food stalls selling sweet bananas with chocolate show up.
We also visited the central market, a maze of tunnels filled mostly with clothes, and the smaller fish market south of the floating mosque (there also is a larger one, north of the very large port area).
With the exception of the waterfront area, it’s not much fun to walk around in Makassar on foot because of the heavy traffic. Better go by motor bike, pete-pete, or ojek, like everybody else does.
We met many friendly, open and very interested people in Makassar who wanted to talk to us out of curiosity or to practice their English.