Tana Toraja: breathtaking landscapes and the most special rituals

Tana Toraja: breathtaking landscapes and the most special rituals

Tana Toraja is the most visited and most well-known part of Sulawesi. This environment is best known for its special culture and unique funeral ceremonies. And although we had read a lot about this part of Sulawesi we were surprised by her beauty. We had read a few things about the beautiful surroundings of this region, but it was far beyond expectations. At every 100 meters we wanted to stop for a moment to enjoy the view. It is perhaps one of the most special, green and beautiful regions of Indonesia. Are you a nature or culture lover then Tana Toraja is really an absolute must-visit.

First of all, it is important to know that the area is really huge. The area is hilly with an area of ​​more than 2,000 km². You need at least a few days to explore the area. If you only have two days, we advise you to share North and South Tana Toraja.

Tana Toraja Culture

The Torajanese religion has existed for more than 3000 years. During the colonization with the Netherlands, however, Christianity was also taught, so that a strange mix of both has arisen since then.

The local people from Tana Toraja believe that people come from the sky and so also go to the next world, which they call Puya. Because of this, people are not buried under the ground after their death, but placed in a cave. The higher a person is buried, the easier the way up. Only people with a lot of respect are buried high in a cave.

Death plays an important role in the religion of the Torajan population. A funeral lasts days and is very expensive. Many, sometimes hundreds of water buffaloes and pigs are sacrificed in honor of the deceased. The Torajenese do this because they think that the deceased can take his wealth or status to the next world.

Since a funeral is extremely expensive for the 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 an extra time to say goodbye to their loved one. The Torajenese assume that the mind remains in the body. A tau tau is also made for some people. This is an image that looks exactly like the deceased. These images are often visible outside at the graves.

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

What to do in Tana Toraja?

Although you mainly read a lot about the funeral ceremonies in Tana Toraja, which you should not miss, there is much more to see in the area. In addition to the beautiful valleys and numerous rice fields, you will find special villages and cemeteries here.

Attending a funeral ceremony in Tana Toraja

It sounds a bit crazy, but attending a funeral ceremony is 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 it a lot busier in the area. We chose to spend the night with a mother and son in the area. The son took us along the next path and to a ceremony. one of the most special experiences. Soon more about the funeral ceremony in Tana Toraja.

Grab the bike and explore the area

Sulawesi is not really a backpack destination yet. Most people hire a driver / guide for a few days. However, this is not necessarily necessary. One of our highlights in Sulawesi was exploring the area around Tana Toraja on its own with the scooter. And although you can rent a bike in almost all of Indonesia, you will not find it in Sulawesi anywhere. So look for a homestay where you know this is an option. Through Airbnb there are many accommodations available. Ask in advance if they have a bike available for you. Many roads are not available for cars. And these roads often brought us to the most beautiful places. Do it!

Baby Graves

Yes you read that right, baby graves. We also thought it was a bit crazy to go here, until we heard the story behind these graves. According to the Torajenese, a baby can not have had a sin. To protect them, babies are buried in a tree. This way the tree helps them to grow to heaven. One of these trees is called baby kambira grave.

Funeral caves

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

  • Lemo
  • Londa (one of the best known and largest caves. Visit Londa around 4-5 in the afternoon)


It took us almost 2 hours with the bike to reach the top. The view is breathtaking. During your visit to Tana Toraja, also plan a moment somewhere on a top of a mountain.

Traditional villages

Everywhere in the area you will discover beautiful traditional villages with unique houses. The houses here have a special shape with colorful roofs. You will come across several villages along the way where you can take a look. Kete Kesu i one of the largest and most famous villages. This village is especially worthwhile, because you can also view the inside of a traditional home here.

Best time to travel to Tana Toraja

Since most ceremonies take place from June to August, it is wise to go around this period. We were there in September. Although there is not a daily ceremony, you can often visit one. Inform in advance so that you can adjust your schedule accordingly. The rainy season starts from November.

Where to eat in Tana Toraja

In Sulawesi they really eat everything. From buffaloes, snakes to even dogs. If you prefer to skip dog, always ask for the dish. When you want to explore Tana Toraja, it is best to spend the night in RantePao. This is a small village where you will find many accommodations, a few restaurants and some shops. Although it is not full of hip hotspots here, we have of course 2 nice eatips for you.

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

Transportationin Tana Toraja

If you have not managed to arrange a bike, you always have 3 options:

  • Public bus: about 0.20 minutes but stops driving around 6 in the afternoon and is pretty difficult to recognize. Some help from locals is often required. But then you have a cheap lift to your destination.
  • Ojek: about 1 euro. If there are some men with bikes next to the road, they can often take you to your destination. Unfortunately you can not recognize them anywhere. However, if you get a bit lost along the way, they often recognize you ;p
  • Tricycle: about 1.50 euros. Always nice, a tricycle. Our favorite, but unfortunately not always the fastest option.

Practical information about Tana Toraja

Important to know in advance is that Sulawesi is not the standard backpackers destination. This makes transport and accommodation sometimes a bit difficult to find and you do not have much choice when it comes to nice restaurants. Also arranging accommodation with your backpack on your back on the spot can be more difficult in this area.

How do i get in Tana Toraja?

From Makassar the transport to Rantepao is really top-notch. That’s how super luxurious night buses go every day. The buses leave around 10 pm and take about 9 hours. The most luxurious option is Prima Donna and costs about 20 euros. We chose Litha which was also more than fine and the bus ride with this airline costs about 10 euros. If you do not feel like a broken night (like us) then you can also catch a bus in the morning. Your options are then only limited. You will arrive in Rantepao in the evening.

I would not recommend a private car for this part, since the buses here are very luxurious and well organized.

The beautiful people of Tana Toraja. . . We were so grateful to 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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Where to stay in Tana Toraja

Do not expect luxury resorts in this area. Most accommodations are simple homestays where you spend the night in a traditional home. Although the offers on Booking.com
is quite limited, Airbnb is full of choice. Be quick, however, because the nicest accommodations are often fully booked. We found a homestay on the edge of Rantepao with very nice people, only the room was really awful. So we slept with the two of us in a mini room on a single bed and let me remind you that Leroy is almost 2m. In itself still best to do, but in the room were really dozens (in my opinion hundreds) gigantic cockroaches. We found them on the bed, with the clothes and even in bags. And no, there was no mosquito net. Not so nice. After 2 nights we left for a hotel.

Tip! Hotel Airy Rantepao

After 2 nights of chasing away the cockroaches, this was such a relief. Normally we like to stay at homestays, but this hotel was so very nice to refuel luxury overnight. It was clean, large and also cheap. The hotel still had too few reviews for a grade, so a bit of a gamble. But how happy I am with this. Really a big tip if you are looking for a nice accommodation in Tana Toraja.

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

Continue traveling trough Sulawesi

One of the longest journeys you will have to make during your backpacking trip to Sulawesi is the journey from Tana Toraja to Tentena. Most people take the bus here. This will only take place around 10 am and will take no less than 13 hours, if you have succeeded.

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

The other guests who had caught the bus, arrived after a hellish ride of 13 hours around 23:00, so unfortunately no food could be ordered anymore.

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

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