Sulawesi sprawls in the centre of the Indonesian archipelago, a tortuous outline resembling a one-thousand–kilometre letter “K”, and one of the country’s most compelling regions. Nowhere in Sulawesi is much more than 100km from the sea, though an almost complete covering of mountains isolates its four separate peninsulas from one another and from the outside world. Invaders were hard pushed to colonize beyond the coast, and a unique blend of cultures and habitats developed. The south is split between the highland Torajans and the lowland Bugis, there are various isolated tribes in the central highlands, and the Filipino-descended Minahasans reside in the far north.
The most settled part of the island, the south, is home to most of Sulawesi’s fifteen million inhabitants. This is also where you’ll find the capital, the busy port of Makassar. The southern plains rise to the mountains of Tanah Toraja, whose beautiful scenery, unusual architecture and vibrant festivals are the island’s chief tourist attractions. Those after a more languid experience can soak up tropical sunshine on the Togian Islands, and there’s fabulous diving at Pulau Bunaken, out from the northern city of Manado. In most areas, Sulawesi’s roads are well covered by public transport, though freelance kijang (shared taxis) and minibuses are often faster and better value than public buses. Where these fail you’ll find ferries, even if services are unreliable.