There are lots of great things to do in Tana Toraja, however it can be difficult arranging your travel plans because there is so little information about the area on the Internet. To solve this problem and help you create your own travel itinerary, I’ve created a list of 14 unforgettable things to do in Tana Toraja. The guide covers everything from the famous funeral sites where babies are buried in trees to white water rafting along the Sa’dan River. Let’s get started with the best places to visit in Tana Toraja.
Preparing for your trip to Tana Toraja? Also Read:
Lemo is a famous for the 75 niches that are carved into the walls of the cliff. Some of the niches are tombs, where Torajan dead are buried. Other niches contain rows of large tau-tau statues dressed in colourful clothing. These wooden statues are effigies of the dead and represent dead nobles from the area. If you walk a little bit up from the cliff and you will find the house of a Tau Tau makers.
The Lemo funeral site dates back to the 16th century. To reach Lemo you need to walk along a small path from the main road between paddy fields. This Tana Toraja funeral site is located just outside the village of Lemo in the sub district of Mengkendek. The village itself is located 11km to the south of the provincial capital Rantepao.
Londa is another Torajan burial ground. The site is similar to both Lemo and Ke’te Kesu. There are actually two funeral sites at Londa. The first site has cliff burials, where tombs have been dug out of the cliff face. The second site has two caves where corpses are buried. If you want to enter the caves you can do. Be warned there are bones everywhere and it is a bit creepy. You need a light to visit the caves. You can rent a gas lantern if you want, but you can also just use the light on your phone.
The grave site is located 6KM outside of Rantepao. It’s only 15 minutes away by car. Most tourists visit Londa as part of an organised Tana Toraja day tour from Rantepao.
3. Bori Parinding
Bori Parinding is a megalithic funeral site that is a combination of burial site and ceremonial ground. You can see the ceremonial ground from the main road. There are more than 100 menhirs (standing stone pillars) at the site. The pillars are supposed to celebrate an action by the dead nobles who are buried at the site. Immediately to the left of the ceremonial ground is the burial ground where tombs are still carved out of rock. Behind the site away from the road is a modern cemetery. Bori Parinding has cultural significance for Torajans. Ceremonies and rituals for the Torajan dead are held at the site.
The site is a 15 minute drive outside of Rantepao along clear open roads. Bori Parinding is also very close to Ke’te Kesu. You can easily visit both of these sites in one afternoon. The countryside in this part of Tana Toraja is very beautiful and you will pass a lot of Tongkonan, traditional buildings with saddleback roofs on the way here.
Kambira is one of the most famous funeral sites in Tana Toraja. The village of Kambira is famous for the Tana Toraja baby tree graves, where infants are entombed. If you visit Kembira you will see the trees where babies were entombed. The practice has ancient routes, though it is now more than 50 years since the last baby was buried in a tree.
To give you a quick history and cultural lesson; Torajans believed that babies who died before they grew their milk teeth were had a pure spirit and were sacred. When a baby died, Kambira would carve a hole into the trunk of a Jackfruit tree and place the baby in it. They would then wrap the baby up in palm fonds. Over time the living tree would grow around the hole sealing the baby into the trunk. It was believed that such a funeral practice was a way of returning the baby back to the spirit world.
5. Ke’te Kesu’
Ke’te Kesu is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Tana Toraja. It is one of the best examples of a traditional Torajan village. The village is more than 300 years old and is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The village has 6 Tongonan, which are the traditional buildings owned by Torajan nobles where the dead ancestors are kept. These buildings have a traditional saddleback roof, which are supposed to represent the horns of a buffalo. There are also 12 traditional granaries where rice was stored. All of the buildings at Ke’te Kesu are beautifully decorated in the traditional Torajan style with stylised designs and geometric patters in red, yellow, black and white painted on the walls.
Even though Ke’te Kesu is very touristy site (you can see many souvenir stores in front of the site), I really liked visiting here. The countryside surrounding the grave site is beautiful with a view of paddy fields and buffaloes wallowing in the mud.
Another example of a traditional Torajan village that you can visit is Sillanan. The village is located in the isolated highlands of Tana Tora and unlike Ke’te Kesu it’s still very much lived in. The village has some beautiful examples of traditional Tongkonan, granaries and houses. The Tongkonan in the village are beautifully decorated. When you pass the houses you will notice that in front of each one there is a post where buffalo horns have been nailed. These are the horns of buffalo that were sacrificed at the traditional Torajan funerals.
Sillanan is 35km South of Rantepao. If you want to sample village life there are home stays in the village where you can stay. It’s definitely something to experience. There is the local food to try, Torajan coffee to taste and the burial cliffs and megalithic monuments to explore.
7. Bolu Market
From Rantepao you can get public transportation to Bolu Market (Rp. 3,000 = $ 0.3). The market is held every six days. There are hundreds of people trying to sell their buffaloes and pigs at the Bolu market. You should look out for the ‘Tedong Salego,’ which are buffalo worth more than $38,000. They usually have white colour on their head and back near the tail; and also have black skin colour around the eyes.
8. Gunung Sesean
If you enjoy hiking and beautiful views then you have to visit Gunung Sesean. The mountain is the highest point in the whole of the highlands and it’s (relatively) easy to get to the top. If you want to hike Gunung Sesean the best time to leave is at midday. It’s a 6 hour climb to the top of the hill, which means you can make the top for sunset. Then setup camp for the night and wake up early for one of the most beautiful vantage points for sunrise is the area.
If you don’t feel like camping overnight you can always hike up and down again in a day and stay in one of the local hotels. Alternatively you can visit Gunung Sesean on a day trip from Rantepao. There are some great viewpoints over the valley on the hillside and the journey from Rantepao is picturesque.
Batutumonga is one of the most famous viewpoints in the highlands. The site is located around 22km up north from Rantepao. The picture speaks for itself about how amazing and breathtaking the view is from Batutumonga. It’s definitely worth visiting and there’s a nice cafe/ restaurant nearby where you can get some tasty food.
10. White Water Rafting
There are two rivers where you can do white water rafting in the highlands of Tana Toraja. They are the Sa’dan and the Mai’ting. Local tour operators offer custom white water rafting packages to both rivers. The packages normally last 3 days 2 nights and are for people who really want an adventure.
If you are looking for family friendly rafting then you should go to the Sa’san river. The Mai’ting is not for the faint of heart. Children under the age of 12 are not allowed to go rafting on the river and the rapids here are level 4 and 5. Definitely a lot of fun, but quite scary at the same time.
11. Hiking Tours
Hiking is one of the most popular activities for tourists visiting Tana Toraja and it’s easy to understand why. The highlands are mostly countryside dotted with villages that are linked by well worn paths. The countryside around Tana Toraja is also exceptionally beautiful. The rice paddies ripple in the wind and the traditional Torajan buildings look truly unique.
If you want to go on a serious hiking trip then the most popular ones last 3 days and 2 nights. The routes vary depending on your interests, but they all offer the chance to visit isolated villages and the famous Torajan funeral sites. It’s also a great opportunity to try the local coffee.
12. Drink Tana Toraja Coffee
Coffee from Tana Toraja is justifiably famous. The highlands offer the perfect environment to grow arabica plants and the crop offers some of the tastiest beans from the whole of Indonesia. Nice coffee from Tana Toraja has a distinct rich caramelised flavour. Most of the crops are still grown by local farmers with hand picked beans that are sorted in the traditional way.
13. Attend a Funeral
The way Torajan’s view death is one of the things that fascinates outsiders. For example the way Torajan corpses can be preserved for months and even up to a year until a proper funeral ceremony is held. The way and the sheer number of animals that can be sacrificed at one persons funeral. A chance to attend a Torajan funeral is to come face to face with these customs.
Hints from me: Go visit Tana Toraja on December, they will have a big ceremony. You will have a chance to see the mummies as they are walked in a liter around the village.
14. Talk to The Locals
The best way to learn about local culture and customs is to talk with the locals. You will learn a lot of valuable information this way. For example; you can find out about the caste system used in Toraja, the meaning of the wood carvings in Tongkonan, the history, the culture, where you can get nice coffee and other fact that will make you smile.
The highlands of Sulawesi really are one of the highlights of Indonesia. The unique culture and beautiful countryside make a holiday here an unforgettable experience. I hope this article has given you a few ideas of what you can do in Tana Toraja.