The highlands of Tana Toraja offer an exciting mix of culture and nature. From hiking to white water rafting on the Sa’dan River and delicious coffee there are lots of things to do in Tana Toraja. While we’ve already covered the best hotels in Tana Toraja for Every Budget (best luxury is The Misiliana Hotel, for mid-range we recommend Luta Resort and budget Hotel Indra) we thought we’d share some ideas with you for things to do.
We’ve shortlisted 14 of the best things to do in Tana Toraja. The activities are in no particular order, so make sure to read all the way to the bottom to ensure you don’t miss anything. Let’s get started!
Lemo is a cliff funeral site 11km to the south of the provincial capital Rantepao. There are 75 niches 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.
The 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 site is just outside the village of Lemo in the sub district of Mengkendek.
Londa is another Torajan burial ground, though there are actually two funeral sites at Londa. It is similar to both Lemo and Ke’te Kesu. 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. 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.
Bori Parinding is a 15 minute drive outside of Rantepao along clear open roads. It is close to Ke’te Kesu. You can visit both the 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 is the site of a forest where infants are entombed in the trees. Locals believed that this was a way of returning the babies to the spirit world, though it is more than 50 years since the last baby was buried in a tree.
To give you a quick history and cultural lesson; the people of Kambira believed that babies who died before they grew their milk teeth were sacred. The people from Kambira would carve a hole into the trunk of a Jackfruit tree and place the baby in it. Over time the living tree would grow around the hole sealing the baby into the trunk.
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.
The Tongonan have traditional saddleback roof. The design is 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 hill is the highest point in the highlands. It’s a 6-hour climb to the top of the hill. Most people start the hike to the top in the afternoon and then overnight on the peak. If you don’t feel like camping overnight you can always hike up and down again in a day. There are some great viewpoints over the valley on the hillside and the journey from Rantepao is picturesque.
In a deep valley surrounded by hills with breathtaking views over the terrace rice fields Batutumonga is one of the best viewpoints in Tana Toraja. It’s 22 km out of Rantepao, which is a bit out of the way. There’s a nice cafe/ restaurant nearby where you can get some tasty food while taking in the view. Plus it makes a nice stopping point on a day trip from the city.
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 generally offer the chance to visit isolated villages and 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 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 facts that will make you smile. It’s one of the most fun things to do in Tana Toraja.
The highlands of Sulawesi are one of the cultural highlights of Indonesia. They offer a mix of culture, adventure, beautiful landscapes and of course the delicious coffee. I hope this article has given you a few ideas and inspiration for things do in Tana Toraja. For more information about the region you can read our guide to Tana Toraja.
Have you ever been to Tana Toraja? What was your favorite place? Share your thoughts in the comment below (we’ll update the article if you recommend somewhere good).