Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago, and many of its 17,000 islands are famed for their beauty. Sulawesi’s Togian Islands, though, may be the best of the lot. Home to some truly world-class snorkelling and diving, these unspoilt islands are great for getting away from the chaos of urban Indonesia. Electricity is irregular, there is no internet connection, and phone signal is sporadic. This, combined with the islands’ friendly people and abundance of great resort hotels, makes the Togians perfect for a tropical island getaway.
Getting to the Togian Islands
Getting to the Togians is the biggest challenge they pose. The islands are not difficult to reach, but whichever way you come from, it takes a long time. This puts a lot of travellers off, but it is largely why they remain so unspoilt for the rest of us. There are two points of entry. The first is from Gorontalo in the north, which is the easiest route as it has an airport – however, the ferry is less frequent. The second is from Ampana in the south. Whichever way you come, you will probably arrive in Wakai, the Togians’ main transport hub on the island of Batu Daka.
Getting to the Togian Islands from Gorontalo
Gorontalo’s airport connects to Makassar, Manado and Luwuk, all in Sulawesi. From Gorontalo’s port, a ferry departs for Wakai every Tuesday and Friday, but this is subject to change. The ferry departs around 5pm and takes around 12 hours. The return boat to Gorontalo leaves at around 4pm on Mondays and Thursdays.
Getting to the Togian Islands from Ampana
Many visitors to the Togians come overland from the south, having visited Tanah Toraja. If this is you, you’ll probably come to the Togian Islands from Ampana. Ampana also has an airport, which currently flies to Makassar, but it’s very small and service is erratic. Boats from Ampana to Wakai depart from Monday to Thursday at 10am, and at 9am on Sundays. In the other direction, from Wakai to Ampana, boats depart at 10am on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, and 7am on Wednesday.
From Ampana, It’s also possible to reach the Togians via another port, Bomba, also on Batu Daka. This is more convenient if you’re planning to stay in or near Bomba. From Ampana, boats for Bomba leave on Sunday, Tuesday and Friday at 9am; the return boat leaves on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, also at 9am.
Which Togian Island to choose
There are 56 islands in the Togian archipelago, but only a handful are inhabited or regularly visited by tourists. Because it is quite difficult to get around the islands, most people will only visit one or two of them during their time here. Where you go depends on what you are looking for; some hotels cater specifically to divers, while others are great for just relaxing on the beach. It’s important to choose your hotel wisely, as you’ll spend pretty much all your time and eat all your meals there.
Whichever island you choose to head to, your hotel will arrange to pick you up from the ferry at Wakai then take you in a smaller boat. Given the difficulty of getting to the Togians and getting around, it is highly recommended that you book in advance.
For divers, Kadidiri is the best island to head to. Its long, golden beach is home to three resort hotels: Kadidiri Paradise, Black Marlin, and Lestari. The former two are very much aimed at divers; at Black Marlin in particular, non-divers may feel a little out of place. Kadidiri is also the most social spot in the Togians. Kadidiri Paradise has a lively bar which spills out onto the beach and is a great place to meet your fellow travellers. Lestari is a little more relaxed and cheaper than the other two. It’s not a dive resort, but they can arrange snorkelling trips.
If Kadidiri’s social scene doesn’t appeal, you may prefer the tiny island of Bolilanga. The only place to stay is Bolilanga Island Resort, a friendly place with a range of beach bungalows. Divers will probably look elsewhere, but if you want to snorkel, fish, or just laze on the beach, this is the place for you.
Bomba sits on the western edge of Batu Daka, the main island in the Togians. As mentioned above, it can be reached directly from Ampana. If you’re operating on a slightly higher budget, a fantastic choice is Island Retreat. As with everywhere in the Togians, this is a collection of wooden bungalows, but they’re very comfortable and sit on a beautiful stretch of beach. Run by a friendly American woman, this resort is great for diving, snorkelling, or lounging on the beach – and the food is absolutely fantastic.
Eating in the Togian Islands
As mentioned above, all your meals in the Togians will be taken at your hotel, except for the odd packed lunch on a day trip. The food is usually simple but fantastic at the hotels, taking the form of mountains of rice and vegetables with the freshest seafood. Meals are often served communally, a great way to meet your fellow travellers.
Activities in the Togian Islands
Many visitors to the Togian Islands come for one reason: scuba diving. The Togians are much quieter and less spoilt than surf hotspots in places like Bali. They don’t boast the greatest biodiversity in Indonesia, but still provide good opportunities to spot sea turtles, rays and sharks among much other sea life. If you’re not a diver, snorkelling trips are very popular too.
The Togians are also home to the Bajo people, a community of ‘sea gypsies’ who spend much of their lives in the water. Boat trips are available to take you to their villages, where you can meet them and buy some freshly caught seafood for lunch.
The Togian Islands are hard to reach, but worth it for the determined traveller. They are a beautifully unspoilt collection of islands, and diving and snorkelling are very popular. Cultural trips are also on offer to visit the Bajo, a community of semi-nomadic sea gypsies.
Have you been to the Togian Islands? Do you have any suggestions about where to stay or what to do not listed above? Let us know in the comments below.