Tana Toraja Indonesia: 12 Things To Do In Sulawesi’s Funeral Land

The remote area of Tana Toraja, Indonesia (on Sulawesi island) is known for having one of the most bizarre and unique cultures in the world.

We spent several days here in 2020, and even managed to visit a traditional Tana Toraja funeral with the invitation of some friendly locals.

Toraja is a fascinating journey, with its unique cliffside graves, karst mountains, and notoriously unusual funeral customs and beliefs.

This travel guide will explain how to get to Tana Toraja, where to stay, all the best things to do, and everything else you need to know before you go!


Tana Toraja Indonesia grave stone of Liang Pa at Bori Kalimbuang
  • Save
Bori giant grave stone

Tana Toraja Culture In A Nutshell

The local religion in Toraja is called Aluk To Dolo (‘Way of the Ancestors’). It’s based on animist myths and traditions, infused with some elements of Protestant Christianity brought to Sulawesi by the Dutch in the 1920s.

Toraja culture is focused on death and the afterlife, and you can see this in the famously elaborate funeral ceremonies where they have days of feasting, dancing, and the slaughter of buffalos and pigs. The funeral is central to Toraja culture.

We enjoyed seeing the artistic tongkonan houses with their iconic curved rooftops, and exploring the hundreds of peculiar grave sites carved into the cliffs, caves, and boulders.

Toraja people are very friendly and welcoming to foreigners!

Tana Toraja women in traditional dress in Indonesia
  • Save
Toraja traditional dress
Toraja water buffalo
  • Save
Water buffaloes are sacrificed in the funeral ceremonies
Skulls in Tana Toraja Indonesia
  • Save
Toraja culture focuses heavily on death and the afterlife
Where Is It?

The Tana Toraja regency is located in the highlands of south Sulawesi island in Indonesia.

The main town of Rantepao sits in a scenic mountain area surrounded by limestone karsts, rivers, and rice terraces, so it’s a great place to explore.

Tana Toraja drone picture of karst mountains
  • Save
Tana Toraja, Indonesia is surrounded by limestone karsts
How To Get To Tana Toraja

Tana Toraja, Indonesia can be reached by air, bus, or private car.

You can find more info on each option below. Flying to Toraja is the easiest, but bus is the cheapest. Car is best for groups.

• By Air

All flights to Toraja have to transit first in Makassar (UPG), and then you can fly directly to the new Tana Toraja airport (TRT) which was finished in 2020. The flight from Makassar to Toraja takes 1 hour and costs about 600k IDR ($40 USD).

You can book this flight daily on the Lion Air website, and I would guess other airlines may start doing the route soon too since it was just opened recently.

Once you reach the airport, it’s a 1 hour drive into town, and a taxi will cost about 250k IDR. We asked our hotel to combine our airport pickup with a half day tour of Toraja, so we paid 400k total. This worked out great because we got to see some things on our first day there.
 

New Tana Toraja airport in Sulawesi Indonesia
  • Save
The new Tana Toraja airport with its Tongkonan rooftop

• By Bus

There’s a daily morning or night bus to Tana Toraja from the bus terminal in Makassar.

The bus ride from Makassar to Rantepao takes about 9 or 10 hours and there are several stops along the way. It costs around 200k per person.

The bus departure times from both Makassar and Toraja are 9 AM for the morning bus, or 9 PM for the night bus.

• By Car

A car + driver can be hired to take you from Makassar to Toraja for about 750k to 1 million IDR ($50-70). This is the most cost effective option if you’re traveling in a group with several people. The drive takes 8+ hours and the road is in good condition.

Alternatively, you can rent a car to self drive from Makassar for 600k, but I wouldn’t recommend this unless you’re already familiar with driving in Indonesia.
 

Tana Toraja drone picture near Rantepao Indonesia
  • Save
Rice fields near Rantepao

How To Get Around

Once you arrive in Toraja, the best way to explore the area is to hire a car + driver or rent a scooter.

It’s very cheap to hire a driver in Toraja. Our hotel owner was happy to show us around to all the tourist sites for 400k per day.
 

Drone picture of mountains near Makale
  • Save
Mountains near Makale

Best Things To Do In Toraja
• Lemo

The cliff side graves at Lemo are one of Toraja’s most famous sights.

The first thing you’re greeted by is a row of creepy Tau-Tau statues staring down at you, as if they’re guarding the graves.

Lemo is very accessible. Our hotel owner took us there while driving us from the airport to our homestay in Rantepao.

Lemo graves in Tana Toraja Indonesia
  • Save
Lemo cemetery
Tau tau statues at Lemo
  • Save
Creepy Tau-Tau statues at Lemo
• Londa

Londa is a burial ground with two deep limestone caves filled with coffins and bones.

If you follow the caves far enough back, they connect with each other by a series of tunnels. A flashlight will be handy, otherwise you can rent a lantern at the entrance.

Londa is easy to combine with Lemo and other sights in south Toraja.

Coffins at Londa
  • Save
Coffins at Londa
Burial cave at Londa in Tana Toraja Indonesia
  • Save
Spooky burial cave at Londa
• Kete Kesu

This is a popular collection of Toraja traditional houses (tongkonan) with a cave cemetery in the background.

Personally, I didn’t think the houses at Kete Kesu were as nice as the ones at Palawa (more on that later).

Tongkonan houses at Kete Kesu in Tana Toraja Indonesia
  • Save
Tongkonan houses at Kete Kesu
Coffins at Kete Kesu
  • Save
Coffins at Kete Kesu
• Yesus Buntu Burake

Torajan religion was mixed with Christianity after the colonials arrived, and it’s reflected in a giant Jesus Christ statue that stands on the hill above Makale.

It’s the second tallest Jesus statue in the world (after the famous one in Sao Paolo, Brazil), and you can drive all the way up to it from Makale. No hiking needed.

Patung Yesus Buntu Burake Jesus statue near Rantepao
  • Save
The Jesus Christ Blessing statue near Makale
Patung Yesus Buntu Burake Jesus statue near Rantepao
  • Save
Drone view of Yesus Buntu Burake
• Buntu Pune

This is a small group of graves and Torajan traditional houses (tongkonan) that seem to be mostly overlooked by tourists.

Buntu Pune is located right in Rantepao, so you can reach it easily without a tour. We walked from our hotel in 5 minutes.

Traditional houses at Buntu Pune
  • Save
Traditional houses at Buntu Pune
Tongkonan close up house in Tana Toraja Indonesia
  • Save
Tongkonan close up
• Bori Kalimbuang

Bori is a grave site in north Toraja with megalithic stones that were stood upright and used as headstones. It’s also known for having ‘baby trees’ where babies were buried if they died in infancy.

If you keep following the path, there’s a peculiar looking giant grave stone with more than a dozen tombs in it. I thought it was one of the most fascinating sights in Toraja.

Bori Kalimbuang grave stone of Liang Pa in Tana Toraja Indonesia
  • Save
Bori giant grave stone
Bori Kalimbuang grave stones
  • Save
Bori grave stones
• Mount Sesean

Mount Sesean is one of the high points near Rantepao, and it has some of the best natural scenery in the area, with rice terraces for miles.

Hiking to the top from Batutumonga takes about 2 hours one way. The trailhead is pretty easy to find, and when you reach the top you get 360 degree views of the Toraja valley.

The peak of Gunung Sesean is 6,900 feet (2,100 m) and it’s one of Toraja’s most popular sunrise spots!

Peak of Mount Sesean in Tana Toraja Indonesia
  • Save
Peak of Mount Sesean
Rice terraces at Mount Sesean
  • Save
Rice terraces at Mount Sesean
• Loko Mata

This is a giant burial stone on the main road near Batutumonga and Mount Sesean.

It’s probably the biggest boulder we saw in Toraja, and it has dozens of tombs carved into the rock on all sides.

Very interesting, but I thought the grave stone at Bori was better.

Loko mata grave stone on Mount Sesean
  • Save
Loko Mata grave stone
Loko mata grave stone on Mount Sesean
  • Save
Loko Mata grave stone
• Palawa Houses

Palawa has some of the best traditional houses we saw in Toraja.

These tongkonan are well preserved and super photogenic, with rows of water buffalo horns decorating the front.

Tongkonan houses at Palawa in Tana Toraja Indonesia
  • Save
Tongkonan houses at Palawa
Buffalo face and horns at Palawa
  • Save
Giant buffalo horns
• Limbong Lake

This is a lake near Rantepao with limestone karst mountains and water that changes color in the seasons. If you come in the rainy season, they said the water turns a nice blue color.

Limbong Lake aka Danau Limbong in Rantepao Toraja
  • Save
Limbong Lake (aka Danau Limbong)
• Tana Toraja Funeral

One of the most important events in Tana Toraja, Indonesia is the traditional funeral ceremony. These are extravagant, usually last several days, and involve the gory slaughtering of pigs and buffaloes as a gift/honor to the family of the deceased.

Toraja culture revolves around funerals, and it’s a big draw for international tourists too. Foreigners are very welcome to attend, but as a guest you’ll be expected to buy a small gift for the family (usually a few packs of cigarettes).

If you want to witness a Tana Toraja funeral, the best thing to do is check with your hotel and/or tour guide about when and where the next one will happen. Funeral season is generally July to September.
 

Toraja buffalo sacrifice
  • Save
Toraja buffalo sacrifice

Toraja buffalo sacrifice
  • Save
Cutting up the buffalo carcass to harvest
• Ma’Nene Ceremony

Toraja’s most shocking and infamous tradition by far is the Ma’Nene ceremony that happens every year after the harvest season.

This is when the relatives’ corpses (dead bodies) are brought out of their graves like zombies, cleaned, and dressed in fresh clothes.

The locals don’t find this disgusting. In their culture, it’s loving and respectful, and they want to stay connected with their lost relatives. Keep in mind it’s an ancient tradition.

Entrance Fees

Most tourist sites in Toraja have entrance fees, which for foreigners tend to be about 30k IDR ($2) per person. You pay this at each tourist site.

It may not sound like very much, but it starts to add up if you visit 4 or 5 places in a day tour. Just remember to keep some cash handy.
 

Tongkonan house at Kete Kesu in Tana Toraja Indonesia
  • Save
    
Limbong Lake aka Danau Limbong in Rantepao Toraja
  • Save

 
Tongkonan houses at Palawa
  • Save
Rows of tongkonan houses
Where To Stay In Tana Toraja

Most Toraja visitors stay in Rantepao, which is the main town area.

Accommodation is pretty basic, consisting of homestays and small hotels, but the quality and value is surprisingly good.

Here are some of our top picks:

  • Rosalina Homestay – Free breakfast/WiFi and the owner was very helpful arranging our airport pickup & Toraja tours – 200k IDR ($14 USD)
  • Manubackpacker – Outstanding value for a twin room with private bathroom – 150k IDR ($10)
  • Toraja Lodge Hotel – Superior king room with WiFi & breakfast included – 300k IDR ($20)
  • Tongkonan Layuk Lion – Free dinner and breakfast with a village atmosphere and traditional Tongkonan houses – 750k IDR ($50)

These prices may fluctuate from time to time, so just keep an eye out for a good deal.
 

Tongkonan houses at Palawa
  • Save
Tongkonan houses at Palawa

Bamboo forest at Bori
  • Save
Bamboo forest at Bori
Patung Yesus Buntu Burake Jesus statue near Rantepao
  • Save
Mountains above Makale
Other Tips
  • Credit Cards: Everything in Toraja is cash only. That includes hotels, restaurants, and entrance fees for tourist sites. So keep cash handy.
  • ATM: There are plenty of ATMs in Rantepao with standard withdrawal limits. Foreign cards work fine.
  • WiFi: Hotels in Rantepao generally have decent WiFi, and it’s quickly improving.
  • Cell Service: Our SIM cards from Telkomsel had great reception in the Rantepao area.
  • Restaurants: The streetside warungs in Rantepao didn’t seem great, but you can find good food if you look around. Two of our picks would be Raja Babi Waroenk and Monika Cafe & Resto.
  • Apps: Grab and GoJek aren’t available in Rantepao, but taxis and food delivery aren’t too hard to sort out if you need them.
Stone buffalo face on a grave stone at Bori
  • Save
Stone buffalo face guarding a grave stone
Baby grave tree in Bori Kalimbuang
  • Save
Baby grave where infants were buried in trees
Skeletons and bones inside a tomb at Bori
  • Save
Inside a tomb at Bori
Best Time To Visit

Toraja’s climate is quite a bit cooler than the rest of Sulawesi, with average temps around 73 F (23 C) all year.

If you want to see the Toraja funerals and Ma’Nene ceremonies, the best time to visit is from July to September (and especially the month of August).

Otherwise, any month is fine for visiting Toraja, although it’s more rainy from November to May.

Old Toraja woman
  • Save
    
Tana Toraja girls wearing traditional dress in Indonesia
  • Save

 
Souvenir tongkonan houses
  • Save
Souvenir tongkonan houses
How Long To Stay

You can see the highlights of Tana Toraja, Indonesia in 3 days.

With that said, Toraja is a big area so you could easily stay longer exploring all of the mountains and waterfalls if you wanted.

Happy travels!

Toraja people and kids wearing a traditional dress
  • Save

Toraja people and kids
  • Save
See Also