Tana Toraja Indonesia: Travel Guide & Best Things To Do

by David & Intan

The remote land 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 there in 2020, and even managed to visit a traditional Tana Toraja funeral with the invitation of some friendly locals.

Tanah 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

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

Toraja traditional dress

Toraja water buffalo

Water buffaloes are sacrificed in the funeral ceremonies

Skulls in Tana Toraja Indonesia

Toraja culture focuses heavily on death and the afterlife


Where Is Tana Toraja?

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

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. Driving there in a car may be 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 just completed in 2020. The flight from Makassar to Toraja takes 1 hour and costs about 1 million Rupiah ($70 USD) for a one way ticket.

You can shop for flights to Makassar and Tana Toraja at Skyscanner. Lion Air operates this flight daily, 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 Rupiah. 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.

Personally, I think flying is the best way to get to Toraja Indonesia nowadays, but going by bus or car can have its own advantages as well. I’ve described these options below.

New Tana Toraja airport in Sulawesi Indonesia

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

This is a very long journey, but it could make sense for solo travelers on a strict budget. It costs around 200k Rupiah per person (one way).

• By Car

A car + driver can be hired to take you from Makassar to Tanah Toraja for about 750k to 1 million Rupiah ($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 about 600k Rupiah, but I wouldn’t recommend this unless you’re already experienced with driving in Indonesia.

Tana Toraja drone picture near Rantepao Indonesia

Rice fields near Rantepao


How To Get Around Toraja

Once you arrive in Tanah 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 of the tourist sites for 400k Rupiah per day.

Drone picture of mountains near Makale

Mountains near Makale


Best Things To Do In Toraja Indonesia

1. Lemo

The cliff side graves at Lemo are one of Tanah 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

Lemo cemetery

Tau tau statues at Lemo

Creepy Tau-Tau statues at Lemo


2. 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 Tanah Toraja.

Coffins at Londa

Coffins at Londa

Burial cave at Londa in Tana Toraja Indonesia

Spooky burial cave at Londa


3. 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

Tongkonan houses at Kete Kesu

Coffins at Kete Kesu

Coffins at Kete Kesu


4. 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

The Jesus Christ Blessing statue near Makale

Patung Yesus Buntu Burake Jesus statue near Rantepao

Drone view of Yesus Buntu Burake


5. 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

Traditional houses at Buntu Pune

Tongkonan close up house in Tana Toraja Indonesia

Tongkonan close up


6. 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

Bori giant grave stone

Bori Kalimbuang grave stones

Bori grave stones


7. 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 2,100 meters (6,900 feet) in altitude, and it’s one of Toraja’s most popular sunrise spots!

Peak of Mount Sesean in Tana Toraja Indonesia

Peak of Mount Sesean

Rice terraces at Mount Sesean

Rice terraces at Mount Sesean


8. Loko Mata

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

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

It’s a very interesting spot, but I thought the grave stone at Bori was better.

Loko mata grave stone on Mount Sesean

Loko Mata grave stone

Loko mata grave stone on Mount Sesean

Loko Mata grave stone


9. Palawa Houses

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

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

It’s a very underrated spot that somehow doesn’t have as many tourists as we saw at places like Kete Kesu.

Tongkonan houses at Palawa in Tana Toraja Indonesia

Tongkonan houses at Palawa

Buffalo face and horns at Palawa

Giant buffalo horns


10. Limbong Lake

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

Even if you visit during the dry season, when the lake is greenish brown, the karsts around the lake make for some pretty spectacular photos.

Limbong Lake aka Danau Limbong in Rantepao Toraja

Limbong Lake (aka Danau Limbong)


11. 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

Toraja buffalo sacrifice

Toraja buffalo sacrifice

Cutting up the buffalo carcass to harvest


12. 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.

Toraja Entrance Fees

Most tourist sites in Tanah Toraja have entrance fees, which for foreigners tend to be about 30k Rupiah ($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, so just remember to keep some cash handy.
Tongkonan house at Kete Kesu in Tana Toraja Indonesia       Limbong Lake aka Danau Limbong in Rantepao Toraja

Tongkonan houses at Palawa

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 & Tanah 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)
  • Toraja Misiliana Hotel – One of the nicest hotels in Toraja, with beautiful grounds, free continental breakfast, and an outdoor pool – 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

Tongkonan houses at Palawa

Bamboo forest at Bori

Bamboo forest at Bori

Patung Yesus Buntu Burake Jesus statue near Rantepao

Mountains above Makale


Other Toraja Tips

  • Credit Cards: Everything in Tanah 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.
  • Safety: I’ve traveled all over Sulawesi, both as a solo traveler and also later with my wife. Toraja is very safe, and the locals are quite welcoming to tourists. Just take normal precautions.
  • Mosquitoes: I’ve never heard of a tourist getting Malaria from mosquitoes in Tana Toraja. According to this Tribun News article from 2020, there haven’t been any local cases of Malaria in over two years. However, it’s still a good idea to wear repellant while out and about, just in case. Malaria can be nasty and dangerous.
  • Apps: The Grab and GoJek ride-hailing apps 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

Stone buffalo face guarding a grave stone in Tanah Toraja

Baby grave tree in Bori Kalimbuang

Baby grave where infants were buried in trees

Skeletons and bones inside a tomb at Bori

Inside a tomb at Bori


Best Time To Visit Toraja Indonesia

Tanah Toraja’s climate is quite a bit cooler than the rest of Sulawesi, with average temps around 23 Celcius (73 F) 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       Tana Toraja girls wearing traditional dress in Indonesia

Souvenir tongkonan houses

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

Toraja people and kids

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