Tana Toraja – a practical guide

You can totally do this trip on your own. The Toraja Land is very welcoming, people are friendly and it’s fairly easy to get to once you arrive in Makassar. Here is my Tana Toraja guide. If you are interested in more information about the traditions, read this post.

By the way, Makassar is just a horrible place, so I don’t recommend staying there for too long. I stayed for one day, only because my flight was late and I missed the bus to Toraja. And I didn’t like it at all. It’s dirty, old and doesn’t feel safe for a solo female traveler.

city of Makassar sign
City of Makassar sign

How to get there

There are many busses from Makassar to Rantepao (the central city in the region). You can opt either for a journey during the day or at night. I would always recommend to travel at night as it takes around 10 hours. Some companies even offer real beds, which means that you can sleep perfectly well during the trip.

A warning: each company has its own bus terminal, so make sure to ask for a precise address of the departure. Here are the bus companies and timetables. I used Litha & Co and Bintang Prima and I would recommend Bintang Prima, as the busses are more comfortable and they have beds.

Where to stay

I stayed at Pias Poppies recommended in Lonely Planet and I was very happy with the experience. The room was spacious and clean. They have a beautiful garden right behind the hotel, every room has a garden view. The staff was super friendly and accomodating. They also helped me find a guide to go see a funeral and burial sites. Ah, and I checked in at 6 a.m. which also wasn’t a problem.

Where to eat

Cafe Aras

This place was recommended to me by my guide, Osman and I am recommending it to you. It’s fresh, local, tasty, and cheap. The decorations are typical for Toraja people with buffalo horns and wood carvings on the walls.

food
Rice noodles with chicken and vegetables

Address: Jl. Andi Mappanyukki Kel No.64, Malango’, Rantepao. Map

Once there, what to do

There are two ways of visiting the region: by scooter on your own or with a Tana Toraja guide. I would recommend a mix of those two. Going hiking in the mountains and reaching some viewpoints is easy on your own. Although to see the funerals, meet people, and get some information about the traditions I opted for a guide, and it was amazing! It was a person that was sitting outside of my Hotel when I went out for the first time.

It turns out that he is a guide for tours that are sometimes organized in the region. His name was Osman, the lady from the Hotel called him. His English was perfect, he was very knowledgable and chatty. He told me everything there is to know about the people and answered all of my questions. Since it was only the two of us, we went for a quest to find a family that is living with a deceased person. It wasn’t easy, we had to ask around and bribe a worker from a local store 😉 but we found them! The family was extremely nice, immediately invited us to have coffee with them, children gathered to play with me. You can tell that they don’t get many tourists around here.

A funeral

Surprisingly, there is always a funeral in the region. Or I was very lucky. I didn’t organize the tour beforehand, I just showed up and hoped to see it. And I did! We (me and the guide, Osman) went around the villages south of Rantepao and found ourselves participating in two different funerals! It was a very interesting experience, as we were walking by, people would smile and wave while cutting the buffalo meat and chopping off the horns. Others would cook in the specially constructed kitchens, children would play, elders were taking a nap. Both times we were welcomed very warmly, were offered tea, coffee, sweets, and cookies.

Londa

Londa is a village with an ancient burial graveyard with Tau Tau statues. The entrance is 20 000 rupiah.

Londa
Traditional Graves in Londa

Kate Kesu

Kate Kesu is a typical village of boat-like houses. The entrance is 20 000 rupiah. It’s beautiful, but if you ride around the region, you will see that all of the villages look like that. And if you have a guide, which I really recommend (ask about Osman), he will take you to many villages along the way.

tana toraja
Traditional Toraja buildings

Kaburan Batu

Another burial site with graves on the side of a mountain. A few tourist shops are open here selling hand made decorations and bracelets.

Baby graves

There are a few in the region and your Tana Toraja guide will know where to find them. If you opt for a solo tour, there is one in Kambira.

baby graves, tana toraja
BIn Tana Toraja babies are buried in a tree

Tongkonan

Tongkonan is a traditional Torajan house. It has a characteristic boat-like shape and it has colorful carvings on the walls. Each family has their own carvings that mean something and tell the family story. Some represent the Creator, some fruit and wheat, some buffaloes. Each person you meet will have a different explanation for it. Isn’t it fascinating?

tana toraja
Carvings on a traditional Toraja house

You might also like:

Tana Toraja – burial traditions, grave caves and others

Laos – old traditions, talismans and scarecrows

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