Project Description





Highlights: Tana Toraja culture & traditions / Natural history & geology of Sulawesi / Pre-historic habitation sites

Trekking in Toraja Land – 8 Days

Tana Toraja, “the land of heavenly kings”, is located in the central highlands of Sulawesi in what is arguably the most beautiful landscape in all of Indonesia. Here bright green rice terraces, towering limestone outcrops and bamboo groves are set against a majestic backdrop of blue misty mountains. Traditional “tongkonan” houses and rice barns with intricately carved walls and upwardly sloping roofs create an iconic image that immediately tells the visitor you are in Toraja land.

The National Geographic photo stories are true; there is no place on earth quite like this. The Toraja are not only known for their distinctive clan houses, but for their cliff burials, baby burial trees, their “tau tau” ancestor dolls, ancient stone monoliths and elaborate week-long funeral ceremonies during which over a hundred water buffalo and pigs can be sacrificed.

Trekking in Toraja Land will take students well off the beaten path and engage them in the daily activities of these indigenous peoples. Students will help to plant, harvest and thresh rice, cook traditional Torajan dishes in bamboo, learn to carve elaborate panels for rice barns and take part in the rituals and ceremonies that are at the very heart of Torajan culture.

In addition to wonderful treks through the scenic countryside, visiting students will have opportunities to share their cultures with local Torajan children in village schools. They will raft down a wild river, past waterfalls and canyons through the heart of Toraja Land, spotting giant iguanas sunning along the shores and stopping to swim in quiet pools. They will learn about Sulawesi’s amazing biodiversity while spotting high elevation birds in the mountains and endemic macaque monkeys and butterflies in the lowland forests. They will learn about Sulawesi’s Neolithic past by exploring caves with paintings 5,000 years old and learn about the island’s rich maritime and colonial history. Ultimately, they will come to know how Sulawesi’s unique environment helped to mold a distinct culture and how the Toraja maintain their proud traditions in a world of globalization and rapid change.

Study Focus: Bugis coastal cultures

  • Student groups landing in Makassar from Jakarta on hourly flights, or via Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia at 4:00 pm, will be greeted at the airport and transferred by mini van/bus north towards Toraja Land.
  • To break up the long drive we will stop after 2.5 hours for a delicious dinner at beautiful Kupa Beach Restaurant and have a trip orientation session.
  • This lovely location on the Makassar Strait is the traditional home of the Bugis people, a proud culture of brave seafarers and boat builders that have left their mark throughout Indonesia. We will see their distinctive stilt homes with crossed gables, fishing boats with their high prows and dried fish markets as we travel north.
  • Following a delicious seafood dinner, we will drive another 30-minutes north into the hills of the interior where we will overnight at a cliff side lodge overlooking the sea in the scenic town of Parepare.

Overnight: Bukit Indah Hotel, Parepare

Study Focus: Toraja history & culture

  • Following a good breakfast at our hotel we continue our drive north towards the fabled Toraja Land.
  • After 2-hours we will stop for refreshments near Enrekang and climb a hill for a stunning panorama of the mountains that enclose Tana Toraja. While enjoying our snacks and the spectacular 360-degree view, students will learn how geographic isolation results in human societies diverging to create unique cultures.
  • Within an hour of resuming our drive we cross a river and pass through an archway that formally welcomes us into Tana Toraja. The differences are noticeable immediately. The Toraja were converted to Christianity during the era of Dutch colonialism in Indonesia so churches tend to replace mosques here even though the core beliefs of the people are still deeply animistic.
  • Not long after we enter Tana Toraja we will begin our first trek. As we set off on foot through the rice fields and traditional hamlets to view several important historical sights, we will be amazed at the friendliness of the Toraja people we encounter.
  • Among the sites we will see this day are tree burials at Kambira where infants that died before they teethed are entombed in chambers cut into living trees in the belief that the next born child will be as strong and live as long as a tree.
  • Further on we come to the haunting site of Tampangallo, a cave burial site filled with ancient coffins and “tau tau” – ancestor figures designed to attract the spirits of the dead and prevent them from entering the bodies of the living.
  • Another 15-minute hike through the rice fields brings us to Suaya, the royal cliff burial site. Stone steps here lead to the top of a cliff for spectacular views of the surrounding karsts and mountains.
  • Everyone will have big appetites by the time we stop for lunch at Pagoda Restaurant and enjoy some traditional Toraja foods.
  • After lunch we will visit nearby Lemo, one of Tona Toraja’s most dramatic cliff burial sites where galleries of “tau tau” guard the graves. Workshops producing “tau tau” are scattered throughout this area so we will have opportunities to meet with the craftsmen and learn more about their strong animistic beliefs.
  • In the late afternoon we arrive at our lodge, set in the middle of a rice field, and enjoy a refreshing outdoor pool until dinnertime.

Overnight: Toraja Torsina Hotel, Rantepao, Tana Toraja

Study Focus: Toraja traditional skills

  • Today is a day with no driving as we take part in the daily life of the Toraja all within walking distance of our lodge.
  • First on the agenda, right after breakfast, is taking a short stroll from our lodge to a place where panels are constructed and carved for the traditional Toraja rice barns.
  • Having seen how these unique storage rooms are created it is now time to join the workers in the field planting rice or harvesting and threshing it, depending on the season.
  • As the day heats up we will retreat to our lodge for a delicious lunch and a swim in the pool before our afternoon work begins.
  • After lunch everyone will take part in preparing a tradition Torajan dinner. It takes 3-4 hours to slowly barbeque “paipiong” so we must prepare our evening meal early. Paipiong is a delicious blend of chicken, fish or pork with freshly grated coconut, Torajan herbs and the sliced inner stem of young banana stalk cooked in green bamboo over an open fire. It is a culinary masterpiece.
  • With dinner on the fire slowly cooking, we set off on foot 1.5 km to the site of Ke’te Kesu, one of the most enchanting ancient Torajan settlements with its “tongkonan” houses, rice barns and megaliths set in the rice fields.
  • There is an aristocratic cliff burial site here with hanging graves of coffins carved in the shaped of pigs and buffalo and with many “tau tau” ancestral figures. The Toraja believe it is important to honor the souls of their ancestors as they control, oversee, influence and bless the lives of their descendants.
  • Ke’te Kesu is famed for its highly skilled carvers that will become instructors for us this afternoon as each student will have an opportunity to carve a miniature house panel under the watchful eyes of Torajan master carvers.
  • Trekking back to our lodge at sunset time we will arrive in time for a traditional feast of the “paipong” dish we prepared earlier in the day, steamed black rice, traditional vegetables and delicious red tamarella juice.
  • Following dinner, local children will share with us some traditional Torajan dances and songs to put the perfect ending to a wonderful day of experiential learning.

Overnight: Toraja Torsina Hotel, Rantepeo, Tana Toraja

Study Focus: Toraja ceremony

  • Somewhere in Toraja land a ceremony is sure to be taking place on any given day and one of the highlights of a visit to this region is to be invited as guests to view one of these amazing events.
  • By far the grandest and most ostentatious spectacle is the weeklong funeral for a nobleman or wealthy aristocrat. Over a hundred water buffalo can be sacrificed at such an event along with many more pigs, as relatives gather from all over Indonesia (and the world) to pay tribute to a person of high rank.
  • To witness a Toraja funeral is to see the very core of the culture with its elaborate rituals, ornate costumes and extravagant animal sacrifices. A typical funeral ceremony can cost a family over half a million dollars and take months or years to prepare for.
  • It is our hope this day to take part in such a ceremony as we drive north into the cool mountains of Toraja land. Most funeral ceremonies take place in July, August and December when distant families have holiday time to come home, but smaller events can take place on any day of the year.
  • We will visit several important animistic sites today, like the Neolithic stones of Bori that soar up several meters above the land and Batutumonga, where 56 Menhir stones are set in a circle with five trees in the middle.
  • Our destination for the day is the delightfully cool Seram Mountain Lodge, perched on the slopes of Mt. Seram at an altitude of 1300 meters. It is hard to imagine a more dramatic panorama of Tana Toraja than this.
  • Three traditional “tongkonan” houses make up this complex along with a main lodge that can house our group. Following a delicious dinner we will snuggle around a campfire under the stars sharing stories late into the night.

Overnight: Seram Mountain Lodge, Tana Toraja

Study Focus: school service project / Toraja tombs, hamlets & terraces

  • We wake early as sunrise over the valley will be a sight no one will want to miss. Following a hearty breakfast we set off on a full days trek back down the mountainside to Rantepeo.
  • Our first stop will be Lokamata, a site that boasts the largest burial boulder in all of Toraja with numerous tombs carved out of the schist rock. Nearby is the little visited site of Pana, the oldest burial site in Tana Toraja where ancestors have been entombed for many centuries on a high cliff face overgrown with jungle ferns.
  • Pana is also the location of a village elementary school where we will spend most of the morning hours working with the school children. Many students here are anxious to speak better English, as it is the fastest ticket to becoming a tour guide. Geography lessons are also important for being better able to relate to visitors from different parts of the world.
  • In addition to the lessons offered, visiting students can bring English/Indonesian dictionaries, English language lesson books and geography books as donations to the school. Best of all will be having the opportunity to share games and songs from different cultures with these energetic and delightful Torajan children.
  • Following the school visit, we will enjoy a picnic lunch along our way down the mountainside. The vistas here are breathtaking and our 3-4 hour trek will provide opportunities to see villagers going about their daily tasks of washing their buffaloes, feeding their pigs, grooming fighting cocks, forging knives for animal sacrifices, cutting firewood, harvesting coffee, cacao and cloves, and forever tending their rice terraces.
  • Tana Toraja grows enormous bamboo thanks to the rich volcanic soils and plentiful rain. Students will see for themselves how essential this plant is for the Toraja in building the scaffolding to erect the elaborate roofs on their houses and rice barns, as well as to provide the roofing material and to construct the platforms to feed hundreds of guests at the all important funeral procession ceremonies.
  • By late afternoon we will have completed our trek in the village of Tikala from which we will be transported to our hotel by mini vans.
  • Following our trek, the elegant Hotel Marante Toraja will offer us a sea of tranquility with a large swimming pool and lovely gardens set amid spectacular scenery of towering karst formations. Following a delicious dinner we will have a candle-sharing circle where everyone can reflect back on favorite experiences of the past few days.

Overnight: Hotel Marante Toraja, Rantepeo

Study Focus: river ecology & hydrology / Toraja legends / celestial constellations

  • Prepare for a wet, wild and truly wonderful day as we enjoy a delicious breakfast and depart by mini vans for a white water rafting adventure on the Maulu River.
  • We have a 1-hour drive through truly spectacular mountain scenery and remote villages on our way to Kepe near the headwaters of the Malau. From Kepe we have a 45-minute trek through towering bamboo groves down to the river.
  • The Malau is a splendid and pristine river flowing through tropical rainforest in the heart of Toraja land. Excellent class II and III rapids are interspersed with cool refreshing waterfalls and calm floating. Our expert rafting guides and top quality equipment will ensure a safe passage for all.
  • Our study focus today will be an intimate look at a mountain river, understanding fully the powerful hydraulics at work here and the rich ecology of the riparian zone. By the end of our rafting adventure every student should have a clear understanding of river running terms like back eddies, chutes, haystacks and sweepers as well as the commands of their skipper.
  • Wildlife encounters along shore can be rich and varied. We may see large Sulawesi iguanas sunning on rocks, water monitor lizards swimming in quiet pools, kingfishers darting from a riverside tree to snatch an unwary fish, butterflies galore and possibly some of Sulawesi’s endemic species of macaque monkey.
  • After several hours of wild whitewater we will stop for a picnic lunch on a sandy beach where we can take a refreshing dip in a quiet river pool to beat the mid day heat before returning to whitewater rafting.
  • By 3:00pm we will have completed our 4-hour river run and will be picked up by our mini vans for the 2.5-hour drive to Enrekang high in the mountains.
  • The spectacular mountain scenery of Enrekang did not escape the attention of the ancient Toraja. It is said that these proto-Malay peoples first settled here when they migrated to Sulawesi by boat from the southern part of Indochina about 25- generations ago. As they made their way up the Sa’dan River from the coast, the steepness of the river at Enrekang proved too much for their “praus” boats and so they took them ashore and roofed them over to make their first homes. The classic shape of the Toraja “tongkonans” still resembles these boats.
  • As we check in to our lovely lodge for the night we will find ourselves gazing out over a sublime valley of verdant ridges and dramatic limestone outcrops, an area that held great significance for the Toraja. Called “Bambapuang” (the gate of heaven) the mountainside here has been sculpted by nature to resemble, what the Toraja see as male and female reproductive organs.
  • Our mountain lodge this night offers an opportunity for learning celestial constellations, as there is little light in this region to obscure stars. After a delicious dinner we can gather on the decks of our mountainside lodges to study the heavens like the ancient Toraja.

Overnight: Bambapuang Villa Resort, Enrekang

Study Focus: montane bird species / pre-history of South Sulawesi / lowland rainforest ecology / cave geology / “keystone” species

  • Sunrise over the Torajan “gate of heaven” is spectacular to behold. This is also prime time to spot high elevation bird species, so well want to be up early.
  • After a good breakfast, we check out of our lodge and begin the long drive back towards Makassar, stopping along the way for rest breaks and a good lunch.
  • Early in the afternoon we will arrive at Leang Leang caves where we will explore cave chambers with paintings of human hands, buffalo and other animals that date back 3,000-5,000 years, long before the Toraja arrived in Sulawesi.
  • Not far away is Bantimurung National Park where a 100-meter cave passage, a massive waterfall and over 150 species of brilliant butterflies attract weekend visitors from Makassar.
  • While this is far from being a wilderness experience, it is great fun riding inner tubes from the base of the falls down through short sections of rapids while butterflies flutter about in all directions.
  • Bantimurung is also a good place to learn about the ecology of a lowland tropical rainforest, spotting gliding lizards and Sulawesi endemic monkeys along a trail to the cave passage where lessons in cave geology and ecology can take place.
  • Just outside the park entrance there is a famous roosting area for giant fruit bats, considered a “keystone” species in the rainforest for the role they play in pollinating trees and distributing their fruits over great distances. Students will learn how the Sulawesi people’s penchant for eating bats threatens the island’s last remaining rainforests.
  • By 5:00 pm our journey will be over as we enter Makassar’s historic district and check in to our lovely, four-star seaside resort for a refreshing swim in the large pool and a delicious closing dinner.
  • A special candle light ceremony will take place this evening in the hotel grounds to celebrate our journey and commemorate our last night together.

Overnight: Hotel Pantai Gapura, Makassar

Study Focus: Makassar history & commerce

  • It’s not over yet for those that do not have early flight connections home. Just across the road from our resort is historic Fort Rotterdam laid out in the shape of a sea turtle. Prior to Dutch occupation of Sulawesi in the 16th century, this was a fort of the powerful Makassar rulers that controlled the lucrative trade with the Mallucas, the fabled “spice islands” to the east of Sulawesi.
  • Fort Rotterdam has been completely restored and includes the very interesting Museum La Galico that tells the story of humanity here from the Megalithic period to the present.
  • Not far from the fort is Makassars old waterfront and fish market where countless species of fish are unloaded from boats every morning. Nearby is the large ship harbor where the classic “phinisi” sailing ships with their elegant high prows, can be seen loading and unloading cargo from ports all across Indonesia’s vast archipelago.
  • Student groups with afternoon departures can relax at the poolside of our seaside resort until flight time as we are less than a 30-minute drive to the airport.
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