Uncover the secrets of some of the world's most fascinating cultures on this 13-day trip through Java and Sulawesi. Start your trip in Yogyakarta, visiting the ancient Buddhist temple sites of Borobudur and Prambanan before flying to Makassar. From there, head north to the jungle-covered, mountainous region of Tana Toraja, a place where death has as much importance as life. Visit historic villages and ancient tombs before ending your trip on the white-sand beaches of Bira and Liukang Island.

Highlights

  • Visit Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world
  • Check out Yogyakarta—aka Jogja—the cultural hub of Java
  • Learn about Sulawesi's fascinating architecture & burial traditions
  • Explore the traditional villages & tombs of the Tana Toraja region
  • Snorkel on the coral reefs surrounding Liukang Loe Island

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Yogyakarta Yogyakarta
Day 2 Borobudur, Pawon, & Mendut Temple Tour Yogyakarta
Day 3 Sewu, Plasoan, & Prambanan Temple Yogyakarta
Day 4 Fly from Java to Makassar in Sulawesi Makassar
Day 5 Makassar to Tana Toraja via Pare-Pare Rantepao
Day 6 Tana Toraja Village Tour: Lemo, Kambira, Londa, Sada, Suaya Rantepao
Day 7 Tana Toraja: Tinombayo, Palaway, Sa'dan, & Bori Rantepao
Day 8 Tana Toraja: Marante & Siguntu Rantepao
Day 9 Tana Toraja to Sengkang via Ke'te Ke'su Sengkang
Day 10 Sengkang to Bira via Kajang Village Bira
Day 11 Liukang Loe Island Day Trip Bira
Day 12 Free Day in Bira Bira
Day 13 Bira to Makassar Airport, Departure from Sulawesi  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Yogyakarta

Arrive in Jodja, the cultural capital of Java
Arrive in Jogja, the cultural capital of Java

Welcome to Yogyakarta, Indonesia's cultural capital.  Upon arrival at the airport, you will be met by your driver who will take you to your hotel. Once you've checked in, the rest of the day is free to do as you please.

Relax at the hotel, explore the neighborhood, or head out into the city and go exploring. Go for a wander down streets covered in artistic murals, stop off at quaint coffee shops, try Javanese delicacies at local restaurants and visit historic temples, before finding a great spot for a drink and watch your first Indonesian sunset.

Day 2: Borobudur, Pawon, & Mendut Temple Tour

Wander around the iconic stupas at Borobudur
Wander around the iconic stupas at Borobudur

Wake up early today to hit the road and make the most of your time in Java. After breakfast, make your way to Borobudur, the world's largest Buddhist temple. A UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, this 9th-century temple was abandoned from the 14th century to the early 19th century when it was rediscovered by European explorers. Now, it is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Indonesia, known for its huge central dome and 72 bell-shaped stupas.

Next, continue onto Candi Pawon, a tiny 9th-century Javanese-style temple with ornate and intricate carvings. Located directly between Borobudur and Mendut, there is a lot of speculation about the alignment of these three Buddhist temples and the original purpose of this small temple, whose name literally translates as 'kitchen' in the Javanese language.

After, make your way to Mendut Temple, your final temple of the day. Older than both Borobudur and Pawon, this temple is home to several large stone Buddhist statues and the walls are adorned with statues and bas-reliefs depicting Buddhist stories and teachings.

When you're done exploring, return to Jodja for an evening walk through Malioboro Market.

Day 3: Sewu, Plasoan, & Prambanan Temple

Take a guided tour of the 9th-century Prambanan Temple
Take a guided tour of the 9th-century Prambanan Temple

Today, you'll continue your whistle-stop cultural exploration of Java with a trip out to visit the ancient Buddhist temples of Sewu and Plasoan in Bugisan Village

After Java converted to Islam in the 1500s, these 8th-century Buddhist temples spent centuries buried under volcanic ash and debris from nearby Mount Merapi. Although they were never fully forgotten, with tales of their existence becoming ingrained in local myths and folklore, the ruins were believed to be haunted and were left alone until the18th century, when they were rediscovered by Dutch explorers.

Since then, they've been damaged by several earthquakes, with the ruined walls and volcanic ash adding to the atmosphere around these ancient temples, which are some of the oldest in the area.

Continue your cultural tour of the temples around Yogyakarta with a visit to Prambanan Temple in the late afternoon to catch the golden-hour light. Built in the 9th-century, this UNESCO World Heritage site is dedicated to the three great Hindu divinities—Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu. 

After watching the sunset over the temple, head back to Yogyakarta for your last night in Java.

Day 4: Fly from Java to Makassar in Sulawesi

Experience a warm welcome when you arrive in Sulawesi
Experience a warm welcome when you arrive in Sulawesi

It's time to say goodbye to Java and make your way to Sulawesi, where you will be spending the next 10 days. In the morning, your driver will pick you up from your hotel and take you to the airport where you will catch your flight over to Makassar in the south of Sulawesi.

Once you arrive, you'll meet your local driver who will pick you up at the airport and take you to your hotel in Makassar. The rest of the day is free for you to relax or head out to explore the capital of South Sulawesi, an important stop in the historic spice trade. Highlights include the 17th-century Dutch Fort Rotterdam and Losari Beach, where locals go to set up food stalls every night.

Travel Time: 2 hours
Travel Distance: 685 miles (1100 km)

Day 5: Makassar to Tana Toraja via Pare-Pare

Travel through the Sulawesi highlands
Travel through the Sulawesi highlands

After breakfast, check out from the hotel and meet your driver to begin the long journey from Makassar down to Tana Toraja. Settle in and enjoy the views from the window as you travel through the Bugis Region with its colorful stilted-houses and make your way to central Sulawesi.

Stop for lunch in the coastal town of Pare-Pare, before continuing on your journey through the countryside and up into the mountains. As the landscape changes, keep your eyes peeled for your first tongkonans—traditional wooden houses with boat-shaped roofs.

Once you arrive in Rantepao, check into your hotel and relax for a while, stroll through the local market, or start exploring the nearby Toraja villages and learning about their fascinating ancestral traditions.

Travel Time: 8 hr
Travel Distance: 200 miles (322 km)

Day 6: Tana Toraja Village Tour: Lemo, Kambira, Londa, Sada, Suaya

Explore the royal family tombs in Tana Toraja
Explore the royal family tombs in Tana Toraja

This morning, meet your guide and head out on a countryside and cultural tour through Tana Toraja. As you drive through the region, admire the tall limestone outcrops and rice fields dotted with the intricately-decorated houses with their upward-sloping roofs, before stopping off in local villages to learn more about their rituals and traditions.

Steeped in history, this area is known as the 'Land of Heavenly Kings' and is famous for its fascinating—and rather gruesome—burial rites. After a person dies, the body is kept at home and treated as a member of the family while they save up to pay for the funeral—an elaborate and costly affair involving animal sacrifices, buffalo fights, and ritual dances.

The deceased family member is then finally buried, usually either in a cave or a hanging tomb. Depending on when you visit, you might be fortunate enough to be able to experience a funeral ceremony.

Each of the Toraja villages has its specific traditions that you will learn about on your tour. In Lemo, you can admire the Tau-Tau—wooden effigies of the dead—from their cliff-side resting places, in Kambira, visit the tree-cemetery for babies, and in Londa, you will discover the caves and hanging tombs.

Continue on to Sada to explore the old stone megaliths, and then to Nangalla and Ke'te Kesu to admire the traditional village architecture, before ending your tour with a visit to Suaya and Tansitolo to see the tombs of the royal family and discover the silk weaving workshops. You can also explore local markets in the villages, like the animal markets of Marante and Rantepao.

Day 7: Tana Toraja: Tinombayo, Palawa, Sa'dan, & Bori

Visit Torajan cliff burial sites with Tau Tau wooden effigies
Visit Torajan cliff burial sites with Tau Tau wooden effigies

Spend another day exploring the villages of Tana Toraja in order to gain a deeper insight into the unique culture of the Torajan people. Start off with a visit out to the highland village of Tinombayo, with its impressive views of the rice terraces. From there, head to Palawa, one of the oldest villages in the region.

After lunch, take a trip out to Sa’dan, a village renowned for its weavers, and Bori Parinding to see the ceremonial grounds and ancient burial sites before returning to Rantepao where you're free for the rest of the afternoon.

Day 8: Tana Toraja: Marante & Siguntu

Learn more about the Torajan culture as you visit different villages
Learn more about the Torajan culture as you visit different villages

Continue on your cultural exploration around Tana Toraja with a trip through the highlands out to Marante, one of the region's biggest villages surrounded by rocky limestone cliffs that contain hanging stone graves called 'erong'.  Learn about the burial rituals and funeral ceremonies from your local guide as you walk through the village.

From there, make your way to Siguntu, the oldest tongkonan complex after Kete Kesu. Up in the hills, this village is as famous for its stunning natural scenery as it is for its historical culture. Go for a walk through the surrounding ricefields and through the village to admire the historic houses.

This afternoon, return to Rantepao and spend another evening at leisure.

Day 9: Tana Toraja to Sengkang via Kete Kesu

Check out the floating villages on Lake Tempe
Check out the floating villages on Lake Tempe

In the morning, check out from the hotel and make your way to Kete Kesu, a quaint traditional village in the mountains that is over 400 years old. Surrounded by rice fields, the village has several historic houses and granaries along with a burial place, ceremonial grounds, and water-buffalo pastures. The perfect place to end your time in Tana Toraja this living museum is one of the most impressive villages in the region.

From there, settle in for a 5-hr drive as you leave Toraja country and make your way to Sengkang and the majestic Lake Tempe. Watch the changing scenery pass you by as you get closer to the lake, where you'll arrive in time to hop in a motorized canoe and visit the floating village for sunset.

Life here is very different from that in Tana Toraja, revolving instead around the water, with the levels of the lake varying dramatically between the dry and the rainy season. Most of the villagers here are fishermen who move their floating homes around the lake in search of deeper waters and better fishing spots.

Travel Time: 5 hours
Travel Distance: 137 miles (220 km)

Day 10: Sengkang to Bira via Kajang Village

Make your way down to Bira for a few days of beach r&r
Make your way down to Bira for a few days of beach R&R

Rise early to watch the sunrise over the lake before continuing on your journey across Sulawesi to reach the sandy beaches of Bira. Take the scenic route through the South Celebes countryside, stopping en-route to visit a traditional Kajang village, home to a minority tribe that lives on the fringe of society.

Still very much attached to its ancestral traditions, you must wear black clothes to enter the village—a sacred color to the tribe as it represents their philosophy of life, reflecting the journey from the darkness of the mother's womb to the grave in which they are buried. 

After taking a guided tour of Kajang village, continue your journey onto Bira, with a couple of quick stops to learn about the process of making palm sugar and to visit a rubber plantation.  Once you arrive, check into your hotel and then enjoy a free evening to relax or go exploring. 

Travel Time: 6 hr
Travel Distance: 137 miles (220 km)

Day 11: Liukang Loe Island Day Trip

Go swimming in the clear waters off Liukang Loe Island
Go swimming in the clear waters off Liukang Loe Island

After breakfast, head down to the harbor and jump on a local boat out to Liukang Loe Island just off the west coast of Tanjung Bira Beach.  The journey out to the island only takes around 20 minutes, and you can stop on the way for a quick swim.

When you arrive, take a stroll around the main village on streets that are made of coral, and learn about the people who call the island home and their ancestral traditions. After lunch, head to the beach and go snorkeling in the coral reef just offshore. Keep your eyes peeled to see if you can spot a sea turtle or two.

In the afternoon, head back to Bira in time for a sunset drink and dinner on the beach.

Day 12: Free Day in Bira

Enjoy a free day to explore Bira in southern Sulawesi
Enjoy a free day to explore Bira in southern Sulawesi

Your last day on Sulawesi is free for you to spend however you like. If you want to stay closer to home, you could spend the day relaxing on the beach with a book, lazing around in a hammock with a cocktail or two, or head out for a spot of sightseeing around the nearby beaches.

Alternatively, if you're feeling a little more adventurous, you could opt to go on a diving or snorkeling tour or head out on a day tour out to explore more of the surrounding countryside and learn more about the local culture in the region.

Day 13: Bira to Makassar Airport, Departure from Sulawesi

It's time to say goodbye to Sulawesi
It's time to say goodbye to Sulawesi

It's the final day of your trip, which means it's time to say goodbye. After one last breakfast at the hotel, make your way back to Makassar, where you will be dropped at the airport ready to catch your onward flight.

The journey should take around six hours, so depending on the time of your departure, you may have time to stop off and see the local salt marshes and the Tana Beru shipyard where you can observe the construction of traditional wooden boats known as Phinisis. Along the way, get a last glimpse of the colorful houses typical of the Bugis region and the rice fields, which also double up as fish farms in the offseason.

You will arrive at the airport with plenty of time to check-in and relax before beginning your onward journey.

Travel Time: 6 hr
Travel Distance: 137 miles (220 km)

Map

Map of Temples & Tradition in Java & Sulawesi - 13 Days
Map of Temples & Tradition in Java & Sulawesi - 13 Days