Getting there and away
For the time being, the transport infrastructure on the Togeans remains geared toward local needs rather than those of travellers, and the public boat timings can leave a little to be desired -- but then, travellers are not the market.
There are two primary entry points for the Togeans -- Gorontalo from the north and Ampana from the south. Gorontalo can be easily reached by flight from Makassar or Manado, but is roughly double the distance (over 100 kilometres versus 40 kilometres) from the Togeans compared to Ampana, and has a less frequent boat service. Ampana is two days of overland travel from Rantepao in Tana Toraja and three days overland from Makassar. Supposedly an airport will open in 2014, but let's see.
The Tuna Tomini departs Gorontalo on Tuesday and Friday at 17:00 arriving in Wakai at 06:00 the next morning and continues on to Ampana, departing Wakai at 07:00 and arriving at Ampana at 13:00.
In the reverse direction, the Tuna Tomini leaves Ampana on Monday and Thursday, leaving Ampana at 10:00 and arriving at Wakai at 16:00 and then after a short wait, continuing to Gorontalo, arriving there at 06:00 the next morning. Either way the economy fare is 63,000 rupiah for an adult and 40,000 rupiah for a child, and business class is 89,000 rupiah and 53,000 rupiah respectively. If you can snare a four-bed cabin (two sets of bunks) it's an additional 400,000 rupiah.
In practise the boat service tends to run a bit later -- our boat didn't pull out from Gorontalo will after 19:00 for example and a delayed departure will affect arrival times in Wakai and Ampana.
The Puspita Sari departs Ampana on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, stopping at Wakai, Katupat and Malenge. It departs Ampana at 10:00, arriving at Wakai at 15:00, Katupat at 16:30 and Malenge at 18:00, with a half-hour (or so) stop at each port.
In the reverse direction, it departs from Malenge on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, leaving Malenge at 06:00, Katupat at 07:30 and Wakai at 10:00 for a final arrival in Ampana at 15:00. The trip from Malenge costs 50,000 rupiah.
There is also a twice-weekly service from Ampana to Dolong, leaving Ampana on Tuesday and Friday at 21:00 and arriving at Dolong the next morning at 07:00. In the reverse direction, the boat leaves Dolong on Sunday and Thursday at 14:00 and arriving in Ampana at 23:00. The Dolong service is really only practical for those headed to Sifa Cottage or Walea Dive Resort; the Puspita Sari is more frequent and better timed.
From this small village a 10-minute ojek ride to the east of Ampana, regular public ferries run to Bomba at the western tip of the Togeans. This is convenient only really if you are staying at Poya Lisa or Island Retreat, as otherwise you'll have to then charter an outrigger for the three-hour ride to Wakai (and onwards to your eventual destination).
According to the timetable, these boats depart Wakai on Sunday, Tuesday and Friday at 09:00 and arrive in Bomba at 12:00; in the reverse direction, they leave Bomba on Monday, Thursday and Saturday at 09:00, arriving in Ampana at 12:00. However, in practice, we found this service (in July and August, at least) to run daily, with sometimes three or four boats leaving each day (all around the same time). Ask around in Ampana or at your guesthouse in the Togeans for the latest information in this regard; don't rely on them being daily if you're planning from afar. The fare is 25,000 rupiah, though boats can also be chartered to do this run -- we were offered a boat in Labuhan (the small village outside Ampana) for 250,000 rupiah.
Bear in mind that the service to and from Labuhan doubles as a cargo service and you may spend considerable time (hours) waiting for the boat to be loaded and unloaded -- bring a book.
From Bumbulan (Marisa)
A twice-weekly ferry runs from Bumbulan to Dolong at the eastern extremity of the Togeans twice a week on Sundays and Thursdays, departing Bambulan at 11:00 and arriving at Dolong at 16:30. The return service leaves Dolong on Wednesday and Saturday, leaving at 8:00 and arriving at Bambulan at 13:00.
If heading south, further into Central and Southern Sulawesi, you should leave via Ampana. Sample bus destinations from Ampana include:
Luwuk: Departs daily at 21:00, taking seven hours and costing 110,000 rupiah.
Makassar: Departs daily at 23:00, taking roughly 30 hours and costing 280,000 rupiah. This bus goes via Tentena, Pendolo and Palopo. If you're planning on doing this in one hit, we'd recommend considering exiting to Gorontalo and flying to Makassar as the airfare can be quite affordable if booked sufficiently in advance.
Palu: Departs daily at 10:00 and 17:00, taking nine hours and costing 120,000 rupiah.
Poso: Departs daily at 10:00 and 17:00, taking four hours and costing 70,000 rupiah.
If heading north to Manado and Bunaken, you should leave via Gorontalo, which has both flight and bus connections to Manado, though many choose to hire a Kijang rather than take the bus.
Getting to your resort
If you have made a reservation, your resort will most likely pick you up at the village most convenient for them -- they should let you know which. If you don't have a reservation, cross your fingers they have a boat there to meet the ferry. If they aren't around, you can always offer to pay a local to take you to your resort. Generally transport provided by resorts to the resort is free, though if you elect not to stay, you'll be expected to pay a fee -- this will depend on the distance.
If you are headed to Island Resort or Poya Lisa and take the public boat from Labuhan (the small village to the east of Ampana), the ferry will drop you at the report pier -- no transfer needed.
For those heading to Lestari, Black Marlin or Paradise on Kadidiri, or Sunset on Togean, you need to get to Wakai from where you'll need to transfer to your resort. Sunset is about 15 minutes from Wakai, Kadidiri 30 minutes.
For Fadhila and Bolilannga, the most convenient village is Katupat, which is five and 20 minutes' away respectively.
For Lestari Malenge and Sifa Cottage, the closest village is Malenge, which is 30 minutes and 1.5 hours away, respectively. Sifa Cottage can also pick up from Dolong, but most opt for Malenge.
The local inter-island public boats are not particularly convenient for either casual island hopping or onwards transport out of the islands. For example, if you're coming from Malenge or Katupat by public boat and want to get to Gorontalo on the Tuna Tomini night ferry, you'll have to leave your resort very early in the morning and then hang around all day waiting in Wakai ... and there's not a lot to do in Wakai to pass the time. A newly built waiting room at the pier at least provides some seats and shade though. The primary inter-island public boat is the Puspita Sari, which stops at Wakai, Katupat and Malenge but only runs three times a week in each direction, so you'll need to charter a boat back at the end of the day anyway (see Getting there & away for schedule details).
To skip over this tedious arrangement, many travellers opt to charter an outrigger -- either through their resort, or independently. Time taken varies somewhat depending on conditions and the size/power of your boat, so take the following as rough estimates. The prices below are for one-way travel and the entire boat -- there is some scope for bargaining, especially if you only have one or two people, while if you have four or more, the price may increase somewhat. Return trips will cost less than double and by combining various legs you can roll your own snorkelling trip should you have exhausted the options provided by your accommodation.
Wakai - Kadidiri or Sunset Beach: 30 minutes 25,000 rupiah
Kadidiri - Katupat: 1 hour, 100,000 rupiah
Kaptupat - Malenge: 1 hour, 100,000 rupiah
Malenge - Walea Kodi (for Sifa Cottage only): 45 minutes to 1 hour, 100,000 rupiah
Wakai - Bomba: 2.5 to 3 hours, 300,000 rupiah
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