If you're approaching the Togeans from the north -- perhaps because you chose to fly from Makassar or are heading down from Bunaken and Manado -- then your natural gateway is the fair-sized city of Gorontalo, midway along the northern arm of the Sulawesi octopus.
Gorontalo is considerably further away from the Togean Islands than the southern launching point of Ampana (almost triple the distance) and has a less frequent ferry connection (mostly twice a week) but the airport, with its daily flights to both Makassar and Manado, swing the deal for many who can't face yet another long distance Sulawesi bus or Kijang ride.
Gorontalo is a sizeable -- and sprawling -- city, but the area of interest to most travellers is quite compact, with the most frequently used hotels, places to eat and shopping venues all within quite easy walking distance of one another.
Most travellers aim straight for the long-running New Melati Hotel, which while having variable rooms has a bit of a traveller vibe. There's a good guestbook, a social garden area, an internet cafe (and impromptu beer shop) next door and a very knowledgeable and helpful owner. Staff here can be very helpful with onwards travel planning too. There are plenty of other hotels though (mostly within walking distance of the New Melati) should you be looking for something a little more upmarket.
Foodwise, limited Western food is on offer (yes, the stories are true, there is a pizzeria here), and there's also a fair-sized mall, plenty of ATMs and an immigration office that is friendly and quick (well, certainly quicker than Manado) for tourist visa extensions.
The main drag through Gorontalo is the north-south running Jalan Ahmad Yani. South to north, Jalan 23 Januari, Thamrin and Sawit are the main east-west running roads (the New Melati is a block south of 23 Januari). Pretty much all you'll need for a casual visit is boxed in by Jalan Sawit to the north and 23 Januari to the south, with Ahmad Yani running straight up the middle.
You'll easily spot the modern mall on Jalan Sawit, offering a well-stocked supermarket, a camera shop and chain stores. A Garuda office is located in the commercial centre to the south of the mall (but in the same block).
Most major Indonesian banks are represented in Gorontalo so you should have no trouble finding an ATM. The immigration office in Gorontalo does same-day tourist visa extensions for $25 and is a becak ride out of the centre of town.
A small internet cafe is open beside the New Melati Hotel but Gorontalo also has a strong 3G signal via Telekomsel -- if you're heading to the Togeans check your email here as you'll most likely not be checking it again until you get back to the mainland.
You'll find the post office on the corner of Jalan Ahmad Yani and 23 Januari (just to the south of the Karina Hotel), while the Pelni office (for buying long-distance ferry tickets) is on Jalan 23 Januari on the corner with Jalan Gajah Mada.
By Stuart McDonald.