Why would you spend a not inconsiderable amount of time trekking over land and water to visit Sulawesi’s Togean Islands? The archipelago in the southeast region of the Tomini Sea is not the easiest place to get to… but a few compelling reasons may make you want to take the Indonesian travel plunge and exert that extra bit of effort required to get here.
First the bad news. While the diving can be excellent, since the early 90s, destructive fishing methods like dynamite fishing and cyanide poisoning have been widely used across the Togeans, causing a plunge in fish numbers — particularly large creatures — and serious shallow reef damage. Sharks and turtles are rarely seen — especially when compared to locations like Komodo National Park, which authorities have better protected.
But onto the good news. The diving can, still, be top notch once you get a little deeper, particularly because the sites are so uncrowded; we didn’t see another dive boat on any of our half a dozen or so dive and snorkelling trips. There are only dive operators based at Black Marlin, Kadidiri Paradise and Island Retreat — we dived with Jeremy at the latter, and highly recommend him. We saw an eagle ray while diving at around 15 metres in one location; while snorkelling, we came face to face with resident lionfish outside Fadillah; and we were besieged by a pod of dolphins one morning as we zipped out to a dive site. And there are plenty of out-of-the-ordinary trips to make as well.
But you don’t need to dive or even snorkel to enjoy one of the main highlights of a trip to the Togeans: you’ll be offline — completely. And who doesn’t need a digital detox? While you may occasionally get a fleeting phone signal, you won’t find 3G outside of Wakai, the main town. The Togeans are really a top serene spot for a calming disconnected few days (or weeks…) It’s also a car and motorbike detox, for the most part, as most transport is all about boats.
The lack of crowds is good not just for diving but for just hanging out as well. We visited during the peak period of August, when some guests without bookings were being turned away from resorts, or sleeping in extra space not usually reserved for them. Still, the beaches were next to empty. We saw one of the main sights in the Togeans — Jellyfish Lake — with not a single other soul around.
There are a good range of places to stay in the Togeans to suit most budgets, though you do need to rough it a bit if you’re travelling tight, and if you’re after a five-star hotel chain, well, forget about that. We thought Island Retreat was worth spending a little extra for and the food here, with plenty of fresh seafood and crisp healthy salads, was hands down the best of anywhere we tried or even heard about.
We reckon, though they are remote, that the Togeans are great for kids. Our five and six-year-old kids had a blast endlessly jumping off piers, building sandcastles, snorkelling, spotting hornbills returning to their nests and stingrays in the shallows, rowing boats, playing with other kids and, well, just hanging out and doing the kind of summery stuff that leaves you pooped out with a touch of sunburn.
Bring many good books. Bring a few bottles of wine — alcohol is expensive. Bring lots of snacks and colouring books if you’ve got kids in tow. And pack a lot of patience, too, because if you thought key Indonesian tourism destinations like Bali and Lombok worked on island time — you’ve not seen anything yet.
We enjoyed the Togeans so much we’ve made it the focus of our second iBook/PDF travel guide. The guide has all the information you need to plan a trip here, get here, choose which place to stay is right for you, and decide how you’ll spend your time once you’re here. It’s free, so you can’t lose — download it, browse it, and make a plan of action to get here!
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 22nd April, 2015.