How about five weeks?
Published/Last edited or updated: 14th April, 2018
One of Indonesia’s more glorious spots, the Togean islands, set within the Tomini Sea in Central Sulawesi, get a steady trickle of visitors year round, but are at their busiest in July and August, when, shock horror, a reservation may even be in order to secure that beach bungalow.
Not the easiest place to reach (from Bali you’re looking at three flights and a ferry ride just to get there), what to do once you get there? We’d suggest dedicating at least five days here. And here’s what you should consider doing.
The east-west running archipelago is clustered around seven primary islands, with accommodation stretched from one end to the other and while just about everywhere has their own strip of sand and perhaps a house reef, most of the activities will involve boats to get there.
While some of the resorts offer good off-the-beach snorkelling, doing a snorkelling trip is a great way to pass a half- or full-day. Depending on where you are staying, you may just be taken to one spot, or a handful and, the further you want to go, obviously the more it will cost. Trips tend to rely on a minimum of four passengers. If you’re staying between Kadidiri and Malenge a snorkelling trip is easily combined with a trip to jellyfish lake and Karina Beach. As far as coral is concerned, the standards can be very mixed—some of the reefs are in quite poor conditions—but expect plenty of fish. To the far west, Taupan and Pasir Tengah and Bomba Atolls offer excellent snorkelling (and diving). Other popular destinations for snorkelling trips include Pulau Taipi (near Kadidiri) and a series of reefs off of the coast of Malenge—imaginatively named Reef 1, 2,3,4 and 5.
A great half-day trip is to jellyfish lake and Karina Beach. Caused by a sudden geological change that sealed off the lake (real name Mariona Lake) is what it says on the can: a large lake full of jellyfish. Isolated from predators for untold jellyfish generations, they’ve lost the ability (and need) to sting and so the jellyfish here can be safely swum with and gently prodded. This is one of only a handful of places worldwide where you can do this—another is Palau in the Pacific—so it’s well worth doing. The lake itself is scenic and, while the water is a little on the murky side—visibility was perhaps five metres when we visited—it felt overly buoyant and, once the jellyfish arrived, we stopped dwelling on what other unseen monsters may have been lurking in the darkness beneath. A visit to the lake is generally combined with a stop at nearby Karina Beach, a beautiful strip of radiantly white sand. We thought the snorkelling was mediocre, but others we talked to raved about it, so perhaps we swam in the wrong direction.
As with snorkelling, if you are diving you’ll find some of the reefs are in quite poor shape thanks to cyanide and dynamite fishing, but the more isolated and deeper sites do serve up good conditions. Particularly noteworthy is the wreck of a B24 Liberator bomber that ditched on the south coast of Pulau Togean (about a 30-minute speedboat ride from Kadidiri Paradise). The wreck’s highest point is at around the 17-metre mark so this is unfortunately too deep for snorkellers and Open Water divers, but it can dived by Advanced Open Water divers or as an Adventure Dive. To the west of the archipelago it’s all about steep drop-off dives—some of the walls off Taupan apparently plunge more than 200 metres—with numerous atolls and shallows well worth exploring.
A number of local villages can be visited on the islands and, if you’ve not visited a small Indonesian village before, it may be of interest. Many of the fishing villages are stilted and attractively set. Expect to see loads and loads of children. The bigger villages, such as Bomba and Wakai, are more typical affairs and of less interest. If you’re staying at one of the resorts near Bomba, you can combine a village visit with hornbill spotting, where at dusk dozens of hornbills fly overhead (most days). This is great for kids, though note the boat trip back to your resort will be at night—enjoy the magnificent phosphorescence.
On Batudaka there is an extremely poor dirt road that runs from Wakai in the east to Bomba in the west. In the past we hired a motorbike in Bomba and tried to ride it, but gave up after about four hours, but in 2018 we did it by ojek—the trip took over two hours—the road is quite horrendous. But towards the Bomba end there are a few fair-sized villages that may to interesting to visit, and the jungle in-between is impressive in places.
With all this cruising around on boats, you’d be mad not to just visit a few beaches and islands other than the one you are staying on. Fadhila Cottage, Bolilanga Cottage and Kadidiri Paradise all have decent off-the-beach snorkelling, while Poya Lisa has some great cliff jumping.
For the truly athletic, you could consider climbing Gunung Colo—the volcano that dominates Pulau Una Una and which spectacularly exploded in 1983. You’ll need to charter a boat or take the public boat from Wakai. You’ll then need to arrange a local guide on Una Una, which local accommodation should be able to arrange. While the peak doesn’t look all that massive, we were told the climb has its moments and at the summit you’re able to see into the caldera and its sulfur clouds. In 2012 a German traveller slipped and fell while climbing and broke her spine—she needed to be carried out. When we asked a climber if he’d climb it again he laughed and said, “No way!” GunungBagging has a comprehensive write-up on the climb.
So there you go. While many could easily spend five days doing nothing but laying in the hammock, if you want to do some exploring, there is plenty to fill five days on the Togean Islands.
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.