The Togeans do not have an airport. The two closest airports are Gorontalo in the north and Ampana in the south.
Ampana has flight connections to Palu from where you can then fly on to Makassar, Bali and Jakarta (among other spots). Gorontalo has flight connections to Makassar and a selection of other destinations.
Importantly, the boats arrive in Ampana too late for the flight out of Ampana—there is just the one flight a day, with Wings Air (a LionAir subsidiary) so you need to overnight in Ampana. The morning flight does arrive early enough though for people to catch the afternoon speedboat.
Ampana is closer to the islands and has a wider selection of boat services, so we’d expect to see more flights added in the future—there was talk of a direct Ampana to Makassar flight being added when we were there in April 2018, which would allow people to travel from Bali to Ampana in a day. Wait and see.
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 has direct flight connections to Palu (and onwards to Makassar and Jakarta) but it is otherwise close to a day of overland travel from Rantepao in Tana Toraja and two days overland from Makassar. If you are in a hurry, fly.
Before the airport opened at Ampana, Gorontalo was the best access point because it had an airport. Now it makes less sense to approach the Togeans from the north unless you are already in North Sulawesi, for instance in Manado. The boat services are less frequent and can be irregular—if one of the ferries is out of action (for example for repairs) it may not be replaced with another service and you will be stranded.
The Tuna Tomini departs Gorontalo on Tuesday and Friday at 17:00 arriving in Wakai at 06:00 the next day. In the reverse direction,it leaves Wakai on Monday and Thursday at 16:00 and arrives in Gorontalo at 05:00 the next morning. Either way the economy fare is 73,000 rupiah for an adult, and business class is 89,000 rupiah. If you can snare a four-bed cabin (two sets of bunks) it's an additional 400,000-500,000 rupiah. We slept on the deck and survived.
You’re only likely to find yourself using Bumbulan as a base if you are already in the area, you’re in Gorontalo on the wrong day, or the Tuna Tomini is out of action. Be sure to check in Gorontalo (or with your resort) that this service is operating before heading over to Bumbulan, as it is about 4-5 hours from Gorontalo by car.
The Cengkih Afo departs Bumbulan on Sunday and Thursday at 09:00, arriving at Dolong in Walea Kodi at 14:00. It then leaves Dolong at 16:00 arriving in Ampana at 02:00 the next day. In the reverse direction, it leaves Ampana on Tuesday and Friday at 21:00, arrives at Dolong at 07:00 the next morning then leaves again at 08:00 and arrives in Bumbulan at 13:00. Either way the economy fare is 22,000 rupiah for an adult, and business class is 35,000 rupiah.
Now that Ampana has an airport with flight connections to Palu (and onwards to Makassar and Jakarta) it is the preferred gateway to the Togean Islands with multiple ferry and speedboat options to choose from.
The venerable Puspita Sari does the Togean milk-run from Ampana, leaving on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. It departs Ampana at 10:00 arriving at Wakai at 14:00, Katupat at 16:00, Malenge at 17:15, Popolii at 19:15 and Dolong at 20:30. In the return direction, it leaves Dolong on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at 22:00 arriving at Popolii at 22:45 and Malenge at 23:00 where it stays moored till 05:30 (you can sleep on the boat) when it then leaves for Katupat, arriving there at 06:30, then Wakai at 08:00 and Ampana at 14:00. These times other than the initial departure time are estimates only and are subject to weather conditions. Ex Ampana, the fare is Wakai 65,000 rupiah, Katupat 70,000 rupiah, Malenge 75,000 rupiah and Popolii and Dolong 80,000 rupiah.
If you're in a bit more of a rush, the express Wamburabura boat runs a near identical route taking around six hours less time—bargain! From Ampana, it leaves on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. It departs Ampana at 10:00 arriving at Wakai at 12:00, Katupat at 13:00, Malenge at 13:30, Pulau Papan at 13:45, Popolii at 14:15 and Dolong at 14:30. In the reverse direction, it leaves Dolong on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 06:30 arriving at Popolii at 06:45, Pulau Papan at 07:15, Malenge at 07:30, Katupat at 08:00, Wakai at 08:30 and Ampana at 11:00. These times, other than the initial departure time, are estimates only and are subject to weather conditions. Ex Wakai, the fare is Wakai 90,000 rupiah, Katupat 100,000 rupiah, Malenge 110,000 rupiah, Pulau Papan 110,000 rupiah and Popolii and Dolong 120,000 rupiah.
Importantly, neither the Puspita Sari nor the Wamburabura will stop at Bomba nor any of the resorts west of Wakai, so you need to get off at Wakai and backtrack if you use either of these services, or use one of the speedboat services (see below).
There are two speedboat services which operate between Ampana and Wakai, the Cahaya Manakara and the Hercules. The Hercules leaves Ampana at 09:00 and the Cahaya Manakara leaves at 13:00. Each service takes around 1.5 hours to reach Wakai and roughly half that to reach the resorts around Bomba. In the reverse direction, the Hercules leaves Wakai at 13:00 and the Cahaya Manakara leaves at 09:00. Both services charge 130,000 rupiah one way—regardless of where you are getting off. Both will drop off at Bomba Divers, Poya Lisa and Island Retreat. For Poki Poki ask to be dropped at Bomba Divers and they’ll pick you up from there (prior arrangement advisable).
In high season these speedboats fill up fast and booking your tickets a day or so in advance is prudent. If they are full or don’t stop to pick you up, a charter to Ampana can cost you over 1,000,000 rupiah (depending on where you are coming from). When the weather is bad, they do not run—often for days on end.
The speedboat gets to Ampana too late for the flight to Palu, so if you are aiming to fly out you will need to overnight in Ampana.
Lastly there is a regular cargo service between Bomba and the Labuhan port to the east of Ampana proper, departing Labuhan 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 Labuhan around 12:00.
In practice, we found this service to run daily, with sometimes three or four boats leaving each day. Ask around in Ampana or at your guesthouse in the Togeans for the latest information in this regard; do not rely on them being daily if you're planning from afar. The fare is 35,000 rupiah. Bear in mind that the service to and from Labuhan doubles as a cargo service and you may spend considerable time (like hours) waiting for the boat to be loaded and unloaded—bring a book.
From/to Una Una
The access point to Una Una is neither Gorontalo nor Ampana, rather it is Wakai. A public boat leaves Wakai for Una Una on Sunday, Tuesday and Friday, leaving Wakai at 08:00 and arriving at Una Una at 11:00. In the reverse direction, it leaves Una Una at 07:00 and pulls into Wakai at 10:00. The fare in either direction is 35,000 rupiah.
If you are heading south further into Central and Southern Sulawesi, you should leave via Ampana. Sample destinations from Ampana include:
Luwuk: A minivan departs daily at 08:00, taking seven hours and costing 150,000 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 flying to Makassar via Palu as the airfare can be quite affordable if booked sufficiently in advance.
Palu: Departs daily at 10:00 and 17:00, taking 10-12 hours and costing 150,000 rupiah.
Poso: Departs daily at 10:00 and 17:00, taking four hours and costing 85,000 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 may pick you up at the village most convenient for them—they should let you know which and they may require a minimum stay to pick you up for free. 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. Boat charters, especially if you are the only passenger, can get expensive fast—we spent millions on boat charters doing the research for this guide!
Essentially the accommodation on the Togeans is broken into a few clusters. For the western-most resorts (so Island Retreat, Poya Lisa, Poki Poki, Bomba Divers) use the speedboat service from Ampana. For anything on Kadidiri, get to Wakai (from either Gorontalo or Ampana). For the digs near Katupat, Malenge and Walea Kodi (get to Dolong or Popolii), the services from Ampana are better than Gorontalo as you’ll get closer to where you are headed before you have to deal with charters. In high season, when they’ll likely be other travellers heading to your island, it isn’t so bad as you can share fares, but in low season, a charter can easily cost 600,000 from Wakai to Malenge (for example), more still to Walea Kodi.
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—take our word for it.
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 a touch. 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. All fares are ex Wakai and should be taken as a rough estimate (they have been taken from resort websites or personal experience), trips can take considerably longer in poor seas.
Note also these boats do not have life jackets and at night often have no navigation lights whatsoever.
Wakai to Lia Beach/Pulo Tiga: 900,000 rupiah 3.5-4 hours
Wakai to Malenge Resorts: 500-600,000 rupiah 2-3 hours
Wakai to Katupat Resorts: 400,000 rupiah 1-2 hours
Wakai to Kadidiri Resorts: 100,000 rupiah 1 hour
Wakai to Bomba Resorts: 500,000 rupiah 2-3 hours