The island of Sulawesi is usually not found on the short list of destinations for first time travelers to the behemoth archipelago of Indonesia.  Out of some 13,000 - 17,000 islands (depending on the tide), BaliJava and Sumatra are the top dogs with the mystical jungles of Kalimantan a close 4th.  We may have skipped Sulawesi as well if it were not for the fact that a close family friend of Doug’s moved there over a decade ago, started a family - and then a business that assists Scuba divers from around the world in hunting down rare species dubbed “critters.”  Rarely ones to turn down a travel invitation, it was our friend’s suggestion back in 2010 that initially put the entire Indonesian trip on our calendar for 2011.

Formerly known as Celebes, Sulawesi is actually one of Indonesia’s largest islands, and thanks to its spiraling shape, offers visitors a varied topography that translates easily into a multitude of exotic travel experiences.  While perhaps best noted for its incredible diving opportunities, Sulawesi is also home to unique ground and tree-dwelling creatures as well as the storied Tana Toraja culture.  The peoples of these South Sulawesi villages spend much of their efforts honoring the deceased with elaborate funeral tau tau effigies and accompanying ceremonies.  While we had hoped to spend time with the Toraja during a trek to Rantepao and points further north (the Lore Lindu National Park is home to both the rare nocturnal tarsier as well as a series of Bronze Age megalith statues), reports of poor, impassible roads that assured multiple day-long drives kept us at bay.  Next time perhaps?

Instead, we headed straight for Manado, Sulawesi’s second largest city behind Makassar.  The four days we spent here were both relaxing and adventurous, and ultimately allowed us an easy transition into the new foods, language and customs of this extraordinary country.  While serious trekkers could easily spend an entire month in Sulawesi checking out its many treasures, Manado is a great jumping off point if you are serious about snorkeling or diving some of the world’s best reefs!  Come for the critters, but stay for the fabulous food and the friendliness of the local Minahasan community.