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Indonesia-Liga-1Sulawesi (formerly Celebes) is one of the main islands of Indonesia, and the 11th largest island in the world. With four spindly arms spinning outward, Sulawesi’s spidery shape is easily recognizable.

This enormous island has much to offer the visitor from extraordinary unique cultures, to an under-explored mountainous hinterland, and several truly world class diving spots.

From the point of view of biodiversity, Sulawesi is part of Wallacea, a transitional ecosystem between the East Asian and Australasian ones, identified by both the WWF and Conservation International as a global conservation priority area. The name commemorates the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who travelled through the Malay Archipelago from 1854 to 1862, age 31 to 39, setting up bases on Makassar and Manado, to collect specimens for sale and to study natural history. He noted the differences in mammal and bird fauna between the islands either side of the now-called “Wallace line”. West of it, Sumatra, Java, Bali, and Borneo share a mammal fauna similar to that of East Asia, including tigers, rhinoceros, and apes, whereas those from Lombok and eastward are mostly populated by marsupials and birds similar to those in Australasia. Sulawesi shows signs of both.

History of Sulawesi

Human beings have been living in Sulawesi for at least 39,900 years, as archeologists determined in 2014 that a hand stencil painted in Leang-Leang cave in Southern Sulawesi dates to at least 39,900 years ago. The island almost certainly formed part of the land bridge used for the settlement of Australia and New Guinea.

In Central Sulawesi there are over 400 granite megaliths, which various archaeological studies have dated to be from 3000 BC to 1300 AD.

The first Europeans to visit the island were Portuguese sailors in 1525, sent from the Moluccas in search of gold. The Dutch arrived in 1605 and were quickly followed by the English, who established a factory in Makassar. In 1905 the entire island became part of the Dutch state colony of the Netherlands East Indies until Japanese occupation in World War II. Following the transfer of sovereignty in December 1949, Sulawesi became part of the federal States of Indonesia, which in 1950 became absorbed into the unitary Republic of Indonesia.


Sulawesi’s tough terrain, massive size (174,600 km²) and great marine traditions, have combined to cause a wildly divergent set of peoples and cultures, speaking eight major languages and professing Muslim, Christian, Hindu and animist beliefs (not to mention various mixes thereof).

Islam is the majority religion in Sulawesi. The conversion of the lowlands of the south western peninsula in Southern Sulawesi to Islam occurred in the early 17th century. Most Sulawesi Muslims are Sunnis.


Map of Sulawesi with regions colour-coded
Southern Sulawesi (Makassar, Tana Toraja)
the provinces of South Sulawesi and West Sulawesi; the largest city on the island, the land of Bugis and the unique culture of Tana Toraja
Southeast Sulawesi (Kendari, Wakatobi)
remote hinterland and truly world class diving offshore
Central Sulawesi (Palu, Lore Lindu National Park, Togian Islands)
a region sadly known for its ethnic strife; very off-the-beaten-path diving
Northern Sulawesi (Manado, Bitung, Gorontalo, Tomohon, Bunaken)
the land of the Minahasa and yet more world-class diving at perhaps Indonesia’s best known dive spot


  • Makassar (Ujung Pandang) — capital of the South and Sulawesi’s largest city
  • Bitung — main port town in the north which is the gateway to excellent diving spots
  • Gorontalo
  • Manado — capital of the north and the gateway to Bunaken
  • Palu — capital of the Central Sulawesi
  • Mamuju — capital of the West Sulawesi
  • Kendari — capital of the South East Sulawesi
  • Rantepao — gateway town to Tanah Toraja
  • Tomohon — cool, fresh town in the northern highlands
  • Tentena — pleasant little lake-side transit town on the way to Ampana

Other destinations

  • Bangka — island group in the north with world-class diving
  • Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park — forest park in the north near Gorontalo which is home to tarsiers and much other wildlife
  • Bunaken — marine park with some of the world’s best diving
  • Lore Lindu National Park — important forested national park in the central highlands which is home to some 77 endemic bird species and some remarkable megaliths
  • Tana Toraja — highlands famed for their elaborate burial rites
  • Tangkoko Nature Reserve — home of the tarsier, the world’s smallest monkey
  • Togian Islands — diving destination way off the beaten track
  • Wakatobi — a marine national park, yet more world-class diving

Last Updated on Sat 12 Shaban 1444AH 4-3-2023AD

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