best time to go to Sulawesi

The diving here is world-class, no doubt helped by the fact that the water is always warm, and waves rarely get beyond ‘mildly choppy’.
Temperatures on Sulawesi range from pretty hot to very hot all year round, but you can experience different weather depending on where you are. Southern areas such as the Tana Toraja highlands usually see monsoons between Nov-April, while in North Sulawesi showers can start at any time. Oct-Dec are the hottest months, with average temperatures topping 32°C in mid Oct when many people head into the hills to cool off. Peak season is May-Oct, but the best time to visit Sulawesi is probably the shoulder months either side, so April and Nov, when it’s not too hot or wet.

Makassar Weather Chart

 
MIN °C
MAX °C
RAIN (mm)
JAN
23
29
671
FEB
23
29
556
MAR
23
29
408
APR
22
30
175
MAY
22
31
101
JUN
21
30
67
JUL
20
30
37
AUG
20
31
14
SEP
20
31
25
OCT
21
31
56
NOV
22
30
213
DEC
23
39
552

Sulawesi, month by month

On Sulawesi, one thing you can be sure of is that it’s reliably warm all year round, with temperatures averaging around 30°C. October through to December is typically the hottest period of the year and many choose to retreat to higher altitudes inland. While you can holiday in Sulawesi at any time of year, most people tend to avoid the rainiest months. In the northern regions of the island, such as around Manado, gateway to Bunaken National Park, the climate is more equatorial and rainfall at its heaviest between November and June. In the tropical south the monsoon rains begin in November, with showers infrequent after April. January and February usually see the most rain everywhere, with thunderstorms likely over the capital, Makassar, and rougher seas for divers and snorkellers to contend with. By March the southern regions are drying out while showers can still be expected in the north. The glorious weather starts in May and continues through June, July and August, with temperatures beginning to rise again in September. These are the peak months for travel with wonderfully clear water visibility for snorkellers and divers in July and August, but the best time to visit Sulawesi is probably April or early November, as you’ll avoid most of the crowds in popular destinations, too.

THINGS TO DO IN SULAWESI

Things to do in Sulawesi…

Sulawesi is among the best places in Indonesia to explore underwater by scuba diving or snorkelling, and it can easily be combined with Borneo and Raja Ampat. Bunaken National Park is a renowned dive location teeming with marine life such as stingrays, sea turtles and dolphins. The steep walls and occasionally strong currents here mean it’s often perceived as better for intermediate or advanced divers, however. For those who prefer their wildlife watching on dry land, there are the macaques, tarsiers and cuscus of Tangkoko National Park, or the option of bird watching in locations such as Lore Lindu and Bogani Nani Wartabone National Parks. The latter is home to the maleo, a ground-dwelling bird that buries its eggs deep into volcanic soil for incubation. Visiting Sulawesi parks and reserves helps demonstrate their value in tourism, which is vital given that almost all of them are severely threatened by deforestation. It might seem an odd thing to do while on holiday, but Sulawesi, specifically in the Tana Toraja region, is a fantastic place to go to a funeral. Bodies here are often buried in curious hanging graves that are carved into cliffs and watched over by eerie effigies called ‘tau tau’. Funeral rites meanwhile can be lavish affairs, accompanied by colourful ceremonies that involve sometimes pretty gruesome water buffalo sacrifices, feasts and dancing, with visitors welcome to attend.

Things not  to do in Sulawesi…

It would be a crime to miss the street food in Sulawesi. Makassar’s waterfront area is a good place to start, once known as ‘the longest restaurant in the world’ for its vast stretch of food stalls. Not so pleasant are the food markets in the Minhasa region, where you’ll see snake, forest rats and even dogs, often caged in upsetting conditions. Sulawesi’s fruit bats are a favourite, and the population is being decimated. You can read more about our stance in our guide to eating bush meat. Coffee-lovers should avoid drinking drink kopi luwak. There’s no easy way of saying this, but the world’s most expensive coffee is made from beans that have been partially digested and then… pooped out by civets. The prices that kopi luwak fetches in the West leads to many wild civets being kept in captivity, fed unnatural diets and treated appallingly. As you can’t tell whether your cup of joe came from wild or captive civets, better to opt for another brand altogether. Fins are useful when you’re scuba diving or snorkelling especially in strong currents, but can also damage coral if you’re not careful. The dozens of coral species in the waters surrounding Sulawesi are vital for sustaining tropical marine life here. Responsible operators will brief passengers on how to avoid collisions before anyone gets in the water, and you can also help by wearing eco friendly sun cream.

Our top Sulawesi Holiday

Sulawesi holiday, 13 days

Sulawesi holiday, 13 days

A unique insight into the fascinating island of Sulawesi.

From £1306 13 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
Helpdesk
Hello. If you'd like to chat about Sulawesi or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help. Rosy & team.

SULAWESI TRAVEL ADVICE

Kate Smith, from our supplier Selective Asia, runs through her highlights of Sulawesi:

Animist funerals

“The animist funerals in Tana Toraja are status driven and important social events which are often held after the rice harvests as this is when communities and families have the most money. Dates are never fixed for these so it’s hard to plan to visit them, it is more likely to be announced just before so people may find out when there its happening and be invited along by their guide. There will always be animal sacrifices at the events and the richer the families are the more animals that are used to show status but also because it is believed that animals help the transition to the afterlife. Families can save for years and years to pay for these celebrations after a death and in this case the bodies will lay embalmed within or near the family home. Definitely more of a celebration than a sombre affair.”

Lake Tempe

“For Lake Tempe, Sain Kang town is a good place to base yourself. Sunrise is lovely for seeing the local fisherman and the floating villages, where you can stop also and try fried bananas. It really is a great, remote destination. Alternatively, sunset here is stunning with a great atmosphere created by the serenity and call to prayer in the evening. It is usually visited as a stop en route but definitely one that is worth it.”

Tarsier spotting

“Morning is the best time for spotting tarsiers. As they are tree dwelling they will be spotted in families of three to four per tree. They will likely walk alongside or near you as you traverse through the jungle.”

TIPS FROM OUR TRAVELLERS

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do – and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Sulawesi travel advice that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your holiday – and the space inside your suitcase.
It seems strange to say but the highlight of the trip was attending a funeral in Toraja. The lavish ceremony, held over five days, is like nothing I have ever seen.
– Simon Emery
“Try to learn a few words of Indonesian before you go, if only to say good morning and thank you” –John Braithwaite

“It seems strange to say but the highlight of the trip was attending a funeral in Toraja. The lavish ceremony, held over five days, is like nothing I have ever seen. There were hundreds attending the ceremony and dozens of buffalo and even more pigs slaughtered to feed the people. Be ready for long days on the road. The distances are not huge, but the roads and traffic are so bad it took 10 hours in the minibus to cover 250km.” – Simon Emery

“Travel pretty light. It's very hot and humid so lots of loose clothes but take good walking shoes - there is lots of walking involved.” – Gerard Mulryan

Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Fabio Lamanna] [Harmony Bay: Luke Price] [Kingfisher: Jared Thompson] [Sanu funeral: Arian Zwegers] [Tana Toraja tip: Niek van Son]
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