Taxis are readily available in Sulawesi’s cities and towns but not once you get out into the countryside. Around Makassar and Manado you shouldn’t have any trouble flagging one down but in smaller centres, you’ll probably need to ask your accommodation provider to call for one. Make sure the taxi has a metre and that the driver puts it on as soon as you hop in. If he tells you it’s broken it’s probably a scam so hop out and get yourself another cab.
Blue Bird, Trust Taxi and Celebrity Taxi have metres and decent reputations. There’s another company in Makassar and Manado that operates a fleet of white minivans on a fixed fare basis. Some of the vans are in poor condition and the fixed fares are often much hire than the metred equivalent but if you’re travelling in a small group and carrying bulky items they may be worth considering.
Makassar and Manado airports have taxi desks located just outside the arrivals terminal which operate on a set price per destination basis as displayed on a board at the counter. At the desk you will be issued with a pre-paid voucher, then head to the taxi rank with your voucher and hand it to the driver. Be aware that taxi desks are usually closed after hours so if you’re arriving early or late it will be up to you to haggle with the driver and you can expect to have to pay more than the posted fixed fare.
In addition to the airports at Makassar and Manado, Sulawesi has a number of regional airports serviced by regular scheduled flights. These include, roughly from north to south, Melangguane (Karakelong Island), Naha (Sangir Island), Gorontalo, Palu, Luwuk, Mamuju, Kendari, Pomala and Bau Bau (Buton Island). Most regional flights originate and terminate out of either Makassar or Manado.
Flights are provided by smaller Indonesian carriers such as Lion Air, Wings Air, Batik Air, Sriwijaya and Citilink. We recommend finding and booking flights online with tiket.com or a reputable travel agent once you’re on the ground in Indonesia.
As the road system in Sulawesi gradually improves, the reliance of long haul ferry services linking mainland coastal communities has diminished somewhat but as an alternative to arduous road trips around the long coastline, it’s worth considering taking a shortcut across Sulawesi’s gulfs where possible. Unfortunately, ferry services come and go and alter their schedules so regularly it’s hard to provide accurate information. Your best bet is to head to the local wharf and ask around. Even if there’s no passenger service you could score a ride on a freighter ferry. It’s Indonesia after all!
A notable exception is a nightly ferry link between Watampone on the east coast of the south Sulawesi peninsula and Kolaka, directly across the Bone Gulf on the west coast of south east Sulawesi. Pelni and local freighter ferries also connect Makassar with Kolaka, Raha (Muna Island) and Bau Bau (Buton Island). Similar services ply the east coast up to Kolonodale, Luwuk and Gorontalo.
To cross the Gulf of Tomini between central and north Sulawesi, you can take a shortcut via the Togian Islands which have a daily speed boat connection between Ampana and Wakai (Togian Island), and a twice weekly ferry between Wakai and Gorontalo (north Sulawesi).
A combination of clunky wooden passenger ferries, fast boats and speed boats for charter provide essential connections between the mainland to/from and around Sulawesi’s abundant offshore islands. When booking your accommodation on any of the islands, your host will generally provide the necessary details on getting there; some will even arrange private transfers. We’ve endeavoured to provide some guidance in our attraction guides below but it’s always best to ring ahead and get the latest information from a local source a few days before arrival at the jumping off point. If you don’t mind having to wait around (possibly overnight) for the next service, wait until you arrive then head down to the local wharf and ask around.
Sulawesi has a huge number of tour companies servicing the islands most popular attractions. As well as standard tours, most tour companies are happy to provide private and customised tours. You’ll find a lot of companies online which is great for getting ideas and narrowing your choices but even in the high season there’s really no need to book anything more than a day or two in advance unless you want a fully inclusive, airport to airport type tour.
If you’re happy to make your own way to Sulawesi and between major centres, wait until you’re on the ground and visit the tour agencies in person. You’ll get a better feel for the company’s professionalism and likely a better price, especially if you haggle well or offer additional incentive by getting a small group together or booking more than one tour. There are plenty of tour agencies in all the major centres and most hotels offer tour desk services.
Bus services in Sulawesi are a mixed bag, slowly improving along with the road network. Whilst it’s possible to reach most towns and villages using a combination of buses, minibuses (pete-pete) and bemo’s, it’s not always practical. Old and poorly maintained buses coupled with frequent stopping and narrow, winding traverses over seemingly endless mountain ranges, makes travelling by local bus laboriously slow, uncomfortable and stomach churning. Okay for short hops between villages but best avoided for long hauls with a couple of exceptions.
There are at least six private bus companies operating bus services, including air conditioned executive class coaches, between Makassar and Tana Toraja (Rantepoa). Charisma and Bintang Prima bus companies have good reputations. For routes heading north from Makassar, both private and public buses depart throughout the day and night from the Dayak Bus Terminal (Terminal Panaikang) about 12km’s north of the city centre. Public bus services heading south, including to Selayar Island, leave from Terminal Mallengkeri which is located near the border of Makassar and Goa.
Mikrolet minibuses operate around cities and towns. The light blue buses seat nine passengers and are perfectly serviceable for short hops but they can get a bit stuffy so try to get a window seat. Destinations are usually displayed on across the windscreen but if you’re not sure which bus you need, just ask a local.
Private car hire with or without a driver is readily available in Makassar and Manado. In larger towns and tourist area’s cars are also available but only with a driver. Prices vary wildly, anywhere from 500.000-1.000.000Rp per day plus fuel for a comfortable, air conditioned 5-6 seater van with an English speaking driver. What you end up paying usually comes down to how well you haggle. If you’re on a budget, try to get a small group together and split the costs.
Cars can be easily arranged through any tour desk or your accommodation provider but you’ll usually get a better price approaching drivers direct as there’s no commission involved. You won’t have any trouble finding one as there are always drivers touting for business around busy tourist areas.
Both are readily available in Sulawesi and are a good way to get around since most roads aren’t overly busy once you get away from Makassar and Manado; even the Trans-Sulawesi highway. As someone prone to suffering from car sickness when travelling winding mountainous roads, I personally find being on a scooter with the wind in my face a far more preferable option than sitting in a car or stuffy, crowded minivan. Expect to pay around 60.000Rp per day for scooter hire but be sure to clarify what a “day” is as it can vary from 8, 12 or 24 hours from one hirer to another.
Experienced motorbike riders might be interested to know there are a few places in Makassar and Monado offering trail bike hire. Expect to pay around 250.000-300.000Rp per day for a 125cc bike.
For travel between the major centres and to popular destinations, there are quite a few companies offering shared minibus (Kijang) transport. Generally, Kijang are of a much higher standard than public minibuses (though not always – buyer beware) so you get that extra level of comfort without having to hire a whole vehicle; you just pay for your seat. Costs vary depending on the route and where you’re sitting with ticket prices decreasing on a sliding scale from the front row to the back. Some companies include pick up and drop off from/to your accommodation. Convenient, quicker than public buses and a good way to meet fellow travellers! Generally it’s best to book at least one day before travel at any tour desk or through your hotel.
On a cautionary note, if you’re already travelling in a small group do your sums first as you may be able to hire a private car with a driver for similar money. As a family of four, this has been our experience from time to time.
Traditional horse and carts called andong or dokar and trishaw pedal powered carts, known locally as becak, are still widely used in Sulawesi, particularly around the city suburbs. Although they’re popular with locals, tourist rarely use them other than perhaps a novel city tour or similar. Just be sure to haggle hard and be very clear about what the price covers (one-way or return journey, per passenger or per group) before you set off.