At an impressive 2,830m elevation, Mt Bawakareaeng occupies third place on the list of highest peaks in Sulawesi behind Mt Rantemario and Mt Moncong Lompobatang. These three peaks are neighbours in the vast Latimojong mountain range which straddles the southeast sector of the South Sulawesi peninsular.
In the local dialect, Bawakareang translates as “Mouth of God,” reflecting the belief by many of the surrounding villages that the mountain is sacred. Each year in the months leading up to Idhul Adha, the Muslim Day of Sacrifice, many local pilgrims make the climb to summit. This and the mountains proximity to Makassar, make it one of the most popular mountain hikes in Sulawesi. As a result, the trail is in excellent condition and can be easily followed without the help of a guide.
From the trail head at the village of Lembanna on the northern flanks, it takes around 6-7 hours to reach the summit but whilst the trek is lengthy, it’s not particularly arduous. In fact, on weekends it’s not unusual to encounter local families with young children heading up the slopes for a picnic. Starting out from Lembanna, the trail commences among the village farm plots before entering the pine plantation at Pos 0. The trees start to thin out at around 2,000m after around 2 hours hiking and shortly afterwards, hikers are rewarded with great veiws of the Jeneberang River and Sulawesi’s west coast at Pos 5 (2,170m). The open grassy area around Pos 5 is a popular camp site but it can be a little exposed in windy conditions. A water supply is located 50m downhill from there.
Between Pos 5 and 6 you’ll get a view of a massive scar on the eastern flanks of the mountain; the result of a devastating 2004 landslide that wiped out a whole village and claimed 32 lives. It’s estimated that up to 300m3 of soil from the old caldera wall let go, most of it ending up in the headwaters of the Jemberag River, resulting in a 30km long, 3km wide mud flow that reached the Bili-Bili Dam, Makassar and South Sulawesi’s main water supply, exposing 350,000 people to water shortages for weeks following the disaster. The economic and ecological effects throughout the water catchment area are still being experienced to this day.
From Pos 5, it takes around 1.5-2 hours to reach Pos 7 located on Bawakaraeng’s false summit at around 2,557m. There are great views of the true summit and neighbouring ridges from here, and down in the saddle between there and Pos 8 there’s a good place to camp in the lightly wooded savannah and a water supply from the stream.
The hardest part of the trek is climbing up out of the saddle towards Pos 8 and Pos 9. It takes around 2-2.5hrs to climb this last 273m to the peak. Pos 10 is located just 5 minutes shy of the summit, among some gnarly trees and there’s a reasonably good, sheltered camping area here. The views are fabulous of course. The slightly higher Mt Moncong Lompobatang can be seen just behind the ridges to the south and the Karisma Valley stretching away below.
Returning to Lembanna along the same route takes around 5 hours. Theoretically it is possible to complete the return summit trek in a single day, if you spent the night before climbing at Lembanna and set off in the early morning darkness and you’re super fit, but we don’t recommend it. Racing up the mountain and back with little time to soak in the amazing views or chat with other hikers on the trail seems rather pointless so plan on spending a night. Both Pos 5 and Pos 7 camps are easily attainable even if you travel out from Makassar (75km) and hit the slopes by mid-morning on day one, and of course, you can return to Makassar the following day.
Alternatively, the popular hill resort town of Malino 30min drive from Lembanna village has a good range of hotels or you can overnight in Lembanna itself. During the dry season, the village is often teaming with climbers, especially during the weekends and whilst there’s no formal accommodation in the village, the locals value the opportunity to supplement their meagre incomes from farming by housing and feeding climbers. The University of Hasanuddin (UNHAS) climbing club also keeps a base at Lembanna and are usually happy to open their doors to other climbers.
From Makassar, Lembaanna can be reached by private car in around 2-2.5hrs via Malino. A cheaper option is to catch a mikrolet from Terminal Sungguminasa to Malino (approximately 8.000Rp), then grab an ojek from there to Lembanna which costs aroun 20.000Rp for the 30min journey.
There are no permits to climb Mt Bawakaraeng and a guide isn’t really necessary. However, if you’d like a guide or a porter, you should be able to recruit one from Lembanna. Although the Bawakaraeng trek is relatively straightforward, you do need to be well prepared. Near Pos 5 and Pos 8, the trail passes by the memorials of two hikers who have died of hypothermia on the mountain, a sobering reminder that temperatures as those altitudes can be freezing so warm clothing, bedding and a tent or some other form of shelter against the wind and misty clouds that close in overnight is essential. Whilst there are water sources along the trail, it’s a good idea to have some means of sterilsing the water before drinking it.
Before leaving Lembanna, you might like to visit the pretty Air Terjun Lembanna waterfall which is located about 10km southwest of the village and a 30min trek from the nearest vehicular access point. It too has a well worn path so you shouldn’t need a guide; just ask a local to point you in the right direction.