Indonesia with over 17 000 islands still has lots of paradise destinations which are far from the hit of mass tourism. One of them is the Togean Islands, Sulawesi, a part of Togean National Park. I stayed there for a couple of days, discovering remote beaches, snorkeling and looking for practices of responsible tourism in Togean Islands.
Hiding in the Tomini Bay of Sulawesi Island, Togean National Park is rich in marine life as well as endemic and endangered species which make it one of the best spots for diving in Indonesia. In addition, you are sure to relax on the best beaches in Sulawesi and let your hair down under the coconut trees. First of all, let me tell you what to do in Togean Islands and what are the highlights worth visiting. Secondly, I will talk about responsible tourism in Togean Islands and give you few tips on how to limit your impact on the environment.
What to do in Togean Islands?
Of course, you can simply do nothing, as it feels the best on the paradise islands. Take the coconut in your hand, bamboo straw and swing in the hammock for the whole day. However, for those who are curious to see more, I prepared these few ideas on what to do in Togean Islands.
1. Stingless jellyfish lake in Togean Islands
There are just few places in the world, where you can swim with dozens of stingless jellyfish. It’s one of the reasons people want to come to Togeans and experience floating with aliens. Apart from jellyfish lake in Togeans, I went to Derawan Islands in Kalimantan with 4 types of the jellyfish. In both cases, it used to be an open sea, but due to the geological changes, became lakes where animals just got stuck inside. With time, creatures lost its predators and become stingless. Jellyfish lake in Togean Islands is a beautiful site with no tourists, just you and the nature. Just next to the lake there is one beautiful empty beach, called Karina Beach, which is worth the stop as well.
Several resorts in Togeans offer diving with an instructor as well as PADI open water courses. The price for a dive in Togeans is around 30 € and for open water course around 250 €. The area is rich in marine life, so I am sure you won’t get disappointed and get to see plenty of fish, dolphins and sharks. There are numerous diving sites around Togeans and 6 reefs, named with the numbers.
3. Snorkeling in Togean Islands
Corals are often just 100 metres from the beach of the resorts in Togeans, where you can go anytime you want. Apart from that, you can take a snorkeling tour to many destinations, depending of your resort offer and island you are staying in Togeans. I went for a snorkeling tour to California reef nr 1 and it wasn’t worth it. Unfortunately, it was damaged by dynamit fishing long time ago and corals are very poor.
4. Bajau people in Togean Islands
Islands inhabit the Sea Gypsies, also called Baju or Bajau people. I had a chance to meet Bajau people in Malaysia, on the islands near Semporna, and I was amazed about this unique ethnic group which spend their life on the sea.
Sea Gypsies long time ago left southern islands of the Philippines because of the conflict. In search for the new life, immigrants were coming by boats towards Borneo and Indonesian islands. Locals didn’t like newcomers, so Sea Gypsies had to stay on the sea. They used to have no nationality, live on their boats and move from place to another for fishing. With generations they got so good in diving and can stay under the water for the longest human being can stay without any equipment. Their eyes can see sharper under the water as well. It’s amazing how human body can adapt to the conditions! Their meals consist of fish and sea food but they are eager to trade their fishing with locals for rice and vegetables.
Unlike in Malaysia, Baju people in Togean Islands seem to be settled and blended with locals quite well. There are some Bajau villages in Togean Islands which are worth visiting. The most popular one is Papan Island, which is a little island near Malenge, connected with one kilometer long wooden bridge. Baju village is tiny, but it has nice views on the surrounding waters and lovely wooden houses on stilts. The bridge gives opportunity for local kids to go to school in Malenge. Another villages of Baju people are on Tapuan Island, depending on which island you stay, you will be able to see some of them joining a boat tour.
5. Relax on the best beaches in Sulawesi
Togean Islands are out of the dream vacation in paradise. White sand, coconut trees above, and most of the times empty beach just for yourself. The resorts in Togeans are taking over numerous beaches, but there are still many which are pristine. You will have a chance to visit them while island hopping or snorkeling tour. Be sure you will rest on the best beaches in Sulawesi.
6. Spend the night on the uninhabited island
The archipelago consists of 56 islands and islets and you have a great opportunity to experience Robinson Cruzoe life. All you need to do is ask some locals to take you to one of the islands and pick you up the next day. The rest, you design by yourself. The great thing is also seeing the fluorescent plankton at night which are the most visible when there is no lights around. Curious to try?
There are few nice options for hiking in Togeans. In some resorts you will have no option to move other than a boat, but sometimes there are paths in the jungle. They may lead from one resort to another like on Malenge or to the village, like in Bomba. On Una Una Island, there is the only volcano you can hike on Togeans. It’s just over 500 m high, so not too demanding. The hike to Una Una may take up to 2 hours. Lastly, I would like to mention hike to Wakai Waterfall. If you happen to be in Wakai village, you can take few hours for a lovely hike to the waterfall. You just need to ask locals for the way.
Togean National Park
Due to the dynamite fishing and potassium poisoning, some Togean National Park reefs are in poor condition. Bajau people famous for their fishing skills used to have no education about the dramatic consequences of such methods for the future. Thinking of feeding their kids and selling sea cucumbers and shark fins to the Chinese, they were far from considering the environment protection. There is exactly the same issue with Bajau people in Malaysia, near Semporna.
Nowadays, since the Togean National Park is established, control over the reefs exists. Moreover, Baju people seem to get accepted in the society and settled down therefore, they have better access to education and job opportunities. Togean National Park tries to rebuild what has been destroyed with coral transplantation. They have a program which plants coral in the certain areas and it works well but of course, requires a decades of work to rebuild the aggressive fishing effects. Since Togean National Park started to focus on tourism, it’s their interest to protect the reefs, otherwise no tourists will go there. Tourism gives jobs for locals and better money than fishing. It gives me hope to put a final end to the destructive methods of fishing.
Responsible tourism on Togeans – problem of waste
Togean Islands have absolutely no waste management. Keep in mind that all the waste you leave will either be burnt or end up in the sea. Basically, I noticed that people having waste on land, burn it and houses on the water or ferries, drop it into the sea. Some resorts in Togeans try to reuse and recycle but in the end they still have to burn their trash. Remember that it’s not just their waste, but also a bunch of trash they collect on the beach every single day. Sometimes when I was snorkeling, I couldn’t see much because some plastic bags kept covering my mask. Lots of marine animals die swallowing the plastic they cannot digest. The situation is alarming. Therefore, responsible tourism in Togeans is really difficult, but we should all try to protect this amazing place and create as little impact as possible.
If you are responsible traveler, try to bring as less waste as you can to the islands and possibly bring your trash back to the mainland. There is no recycling in Sulawesi either but at least less burning and throwing to the sea as it will probably end up on the landfill.
In Katupat Island there is a non-profit organisation Everto which encourages locals to collect and reuse plastic. They started to create beautiful handicrafts out of it. Stands for Everyone for Togean, the NGO aims to educate and raise awareness of the importance of their home – ocean. Buying souvenirs from Everto you support locals and encourage protecting the environment.
Tips for responsible travel in Togean Islands
1. Responsible snorkeling
Be careful about using fins while snorkeling to don’t destroy the corals. They are very fragile and easy to damage. In the jellyfish lake in Togeans, it’s strictly forbidden to use fins, because it’s easy to hit and harm slowly moving aliens.
2. No chemical sun screen
It’s important that you don’t apply chemical sunscreen which harms marine life, especially jellyfish. Nowadays, you can easily order organic sunscreen which is totally out of natural products.
3. Organic cosmetics
All the shampoo or soap you use, will end up in the sea or in the soil. It’s important to carry organic cosmetics and natural oils instead of poisoning nature around.
4. Take public ferry
Places, where all the resorts in Togeans are, have no roads or cars. The only transportation and food delivery is by boats, often with old engine which produces a lot of carbon emission. Instead of having a luxury of private charter, please check before for the public boats schedule.
5. Support local economy
Get yourself coconut, buy responsible souvenirs from Everto organisation to support locals. I was able to buy cold press coconut oil on Walea Island, hand made by locals. You can also buy local honey which will support bee-keepers and help to save the bees from extinction. Shopping locally while traveling is very important for local economy!
How to get to Togeans?
It’s not so easy to get to Togean Islands in Sulawesi. That’s one of the reasons why islands are still not spoiled by mass tourism. The closest airports will be in Ampana, Gorontalo, Luwuk and Poso. Those don’t offer many flights and are pricy. Remember that it’s more eco-friendly to travel by land, as planes have huge carbon emission. The ports to enter Togean Islands are Ampana from the south and Gorontalo from the North. There are also public buses connecting Ampana and Gorontalo with other cities. Some tourists prefer to use shared taxis.
Traveling around Togeans
There are few public ferries companies running around Togean National Park. Before coming to Togeans I couldn’t be more confused with planning the trip from one island to another as I didn’t know which informations were outdated. The only reliable source of information about the ferries schedule in Togean Islands were the resorts in Togeans I contacted directly. The communication was slow as there is very poor internet connection on Togeans Islands, but they were able to provide me updates information about the ferries.
There are almost no roads in Togean National Park, the only transportation is by boats. When you arrive to the port of any island, there will be free transfer boat taking you to the resort you booked. If you didn’t book anything, you would have to rent a boat to take you to the desired resort. There is no ATM on Togean Islands, so take a lot of cash with you.
Resorts in Togeans
The sure facts is that, wherever you stay in Togean Islands, it will be beautiful. I saw a few islands, and I have to admit the landscape is quite similar and stunning everywhere. Therefore, your choice on which island you stay in Togeans should be based on your activities: diving, just chilling on the beach, snorkeling, you want to be social or looking for a honey moon escape in the remote destination.
What’s common for all the resorts in Togeans, is that you pay one price per day, which includes all meals and accommodation, as there are no shops or restaurants and usually nowhere to go. The prices vary from 200-800 k rupiah per night. Apart from that, all the resorts in Togeans are on the sunset side, so be sure to admire incredible sunsets every single day. Here are the resorts in Togeans I stayed in. All completely different and for various clienteles.
Lia Beach is a true Robinson Crusoe escape, far away from anything, ideal for honeymooners, perfect for meditation or yoga. There are only two bungalows, both very spacious, luxury and built from natural materials, mostly bamboo. The design is like no other resort in Togeans, because the architect came here from Bali. The beach is totally isolated, you cannot go anywhere else, except the 5 minutes trail to the sunset view point (which is so romantic). The corals near Lia Beach are great for snorkeling, so you can hop in the water whenever you want. From the paid activities, resort offers snorkeling tour to the nearest reef – nr 6.
After trying the food in few resorts in Togeans, Lia beach is unbeatable. The food is a great mixture of French and European cuisine with use of local products. I can hardly think of anything better I ate those few months traveling in Sulawesi and Kalimantan.
Lia Beach has inspiring eco-friendly attitude. From natural materials of the bungalows, through bamboo straws, local products to tiny shop where you can purchase eco-friendly items. They collect trash every day from the beach and have strict recycling policy. Every soft plastic they find in the sea, they dry on the strings. Later, they fill the puffs for sitting.
The only disadvantage is the far location from Ampana, not suitable for those who have little lime. It took me the whole day by public ferry to get there. If you want to visit Sea Gypsies or Jellyfish Lake in Togeans, you better do it from other islands as from Lia Beach would be quite far and pricy. What’s more, it won’t be a good fit for those who want to dive as there is no dive resort around.
There are 9 bungalows in Poki Poki, all along the beach. Some of them are really simple wooden huts, with western toilet but Indonesian shower – bucket. The others are more beautiful and have a western shower and a large terrace with a hammock in front. There is a trekking path in the forest to the nearest village – Bomba, which you can either do by yourself or ask for a guide to lead you. They have a free kayak which you can use for a romantic sunset tour. From the paid activities, they offer stingless jellyfish lake, snorkeling tour to Taupan Atol, Bird Watching in Tumbalawa village and cooking classes. While there are many cool paid tours and activities at Poki Poki, the beach is not really good for swimming and there is no nice corals near the resort. There is a diving center just 3 km away run by neighbour resort, so it’s possible to have the dives from them and stay at Poki Poki. Cottages are very near Ampana, so it’s a great fit for those who don’t have much time.
I think Kadidiri Paradise is one of the biggest resorts in Togeans. Nearly 30 bungalows and dive center drive lots of tourists. However, mass tourism attitude does not go along with the quality, which I think could be better in terms of food and bungalows maintenance. However, it’s a great fit for people which like to be social, as there is a bar and in the evening all the guests hang out together or make a bonfire on the beach. The great advantage of Kadidiri Island is the location. Amazing corals in front of the resort, so you can go snorkeling whenever you want and easily join other guests for a snorkeling tour to the other places. It’s also very near the Jellyfish Lake in Togeans and boat tours go there almost every single day.
Running away from a crowd, you can take a free kayak and withing 15 minutes heading left from the jetty, you will find yourself on Barracuda Beach which is totally empty and beautiful. On the left of the Barracuda Beach, there is a path leading to the tops of the cliff, which is a great spot for watching the sunset.
The Bee is a nature lover and tea addict. Loves the idea of slow life and responsible traveling, constantly trying to improve to bee more eco-friendly. Appreciates old cultures and traditions, loves to immerse with locals, listen to ethnic music as well as taste regional food and drinks. Her favorite spots while traveling are family houses and street markets.