© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Eternal fire on the beach: Tanjung Api, Sulawesi

3 minutes to read

Tomori Bay in Central Sulawesi is glorious. Entirely transparent warm ocean and lots of live coral on the sea bottom make it an excellent destination for snorkeling. The Togean Islands in the middle are precisely the kind of tropical paradise one usually sees in tourist advertising brochures. The town of Ampana, however, is commonly treated by travelers as nothing more than a stopover on the way to the Togeans, the place to catch a boat. This is unfortunate, since the miracles of Tomori Bay begin right there – such as Tanjung Api. The name literally translates as “cape of fire”, and it’s apt. At one of the numerous little coves circling the promontory, there is an eternal fire, an outlet of natural gas burning on the beach, just a step away from the waves. The place is definitely worth a visit, and possibly a picnic, but it remains essentially undiscovered by tourists.

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Walk, swim, relax, or picnic

There are, in fact, quite a few spots in Tanjung Api where the flame comes out of the ground, all located in the same cove. Near the point where the boats usually moor, gas burns brightly in a small niche in a cliff, and a number of smaller fires appear out of long cracks underneath.  Some 20 meters away, there’s a natural stove: a relatively large flame in a hole right on the beach, a couple of steps from the sea. The beach is great for swimming. Camping or picnicking is definitely an option, too – one could even experiment with the natural fire and try to grill a sausage in it. By day, you can exploit the special feature of Tomori Bay, its unbelievably transparent water, perfect for snorkeling. Even from the boat, one could technically see the bottom at 5-10 meters depth. The only reason it's not likely to be visible is because the coral gardens block the way, reaching in places almost to the surface. At night, bioluminescent plankton is a regular phenomenon – try to visit on a moonless night to get the most out of it.

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

How to reach

There’s no public transport to Tanjung Api. A couple of travel agents in Ampana offer tours, but those are predictably overpriced. One could theoretically walk across the mountain (the foothills of a volcano, in fact) in a few hours, but don’t expect an easy stroll: the jungle of Sulawesi will throw its best weaponry at you. It’s thick thorny intertwined undergrowth all the way, and furthermore, it’s hard to locate the right cove from above. A much better option is to hire a ketingting, tiny outrigger boat, in the fishing village near Marina Cottages. Negotiate with the boat owners. 

Tanjung Api, Ampana, Central Sulawesi
Tanjung Api, Ampana, Central Sulawesi

Practicalities

At the time of research, a fair price for a ride to Tanjung Api and back, including 2-3 hours on the beach to see the natural flames, picnic, and snorkel, was around 100.000 IDR or around 7-8$. Very few people in the village speak any English whatsoever, but like all Indonesians, they are very hospitable and always amused to interact with a foreign tourist. Use gestures, translation apps, or learn some Bahasa Indonesia. It’s best to schedule your trip in the late afternoon; depart around 4:00 PM, admire the coral through the transparent sea along the way and arrive in time to watch the sunset. Wait for the dark to view the eternal fire, nearly invisible in the daylight. Leave at night, when the ocean starts to glow with tiny sparks of bioluminescent plankton as your boat upsets the microscopic creatures. 

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

The author

Mark Levitin

Mark Levitin

I am Mark, a professional travel photographer, a digital nomad. For the last four years, I am based in Indonesia, spending here roughly half a year and travelling around Asia for the other half. Previously, I spent four years in Thailand, exploring it from all perspectives.

Stories you might also like