You would not expect to find limestone mountains in the predominantly volcanic terrain of Indonesia, but in fact, it does have its own karst, mainly in South and South-East Sulawesi. Sharp, jagged cliffs by the sea, the typical molten-looking waterfalls, and even a beautiful karst valley, Rammang-Rammang, equipped with a river, caves, and pinnacles. The area has become relatively popular with local visitors in recent years, and nowadays boat trips are available on the river. There are sufficient village trails for nature hiking, but most caves have so far not been adapted for tourism and will require moderate to professional climbing skills to explore. One or two houses in the valley serve as homestays, should you decide to linger, otherwise it is a nice day trip from Makassar.
Separated from the main roads by the karst ridges, somewhat secluded, Rammang-Rammang gives the impression of a self-contained little world. The boat trip brings you to a large valley encircled by sheer cliffs. Technically, there is a road from there connecting it to the rest of Sulawesi, but it is twisty, long, and in bad shape. The valley supports a small local settlement. Another few similar enclaves can be found if you do take the road. It is in the first village, however, that you can stay if you wish to take your time in the area. Rice paddies line the valley floor, caves dot the mountains, and wild fauna in the vicinity is worth tracking down to observe, particularly the cute tarsiers, tiny nocturnal primates abundant in the surrounding forests. But the main reason to linger would be climbing: either up (the rocks), or up and down (the caves).
The primary attraction, of course, is the landscape itself. Extremely photogenic, as karst usually is, it will make you stick around longer than you expected. The boat trip is pleasant and views from the still, reflecting river surface are picturesque, but it is rather short. Much more can be seen if you explore the area on foot. One cavern that is close to the village and has a sort of trail leading into it is King Kong Cave. There are a lot of others - Bulu’ Barakka' Cave, Telapak Tangan Cave, Pasaung Caves – but those would require some skill to enter, and perhaps local help to find. Deeper in the karst zone lies a small lake, Telaga Bidadari - “Angel’s Lagoon”. Traditional hamlets here and there deserve attention as well, especially if you are interested in Asian cultures. And finally, early in the morning Rammang-Rammang often stands to its name, which translates roughly as “misty”. For a photographer, this is your chance to shoot a masterpiece.
Rammang-Rammang is relatively easy to reach from Makassar, the main city of South Sulawesi: take an angkot (public minivan) to the airport turn-off, then change for another one to Bosowa cement factory. Get off there and walk the remaining 2-3 km to the boating jetty. Most people take the boat up and down the river, spending little time in the valley. But the area is beautiful enough to justify a longer stay. Also, to catch the most photogenic light at sunrise or sunset, you would have to either spend the night or bring your own motorbike and be willing to brave the exhausting dirt roads out of the valley. In any case, some hiking will be necessary to explore Rammang-Rammang, so be sure to wear proper shoes – karst rocks are sharp. If you intend to practice rock-climbing, you will need your own gear and advanced skills – no routes have been pre-set. The same stand for serious caving. In case you do not plan on staying, keep in mind that the last boat back leaves around 16:00-17:00.
Did you like the travel story?
Get more! Subscribe to our monthly inspiration newsletter.