© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Siau Island in Sulawesi: get away from civilization

4 minutes to read

Have you ever considered leaving behind all the mess, all the restless and reckless civilization? Dumping it all and settling down on an island so small one would need to know where to look even to find it on the map - and a powerful magnifying glass to boot? Playing Hemingway, imitating Pliny, the Elder? Pulau Siau would do the job perfectly. It is nothing but a curve of forested land attached to an active volcano (so yes, you will even have a chance to get incinerated by a violent eruption like Pliny himself), supporting ten or so fishing villages along its shores. The location is as remote as it could be - halfway between Sulawesi in Indonesia and Mindanao in the Philippines, formally belonging to the former, practically - to Neptune only. There is just the bare minimum of amenities on Siau: one resort, a couple of simple homestays, a number of warungs (local eateries), and enough basic shops. Internet connection is unreliable - nearly non-existent, but may improve with time. And of course, even if you are not yet ready for the final escape from the Matrix, Siau island is still worth visiting for the few sights, but most of all - for the achievement of traveling somewhere no normal tourist would ever go.

Gunung Karangetang

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Wherever you are on Siau, Karangetang dominates the landscape. Like a two-headed fire-breathing giant, this massive volcano often emits smoke from one of its two craters, or both. Explosive activity is rare, but viscous lava flows occur quite regularly - get your marshmallows ready. In recent decades, there have been no dangerous eruptions. The only things that might prevent you from climbing Karangetang are the weather and the technical difficulty of the accent (advanced hiking skills required). There is no established trail, but local hunters will be more than willing to guide you to the top or the lava flow if there is one (this will make going all the way to the summit too risky). The views from either of the two peaks are incredible - a network of tiny islets, overgrown and mostly uninhabited, sprinkled over the deep blue sea. But Karangetang can also be appreciated from below - since the volcano is the only place on Siau from which you cannot see the volcano. Stay up late on some night, walk out of the village, sit on the beach and watch the red glow flicker on and off on top of the mountain. 

Karangetang Volcano, Siau, North Sulawesi
Karangetang Volcano, Siau, North Sulawesi
Karangetang, Mini, North Siau Barat, Sitaro Islands Regency, North Sulawesi, Indonesia

Kapeta Lake and the jungle

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Since Siau is so sparsely inhabited, a large portion of its territory is untouched primary forest. This jungle hosts quite a lot of fauna, including an endemic species of owls - think of it, they only exist on one microscopic island. One animal you should specifically look for, however, is tarsier - a tiny insectivorous primate with huge eyes, quite likely the cutest living thing on this planet. Tarsiers are nocturnal, locating them during the day would only be possible with the help of a local who knows where they retreat to sleep. At night, you can easily spot them by light reflected off their eyes, but make sure not to shine your torch directly on them - it is painful to their hyper-sensitive vision. One could start a jungle hike just about anywhere on Siau, but the best spot would be Kapeta Lake - a circular green body of water in an extinct volcanic crater. Use a map, and ask around for the best access trail. 

Kapeta Lake, Siau, North Sulawesi
Kapeta Lake, Siau, North Sulawesi
Danau Kapeta, Talawid, South Siau Barat, Sitaro Islands Regency, North Sulawesi, Indonesia

Beaches and neighboring islands

© Istock/Dan Bailey
© Istock/Dan Bailey

The coastline of Siau alternates between rocks, jungle, and sand, and wherever you go, you are never too far from a beach. The island's remote location means the sea is not overfished, there is a whole lot of aquatic fauna underwater. Bring your own snorkeling gear - the one and only resort on Siau may be able to arrange it, but it will not be cheap. One special beach is Temboko Lehi: the water here is much warmer than the rest of the sea, in places almost to the boiling point. A fissure on the bottom releases hot gases from the magma channel of Karangetang, heating the sea. In fact, this may be the only accessible marine hot spring in Asia. If Siau does not feel sufficiently removed from civilization, a handful of tiny islets, either uninhabited or with a few fishermen's huts, can be reached by a short boat ride. One of them, Masare Island, has a large population of rare maleo birds - flightless megapodes endemic to Sulawesi. Birdwatchers should not miss the opportunity to observe their unusual nesting habits. For everyone else, the best wildlife viewing is under the sea. And if you only want to relax, pick any beach, bring a tent, perhaps buy a bottle of locally produced nutmeg wine (a Siau specialty), swim at will, and sleep under the stars, far away from it all.


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.

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