Getting to the remote Togean National Park is an adventure in itself. From Jakarta, I first flew to Palu, the capital of the Indonesian province of Central Sulawesi, before continuing my journey overland to Ampana. From there, I crossed by boat to the Togean Archipelago.
As the islands are in the Gulf of Tomini, they can be accessed from several neighbouring places, namely Central Sulawesi, Gorontalo and North Sulawesi. However, the most popular routes are via Ampana or Gorontalo.
Situated in the ‘coral triangle’, an area with the largest diversity of coral and coral-reef fish in the world, it is unsurprising that the Togean Islands are a magnet for divers. Among the many dive spots is the famous Una-Una, where giant coral form an enchanting home for plentiful rainbow-coloured fish as they dart about the seabed. High visibility makes it easy to spot the marine life – watch out for schools of black-tailed barracuda, blue marlin and turtles. If you’re lucky, you may even see whale sharks.
The Togean Islands consist of six large islands and 60 smaller ones. As well as diving and snorkelling, you can while away your time island-hopping and exploring.
Between diving sessions, I visit the island of Papan. As our boat pulled into the harbour, I was greeted by the island’s children; they were very enthusiastic to welcome visitors, asking to have their photos taken when I brought out my camera. Not long afterwards, they showed me around their village, with the adults laughing at the children’s antics. I felt like a guest of honour as the island children held my hands and took me to greet the other residents of Papan Island.
After the village, I was taken to Puncak Batu Karang, the highest point on the island, which offers stunning panoramic views. From this height I noticed that what I had first thought was a long pier was not a pier after all, but a bridge to the neighbouring island. It was an amazing sight almost a kilometre long, connecting Papan to Malenge, standing above the shallow sea, where fish can be seen darting around between clumps of coral in the crystal-clear waters.
The bridge is narrow, with only enough space for two motorbikes to pass each other. Several people were sitting and relaxing at the edge, enjoying the cool afternoon breeze, as children ran excitedly about.
Papan is one of the islands inhabited by the Bajo people, traditionally known for their nomadic boat-based lifestyle. While many people in these communities no longer move around, they continue their ancient connection with the sea by building stilt houses above the coral.
Before continuing, a cautionary note. The drawback of visiting such a remote patch of paradise is sometimes unreliable access to phone signals and even basic services. I saw several people using their mobile phones at the top of Puncak Batu Karang, holding their devices up in the air to find a signal. After a bit of research, I found out they were onto something the island doesn’t technically have a mobile phone signal, but if you climb to the top of the hill it’s possible to use your phone. Even then, it can only be used to telephone or SMS. But you don’t need Netflix in this paradise.
As well as the lack of phone signal, some places have no mains electricity or modern water systems, as was the case in the resort I stayed at on Katupat Island. The electricity was powered by a generator and only came on from 5pm to 11pm. The rest of the time, apart from island-hopping, I preferred to relax in a hammock while reading a book.
I also had the opportunity to visit Mariona Lake, where there are jellyfish that don’t sting. The jellyfish have no predators, so their sting has disappeared as they have evolved. Looking into the lake felt like staring down into another world, full of aliens. Orange, white and transparent jellyfish surrounded us; it was like we were being watched by thousands of pairs of eyes.
My tour guide reminded me to swim without flippers, because the jellyfish are very fragile and it would be easy to destroy them without realising it. Using sunscreen is also best avoided, as it could damage the jellyfish habitat. We could take photos with them, as long as we didn’t touch.
After Mariona Lake, we moored our boat next to the pier in order to have lunch on the white sand of Karina Beach, before continuing to the next dive spot. Our boat captain adeptly climbed a coconut tree and brought back fresh coconuts to accompany our lunch.
There is plenty to do in the Togean National Park, from diving and snorkelling to meeting local people and wandering the beautiful islands. However, it’s equally tempting to simply do nothing and just relax on one of the picturesque beaches. The serenity, the clean air and the prospect of whiling away the time between sea and sand, far from the ping of emails arriving in your inbox, is reason enough to seek peace in the Togean Archipelago.
Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur
Flight Time from Jakarta is 3 hours 10 minutes.
Frequency 7 times a week to Gorontalo.
5 Senses – Sight
There are only a few lakes around the world with jellyfish that don’t sting, and Mariona is one of them. Not far from the lake is Karina Beach, a lovely stretch of white sand where you can enjoy coconut fresh from the tree.