Tomohon: Volcanoes and fresh air galore in Sulawesi
With Manado acting as North Sulawesi’s capital and main transport hub, and nearby Bitung the main harbour city, it falls to Tomohon to showcase some of the region’s most breath-taking attractions.
Located in the highlands and thus offering a much cooler climate, there is a rich tapestry of culture and natural wonders to savour. Keen sightseers will find much to delight in around Tomohon’s surrounding peaks and valleys, and culture fans are in line for a powerful glimpse into Sulawesi’s Minahasa tribal traditions. All the while, a warm and friendly atmosphere pervades: smiles and ‘Hello Mr/Miss’ are the order of the day with even a simple stroll along the streets throwing up some enlightening conversations as the locals bid a friendly welcome to visitors.
WHAT TO SEE
For many, the twin-volcano Lokon-Empung is the literal and metaphorical high point of a trip to Tomohon. Rising over the Tondano Plain and about an hour’s walk to the west of the city, visitors can expect a close encounter with some of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes and, on a clear day, panoramic views stretching as far as Manado to the north.
Lokon’s highly-active crater in particular is an arresting sight. Mostly flat and strewn with volcanic rocks, it belches forth reams of smoke from sulphur-tinged fissures which only hint at the destructive power that lies beneath.
Climbers take note: the trail follows an ancient lava trail which, although atmospheric, can prove treacherous. Extra care should also be taken around Lokon’s crater. It’s tempting to slide down into the crater itself but a wrong step on the loose soil can have tragic consequences; as recently as April 2017 there were known fatalities with over-enthusiastic sightseers sliding to their deaths.
Allow for an early start – around 4.30am – to avoid climbing in the excessive midday heat.
The ‘other’ major volcano in Tomohon, elongated Mahawu is smaller than neighbouring Lokon-Empung but no less stirring. The smaller crater allows for some fine views and birdwatchers in particular will feel at home in the surrounding vegetation.
Located to the east of the city, trekking to the volcano takes about an hour but thanks to the steep, winding roads, transport is advisable.
Visitors can combine a trip to Mahawu with a tour of the surrounding Tintingon Hills: the villages of Rurukan and Kumelembuai are home to some far-reaching views and the chance to sample Cap Tikus, a traditional Minihasan alcoholic beverage made from Aren (sugar palm).
Another of Tomhon’s natural sights, Lake Linow makes a refreshing change from the area’s volcanic peaks.
The lake exudes a calm and quiet atmosphere, thanks to the surrounding forests shutting out Tomohon’s hustle and bustle. What will truly stand out, though, is Linow’s water: the mix of sunlight and the lake’s sulphur pits causes the water to bleed through shades of green, blue and amber in a pleasingly psychedelic fashion.
WHERE TO STAY
HAPPY FLOWER RESORT
Away from Tomohon’s main roads, Happy Flower’s palm trees and ponds create a relaxed atmosphere for travellers. It is ideally situated at the start of the trail to Lokon-Empung.
The double ensuite rooms are spacious and good value for 200,000R a night – breakfast included – although the squat toilets might prove tricky for those with weak knees.
Staff are accommodating and helpful and are able to organise tours to Tomohon’s major sites.
It’s a 15-minute drive from Tomhon’s Bus Terminal (Terminal Beriman) and Market.
Aside from walking, visitors will soon get used to other modes of transport in Tomohon.
The ubiquitous blue mikrolet vans swarm around the city with all routes starting and ending at Terminal Beriman, although empty ones can also be chartered. Some come equipped with DVD players and huge sound systems, meaning more than often than you can hear and feel them coming long before you see them.
Ojeks are the iconic Indonesian motorbike taxis. Their size allows for greater flexibility and they are easily the most desirable option when traffic is heavy. Stations are dotted around the streets but be sure to agree the price before heading off on them.
Horse-drawn bendi carts are another alternative. They stick to Tomohon’s main routes and cost around 3,000R a trip. Manoeuvrability can be an issue, as can the rickety carts, but journeys are often sedate and a pleasing way to get from a to b.
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
Tomohon is about an hour’s travel from Manado (bus 10,000R/private vehicle 150,000R) and Makassar, Pare-Pare, Toraja, Ampana, Gorontalo and Bitung are all reachable.
The main bus terminal in Tomohon is Terminal Beriman.