The journey from Makassar to Rantepao for Tana Toraja is among the most boring and arduous that any backpacker must do. In fact, regardless of your budget of travel, you SIMPLY HAVE TO take the road between the two cities, as Sulawesi does not have a rail network, nor is there a commercial airport in central regions of the island. This means that you are faced with a 10 hour road trip from Makassar to Rantepao, with most people doing the return journey after a few days in Torajaland (heading north from Rantepao to, say, Manado takes even longer and is considered unsafe).
Many buses ply the arduous route from Makassar to Rantepao, and most of these buses are safe European-style coaches (albeit with dodgy suspensions fitted) with air-conditioning. The most reliable bus operator to Rantepao is Litha & Co (who are the ONLY bus company to depart from Makassar Bus Terminal), but other companies are available, such as New Liman or Bintang Prima, though these companies depart for Rantepao from elsewhere in the city. Whoever you travel with, you can expect to pay at least 80,000 Rupiah per person each way, and for a slightly higher standard of comfort (think “Executif Class”), 130,000 Rupiah is the going rate (a difference of maybe £4). However, be warned that some coaches operating with cheaper fares DO NOT HAVE TOILETS ONBOARD, so to be on the safe side I would recommend against drinking any water during the journey. Some drivers may stop for a toilet break in the daytime, but if you’re travelling on an overnight bus, then I wouldn’t bet on it! Night buses generally leave Makassar around 10pm and you should be in Rantepao for breakfast.
After departing Makassar Bus Terminal (and it’s never too early to leave Makassar, after all!), it should take around 2 hours to get to what is effectively the “half-way point” known as Pare-Pare town, which seems straight forward enough, though from here on in the road narrows and it becomes twisty and bumpy. The second half of the journey will take nigh on 8 hours, and this is the perfect time to sleep (though be wary of your belongings, as theft is occasionally reported, especially on night buses). In the daytime, however, you will perhaps not even want to sleep, as throughout much of the route you can see the epic scenery for which Sulawesi is known: beautiful green rice paddies and [usually] clear blue skies. Some drivers will stop in the mountainous scenery for a coffee break and this is a good opportunity to whip out your camera!
Upon arrival in Rantepao, the first thing you will want to do is stretch your legs. I found Rantepao to be a charming little town, but this is probably not your final stop, as you want to visit the communities of Tana Toraja, which are nearly an hour further west. There are plenty of bemos (they are like tuktuks) on the roadside for your to flag down (or wake up the driver!). As long as you don’t have too much luggage, the bemos will be perfect for your onwards trip. Some people may prefer to hire a local taxi, but this will be more expensive. The main villages and burial sites of Tana Toraja are at least 12 miles from ‘downtown’ Rantepao, yet the price you pay for the journey will depend on the driver (6,000 Rupiah each way is a good estimate).
Before you even book your flights to Makassar and bus journeys to Rantepao, you should have sorted out your accommodation in the area for the duration of your stay. Hotels are few and