Rammang Rammang: A Surreal Village hidden in Indonesia’s Karst Mountains

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Limestone cliffs reflect in the water ponds in Berua Village, Rammang Rammang
{ Rammang Rammang Forest Area in South Sulawesi, Indonesia } 

A bad habit I picked up of late has been paying off greatly in a surprising turn of events. I’ve had a case of bad travel fatigue over the past two years and unlike before, I’ve stopped researching about wherever I’m travelling to. Given I’ve mostly been travelling on assignment or with friends who are exceptional travel planners, I can afford to not do my research and still not get into any trouble. The happy side effect of this indolence is that I’m now often blessed with the gift of surprise. Imagine that, arriving at a place without any expectations and experiencing wonder! That’s exactly what happened during my hugely rewarding trip to east Indonesia few weeks ago. I was travelling on assignment and all I knew was that we were going to a remote village within mountains, only accessible by boat in Makassar province.

At the pier, narrow canoes were ready to take us deep inside the cluster of densely packed limestone mountains covered in lush greenery. The setting was intriguing and so was the journey by boat over the river. When we finally reached the destination, jaws dropped to the floor collectively. I recognized the landscape instantly, familiar due to thousands of pictures I’ve seen of Vietnam’s Halong Bay and China’s iconic Guilin region. Only this was Indonesia and I’ve never even heard the name of this region.

I was in Rammang Rammang forest area, an expansive Karst landscape spread over 450 Square Kilometers in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province. Accessible through waterways, a bunch of old world villages, limestone cliffs, stone parks and caves are the main attraction of this region. It is also one of the world’s largest karst landscapes, the third largest according to Indonesians.

Flooded paddy fields before sowing season starts in Berua Village
Crystal clear reflections in flooded paddy fields before sowing season starts in Berua Village

Boat to Rammang Rammang, South Sulawesi, Indonesia Indonesian tourists at Rammang Rammang
Journeying on the Pute River to Rammang Rammang

Karst topography features a landscape primarily made out of limestone, a soft rock that is severely prone to water erosion. Over millions of years of erosion caused by rain, these limestone cliffs form an extensive network of bizarrely eroded knife-edged stone towers or residual conical hills, interspersed by several caves, depressions and sinkholes. The karst mountains in the tropical regions are covered in lush vegetation creating a spectacular vision of layers and layers of sheer cliff faces and rounded hilltops enveloped in greenery.

Habited by Bugis people, one of South Sulawesi’s three largest ethnic groups, the flat lands inside Rammang Rammang are peppered with patchwork fields and a small number of traditional stilt houses. The villages are few and small, surrounded by massive mountains and cliffs in the fringes of the protected area.

Village on the banks of Pute River in Rammang Rammang Forest Area Village on the banks of Pute River in Rammang Rammang Forest Area
Villages on the banks of Pute River

Accessed by 30-minute motorboat ride from a pier right off the main highway to Makassar, Berua village was our destination. Following the path of Pute River, we sailed through narrow channels flanked by soaring cliffs on either side. Where the land flattened, we saw signs of civilization in the form of fields, stilt houses and bobbing boats. Cruising past strange rocks, swaying palm plants, dense mangroves, under makeshift wooden bridges and a water monitor, we finally arrived at the village.

No sooner did I take few steps on the long pathway extending towards the limestone wall away from the river, I blurted the words “This looks like Vietnam’s Halong Bay!”

“That’s exactly what everyone says!” replied Vesta, a well-travelled Indonesian who was also part of our group.

Berua village in Rammang Rammang near Makassar, Indonesia
Gorgeous limestone cliffs surround the village of Berua in Rammang Rammang
A newly opened cafe for tourists dwarfed by the limestone mountains in Rammang Rammang in South Sulawesi
One of the traditional stilt houses seen in Berua Village (L); A cafe for tourists dwarfed by the limestone mountains in Berua village (R)

Surprised by the scene that could’ve been straight out of Kung Fu Panda, I walked for an hour on raised boundary paths between what essentially was a maze of swamps and fields. The mirror-like reflection of the clumps of green hills was surreal and the joy of being introduced to an unfamiliar geography was unparalleled. I counted barely a dozen stilt houses standing at the edges of flooded fields. Several ducks flocked to the swamps in search of food while fishes and tadpoles jumped in the water pools creating sudden ripples.

Clearly an agrarian village, Berua was only recently pulled into the throes of commercial tourism. Newly set up cafes, also made of bamboo and built on stilts like the traditional houses, offering travellers refreshments and a respite from the heat were a welcome addition. But the plastic floating in the waters around the jetty and in the ponds were not. It is always a challenge when new places get inducted into the moneymaking school of tourism; whether a destination can scale up sustainably without losing its character yet help the local community financially is always fraught with uncertainty. Fransiska, another fellow traveller from Indonesia who’s been here before echoed the same thoughts, ruing that the changes aren’t all that welcome.

Berua village surrounded by massive cliffs in Rammang Rammang Forest area Cute local visitors at Berua village, Rammang Rammang in South Sulawesi
Visitors walking between fields in Berua village, surrounded by massive limestone cliffs (L); Cute local kids hanging out at one of the sheds in the village (R)

At the time of our visit, which was November 2017, none of the mainstream media had “discovered” this place yet. Lonely Planet didn’t have an entry on Rammang-Rammang and apparently it isn’t even well known in the Indonesian community fully. It was definitely a pleasant surprise; the offbeat traveller in me was on cloud 9 about getting somewhere before the crowds reached!

Cruising down Pute River to reach Rammang Rammang in South Sulawesi
The boat trip to Rammang Rammang is as interesting as the place itself

Make it happen

Fly Garuda Indonesia to reach Makassar

Rammang-Rammang is at a distance of 50kms from Makassar city, South Sulawesi’s capital. Garuda Indonesia, the national airline, runs several flights to Makassar from Jakarta & other major Indonesian cities.

Most people who visit Makassar are on their way to Tana Toraja, a highland region now famous for the unique death rituals and graves of Torajan people. But I can highly recommend spending a day at Rammang-Rammang as well. Staying overnight at one of the homestays would be ideal to see the beauty of this surreal landscape at either dawn or dusk.

Visiting Berua village is one of the top things to do at Rammang-Rammang but if time permits, you can also visit Salenrang Stone Forest, Fireflies Cave (Goa Kunang-Kunang). In case you are looking for a tour operator to arrange this trip for you, I scoured through Tripadvisor entries and found these two companies with good reviews – Caraka Travels | Dodo Mursalim.


After seeing this panoramic view, wouldn't you like to visit Rammang-Rammang?
Full Disclosure: My trip to Indonesia was sponsored by Indonesian Tourism Board in association with Garuda Indonesia as part of #ExploreWonderfulIndonesia tour.

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  1. Such a gorgeous place. I have never been to Indonesia and Vietnam. These are beautiful cities and may be someday, I will get to travel.
    Loved your shots.

    1. Thanks Parull! Indonesia is one of the most diverse countries in Southeast Asia. Hope you'll get to visit sometime soon in future.


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