Celebes Overview

Sulawesi Overview


Sulawesi is the world’s eleventh-largest island, covering an area of 174,600 km². The island is surrounded by Borneo to the west, by the Philippines to the north, by Maluku to the east, and by Flores and Timor to the south. It has a distinctive shape, dominated by four large peninsulas: the Semenanjung Minahassa; the East Peninsula; the South Peninsula; and the South-east Peninsula. The central part of the island is ruggedly mountainous, such that the island’s peninsulas have traditionally been remote from each other, with better connections by sea than by road.

The island is subdivided into six provinces: Gorontalo, West Sulawesi, South Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi, Southeast Sulawesi, and North Sulawesi. West Sulawesi is a new province, created in 2004 from part of South Sulawesi. The largest cities on the island are Makassar, on the southwestern coast of the island, and Manado, on the northern tip.


Sulawesi’s location, geologic history, and long geographic isolation have created Sulawesi’s distinctive fauna. There is variability, different among various animal and plant groups, in the amount of interchange between other biogeography areas in the region, which led to the evolution of a large number of species endemic to the island. Although not species-rich relative to Borneo or Java, Sulawesi is high in endemicity because of its long isolation from Asia and Australia in Wallacea. This ecoregion exhibits high plant endemism, and the several distinct forest types provide habitat for the highest number of endemic mammals in Asia and several endemic birds.

Of the 104 mammal species in the ecoregion, 29 are endemic or near endemic (Table 1). Whereas the two cuscuses have Australasian affinities (i.e., the Peleng cuscus [Phalanger pelengensis] and dwarf cuscus [Strigocuscus celebensis]), the remainder of Sulawesi’s mammals have Asian origins, including the crested macaque (Macaca nigra), moor macaque (M. maura), booted macaque (M. ochreata), lowland anoa (Bubalus depressicornis), spectral tarsier (Tarsius spectrum), and babirusa (Babyrousa babyrussa). The crested macaque, moor macacque, and lowland anoa are considered endangered. Sulawesi’s flora is most closely related to the floras of dry areas in the Philippines, Moluccas, Lesser Sundas, and Java. The lowland forests have affinities to New Guinea, whereas the upland areas are more related to Borneo. Three Centres of Plant Diversity are located in lowland Sulawesi: Dumoga-Bone National Park, Limestone Flora of Sulawesi, and Ultramafic Flora of Sulawesi.


The population of Celebes on the other hand, grew faster than in Java, however, this cannot be attributed to immigration. Growth trends show a slackening in the increase during the early 20th century in Java, in the Sumatran residency of Bangka, in Minahasa and on the Moluccan islands of Amboina, Saparua and Haruku. Moreover, in the Sumatran residencies of Lampung and Bengkulu there is evidence of accelerated growth. Furthermore, examinations of urbanization in various parts of the archipelago indicate that the population of Java was more urbanized than that of Sumatra, Celebes and the eastern archipelago. In addition, the degree of urbanization in Borneo in 1930 was somewhat higher than that in Java.The people of Celebes are primarily farmers, many of whom live at a meager level. Major crops include rice, corn, coconuts, and coffee.

Also important is fishing. Trading, handicraft industries, and light manufacturing are among the economic activities in the cities. Land transportation is poorly developed. Nearly all of the island’s inhabitants are of Malayan stock. The main ethnic groups include the Makassarese and Buginese of southwestern Celebes, both predominantly Islamic, and the Christian Minahasans of the north. Celebes has a population of about 14,946,488. The largest cities are Ujung Pandang, 1,121,300, and Manado, 413,000.


Sulawesi has warm tropical climate with wet and dry season lasting approximately six months each. The dry season is from April to October & wet season is from November to May.

How to get there

Makassar is the main airport. There are several flights each day from all major cities of Indonesia.

Best time to travel

The best time for a visit is a dry season: from April until the end of October. In the period June to October it offers the best chance of witnessing a major Torajanese funeral.