The sun sets and the tarsier emerges from the hollow of the fig tree. He is not much bigger than a mouse and looks like a cross between a gremlin and a miniature koala. The tarsier uses his honey-coloured, saucer-shaped eyes to look out into the jungle and calculate his next move. He is ready to hunt for his favourite bugs.
Located at the foot of Dua Saudara Mountain, Tangkoko National Park in Sulawesi is made up of rolling hills, valleys and three volcanoes. Due to its isolation, Sulawesi has evolved a number of birds and mammals unique to the island.
Species include the Spectral Tarsier, Crested Black Macaque, Maleo birds, Hornbills and Sulawesi Bear Cuscus. Tangkoko provides one of the last refuges in Sulawesi for these unique species. It is home to 328 bird species, 47 of them endemic, so it is a great spot for bird enthusiasts.
For the next few days, we trek into the park every morning and afternoon with our guide Ateng. We really hope to see the tarsiers and are not disappointed. Not only do we see tarsiers we see Crested Black Macaques (whose local name is “Yaki”), Red-Knobbed Hornbills and Bear Cuscuses eating red figs high in the tree canopies.
The critically endangered tarsiers live in family groups of two to eight in the dark hollows of giant Strangler Fig trees, sleeping during the day and hunting for insects at night. As the light dims they become more active, jumping from one branch to another. Hunting is a family activity, and they stay in visual contact with each other.
Their eyes are the same size as their brain and cannot move. However, they have a trick up their sleeve: they can rotate their head 180 degrees to spot each other and their much-loved insects.
Ateng tells us there is a small chance of seeing a baby tarsier. To improve our chance, we do the dusk trek to catch the tarsiers as they leave the tree for their night of hunting, and we also go back to the jungle to catch them returning to their tree at dawn before they bed down for the day. This requires a 4 am wake up, but it is well worth it. We have the tarsiers all to ourselves this time of the morning which makes the experience even more special.
We see two babies: last season’s baby born in April and a four-week-old baby. Tarsiers are very family-oriented, and the babies will stay with mum and the family group forever. Those enormous eyes, bony little fingers, pointy bat ears and upturned little mouth, make me wonder how these vulnerable little animals survive. Life is perilous for tarsiers, especially for babies, and not many make it.
Tarsiers are extremely rare outside the park because of habitat loss and they are hunted for pets. They make poor pets as they need lots of live food. They often die within days of capture.
After visiting the tarsiers, we search for the black macaques. This is also an incredible experience, for once found by the guide, you are amongst them as they go about their daily activities of eating the forest’s fruits, grooming each other and playing.
You can get very close as long as you do not look them in the eye, as they think this is a sign of aggression, and it makes them feel intimidated. Led by a majestic male, the troops often make their way onto the beach in the mornings. We see a beautiful newborn baby only about 3 hours old with the umbilical cord still attached.
Tangkoko is the best place in the world to see tarsiers in the wild. Here they thrive in a protected and safe sanctuary. The park also has the only viable population of Crested Black Macaques, also critically endangered. This very special place will help these animals from becoming extinct.
Our guide Ateng is extremely knowledgeable and genuinely loves the wildlife. The guides really deserve some recognition as they work hard and are often the last line of protection for the animals that call Tangkoko home.
Tarsiers and Tangkoko Information
From Denpasar (Bali) to Manado there is one flight every day. From Jakarta there are several.
Batu Putih, the coastal village on the edge of Tangkoko, is a traditional village untouched by mass tourism and development. We stay at Tangkoko Dove Villas which is out of the village but is peaceful and relaxing. The hosts Ouldy and Evie go out of their way to make our stay enjoyable.
A double room 300,000 Indonesian Rupee/night ($30 USD).
Three Fresh local meals about 100,000 Indonesian Rupee/person/day ($10 USD).
If you prefer to stay in the village another option is Mama Roos Homestay, a simple guesthouse that is only a 10-minute walk to the park.
Ateng can arrange other homestays in the village.
Hot and humid all year round, the wet season lasts from November to March. July and August are the high season.
Our four-day package $425 USD per person includes:
Return transfers from and to Manado airport (90 minutes – 2 hours each way)
Accommodation and meals
Four days dusk trek to Tarsiers
Four days morning trek for Crested Black Macaques
Four days dawn trek to Tarsiers
Email Ateng: firstname.lastname@example.org
Most people visit Tangkoko on a day trip from one of the major cities. We recommend staying in the actual village and spending at least two days. Many people on a day trip leave disappointed as they come all this way and do not see the Tarsiers or Crested Black Macaques. Tarsiers move from tree to tree, and guides can only take tourists to certain trees. During our four day stay, one morning we spot no Tarsiers and the Macaques could not be found. More time gives you more chance at sightings.
Staying in Batu Putih and using the local accommodation and local guides puts more money into the community, therefore giving them more incentive and initiative to protect their park and wildlife.
Visiting Tangkoko independently is possible, though it is compulsory to have a guide in the park.
From Manado to Tangkoko it’s about a 2-hour drive.
There is no public transport direct to Tangkoko from Manado.
Manado to Tangkoko
- Take the public bus from Paal Dua bus terminal in Manado to Bitung.
- Bitung – Take the bus to the village of Girian.
- Girian – Take the bus going to the village of Batu Putih/ Tangkoko.
In this part of Sulawesi there is also some beautiful snorkelling and diving. Bunaken Marine Park is known for its variety of coral and fish. Lembeh Straits has some of the best muck diving in the world.
More of our Indonesia Travel Stories
- Read about our visit with the Orangutans at Camp Leakey
- Our Bali Stopover
- Our Indonesia Travel Photography
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