A primitive land of tarsiers, lush jungles and black sandy beaches, the small Indonesian town of Batu Putih stays surprisingly well away from tourist trails. Located in North Sulawesi, an hour away from the bustling port town of Bitung, resides the quirky town that gives access to Tangkoko National Park. Piglets, chickens, dogs and cats roam between the picket fences of the quaint houses as the local children play with tyres, eagerly spinning them with sticks. Your senses are interrupted by a youthful “Hello Mr!” from the shoeless lads playing football in the muddy courtyards. Further down the narrow lane, men with pipes sit, gazing into the azure blue ocean from the foreshore, the black sand staining their grubby toes. For miles the volcanic beach stretches on, willingly joined by the deep emerald rainforest which lies untamed on the oceans doorstep. Momentarily you are stunned by the vivid contrast before your eyes, yet it disappears within a breath. In traditional Indonesian style, the rubbish swarms the beach, pigs scour for food, lame dogs lie motionless in front and the beauty you once saw has seemingly decayed into the ferocious waves. A bright orange butterfly flutters along the shoreline, its contrast to the charcoal sand reminds you once again how beautiful your surroundings truly are.
The main reason to stay for a night or so is to explore the jungle at different times of the day and to spend time living amongst the friendly villagers which make Batu Putih so pleasant. Walking alone into the protected reserve we became instantly distracted by the tufted endemic black macaques. Following them out of the dark canopy onto the isolated beach, we watch young monkeys play about the lower branches of the trees, tumbling onto the sand and causing a riot. The adults were greedily scouring the sand for fallen mangoes or just lazing in the shade of the figs. For me, seeing these wild mammals so calm and at home beside the rolling waves was unique and really memorable.
Super cute and undoubtably adorable it is understandable why the tarsiers are the main attraction. Deep within the jungle and only visible from sunset, it is essential to have a guide to find them for you. Friendly and passionate, your guide will also point out loads of other cool things along the way to help keep you entertained during your three hour trek.
Guides can be arranged on arrival or even at the gate of the national park. You can find a good guide for 85,000 rupiah per person plus 30,000 per camera for the evening tarsier walk (I recommend that you bring a torch to avoid falling over as many times as we did). Walking unguided in the National park is free.
Day trips organised from Manado are a popular choice for travellers who want a quick shot of a tarsier, however if you are looking for something a lot cheaper with a little more ‘authenticity’ a few basic home stays are available. Very basic indeed, the rooms are dingy at best, so be prepared for a lumpy pillow and a dungeon-esque toilet (if you choose to have an en-suit). All meals are included with accommodation as there is nowhere to purchase food from elsewhere. Meals are tasty and plentiful however after finding a cockroach underneath my bananas I decided to skip breakfast. Rooms are very cheap, around 150,000 per person including all meals.
Of an evening, friendly locals will implore you drink palm wine with them on the beach or in a friends courtyard. Eager to improve their English and always up for a giggle, they are as charming as their surroundings and seem adept at making any stranger feel right at home.
From Manado to Bitung:
From Manado wave down a mikrolek and ask to go to Paal Dua (Paal 2 – the bus station to Bitung). Cost should be round 50,000 for 2 people depending on how far away you are. Once at Paal Dua you will be shuttled into an old school bus with other locals. Expect a 15 minute wait on the bus as it will not leave until it’s full. The trip in total is 10,000 per person for an 1.5hr journey to Bitung.
Ask a mikrolet to take you to Pasar Girian (30,000 rupiah) and from there you can catch a public bus to Batu Putih Tangkoko (10,000 rupiah).
Hire your own taxi.
From Manado 300,000 rupiah.
From Bitung 110,000 rupiah.
Make sure you ask to go to Batu Putih to prevent getting dropped off at the outer bus station.