Hidden treasures in Gorontalo waiting to be discovered

Hidden treasures in Gorontalo waiting to be discovered
Panorama: Lake Limboto at dusk seen from the Otanaha Fort. Photo: Syamsul Huda M. Suhari

Home to rare species and renowned for its picture-perfect vistas, Gorontalo has many hidden treasures waiting to be discovered.

Located in the northern region of Sulawesi, the province nestles in the calm waters of Tomini Bay's northern shoreline and mountainous area that stretches from north to south - endowing Gorontalo with beautiful natural scenery that works like a magnet for travelers.

It also sits in the biological transitional zone between Asia and Australasia, Wallacea, in which Sulawesi is the heart. Below is list of the must-visit spots for visitors to this province, home to some 1 million people.

Beach

Saronde Island and Bitila Island are the region's beach icons. Located off the northern coast, the uninhabited island is renowned for its expanse of white sand, clear waters as well as panoramic sunsets and sunrises.

It is one-and-a-half hours' drive from Gorontalo city to this island in North Gorontalo regency via Kwandang port.

Visitors can stay in cottages or put up their own or hired tents in a camping ground. Food can also be ordered and if you're lucky, passing fishermen may offer fresh fish, allowing visitors to enjoy the beach while having bonfires and barbeques under the full moon.

Diving

On the southern coast of Gorontalo, the undersea paradise of the in Bone Bolango regency awaits marine lovers. Located about 25 km from Gorontalo city, Olele is a coastal village near Tomini Bay. In the park, divers will feel as though they are swimming in a giant aquarium with colorful fish and coral all around them. Salvador Dali is the name of Olele's signature reef - alongside giant corals in the shapes of saxophones, roses and sharks.

Licensed divers can also enjoy the dramatic views of Goa Jin - a vertical 50-meter-deep cave where different kinds of marine biota can be found.

Diving and snorkeling equipment as well as undersea cameras are available for hire, while those who prefer to stay dry can still observe the hidden paradise from aboard glass-bottomed boats.

Floating village

Floating village in the Tomini Bay area is also an attractive location to visit, especially for those interested in seeing and blending with the ethnic Bajo, a seafaring people.

The homes of fishing community of 1,400, are built on stilts. The name of Torosiaje, established in 1901, came from the words toro (cape) and si haji, referring to a Bajo Muslim who initiated the construction of the elevated buildings.

The village in Gorontalo's western Popayato district, Pohuwato regency, is accessible in about six hours by car from the city. Tourists can stay and dine in village homes at agreed prices or stay at lodging rooms for rent at reasonable rates.

In Popayato, children go to school by boat in the morning. Village paths are composed of wooden planks. Breakfast snacks are easy to find and residents chat on long benches. While watching the sunrise and sunset it's worth observing the mangroves to spot occasional wildlife.

Local people highly value fresh water, particularly to meet their bathing and drinking needs. They have to collect the water from the nearest rivers, therefore visitors should skimp on fresh water while staying in the village.

Wildlife

Nantu Wildlife Sanctuary is a special forest park covering an area of 31,215 hectares, which is home to many wildlife species endemic to the Wallace zone. Among them are anoa deer-buffalos, tarsius monkeys, babi rusa wild pigs and over 30 endemic bird species.

Every morning and afternoon, the mammals gather at Adudu where there is an open mud depression. There, they chew clay and sip its water. The mud contains salts and minerals as an antidote to pangi fruit, which babi rusa like to feed on. Adudu is Sulawesi's only open spot to watch wallowing animals.

Nantu is located on the banks of the Paguyaman-Boliyohuto River, which stretches through Gorontalo and Boalemo regencies. The forest grounds are covered by green rattan the size of a man's wrist, with its intertwined stems, its tendrils stitching the soil and stretching upward, twisting around huge trees. The sky is obscured by the dense vegetation.

The first way to Nantu is by car to the last hamlet in Saritani village, Wonosari in Boalemo regency, before crossing a thigh-deep river. The second way is going by boat against the strong current of the Paguyaman River from Mohiolo village, Asparaga, Gorontalo regency. Both routes take four to five hours from Gorontalo city.

Visitors wishing to enter this conservation zone are required to secure special permits and notify the local Conservation and Natural Resources Agency (BKSDA).

Lake Limboto

Lake Limboto, the largest in Gorontalo, attracts many visitors, especially those from the photographic community. Photographers seek dramatic sunset scenes or eagles snatching fish.

Tourists can also relax near a small pier, which is part of the museum to mark the landing of first president Sukarno.

The building on the bank of Limboto testifies to the visit Sukarno made to Gorontalo on Nov. 20, 1951, when he arrived aboard a seaplane. It is situated in Iluta village, Batudaa district in Gorontalo regency, or 20 minutes' drive from Gorontalo city.

On a nearby hill, three Portuguese forts built around 1522 stand solidly. Known by the names of Otanaha, Ulupahu and Otahiya, visitors can climb up 348 steps to access the coral and limestone buildings or arrive by car through a narrow asphalt path.

Mostly covered by water hyacinths this location is a convenient spot for travelers who are fond of bird watching.

Shop and dine

Culinary and souvenir spots for dining and buying gifts are equally appealing. Visitors should give binthe biluhuta, Gorontalo's corn soup, a try. One of the popular eateries serving the soup is Sakina restaurant in Telaga Biru district. The hot and soft corn soup is a perfect match for grilled fish and dabu-dabu (tomato, onion and chili relish).

Visitors could also sample ilabulo, grilled or steamed sago filled with entrails and egg and wrapped in banana leaf, or tuna satay, which can also be neatly packed to bring back home. Don't forget to buy Gorontalo's typical flat round pia cakes.

Other unique souvenirs are easy to find but the popular ones are karawo embroidered fabrics and woven hats of various models made from root fibers called mintu.

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