Makassar, Indonesia, a historically significant trading port on the southwest coast of the island of Sulawesi, has a wealth of attractions. One of the country's largest cities, tropical Makassar deserves a spot on your Indonesian itinerary. Visitors enjoy everything from inner tubing down a waterfall among butterflies to snorkeling on white sandy beaches to an amusement park with a cartoon city. Another fun activity for anyone traveling to Makassar is tasting local delicacies sold by street vendors, such as grilled milkfish with a green mango sauce.
Paotere Harbor’s long history tracks that of the independent Gowa Kingdom that dominated South Sulawesi from the 1300s to the 1670s. Pinisi ships—designed and built by Makassarese shipwrights—sailed forth from Paotere, reaching ports as far away as Malacca in present-day Malaysia.
Pinisi still crowd the dock that's only a 15-minute drive from Makassar, where beyond shipping essentials like rice and coffee, fishing boats arrive holding the day’s catch. Go early in the morning to see Paotere at its busiest. Watch the sun glow against the pinisi masts and have breakfast at wharfside street food stalls selling ikan bakar (grilled fish).
The annual Pinisi Festival showcases the historic ships and the Bulukumba Regency. For four days each September, the event includes time spent at Tanjung Bira Beach and other places where you can view the legendary Pinisi ships and enjoy a fishing competition. Special regional foods are typically available such as barobo (rice porridge).
The islands off Makassar call for a day of lazing at the beach and snorkeling to see the fish and sea urchins. Two lovely spots are the Kodingareng Keke sandbar, with great fine white sand, and Samalona Island, a favorite getaway for a picnic or to rent a house for overnight visits.
An island-hopping trip to Kodingareng Keke and Samalona Island can easily be arranged at the Bangkoa fisherman's port on Makassar. Take your rented boat to the islands in the Makassar Strait, where you can swim and lounge. Remember to bring sunscreen before you go.
Karst landscapes (formed by the dissolution of rocks like limestone and dolomite) are magical, and the Bantimurung-Bulusaraung river system in Maros, an approximately 45-minute drive from Makassar, is no exception. Plus you can experience a waterfall and river—both of which provide a spectacular backdrop for having a picnic. Thrill-seekers love riding down the waterfall on inner tubes.
Concrete steps take you up to the gently meandering river that feeds the waterfall. The paved path leads to the entrance to the Goa Mimpi (Dream Cave), one of the more than 200 caves in the entire Bantimurung karst system. You may see some butterflies around the waterfall or the cave walkway, but touring the butterfly enclosure onsite is the only reliable way to view these beauties.
Tanjung Bira Beach, approximately 120 miles (200 kilometers) from Makassar, is known for its beauty, cleanliness, and soft white sand. The west side is a great place to dive or snorkel, such as around Liukang Loe Island—which is accessible by small boats. A colorful reef also draws tourists from inside and outside Indonesia.
Many hotels and bungalows are available for those wanting a longer stay, and restaurants can be found as well.
Explore a Stone Forest and Cave
Maros’ “Hutan Batu” (Stone Forest) is one of the most scenic trips in Makassar. A one-hour drive from the city is the Rammang-Rammang Pier in Salenrang, where motorized canoes bring you down the Pute River, past cliffs, jungle, bridges, and traditional Sulawesi houses.
You’ll disembark at a village next to rice fields, all surrounded by towering karst mountains. The “Stone Forest” is said to be the second-largest karst landscape in the world, offering a series of adventures in and around the limestone cliffs.
At the Leang-Leang Cave, Stone Age residents left handprints and an illustration of a babirusa, or wild boar. The images are some of the oldest art in the world, some 35,000 years old.
After the Dutch conquered the Gowa Kingdom in 1667, they destroyed the king's fortifications and built a fort that served as a nucleus around which the city that became Makassar grew over the centuries.
After independence, Fort Rotterdam, just 10 minutes from Makassar, became a repository for ancient documents and relics. Many of them can be seen at the La Galigo Museum, housed in two buildings: You'll see clothing from South Sulawesi's diverse peoples, models of boats from Sulawesi's many seafaring tribes, and more.
The Jalan Somba Opu shops south of Fort Rotterdam—about 10 minutes from Makassar by car—sell a range of items from expensive silks and gold jewelry to souvenir T-shirts by the dozen. Historically home to Makassar’s gold and silver shops, Jalan Somba Opu has expanded to cover a wide range of retail activities. Beyond the famous silver filigree from Kendari in southeastern Sulawesi, you’ll also find batik from Manado and woodcrafts and textiles from Toraja.
After dark, noodle hawkers set up along the sidewalks and sell bakso (meatballs) and grilled meats.
Trans Studio Makassar, one of the world's largest indoor amusement parks, is a fun way to spend a day in Tanjung Bunga Makassar—and it's only 15 minutes from the city center. With numerous games and activities within four themed areas, plus a movie theater, coffee shops, restaurants, shopping, and more, there is truly something for everyone in the family. The kids will be entertained by a cartoon city, a science center, and beyond. Ticket prices go up on weekends and national holidays.
Climb Around Celebes Canyon
Celebes Canyon, sitting on the edge of the Ule River about a two-hour drive from Makassar, is said to be named after the Grand Canyon in the U.S. and makes a great day trip for nature lovers. But this Indonesian canyon is not a well-known tourist attraction, so you probably won't find things like bathrooms and trash cans—you'll need to be prepared and pack out any trash. Soak in the clear and clean waters on a hot day, or just take in the beauty of the waterfall and rocks in the area.
One interesting site in Makassar's center is the grave of the Indonesian national hero Pangeran Diponegoro. He played an important role in the Java War, the revolts against Dutch colonialism from 1825 to 1830. Put in prison by the Dutch in Fort Rotterdam in 1834, Diponegoro died in exile in Makassar in 1855. A donation box is onsite for contributions to the site's preservation.
Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, and more than 87% of the country's inhabitants practice this religion. To view one of the biggest Muslim places of worship in Southeast Asia, visit the Great Mosque of Makassar, which was built in 1948–1949 and was later renovated in 1999 over a six-year period. The two-story site has an expansive courtyard, and the building can accommodate up to 10,000 worshipers. Remember to take your shoes off as you enter.
For an interesting look at an important historic site only about 20 minutes by car from Makassar, check out the Somba Opu Fort that was built in 1525 by the Sultan of Gowa IX and later destroyed by the Dutch East India Company in 1669. The previous trading port located in Jalan Daeng Tata in the Gowa regency was rediscovered in the 1980s and reconstructed in 1990.
In addition to the fort, visitors will have a chance to see a cannon weighing almost 21,000 pounds (9,500 kilograms), a history museum, and a number of traditional houses representing the South Sulawesi tribes called Bugis, Makassar, Mandar, and Toraja.
To see Makassar at its most spontaneous, visit the Pantai Losari seaside promenade just before sundown—it's a favorite stop for people watching everyone from tourists to reptile fanciers who are all there to enjoy a beautiful sunset.
Then walk north up Jalan Penghibur for an early dinner at the sidewalk kaki lima (food stalls) for Makassar favorites like pisang epe (grilled banana with palm sugar sauce) and buroncong (breakfast cakes made of flour and grated coconut).
The kaki lima only scratch the surface of Makassar's eating possibilities. The locals are avid fishermen who have created a range of dishes that will dazzle even the most demanding gourmand.
Start with their ample seafood menu, like the ikan parape (grilled milkfish with spices) that you eat with a fresh green mango condiment. Other must-haves are the rich beef stew called coto Makassar and the ayam goreng Sulawesi, a fried chicken dish typically with a soy sauce base and a variety of spices. Gado gado, the mixed vegetable dish with peanut sauce, is an option for vegetarians. And don't miss the decadent banana-based dessert named pisang ijo.
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