Makassar, also known as Ujung Pandang, is the capital of South Sulawesi and the largest city on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia. Home to over 1 million inhabitants, Makassar is a bustling city thick with traffic, the strong scent of street food, and the chaos characteristic of most major cities.
The metropolis of Makassar has served as the gateway to eastern Indonesia for centuries and remains a thriving port and transportation hub even today, with the Makassar airport serving frequent international and domestic flights. The city is the perfect springboard to exploring southern Sulawesi and beyond. As such, most travelers come to Makassar for shopping and eating before heading off to their ultimate destinations in the more remote corners of Sulawesi.
Makassar is particularly popular with snorkelers and divers since it faces a group of approximately 50 islands known as the Spermonde Archipelago and fantastic spots for snorkeling and scuba diving.
Although Makassar is mostly known as a transportation hub on the way to somewhere a little more exotic, the city’s inhabitants are friendly and the food here is down-right delicious. Whether you choose to stop over for a day or two or stay for a couple of days, you’ll find plenty here to see and do!
Best Time to Visit Makassar
The wet season in Makassar stretches from around November to April. Typically, July, August, and September are the driest months and the best time to visit Makassar.
How to Get to Makassar
The easiest way to get to Makassar – and the rest of Southern Sulawesi – is to catch a flight into Makassar’s Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport.
The airport is located 20 km from the city and has flights to and from Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Bali, as well as a number of major domestic destinations in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Papua and Java. There are also international flights from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
How to Get Around Makassar
Makassar has a few transportation options. The most popular among locals is the angkot (mini-buses) known in Makassar as pete-pete. The route of these pete-petes is denoted by the letter on the windshield. By asking locals for help, you should be able to take a pete-pete to where you need to go.
Another option is the becak, or bicycle trishaw, which will typically cost around 3,000 – 10,000 IDR ($0.30 – $1 USD) for a trip around town.
Taxis are also common in Makassar – feel free to take any of them, they all have the same fares and use meters.
Things to See and Do in Makassar
Fort Rotterdam was once an ancient Gowanese fort dating back to 1545 and is now Makassar’s main tourist attraction. The fort failed to keep out the Dutch during the Dutch colonial times and then was rebuilt in Dutch style after the Treaty of Bungaya. As one of the few well-preserved examples of Dutch colonial architecture, Fort Rotterdam is well worth a visit.
This picturesque harbor is home to beautifully colorful traditional pinisi schooners in all their natural glory. Not to mention the miles and miles of sea, glistening sun, balmy sea breezes, and the deliciously enticing smell of seafood smoking away at the barbeque…
Visit at sunrise.
Pantai Losari (Losari Beach)
Losari beach is a long stretch of waterfront in the middle of the city with a beautiful sunset view. Spend a few hours wandering around the boardwalk where food stalls are set up every night selling everything from grilled young bananas to spiced cashews.
Balla Lompoa (Palace of Gowa Kingdom)
The Museum Balla Lompoa is the former royal palace of the King of Gowa and is not free to visitors. Balla Lompoa translates literally to ‘big house’ in the Makassarese language and like the typical traditional Makassarese houses, this beautiful big house is built on stilts.
Inside, you’ll find the main hall laid out as it might have been for royal functions of the past. The museum holds an assortment of royal relics, weapons, tool and ritual paraphernalia to give you a glimpse of the grandeur of the former Gowa kingdom.
Visitors can even dress up in royal Gowanese costumes for photo-taking.
Island Hop the Spermonde Archipelago
Makassar faces a group of approximately 50 islands known as the Spermonde Archipelago and is the perfect base for exploring these small islands. The islands offer abundant corals, a range of marine life and some of the largest wrecks off the Sulawesi coast, as well as interesting village life and historical sites.
The most distant islands in the Spermonde Archipelago edge onto the continental shelf, so snorkelers should be aware of steep drop-offs and stay near land. This area also is populated by hammerhead sharks, which may be a threat to people, as well as rays, barracudas, blacktip sharks, large tuna and grouper, and sea turtles.
For more information on the nearby islands, check out this site.
Visit the Prehistoric Park in Leang-Leang
This is a little out of the way from Makassar – around 40 kilometers away – but it is definitely worth the trip. The Prehistoric Park is home to hundreds of prehistoric caves and at Leang-Leang, you’ll have the very rare opportunity to see cave paintings that are thought to be 5,000 years old and tell the story of the inhabitants who occupied the cave in prehistoric times.
A fascinating scene not to be missed, it’s definitely worth the trip out from Makassar. You can also see the waterfalls where the naturalist Alfred Wallace collected butterflies on the way to the Prehistoric Park.
Where to Go Nearby
Tana Toraja, the ‘Land of the Heavenly Kings’ and a beautifully scenic town known for its spectacular burial rites and sites is a must-see in Sulawesi. From Makassar, Tana Toraja is an 8-10 hour bus ride away.
Makassar Travel Tips
Makassar is a major city and like with any big city, you should exercise caution against petty crime. Avoid drawing attention to yourself with flashy jewellery and keep an eye on your belongings at all times.
The water in Makassar is not safe to drink unless it’s boiled and purified. When eating at street vendors – or buying drinks – make sure you order bottled water as some of the water might not be boiled nor purified.
And as always – always travel with travel insurance.
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