A friend’s opinion that Bira was the most beautiful beach in Indonesia secured my decision to visit as the endpoint of my South Sulawesi trip, which had taken me north to Tana Toraja and to the city of Makassar.
Bira Beach, a few hours drive from Makassar, has become one of South Sulawesi’s most popular traveller haunts, with domestic and international tourists coming to enjoy the powdery white sands and crystal clear waters.
Unfortunately, as happens in many places that become tourism’s new best friend, the main part of the beach, where the road finishes abruptly at the seashore, was covered in litter. Plastic bags, food and drink containers and other random objects had been churned up by the waves and dumped on the beach, and the situation did not change during our three-night stay.
A Changeable Sea
On our first day the sea was relatively calm; people buzzed back and forth on banana boats dragged by speedboats. Other boats anchored near the beach, with passengers from nearby islands alighting. I swam in the sea, and as long as I avoided the boats, it was pleasant for swimming.
On day two, however, the waves were bigger and it was impossible to do proper swimming. Sunsets along the beach were beautiful, but not of the sun-dropping-into-the-ocean type.
I found that walking further along the beach, away from the hubbub of Bira with its souvenir stalls and rubber ring hire shops, led me to cleaner sand with fewer people, and I swam there on day three.
Not a Peaceful Idyll
So, Bira is definitely not the peaceful idyll that some guidebooks and people would have you believe. It’s a small but bustling tourist place, with plenty of places to stay and eat, and lots of shops to buy your Sulawesi t-shirts.
With this kind of under-planned tourism, where places just sprout up to cope with demand, there is often a lack of thought for keeping an area clean and pleasant. I hope that this issue will be addressed by the local businesses who rely on a steady stream of beach-going visitors. And for the time being, I suggest avoiding Bira – there are plenty of better beaches in Indonesia (here’s one example).