Makassar, Sulawesi: A Fiery Spirit and Youthful Energy

Makassar is the largest city in Sulawesi and a popular place to begin a trip to the island. I had been advised by friends to get out of Makassar, a city lacking in culture, as quickly as possible. But I wanted to see this port city, which is often featured on Indonesian TV news due to demonstrations and riots. Makassar was known as Ujung Pandang from 1971 to 1999 which is why the airport code is UPG.

Makassar streetMakassar felt hot and dirty, with litter strewn across the streets. During the day a peaceful but busy atmosphere ensued but by night the city came alive. Youths sat around on plastic chairs sipping non-alcoholic drinks with their friends, nightclubs offered karaoke or dangdut, an Indonesian popular music. The city has a thrilling type of energy which I have not felt in other Indonesian cities so far.

In terms of sightseeing there’s enough to fill a day or more, and it’s easy to get around on foot or by cycle rickshaw. There are even motorcycle rickshaws in some areas to go a bit faster.

Fort Rotterdam

Situated a stone’s throw from the sea in central Makassar, Fort Rotterdam was captured by the Dutch in 1667 from the Gowa kingdom and rebuilt. The colonial buildings are extremely well-preserved, and some of the Gowan ruins can also be seen. Entrance is by donation; we gave Rp. 10,000 for two people.

Fort RotterdamOn Saturday evenings there are arts performances at Fort Rotterdam beginning at 5pm. Unfortunately we weren’t in Makassar on a Saturday, but it would be worth checking the schedule if you’ll be there.

Makam Diponegoro (Diponegoro’s Grave)

Diponegoro was a Javanese prince, born in Yogyakarta, who opposed Dutch colonial rule and was active in the Java War of 1825 to 1830. In 1830 the Dutch exiled him to Makassar, where he lived until his death in 1855. Today Diponegoro is considered a national hero of Indonesia.

Diponegoro's graveDiponegoro’s grave is in a well-kept courtyard, surrounded by graves of Diponegoro’s family. We spoke to the grave’s caretaker who claimed to be one of Diponegoro’s descendants. Entry is free though guests are required to remove their shoes when approaching the grave. There is a guestbook and a box for donations.

Pantai Losari (Losari Beach)

We walked along the sea front in the evening and stalls lined the side of the road selling pisang ebe, bananas cooked with a choice of flavours, such as chocolate and cheese (a popular Indonesian combination!).  Some stalls also sell drinks and I tried jus viu, a juice drink made of orange juice and milk. It was surprisingly tasty.

Pantai Losari by nightAt the main point of the beach front there are large letters spelling out “Pantai Losari”, by night a place for hanging out, wandering about and chatting to friends. We were a little disappointed to see the dirty condition of the area, with litter lying on the ground and floating in the sea. But Pantai Losari is a city beach, and city beaches are rarely clean.

A City for Wandering

Makassar is a pleasant city for wandering and we often came upon interesting places and tasty food in this way. We were welcomed into a five-storey Chinese temple which offered panoramic views from the top floor, and we enjoyed eating deliciously fresh fish.

View across MakassarIt is worth spending a day or more in Makassar, to soak up the atmosphere, which is so different to the large cities I have visited in Java and Sumatra. While there may not be traditional arts everywhere, Makassar offers a taste of modern Indonesia, with a vibrant, youthful energy.