At Sulawesi’s southwestern corner, facing Java and Kalimantan, Makassar (also known as Ujung Pandang) is a large, hot and crowded port city with good transport links between eastern and western Indonesia. More than anything, Makassar offers an introduction to Sulawesi’s largest ethnic group, the Bugis, who continue to export their goods well beyond Sulawesi in prahu, distinctive vessels with steep, upcurved prows. The city has a long and distinguished history as a crucial trading port and coastal defence.
A monument to Sulawesi’s colonial era, Fort Rotterdam on Jalan Ujung Pandang was established as a defensive position in 1545 and enlarged a century later when the Dutch commander Cornelius Speelman rechristened it in memory of his home town. A wander round the thick stone walls lets you peer out to sea on one side and down onto backstreets on the other. Located on the northwest side is Speelman’s House, the oldest surviving building, standing next to one half of La Galigo Museum, which houses a fairly interesting collection of ethnographic and historic items, including models of local boat types.
Pasar Sentral (Central Market) was once the city’s main shopping district, and although the mega malls now steal much of its custom, it remains a thriving place and the best spot to find pete-petes (local bemos). From here you can pick up a becak or an ojek to take you 3km north up Jalan Sudarso to Paotere harbour, where Bugis prahu from all over Indonesia unload and embark cargo; it’s quite a spectacle when the harbour is crowded, the red, white and green prahu lined up along the dock.