Selayar Island: A Hidden Paradise Off the Coast of Tanjung Bira, Sulawesi

This article is part 3 of 5 in the series South Sulawesi Trip 2016
Map of South Sulawesi
Map of South Sulawesi

Our flight to Makassar was scheduled very early in the morning and we had to make a move by 4 AM. I continuously tossed around as I could not really sleep that night. Perhaps I was too excited about the much-needed break out of Malaysia. I took my phone and decided to find as much information as possible about Tanjung Bira. As usual, we did not really plan this trip well in advance. We knew where we would go after arriving in Makassar and where we would stay in Bira for two nights. After that, we had no plans set. We just knew that we had to come back to Makassar on the 5th night.

As I was looking at the map of South Sulawesi, I realised that there is a huge island off the coast of Tanjung Bira. A few Google searches and blog hopping resulted in a change of plans. Instead of staying in Bira for the remainder of our trip, we decided to break the usual tourist route and give Selayar Island a try. It was the best decision ever! We didn’t regret it for a second!

Tanjung Bira to Selayar by Ferry

Apparently, there are more than 100,000 people living in Selayar Island and the islands nearby, which makes this island easily accessible by plane, bus and public ferry. Wings Air flies to Selayar every day from Makassar/Ujung Pandang. There are also buses departing daily from the Mallengkeri Bus Terminal in Makassar to Tanjung Bira Harbor at 8 AM and 3 PM, which takes about 5-6 hours. The buses are then loaded into the public ferry heading for Selayar’s Pamatata Harbor, which takes another 2 hours.

There are 2 ferries daily to Selayar Island departing at 8 AM and 2 PM from the Tanjung Bira Harbor. The ticket costs 25k Rupiahs per person for economy class. To be honest, it is not really worth your penny getting into a VIP class as the journey takes only about 2 hours. Just make sure you get into the ferry quickly as the ticket does not entitle you to book a seat. It’s free seating!

Ferry to Selayar IslandTicket per person

We stood by at the harbour before 8 AM to buy the tickets. We were lucky to be here at this time around as there were no major holidays. I heard that the ferry can get very full and we may be refused entry. It’s not the case this time and we managed to get the tickets at the last minute! Anyway, the ferry arrived quite late around 9:20 AM. It took awhile to unload the buses and vehicles out of the ferry. In the end, we left the harbour at 9:45 AM. After a 2 hour journey, we arrived at Pamatata Harbor in the northern part of Selayar Island.

Hitchhiking in Selayar

As the ferry docked at Selayar Island, I looked around to find someone I could ask for help. I saw a woman with her son standing next to me. I decided to ask her if there were any transports available to the main town of Banteng. Looking confused, she said, “No, I don’t think there are any buses or vans from here!” She asked some of her friends and they did not seem to know either. Meanwhile, a man suddenly approached me from nowhere and tried to get a slice of my attention by telling me that his car could fit 2 more people. Before he could go any further, the woman decided to offer a free ride for Foogie and me to the town! I was so happy when I heard that! Worried that we would not be comfortable, she kept telling me that her car was just a rented pickup truck, but I assured her it’s completely fine!

Bu Herlin and I on the truck
Bu Herlin and I on the truck

We waited for another few minutes before the black pickup truck was unloaded from the ferry. In the meantime, I got to know more about this kind woman named Bu Herlin. She’s originally from the island of Java and had been living in Selayar for 7 years or so. To make a living, Bu Herlin sold rocks and bricks to construction shops. She told me that she rented this truck with her friends to visit some of her relatives in the mainland. They sat at the back of the truck for the whole journey to and from Selayar, no matter how bad the weather was. Rain or shine, the car must keep going.

The beach on the way to the town of Banteng
The beach on the way to the town of Banteng

The pickup truck was finally unloaded. We were repeatedly told to sit in the front seats with the driver. But we refused, of course! In the end, the pickup truck managed to carry two people in the front seats (including the driver), and 6 adults and a number of goods at the back. It was crowded and fun at the same time! The journey to the town of Banteng took about 1 hour. It was completely sunny in the north, nearby the harbour, but as we drove further south, the weather took its course. It rained heavily for 30 minutes or so until we arrived at the town. We were completely drenched in water!

We bid farewell to Bu Herlin and promised her that we would visit her at her house in the coming days. She dropped us off at Warung Semarang in Banteng so that we could have lunch there. I was expecting more of local foods, but as the name suggests, it’s a restaurant selling Javanese foods. Since we were quite hungry, we decided to eat there anyway.

Staying at Selayar Eco Resort

We were picked up by car from Banteng to the resort, which was just 15-20 minutes drive south of the main town. Denis and Elty, the owners of the resort welcomed us. A huge traditional Bugis house — the only house there — stood sturdily in the middle.  The wooden stilt house was very well-maintained, equipped with a queen size bed, a beautifully tiled toilet, and a balcony overlooking the beach. We were surprised that the whole house was for us! The rate was reasonable – Rp 650k per night and it was a great house for families and those who travel with big groups. Elty said that she could provide extra mattresses for big groups or you can even pitch a tent if you want!

Traditional Bugis House (back view) Traditional Bugis House (beach view)

The wooden house is located just in front of the beach. It is a mediocre beach so I have nothing much to say :). I was kind of prepared for this as some of the reviewers at TripAdvisor said that the eastern side of the Selayar Island is the most beautiful. Since the wind was too strong on the east coast, we had no choice but to stay on the west side of the island. Denis and Elty own the resorts on both sides of the island and they were preparing to reopen their resort on the east coast this season (from the end of October to April). So make sure you visit Selayar at the right time!

with our wonderful hosts: Denis and Elty
with our wonderful hosts: Denis and Elty

Denis and Elty were such wonderful hosts! We didn’t feel like we stayed in a resort – this was more like a bed & breakfast style or perhaps CouchSurfing style :). They would prepare our delicious meals every day (we love the grilled fish and Denis’ spaghetti sauces!!). We had such a good conversation over dinner (yes, they joined us for dinner!), talking about Indonesia’s Papua, the east coast of Selayar (dolphins, turtles, and even dugongs could be found there!), and so many other things! They were also very familiar with the islands nearby Selayar, so they were able to give us suggestions on what to do next. Denis often organises picnics or camping trips in a secluded beach nearby Selayar – which is something I’d recommend you to do!

The Attempt to Discover Paradise

As soon as we arrived at the resort, we rented a motorcycle from Denis at Rp. 65k per day to explore the island and find a secluded beach. It was Foogie’s first time riding a motorcycle, so we were a bit more careful in the beginning. We went to the Baloiyya Beach nearby the resort, which looked quite nice from afar. However, the closer we got to the beach, the more disappointed we felt. There was trash everywhere! The sands were not soft and the water looked dirty. It was not pleasant to be there at all! It was a pity as the beach has a “mini Tanah Lot”. During low tides, people could walk across to the small island.

One of the destroyed beaches that we found
One of the destroyed beaches that we found

We changed course and rode towards the south of the island, hoping that we would eventually reach the east coast. We passed by villages after villages, trying to get as close as possible to the sea. We didn’t realise that this island is so huge that it was impossible to reach the east coast before sunset! Along the way, we found a small road which led us to a small fishing village. Locals looked quite confused when they saw us. I tried to speak to them in Bahasa Indonesia, but they did not seem to understand me. They also replied to me in a language I was not familiar about. Perhaps they were talking about a Selayar dialect or something.

A village with a dirty beach
A village with a dirty beach

Passing through some wooden stilt houses, Foogie and I walked towards the sea and were hoping to find a beautiful beach in front of us, hidden away from the main road. Unfortunately, another disappointment struck. What we found was a destroyed beach due to improper handling of waste and trashes. The beach was dark grey in colour and the surrounding area was full of trash. Maybe that’s the reason why the locals stared at us! They were probably wondering: why do these tourists want to see that ugly beach?!

The Journey to Paradise

We asked Denis to give us a suggestion on the best place to snorkel around here and he recommended us to go to Pulau Bahuluang (Bahuluang Island). There were two ways to reach Bahuluang Island, either by boat (more than Rp 1.5 million if I was not mistaken) or by a combination of motorcycle (Rp. 65k) and boat (Rp. 500k). We took the second option since it was much cheaper than the first option.

We set off at 9:30 AM the next morning with the rented motorcycle. We had to go to the last village in the south of Selayar, Appatana Village. The total journey was 1.5 hours, passing through different villages, proper roads, and all the way until the last 15 kilometres of the ‘road of no return’ to Appatana. This last section was the most painful and scary as the roads were so bad and untarred. There were no villages along this section until we reached Appatana. So make sure your motorcycle is in a good condition before you go here!

We safely reached Appatana at  11 AM and tried to find Pak Mansur’s house by asking some villagers. Pak Mansur is the contact person for the boat, which was recommended by Denis. As soon as we arrived at his house, we were told that our motorcycle’s tires were punctured!! We didn’t even realise it and it could have been punctured a long time ago, passing those bad roads. We were so lucky not to be stranded in that 15 kilometres’ stretch of no-return-road! Luckily for us, there is a motorcycle repair shop in the village (the only one here!) so we sent it there to have the tires replaced.

After waiting for about 30 minutes for the tide to rise, Pak Mansur’s son prepared the boat and we walked toward the beach. It was one of the most disgusting beaches I’ve ever seen in my life, after Koh Phi Phi’s Long Beach. There was trash everywhere, it was smelly, and God knows what made up that brown seawater! The fact that it was slightly low tide made the whole thing even worse!

This is it: Pulau Karang and Pulau Bahuluang

Pulau Karang
Pulau Karang

Honestly, I did not know what to expect out of this trip to the Bahuluang Island. After visiting Pulau Tujuh and looking at the most beautiful corals I’ve ever seen in my life, it is hard to appreciate the beauty of corals in other places that we visited. I was actually surprised that the corals at the Pulau Karang (Coral Island) nearby the Bahuluang Island were still quite pristine. Sure, they were not as colourful as the ones we found in Pulau Tujuh, but they were still in prime condition! Coral Island is actually an island made of dead fragments of corals. Around this island, there are many corals living around it. Amazing, isn’t it?

Nearby Pulau Karang Pulau Karang

After almost an hour snorkelling, we continued our journey to Bahuluang Island. Denis said that this island has the best beach that you can ever find in Selayar. I didn’t really comprehend what he said at that time, but as soon as the beach was in sight, have completely blown away! Now I understood why he said that :).

The beach is located on the north-western side of the island, guarded by a rocky cove. Bright turquoise colour blanketed the serene beach, shined brightly by the radiant rays of the sun in the blue sky. The soft golden sand sparkled as the waves crashed gently into it. It was one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen in my life. I did not expect this at all! I felt the rush of amazement witnessing God’s beautiful creations. Subhanallah.

On the way to Bahuluang Island Bahuluang Island Bahuluang Island Bahuluang Island

Watch our video here if you don’t believe it 🙂

Selayar to Makassar By Air

We decided to book a flight back to Makassar due to limited time. Elty helped us to book a ticket and we were so lucky that we got the cheapest price – Rp 311k per person only! Usually, it costs around Rp. 350k and above. The H. Aroeppala Airport is located in the main town of Banteng. The journey to Makassar was about half an hour – compared that to the 10+ hour sea and land journey! So if you are short of time, do consider taking a flight instead!

In Summary…

  • Transportation options to Selayar from Makassar:
    • By plane – Wings Air flies to/from Selayar daily. The cost is around Rp. 350k/person one way and it takes about half an hour.
    • By bus – buses depart daily from the Mallengkeri Bus Terminal in Makassar to Tanjung Bira Harbor at 8 AM and 3 PM, which takes about 5-6 hours. The buses are then loaded into the public ferry heading for Selayar, which takes another 2 hours. The journey continues to the main town of Banteng, which is 1-hour away from the harbour.
    • By car & ferry – you can either rent a car or take the car sharing option, which departs daily (no timing) from the Mallengkeri Bus Terminal in Makassar to Bulukumba town. Read my post here for more information. The 2-hour journey by ferry from Tanjung Bira to Selayar costs Rp. 25k per person for economy class. As soon as you arrive in Selayar, you need to ask locals or drivers if they have enough space for you to go to Banteng town from the harbour. Expect to pay money if you are not lucky with the hitchhiking 😀
  • There are few accommodation options in Selayar, but I would highly recommend Selayar Eco Resort. Ensure that you come to visit during the good season (between the end of October to April) so that you can stay on the east coast of Selayar. Otherwise, you have to stay on the west coast.
  • You can contact Selayar Eco Resort through:
  • If you have time, ask Denis to arrange a picnic or a camping trip in a secluded island 🙂
  • There are some other islands located around Selayar Island, but I’d highly recommend Pulau Karang and Pulau Bahuluang! You can skip other islands but make sure you don’t skip these two islands!

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