We found a little paradise in South Sulawesi and fell immediately in love with the white sand beaches and crystal clear water of Bira. We spent 6 days relaxing under palm trees, diving and snorkelling through colourful reefs full of life. Continue reading and find the best places to stay and eat in Bira and things you should not miss during your visit.
How to get to Bira?
Bira is accessible from Makassar, the biggest city in East Indonesia. Makassar is well connected and can be reached from Bali, Jakarta, Surabaya, Singapore or Dubai. After arriving in Makassar you can either arrange a private car to bring you to Bira for around EUR 43 (IDR 700k) or you take more environmental friendly public transport. Buses and shared cars leave regularly from the bus terminal Mallengkeri south of Makassar. As we were there, the big buses which depart in the morning at 9am were already fully booked due to pre Ramadan festivities. If you can get a seat on the bus, it will cost around EUR 7 (IDR 120k). Another option is to get a shared car which will bring you directly to your accommodation in Bira. They leave every full hour or as soon as they are filled up. On the way to Bira, we paid EUR 9 (IDR 150k) per person and on the way back EUR 6 (IDR 100k).
It will take you through little villages and rice fields along the coast of South Sulawesi for about 5-6 hours. Somehow the time passes really quickly as there is so much to see on the way. All buses and shared cars will have a food break approximately one hour before arriving in Bira or after leaving Bira. The place is a seafood restaurant where you can get buffet style food for EUR 60ct (IDR 10k) per person. After finishing your lunch you can eat as many sweet aromatic bananas as you want. You can also fill up your water bottles here.
Where to Stay in Bira?
Bira is a popular tourist destination for locals from Makassar so there are plenty of options for your stay. Bira has two main beaches which are both beautiful. However, Bira Beach is most popular among locals and therefore very crowded with boats, warungs (food stalls) and locals. The best choice for an empty beach is Bara beach 2.5km further down the road. Most foreign tourist are staying at Bara Beach so the accommodations there are more resort style and all of direct access to the beautiful white sand beach.
We stayed at Bara Beach Bungalows a family-run resort with 9 bungalows in a green tropical garden and a big sun terrace directly on the beach. As Bira is in a very remote area and there are only few places which can offer air conditioning, hot showers and free wifi. Bara Beach Bungalows has all of it and is therefore the best choice at Bara Beach. We felt warmly welcomed by Stefan and Jenna who gave us so many insides about the region and helped us not missing out on any highlights. It felt more like staying with friends rather than in a resort. Check the prices here and watch our video.
When is the Best Time to Visit Bira?
It is the best to try to avoid local holidays, especially around New Year or before and after Ramadan. During those times Bira is full of local tourists from Makassar. The best time for diving is from September to December. During the first half the year you have the chance to spot whale sharks, but the sea is a bit rougher during that time. In October you can even see Mola Mola aka sunfish) in Bira, there is a dive site called Mola Mola point. Try to avoid the rainy month, end of May and June.
What to Do in Bira?
Bira is a paradise to unwind and relax, to enjoy the beautiful white sand beaches and azure blue water. It is very tempting to just hang out on the beach and don’t do anything, but don’t miss out on the following things to get the whole Bira experience.
Snorkel the Colourful Reef on Bara Beach
Leave your sun chair behind for a while and swim straight of the beach for about 100m until you find the coral reef which end with a 20m drop off to a sandy bottom. There is so much life in the water that every time you swim out, you will see turtles, rays, bat fish, box fishes and many more.
Go Diving to Indulge the Lively Underwater World
Bira is a diver’s paradise. There are so many amazing dive sites that you could dive for 2 weeks on different spots. However, the best place to dive at is Liukang Island which is a short 10 min boat ride from Bara beach and amazing Kaiping Island which is another 10 min further away. The visibility around these islands is about 20 to 25m on bad days and 40+m on good days, the corals are healthy and the sea is full of life. During our dive at Kaiping Island we saw 4 Reef sharks (harmless) gliding through the water as well as lobster, different types of murays, lion fish and much more. Around Liukang we saw one white tipped Reef shark as well as many turtles and rays.
Bara Beach has 2 dive shops one is South Sulawesi Divers at Mangga Lodge and the other one is Dive Camp. Both offer similar deals with 2 dives in the morning and lunch afterwards. Dive Camp is cheaper and charges EUR 57 for one day diving including equipment. At South Sulawesi Divers, it costs EUR 80 without equipment. In Lonely Planet, there is a weird statement about Dive Camp, nevertheless we had a good experience with Dive Camp. We also liked that they offer vegan and vegetarian food during their trips. Due to the remoteness of Bira, the management and dive instructors change on a regular basis so it is better to talk to both companies shortly before you make your decision. We know that the current management will stay at Dive camp until the end of 2018.
Take a Motorbike and Explore Bira
It is well worth to explore the highlights of Bira above the surface as well. You can rent a motorbike almost everywhere in Bira for about EUR 5 (IDR 80k). The streets are not in good conditions so drive with care and pay attention to the goats.
Go Food Shopping at Bira’s Morning Market
Every other day there is a food market where locals do their grocery shopping. Coconuts, bananas, rice, chilis everything what an Indonesian household needs is for sale.
Visit the Artisan Wooden Yacht Builders
Phinisi ship building exist for hundred of years and is worldwide well-known. People from allover the world order ships built by hand in Bira. It is truly impressive to see how a yacht is build from the scratch only by wood. The workers are very proud of their artisan workmanship which is preserved from generation to generation. To build one yacht takes about 2 years of hard work in the tropical heat.
Explore the Caves of Bira
About 30mins drive north of Bira you can find a cave in the middle of nowhere. Not many people know about it nor how to get there. Stefan, the owner of Bara Beach Bungalows helped us to mark it on Google Maps (see below). The marked point on the map hows the starting point of a 10 mins walking track which leads to the cave. There are no other tourists, we had the cave all to ourself.
Another cave is on the property of Tevana House Reef you might ask the owner to show it to you to find the coconut crabs.
Walk Along the Cliffs of Apparalang
On the way back to Bira after exploring the cave make a stopover at the cliffs of Apparalang. There is a walkway with nice views over the blue water.
Best Vegan Food in Bira
Luckily you can find vegan food everywhere in Indonesia. Nasi Goreng always works, but as foodies we are always keen to find something new. The Gado Gado and Vegetable Curry at Bara Beach Bungalows was really delicious as well as there vegetables in peanut broth you should definitely try.
We also found very exquisite vegan food at Tevana House Reef. We highly recommend to try the Moringa Pumpkin Curry. We have never heard of Moringa before, but apparently it is the new superfood. The leaves of the Moringa tree are rich in antioxidants, improver the gut health, lower blood sugar levels and are loaded with nutrients. We can also recommend the mango chilli salad, its so delicious. The mushroom tempe curry goes well with the 2 other dishes.
Another nice place for a simple but delicious vegan lunch is Warung SYAMSI close to the boat builders. We had the Nasi Goreng with fried tempe and really liked it. Also the view is spectacular.
#Take3ForTheSea and Zero Waste Tips
Allover Indonesia plastic pollution is a huge problem. You will see rubbish everywhere. We collected rubbish almost every day. Just ask the resort to give you a bin bag or bin itself to clean the beach and you will be surprised how many people will start helping you. One local said “Wow, why need a foreigner to come to Indonesia to clean the beach? We should do that!”. Being a good example always has its effects so be the change you want to see in the world.
People in Indonesia are crazy about taking pictures so I always ask them to help me collecting rubbish before I agreed to take a picture. If you meet a teacher on the beach who is looking for foreigners to talk to his students ask them to clean the beach with you in exchange. We collected so much trash in 20 mins (see picture). I also tried to explain to the kids that it is important to protect our planet. It was really nice to meet the and I hope our talk will at least have a small impact on them.
Most of the trash you will see on the beach are plastic bottles, water cups and straws. You can avoid contributing to the problem if you bring your own drinking bottle and stainless steal straw. Even if you put your used bottle in a bin Bira does not have any recycling system so every piece of plastic you are using will end up in a land fill or will be burned. You can fill up your own bottle in every restaurant or guesthouse in Bira. If you order a drink or coconut you need to emphasise that you don’t want a straw.