Experts debate whether there are 115 or 117 islands in the Spermonde archipelago, which sprawls off the coast of Makassar, north into Pangkep, south into Takalar and west towards Borneo: they’re officially home to around 30,000 people.
Whatever the case, although destructive fishing has devastated the reef in many places, the islands offer great potential – and history, too. Locals claim it was through the Spermondes that Islam first came to Sulawesi, and remnants of old ritual remain on islands such as Sabutung in Pangkep.
Whale sharks come through the Spermonde islands each September, usually staying from mid-month until around October. The Makassar Diving Centre, by Kampoeng Popsa, can arrange snorkelling trips, which is a better way than diving to connect with these beautiful creatures, which are considered sacred. All local fishermen will also know their location, as they follow the same schools of tiny fish the whale sharks do. (This post has more on diving the Spermonde islands.)
The closest islands to Makassar are Kayangan, Lae-Lae and Gusung, all popular daytrip destinations for Makassarites at weekends. Homestays are possible on islands including Barranglompo, Badi and Sabutung (Pangkep).
In terms of formal tourist accommodation, your options out of Makassar are Samalona, a tiny island just 30 minutes from Makassar, with simple guesthouses, or Kapoposang, which has a sweet resort on a soft, deep white sand beach complete with compressor for diving. (It’s operated by the Makassar Dive Centre and you need to bring both gear and all supplies from Makassar.)
From the port of Maccini Baji in Pangkep, charter boats to affordable overwater bungalows on Camba-Cambang, a domestic tourist destination that’s good for kids. You can no longer overnight at the turtle sanctuary at Cengkeh.
Other islands of interest include Pamangganang, with staggering white sand beaches, and Kodaringeng Keke, with its underwater dive garden. Diving used to be possible at Lanjukang but the reef is now destroyed.