Rising from its image as a conflict-torn city, Central Sulawesi’s capital Palu has begun to bounce back, relying on its beachy charm to boost tourism. Talise beach in the heart of the city was known back in 1990s as a place for sex, as evidenced by the long lines of motorcycles and cars that packed the beach each night.
Visitors did not only come to savor traditional drinks like sarabba (ginger mixed with coconut milk and milk) or local snacks like pisang gepe (grilled banana served with cheese or brown sugar). Many came to spend their money on more carnal delights.
Unhappy with the sleazy image Talise beach gave Palu, the city administration enacted a policy banning sex workers from the beach.
Raids were conducted and one by one the sex workers were sent to the Kalukubula social rehabilitation center for training in new skills.
Talise beach now boasts a new image as a place where residents and tourists seek out traditional food and drink from the Kaili, Palu’s local inhabitants.
At night, residents now pack the beach to watch passing fishing boats and savor the beauty of Palu Bay, which is on the border with the Makassar strait.
Around three kilometers west of Talise beach residents and visitors also enjoy the beach at Taman Ria park, where traditional food sellers also offer the city’s popular cuisine.
Palu Mayor Rusdy Mastura said that Palu has been dubbed the “three dimensional city” because of its location near Palu Bay, its surrounding mountains and the river that cuts though the heart of the city.
“These three things beautify Palu city. (The problem) is just that we don’t have much money to develop the area into a modern tourist destination,” he said.
However, Rusdy insisted that the administration was working slowly and surely to develop tourism in the city, particularly at Talise beach. “I’m sure the beach will be a romantic place to relax with the family at night,” Rusdy said.
Tourism is still a fledgling business in Palu. Outside visitors only contributed Rp 82 million to administration revenue last year. This year, the target is for Rp 138 million.
Apart from beautiful sights at night, Talise beach is a magnet for those who want to swim, dive or snorkel its coral reefs.
Restaurant manager Ferry Taula has documented the vibrant sea life of the coral reefs at the beach.
“If we go snorkeling, even three meters from the beach, we can see colorful fish playing among the coral,” he said.
Apart from examining the reefs, Ferry also works to protect the area from illegal fishing. To do this, he hires residents to stop traditional fishermen catching fish with explosives or poison. His restaurant also only buys legally caught fish.
“I do this to prevent (fishermen) catching the fish illegally,” he said.
However, Talise beach, which is around a kilometer from Palu’s biggest hotels and four kilometers from the airport, is mostly frequented by local tourists.
Most foreign tourists still prefer to go to Tanjung Karang beach in Donalgga, some 45 km west of Palu, and to the Togean Islands in Tojo Una-Una regency.
The two areas have long been developed for tourism and have been promoted across the world.
Tanjung Karang is a sandy beach suitable for bathing, snorkeling and diving, while the seven Togean Islands are known for their rich and diverse marine life.
According to data from the Central Sulawesi Tourism Office, Tanjung Karang beach is visited by at least 150 foreign visitors each year while the Togean Islands hosts at least 300. Most foreign visitors are Europeans.
Talise beach could be developed in the same way as Tanjung Karang beach and the Togean Islands if the administration is consistent in setting the right priorities for development.
Currently, the Palu administration seems to prioritize infrastructure development over tourism.