Places to visit in Bali and Indonesia
Indonesia is a country with a varied landscape that has much to offer. Here are our top places to visit in Bali and Indonesia, including many of the main areas that you might want to consider as well as some more unusual spots.
Ubud is at the heart of Bali’s artistic and cultural heritage, surrounded by lush rainforest and only an hour from the main airport at Denpasar. Here children can wander freely in the markets and barter for their favourite batik, visit local craftspeople in their own workshops, sample the mouth-watering delights of the night market and enjoy the ‘chilled out’ Ibiza atmosphere in the many cool bars and cafes. A surefire winner with children is a visit to the Ubud Monkey Forest, home to numerous (and extremely confident) long-tailed macaques as well as many ancient temples and statues. Families can try making ‘nasi ayum’ in a local home, visit the Goa Gajah Elephant Cave or stroll through the picture perfect Tegallalang Rice Terraces. Ideally situated in the centre of the island, Ubud is the perfect place to base yourself for a few days and enjoy day trips to the island’s many temples, volcanic highlands and lowland jungle without having to change accommodation each day.
There are so many fabulous temple sites on Bali that it would be easy to bore children very quickly so one needs to be careful to include them in itineraries as a way of breaking up journeys. The most famous ones are: the Mother Temple at Besakih which sits on the slopes of the majestic Gunung Agung; Tirta Empul, a fascinating water temple where your kids can join the locals taking purifying baths in the waters; the Royal Family Temple of Taman Ayun, one of the most beautiful temples on the island because the temple is situated in the middle of an artificial lake; the Puru Ulun Danu in Beratan Lake, a busy but important temple (even featured on the 50,000 Rupiah banknote); and the famous Tanah Lot Temple, one of the most photographed temples in the world – perched on a barren rock outcrop and completely surrounded by the ocean at high tide.
It can be a blissful relief to escape the heat of the lowlands and experience the scenery and rural life in the highlands. The area around Lake Batur in the North East of the island is extremely scenic and the perfect region to enjoy treks through gorgeous lush rainforest. Kintamani is a small town on the edge of the caldera of Gunung Batur offering great views of the area and a fascinating local market. Bedugal in the Beratan Highlands is well known for its fruit and flower markets as well as opportunities for children to learn about coffee and tea cultivation on a plantation visit. Munduk is an old Dutch colonial hill station surrounded by tropical rainforest making it ideal for trekking or cycling. Jatiluwih is a World Heritage Site that showcases the island’s traditional methods of agriculture in a series of breathtakingly stunning rice terraces – young photographers will not be able to stop snapping away.
Bali Barat National Park
Otherwise known as West Bali National Park, this incredible eco-system includes open savannah, mangrove swamps, dense rainforest and coral reefs. It is home to over 300 species of animals and birds. The park can be explored on foot, by canoe or by diving off the exquisite island of Menjangan Island. This protected marine park forms part of Bali Barat and offers Bali’s best snorkelling. Swim in the crystal clear waters teeming with tropical fish, sharks and turtles or go scuba diving – a great way to appreciate the diverse marine life and colourful corals.
The seaside beach town of Sanur was the first one to be established on the island. It offers white sandy beaches, calm turquoise waters and numerous sea-based activities including fantastic diving on the nearby reef and stand-up paddleboarding – an indication of how calm the seas are here. In the distance you can see Lembongan Island and the Gunung Agung Volcano. There are mangrove forest walks and a turtle conservation centre if the children tire of the beach – but we doubt they will…
Yogyakarta and Borobudur
Borobudur Temple is a huge and stunning ancient site which offers a glimpse into Buddhist and Javanese life thousands of years ago. Children are allowed to run around freely and enjoy this amazing site, which is the largest collection of Buddhist relief sculptures in the world. Yogyakarta is one of the main cultural centres of Indonesia and home to some of the most creative people in the country – there is music and art on every street and children will love watching the local art of shadow puppeteering. In the Kotagede Heritage District, youngsters will enjoy watching local craftsmen making batik and all ages will enjoy sampling the culinary delights of Jalan Malioboro. There is also the incredible Hindu site of Prambanan nearby which we can include in an itinerary to this part of Java.
Lombok & the Gili Islands
Lombok is often overshadowed by Bali but undoubtedly merits a visit in its own right, with picture perfect beaches, the dramatic volcanic landscape of Gunung Rinjani, beautiful rural scenes with fields of tobacco and rice and, up in the mountains, gorgeous retreats where you can enjoy the views and go walking through the forest in search of waterfalls. Lombok is also the starting point for a visit to the exquisite beaches of the Gili Islands, little droplets of perfection surrounded by azure waters with little but the swaying of the coconut palms to disturb you.
Climb Gunung Rinjani, Bromo or Batur
For families with active children, why not consider an ascent of a live volcano? Gunung Rinjani on Lombok is the second highest volcano in Indonesia at a lofty 3,726m. The ascent takes a minimum of two days but can be extended if you want to savour the extraordinary scenery of this remote landscape. At the top the views are incredible, both over the plains that surround the volcano and also into the exquisite turquoise crater lake inside the caldera. Or enjoy sunrise on the crater rim of either Gunung Bromo on Java or Gunung Batur on Bali. Here, at 2,392m, both offering breathtaking views over the volcanic landscapes.
Coming face to face with a Komodo Dragon
These prehistoric-looking creatures are found on the islands of Komodo and Rinca Island. Day trips can be arranged, accompanied by a local ranger, from the nearby island of Flores, which is also worth visiting in its own right for the stunning coloured lakes of Kelimutu.
This is the Indonesian part of Borneo, a large swathe of remote jungle that is home to wild orang-utans, pygmy elephants, gibbons and forgotten waterways. You can visit the Tanjung Puting National Park to see orang-utans in the wild and spend your nights on a private klotok (a flat bottomed riverboat). Cruise through forests that provide habitat for many species of birds and monkeys, experience the vibrant life along the riverfront and take in scenes of people scaling fish, washing babies, fishing, repairing boats and curious local children waving as you pass. Tourism is still in its infancy here however so the infrastructure is probably best suited to older children or more experienced travelling families.
Definitely off the usual tourist track, Sumatra is one of the last places on earth where it is possible to spot orang-utans in the wild. Gunung Leuser National Park offers opportunities for jungle trekking and wildlife spotting. Nearby, the Bohorok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre was established to help captive orangutans re-adjust to life in the wild.
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Bali & Indonesia in pictures
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