Bali, an Indonesian island territory in the Indian Ocean, is amazingly welcoming to guests with tons of exciting and fun family activities. On our recent visit in December, we found the people to be peaceful and friendly. Bali is small enough that it won’t take you too much time getting around from city to city but large enough to offer a variety of environments and landscapes.
The climate is temperate and has little change in daytime temperature throughout the year – it hovers around 86 degrees Fahrenheit, 30 degrees Celsius. However, the rainy season, October – March, can bring torrential rains daily and incredible humidity that can make a reasonable temperature unreasonably uncomfortable. Our visit was in the middle of the rainy season, and there were days when I thought I wouldn’t make it to the next Bintang Radler without passing out. Despite that, the rewards far outweighed the discomfort – fewer tourists and crowds, better rates and no lines to be found.
What was a nice surprise to me is that Bali is, by and large, a very safe place for families. I have traveled fairly extensively and I have never felt as safe as I did in Bali. This isn’t an illusion – I asked a hotel owner, who was fairly fluent in English, how often people get robbed on a dimly lit side street that led to the shopping area. I had to explain the concept to him, and once he got it he laughed! Other people confirmed the same – the crime rate on the island is incredibly low and often instigated by people other than the Balinese. We felt so comfortable that we regularly (like, every other day) left our boys at cafes and restaurants with money to pay for things themselves and allowed them to walk around while we, the happy adults, got amazing full body massages (for $9!!!).
The biggest dangers in Bali, in my opinion, are the scooters. Watch your feet people, because you could literally get squished at any moment. Traffic goes opposite of what we are used to in the States and scooter drivers feel free to use sidewalks if the streets get congested. On our last few days we felt brave enough to rent scooters and ride around a small town – I would have feared for our lives had we tried it in larger cities like Kuta or Ubud, even though both my husband and I have owned motorcycles in the US.
Family Friendly Activities
There’s a boatload of information online on what to see and do in Bali. Here’s a list of our favorite things in each city we visited, rated by kids (ages 9 and 12) and adults alike!
Boogie Boarding and Waterbom in Uluwatu
We landed in Bali and went straight to the beach. We chose to go to Uluwatu, one of the southernmost cities in Bali known for great beaches with waves. Our favorite was Binbig beach. A long beach with white sand, there are great waves for boogie boarding or surfing and many Warungs (restaurants) that serve delicious local fare. We also went to Pedang-Pedang beach (the one from Eat, Pray, Love) but that was crowded, shallow with lots of coral to run into and super littered.
Waterbom is Bali’s waterslide park and a great way to spend the day – even if it’s raining! There is a play area for kids 8 and under, a long lazy river and 12 slides of every speed and thrill level. Pricy ($35 per adult and $20 for kids) but that was literally the most expensive thing we did our entire vacation.
Silversmithing in Ubud
The Pondong Pekak library in Ubud offers several art classes. We chose to take the silversmithing class and it was amazing. We drew our designs and the teacher helped us translate those to three-dimensional silver jewelry. We did 75% of the work – all the cutting, gluing, polishing – everything but the soldering. $20 per person, includes 3 grams of 925 silver, which was enough of all the projects we made.
Snorkeling, Fishing and Trita Ganga in Amed
Amed is a sleepy little town on northeast tip of Bali, about a 3-hour car ride from Ubud. Known for it’s salt mines and great scuba and snorkeling sites, the town has one street with a growing number of free diving and scuba diving outfitters, locally owned homestays and restaurants. There’s virtually no surf so it’s also ideal for younger family members.
On our way to Amed we stopped at Tirta Gangga, the water palace. Originally built in the 1950’s, it was partially destroyed by the eruption of Mount Agung in 1963 and subsequently rebuilt. Beautiful gardens, insanely large koi fish and amazing stone statues give this site a sense of royalty. There are great local restaurants around the site with some of the better food we had while we were there. Bring shoes that you don’t mind getting wet so you can walk around the semi-submerged paths.
We spent our two days there snorkeling different sites. Ask your hotel host and they can help direct you to the best places. We saw incredibly colorful fish, cuttlefish, a see serpent and endless amounts of coral, even in the shallowest parts. Most hotels have adult sized masks and fins; some have them for kids as well. If they don’t, head to a scuba outfitter and they’ll likely be able to help.
The boys went on a fishing expedition and it too was a hit. Up at 4am, on the water by 4:45 and back by 11am. They caught Mahi-mahi and other fish and saw dolphins, flying fish and whales while they were out. For just $35 for a private boat rental for up to 4 people, beautiful sunrise included.
Getting to Bali
I won’t lie, it hurt. From the west coast (SFO), we took a 12-hour flight to Taipei and then another 6-hour flight to Bali (Denpassar). We’d never heard of EVA Air but they had the best fare so we took a gamble and it paid off! The service was great, the food was better than anything we’ve had on any other airline and the in-flight entertainment (personal TV’s on each of the 4 flights) made the long hauls bearable.
The Bottom Line – Give it to Me Now
The most expensive part of our vacation was the flight – we booked 9 months in advance and paid about $850RT. We stayed at very comfortable hotels and homestays – most included breakfasts, a pool, a view of some kind and air conditioning with hot running water. We paid between $20-$27 per night per room, and we chose to get separate rooms for the boys. At one hotel in Munduk, a small mountain town, we paid a total of $75 for four nights of hotel rooms (two rooms, two nights), eight breakfasts, eight dinners, 6 coffees and 12 large bottles of beer. And at no time did I feel like I was compromising anything that would make my vacation more comfortable.
Bali is a spectacular place and I don’t think you can go wrong anywhere you go. Buy your tickets early, pack the passports and prepare to have an amazing and relaxing time!
A very special thank you to my good friend, Karen Zamd, who was my guest contributor for this piece!