Thanks to our girl, Elizabeth Gilbert, Bali became a household name for wanderlusters, even those with minimal geographical knowledge. This quiet, little Indonesian island climbed the ranks of bucket lists around the globe, and if you know where to look, it won’t be hard to see why. But, Bali with kids ain’t a chapter in Eat, Pray, Love — we checked.
Bringing your kids (even the most culturally aware kids) to Bali comes with a line in the hot, hot sand. On one side, there’s you and your #vacationgoals of a tranquil rope swing over rice terraces and equally dividing your time between cultural immersion and beach lounging with all-inclusive blended drinks. Your kids are on the other side of that line, are petitioning pool time until they’re pruney, hitting the buffet all day for chocolate everything, and none of the boring stuff on your itinerary. Gosh, mom, why are you such a fun crusher?
Expectations — Adjust Them
It’s not all #Instaworthy. It’s so easy to have a picturesque scene in your mind when you touch down in Bali (and, don’t misunderstand, there are a lot of them on the island), but know that there is also a fair amount of poverty and opportunity to be scammed or robbed.
For example, the seemingly harmless act of looking out the taxi (or taksi) window on the way from your resort to the airport will reveal lush greenery and bluer than blue water, but you’ll also see a lot of traffic and full-frontal nudity from a man urinating in a ditch. Shield the kids’ eyes! To be fair, that only happened once on a 10-day trip.
Bali looks small on the map, and you can absolutely see everything on your Bali bucket list, but consider that many popular sites are spread all over the island. Seeing three to four sites in a day will take all day when you factor in traffic and winding roads through mountainous terrain and villages.
When you do get to each destination on your list, expect crowds, not serene, spiritual experiences. Tourists unaccustomed to seeing Americans will swarm any blue-eyed, blonde-haired kids (harmlessly, most often) for photos.
Now about those must-see destinations — let’s see what topped the charts for kids and moms.
- Kemenuh Butterfly Park — Bring plenty of rupiah (Indonesian currency) because this stop is fairly pricey, but it was a hit with the kids. Walk through atriums full of beautiful flowers and more butterflies than you can count in colors more vibrant than you’ve ever seen. And, yes, you’ll also see plenty of naked baby fountains, which your kids will find hilarious. You can also enter an enclosure and hold giant moths and other insects, and you can view butterflies at all their stages of development. There is a restaurant on site if you want to have lunch or just some post-exploration popsicles.
- Lembongan Island — As an excursion package through the resort or through a boat charter, you can reach Lembongan Island, another Indonesian island off the coast of Nusa Dua. The boat trip to an anchor site offshore was fairly quick and comfortable. Seasickness was at a minimum. Once at the anchor site, there was banana boating, snorkeling, scuba diving, a water slide, and diving board. From the site, there was also a small pontoon charter that runs quick tours to the island. The water is a brilliant turquoise blue that you have to see to believe.
- The resort — Who travels all the way to a foreign destination just to stay on the resort? The answer is: our kids. At the resort, they are living their best lives — swimming in the pool all day, ordering fancy virgin drinks from the swim-up bar, clubbing at kids’ club, ordering room service, and partaking in the exciting daily events, like foam parties, sports, and cultural performances. We don’t recommend staying inside the resort the whole time, but pick a resort that makes those down days fun and comfortable for all. Some popular all-inclusive choices for travelers visiting Bali with kids are Club Med and the Grand Mirage, and the entire Nusa Dua stretch of beach is lined with resorts without feeling overcrowded on the beach.
- Pura Ulun Danu Bratan — We hear you. This is a temple, how in the world did this end up on the kids’ list? We have five words for you: animal and Sponge Bob sculptures. Sure, you don’t see these in the Insta pics of this bucket-list destination located on Lake Bratan, but your kids will feel right at home climbing all over these things. Bribe them with some play time, and then they’ll comply with your demands — err, requests — for some photos with the actual cultural draw at this site.
- Tanah Lot Temple — If you can coerce your kids away from the resort pool and chocolate fountain for one thing, make it Tanah Lot. You need to see it at low tide so you can walk amongst the tidal pools and rock formations and access the off-shore Hindu temple. You can spend a lot of time at Tanah Lot (see what we did there). You’ll find plenty of souvenir shopping and food vendors a block from the shore, so you can probably knock out shopping and a must-see landmark in one blow. Many visitors will spread blankets out and stake out a spot to watch the sunset over Tanah Lot, but if your kids aren’t having it, you can still take in plenty of beauty without having to stay until dark. Like all worthwhile spots in Bali, expect to fight the crowds.
- Rice terrace lunch — If you’re stationed in the Pacific, rice terraces are probably about as exciting as temples any more. They’re beautiful, but if you’ve ooohed and ahhhed over them for a couple years, they lose their luster a bit. However, overlooking rice terraces while you eat a delicious lunch between sights is breathtaking. You can find several restaurants that offer this view in open-air or terrace-like seating. And most-likely your kids will happily eat the chicken satay and fruit.
- Ubud — If you visit Bali but don’t come home with woodwork, art, silver, and Batik fabric, you didn’t really go to Bali. Ubud is a hotspot for culture and shopping. You’ll be able to browse galleries and showrooms for handmade silver jewelry and hand-woven Batik fabric and window shop the solid-wood furniture that wouldn’t fit in your checked bag if your life depended on it. Exactly where you go depends on your driver. Most likely your driver is taking you to the gallery of someone he knows, which may mean you’re getting a quieter, more personal shopping experience or a huge ripoff. So, be real clear about what you want.
- Poolside and beachside cocktails — Yeah, it’s not exactly a destination, but taking downtime at the resort to enjoy just being in Bali with some slushy drinks you’ve already paid for is mandatory. And, hey, bonus — your kids will think this is a win for them. Count it.
Find Your Balance in Bali with Kids
If you’re visiting Bali from your OCONUS Pacific duty station, you’re already a step ahead. There are temples here — lots of them. Unless your kids have a well-developed fascination with the diverse religions of the world, you aren’t seeing all of them. You also aren’t hitting all the shops you want. You’re going to have to compromise, but so are your kids.
If you don’t get to see all the temples and drink the cat poo coffee, then — dammit — your kids are going to have to buck up and fake enthusiasm for the sites you do drag them to when you do drag them away from the resort pool.
Whether you split days in half — one activity for them, one for you — or you have a grownup-driven day (or three) and a kid-centered day, plan your compromise and be really clear about the terms. Just remember: Kids operate best when they know there’s a reward at the end of the thing they don’t want to do — you don’t see many photographers offering the lollipop before the family photos, right?
Check the Time, Check your Reservations, Repeat
More Tips for Visiting Bali With Kids
From experience, there are a few things to consider to maximize your vacation:
- Splurge for a private driver over a group tour. Your kids are never going to stick to a group timeline. You know it, and we know it.
- Understand that not all drivers are created equal. You can likely book one easily through your hotel, but that is contracted by company, not individual driver. Take recommendations from other travelers into consideration.
- Prearrange an airport transfer. The taksi line outside baggage claim is a rude welcome to paradise. Avoid the line of taksi drivers shouting at you and know you have a safe driver waiting for you, especially if you land in Bali with kids late at night.
- Bring carsick bags. We’ve already covered that there is no shortage of winding roads between sights. If your kiddo is prone to motion sickness, don’t take any chances. It’s hard to appreciate the picturesque views around Bali with kids barfing red Fanta all over your lap.
- Don’t be surprised when the locals don’t use tissues. Snot rockets and spitting while walking down the street are pretty common.
- Fear Bali Belly — It’s hit or miss, but it’s better to stick to bottled water, even for brushing your teeth.
Bali with kids may not be the spiritual enlightenment you picture, but it can easily be a once-in-a-lifetime vacation you and your kids remember fondly — just for (mostly) different reasons.
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Photo Credits: Kristi Stolzenberg