Fifteen years ago, Bali stole my heart.
Despite being a travel addict and having years of living abroad, two gap years, and countless crazy holidays under my belt, I had never been to Southeast Asia. It turned out to be a turning point for me—I would never travel in the same way again. We had been keen but nervous to return to Bali with the kids. What if it had changed too much since we were there? What if we had? Could a place we had once loved so much give us a family holiday that changed how we travelled, yet again? The answer was a resounding yes.
Is Bali a family-friendly destination?
I had never previously considered Bali through the eyes of a parent, so we did our research. With an abundance of information available online and the bonus of being able to speak to like-minded family travellers here, in Doha, who had also been to Bali, our minds were put at ease.
It turns out that Bali boasts many family-friendly accommodation options to suit all budgets, from simple homestays to luxurious hotels and resorts. It has fabulous Indonesian food as well as Western dishes to suit younger (read: pickier) palates.
Bali is truly beautiful with its stunning beaches, lush paddy fields, and even some volcanoes—but make sure you check for details beforehand, as Mount Agung is still active!
Also, consider the incredible weather; it’s tropical and hot year-round. Add that to the fact that it is incredibly affordable without compromising on quality and suddenly, you have yourself a fabulous destination to consider.
What to do in Bali
It’s not just the beauty and great food that should take you to Bali because let’s face it, we all know that kids couldn’t care less! There’s so much to do for families with children of all ages, that it’s hard to know where to start.
One thing we adored about Bali was how everything was outdoors. You only need to spend one summer in Doha to forever appreciate the joy of a place that offers so many outdoor activities. We loved visiting some of the many beaches around and the kids were thrilled to hire surfboards and learn to surf (at ages two and four!).
Had they been older, we could have put them in proper lessons and or let them do activities like jet skiing and paragliding. We noticed families with older kids also booking white water rafting tours, quad bike adventures and paintball excursions.
It was great to see that the whole family was considered in most situations—so things like yoga classes, arts and crafts lessons, and cooking schools were catered to all ages.
We also loved exploring temples. I once thought that this would be boring for kids, but that wasn’t the case, especially when the temple ruins are open for exploring and are home to (literally) cartloads of monkeys and other wildlife. To balance out the adult-focused activities, we were also grateful to find more kid-friendly options like a trampoline park, a trick-eye museum, lunch in a “pirate ship”, and one of the best water parks we have ever visited.
If none of that suits your family, some of the things we wanted to do but ran out of time to try, include Bali Safari Marine Park, Lollypop Playland, Bali Zoo, Elephant Cave in Goa Gajah, swimming with sharks, butterfly farms, hot springs, snorkelling, Bali Bird Park, spice farms, Bali Treetop Adventure Park, glass-bottomed boat trips, Balinese culture classes, fishing and dolphin trips, and more shopping than you could ever imagine.
And if all that leaves you stressed out, then head to one of the countless spas for some downtime.
Top areas to go in Bali
The main places people head to are Kuta, Nusa Dua and Ubud. They are all very different from each other:
- Kuta is busy, vibrant, and full of life. It is also where all the shopping is, but it’s not our favourite area because we found it to be too touristy.
- Nusa Dua is more relaxed and laid back—it’s where many of the big resorts are and they take care of their beaches more than elsewhere on the island. The flip side is that it masks the real impact the rubbish washed ashore from across the world has on Bali.
- Ubud is, again, completely different. Located inland, it has grown considerably over the years. It is much busier, but the advantage is that it has more accommodation options, restaurants, as well as activities catered to all tastes and ages.
Other areas to visit
If you want to avoid driving too far but also want to get away from some of the crowds of tourists, Sanur and Uluwatu are good options. Lots of people also enjoy Seminyak and Canggu just north of Kuta. For island life, head to Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida or Nusa Ceningan. Alternatives to Ubud include Sidemen or Munduk. To get off the beaten track, Amed, Lovina, and Pemuteran are popular choices.
Where to stay
When it comes to accommodation in Bali, there is something for everyone. In every accommodation type, you’ll find yourself spoilt for choice!
As a top tourist destination, Bali boasts some incredible luxury hotels. Many big names are there as well as lots of amazing boutique hotels. Most have incredible pools and high-end spas, but not all offer family-friendly rooms or kids’ clubs, so it’s worth researching your options before booking.
If a hotel isn’t your style, consider what most people go for: a villa. You can book yours through the usual booking sites. They are usually finished to a high standard and often come with a private pool and staff who are on hand to cook you breakfast (usually included in the package) and any other meals you may want (probably not included). They can also help you make additional arrangements such as booking taxis, arranging tours, and making restaurant reservations.
If you want to try something a bit more unusual, Bali has that too—from tree-house hotels and glamping to yachts and eco-lodges!
What / where to eat
Bali is a great place to explore some of the best of Southeast Asia’s cuisine.
While it may not be as iconic as Thailand’s, don’t underestimate the food scene in Bali. There are quite a few internationally renowned restaurants dotted around the island, but for us, it was randomly finding a local café or restaurant with delicious local dishes that won each day. Just wandering around and seeing what you find at the right time of day is a good strategy to find a great place to eat.
There are a few local delicacies that everyone should at least try including chicken satay (we renamed them chicken lollipops to get the kids to eat them!), bebek bengil (which literally translates to “dirty duck”), or bebek betutu (smoked duck). We also really liked nasi campur (a plate combining several typical Balinese dishes) and nasi mie goreng (fried rice/noodles). We were very grateful that, despite travelling with two small picky eaters, we were also able to find places serving western food to balance out trying new dishes with tried and tested old ones.
Getting there and around
Qatar Airways offers three flights daily to Denpasar. There are multiple low-cost airlines in Southeast Asia that offer competitive flights from elsewhere in the region if you happen to be adding Bali to a longer itinerary.
While you can hire a driver in Bali, most people use taxis or book a one-off driver. Most hotels and villas will arrange airport transfers and transport between towns (for a fee). Traffic jams in Bali are common and short trips can end up taking much longer than planned, so research local public holidays and festivals, and make use of local knowledge when you can because Google Maps does not always know best!
Taxis can be hailed from the street or found at taxi ranks. Grab and Gojek (Southeast Asia’s answers to Uber) are also widely-used, though not as commonly as ride-share services would be used elsewhere in the world; there have been some complaints of fee change requests, a lack of designated pick up points in areas such as the airport, and so on.
Planning your trip
When to go
The rainy season runs from November to March. The dry season is April to October (though showers can—and do—still happen). July and August, Easter Holidays, and Christmas / New Year are considered high season.
Consequently, April, May, June, September, and October are great times to visit if you have the time. Research when other countries in the region have holidays because the southern and northern hemispheres’ academic years are very different! Travelling out of high season also reduces the environmental impact on the island which is also showing signs of struggle due to the sheer numbers of people visiting each year.
A Google search will bring up more resources than you ever dreamed of—such is the popularity of Bali in the travel community! Here are some of my favourites: