Island Guide: Indonesia for families

Warm tropical breezes, stunning hotels and incredibly friendly people; Indonesia is wonderful for families. More than one million Australians visit each year, most head to Bali. The popular island is serviced by dozens of low-cost airlines with a flight-time of around 7 hours. But once you’ve seen the best of Bali, look beyond. You’ll find plenty of lesser-known but equally fabulous Indonesian islands to visit (17,508 to be exact). Here are a few of our favourites for families.

Perhaps the most famous temple in Indonesia, Pura Ulun Danu Bratan in Bali takes on a whole new element of beauty at sunset. © iStock

Bali

A trip to the island of Bali has become something of a rite of passage for Australian families. In recent years, it has been slightly tarnished by the party-goers that flock to the streets of Kuta. But it’s time to ditch the schoolies stigma and see Bali for what it truly is: a remarkable, family-friendly destination that caters for all budgets and travel styles.

It’s hard to beat a Balinese sunset © iStock

Kuta and Legian are partying hot-spots. But, they also have affordable resort accommodation, fantastic restaurants and shopping. Families can organise day trips to get you away from the crowds. Seminyak is a quieter, slightly more expensive area. It takes just 30 minutes to get there from Denpasar airport.

If you want peace and quiet, we recommend Ubud, known as the cultural heart of Bali. Ubud has lush rainforests,  rice paddies, colourful markets and rivers with rapids. It is a luscious, in-land utopia.

If you’d prefer to stick to the coastline, Nusa Dua is a great option.  Most of the resorts are gated with manicured lawns and not a leaf out of place.

Lush rice terraces stretch as far as the eye can see in Ubud. © iStock

In Bali, you can do as much or as little as you like. Day trips will give you a taste of Bali’s unique culture, history and scenery. A private tour of Uluwatu Temple including return trip, local guide and a delicious local feast at Jimbaran Bay can cost as little as $50 for adults and $30 for kids. Another popular excursion involves heading into Central Bali to visit the ancient Hindu temples such as Luhur Batukaru in Tabanan and the 17th-century Pura Ulun Danu Bratan. The drive there is half the fun, winding through rice terraces and stopping at volcanic hot springs along the way.

Enjoy a sunset seafood feast while you wiggle your toes in the sand. © iStock

Lombok

Lombok is covered in cascading palm trees and sweeping rice fields. Older travellers say that Lombok is what Bali was like in the 70’s before it “went mainstream”. 

The island’s enormous volcano put Lombok on the map when it caused a bit of chaos for tourists after its dramatic eruption in 2010. Mount Rinjani, while still an active volcano, can be climbed on an overnight trip with a guide. Earlier this year the island was hit by an earthquake, but Lombok is recovering and ready to see more tourists again. 

Rice fields dominate the landscape like a patchwork quilt. © Bethany Plint

Senggigi is the most well-known spot in Lombok. It has a range of family-friendly beach resorts. Senggigi beach is nothing to write home about. But many restaurants have tables set up right on the shore so you can wiggle your toes in the sand as you enjoy a yummy dinner.

Who doesn’t love a beach sunset? © Bethany Plint

Lombok’s ‘Kuta Beach’ is the polar opposite of its Balinese counterpart. At the foot of a tropical mountain range, Kuta Lombok is a quiet, protected beach with gentle waves and a stunning blue-green colour. With a few restaurants, shops and a big beach-side playground, Kuta is great for a day trip but kids might run out of things to do after a day or two.

Kuta Lombok’s beachside playground © Bethany Plint

Gili Islands

While technically part of Lombok, this string of islands just off the coast are worth spending a few days exploring. The lack of motor traffic on the islands means you’ll just have to look out for a bicycle or two. 

Boats tied up by the beach on Gili Meno. © Bethany Plint

Gili Trawangan, while popular and lively, is a bit of a party spot for backpackers. Families are best off staying on the quiet, secluded Gili Meno or the slightly more tourist-friendly Gili Air. Both offer wonderful snorkelling opportunities, beautiful beaches and laid back vibes. Just check how these resorts are recoving after the 2018 earthquake. 

Green sea turtles can sometimes be hard to spot but seeing them swim amongst the coral is truly special. © Shutterstock

The Gili Islands can easily be reached by boat, about 20 minutes from Lombok or just over an hour from Bali’s Padang Bai port.

The water can be a bit choppy between Bali and the Gilis so if you suffer from motion sickness, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor for some useful ways to prevent it. © Bethany Plint

Java

Java is between Sumatra and Bali. More than 6o per cent of Indonesians call this island home. Java is renowned for its authentic Indonesian culture, famous full-bodied coffee beans and breathtaking sunrises over Gunung Bromo, the most visited active volcano in Indonesia.

Traditional Indonesian dancers performing in Yogyakarta. © Firman

Jakarta is the capital and the heart of Indonesia. The huge population results in pretty horrendous traffic congestion. For a less chaotic Javanese experience, Yogyakarta is a great option. A hub for traditional Indonesian art and culture, Yogyakarta (or Jogja for short) is a great home base for visiting cultural sites like the Borobudur, a huge complex of eighth- and ninth-century Buddhist temples. Once the kids are cultured-out, the Kids Fun Park in Jalan Wonosari is a great place for them to let off steam.

The Borobudur Temple compound is a whopping 2,500m squared. © Firman

At the eastern end of the island, Banywangi is home to some of the most breathtaking natural scenery in Indonesia, from steaming volcanoes to pumping surf spots in Alas Purwo National Park. If volcanoes are your thing, Bromo Mountain in Tengger Semeru National Park, also in East Java, is definitely worth a visit.

Bromo Mountain in Tengger Semeru National Park at sunrise, East Java © Shuttersteck

Kalimantan, Borneo

Capturing the hearts of nature-lovers, Borneo is home to an array of exotic and endangered animals throughout its expansive natural scenery. The island is split between three countries. Malaysia and Brunei lay claim to the north while the southern 73 per cent belongs to Indonesia.

Traditional village by the lake in Borneo © Shutterstock

Rhinos, elephants and leopards inhabit the island. But it’s the cheeky orangutans that most visitors come to see. The best way for the kids to get up close with these wonderful creatures is at the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, a rehabilitation centre that has been rescuing captive or displaced orangutans since 1964.

Two of Sepilok’s rescued orangutans enjoying their lunch © Shutterstock

Borneo’s rainforest, at 140 million years old, is home to 18,000 species of plants, 200 species of mammal and 400 species of birds. It’s worth spending a few days exploring this area, spotting wildlife and enjoying the serenity of the wilderness.

You can find swing bridges like these all  throughout the jungle, crossing rivers, gorges and rugged terrain. © Shutterstock

Flores

Flores in East Nusa Tenggara is just far enough off the beaten track that it has retained its rugged, untouched wilderness. It is possible to explore with kids. If you’re no stranger to early mornings, experiencing a sunrise at Kelimutu Lake is absolutely essential. A visit to a traditional mountain village like Wae Rebo is also a must-do.

Wae Rebo, a traditional village in Flores. © Firman

Also in the East Nusa Tenggara province are the islands of Komodo, famous as the home of the endangered Komodo dragons, and Timor, an undiscovered gem with traditional villages, mountainous terrain and pristine beaches.

Komodo dragons are the largest living lizard species in the world. © Wonderful Indonesia

Sumatra

The largest of the Indonesian islands, Sumatra sits on the equator below Malaysia. It has the perfect climate for incredible rainforests and exotic animals to thrive. The majestic Sumatran tiger, orangutan and rhinoceros rule the wild alongside the lesser-know Malayan Tapir (picture a zebra-rhino-pig hybrid).

The Malayan Tapir’s closest living relatives are horses and rhinos. ©iStock

In the north, Lake Toba is a popular spot for visitors because it is home to the largest volcanic lake in the world. Another lake worth visiting is Kaolin Lake, only 3km from Tanjung Airport. It’s sky-blue water and surrounding white cliffs make it near-impossible to take a bad photo.

Once a site for kaolinite mining, the white sand and crystal clear rain water give this lake a stunning blue hue. © iStock

Sumatra is a great destination for adventurous families with tonnes of hiking opportunities. The rich Indigenous culture is the icing of the cake, making Sumatra one of the most underrated island in Indonesia for families.

Can you think of a better place to see Mount Sinabung in action? © iStock

 If you’re heading to Indonesia soon, check out our ‘Essential Indonesia’ guide. It’s full of useful info about visas, health and safety abroad. Click here.

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