01 Gunung Batur and hot springs
Visiting Bali’s most accessible volcano provides a real ‘wow’ moment of emerging at the crater’s edge and then descending over the lip towards the floor. Gunung Batur also frequently smoulders, making this a truly textbook volcano experience. We rounded off the trip by swimming at the Toya Devasya hot springs, where enclosed pools are set against a breathtaking volcanic backdrop. Use a reputable private tour company such as Bali Made (see Essentials) to drive you around.
02 Visit a temple on a festival day
This is a great chance for kids to dress up with sashes, sarongs and headdresses and see how the Balinese live their lives. The major Balinese holidays, Galungan and Kuningan occur every 210 days, when streets and temples are decked with penjor — arching bamboo poles decorated with offerings to ancestors and deities. Other festivals are regularly staged on feast days and under the full moon. The celebrations see women carrying offerings on their head and processions of families and villagers heading for the temples. Pura Ulun Danu Batur, perched sensationally on the edge of a volcano, is a good choice of temple to visit.
03 Take in a dance show
Classical dance is popular across Bali and performances are often conveniently tailored for the attention spans of little ones. The colourful legong and barong shows at the Puri Saren Agung — the royal palace — in Ubud are among the best, featuring dancers of graceful artistry, prancing demons in garish masks and the brassy clangs of gamelan gongs. The dancers’ make-up is striking and our children mimicked the intricate eye, finger and wrist movements for hours.
Spend a few days based at this low-key resort just east of the capital Denpasar and, from the beach, discover a lagoon, glass-bottomed boat tours, tropical reef fish and easy-going cafes. High above, kites the size of light aircraft seem to touch the clouds. Inland, a strip of tourist shops offers high-quality wood carvings and textiles, along with many family-oriented restaurants. We stayed at the Gangsa, a collection of gorgeous and luxurious self-contained villas with a private pool, four-poster beds and classical Balinese features, which was perfect for our children — and for us. Wonderful staff and beautiful flower arrangements provide the finishing touches to a fantastic stay.
A small, traffic-clogged town would often be the last place to take children, but Ubud’s incomparable charm makes it an exception. The NEKA museum, with its idiosyncratic collection of Balinese and Dutch artworks, merits a couple of hours. Your time in Ubud, though, should really be about mooching from craft shop to cafe and back, something our kids coped with well when the incentive is yet another mango smoothie from Cafe Wayan or — a surprise hit — lemongrass ice cream. We stayed at Alam Jiwa, a collection of delectable, detached villas with verandas that open onto paddy fields where ducks waddle out at dawn.
06 Bali Eco Stay
This is that rare thing: the genuine article. Established by an Australian couple, Bali Eco Stay is outstanding. It operates to extremely high levels of sustainability on the flanks of Mount Batukaru and overlooks rice fields sculptured in an infinite number of contours. The bungalows are perfect for kids and the many activities on offer include rainforest walks, kite-making and wood-carving. There’s a 12m waterfall, views down to the ocean and hilarious burping geckos. You eat what grows in the garden and the result is high-end food at roadside cafe prices. Seeing our children fly their handmade kites at soaring heights above endless paddy fields was one of those seminal family moments.
07 A bird walk
Bali is brimming with wildlife and a three-hour stroll with Sumadi of Bali Bird Walk proved to be a real highlight. The vibrant colours of the tropical birds, and the possibility of coming across snakes and porcupines, transfixed Thomas and Oscar. The walk criss-crosses paddy fields and woodland in the troughs and escarpments around Ubud and offers a fascinating insight into Balinese life, including what Sumadi called the ‘back-breaking’ work of tending to rice fields. Sumadi had a wonderful manner with children and enchanted ours by introducing them to exquisite swallowtail butterflies and speckled jumping spiders.
How to do it: Trailfinders offers an eight-day Bali Explorer package including accommodation, most meals and tours for £945 per person. International flights are extra. Singapore Airlines fly for around £900 including taxes in high season (UK summer holidays). Children’s fares are typically 10% less than adult fares.
Bali Made (tour guide)
Published in the Winter 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller Family (UK)