Bali is a wonderful destination for a family vacation. The island is famous for its natural beauty — think volcanoes, lush gardens and white sandy beaches. But it also has a unique culture that can be seen in its dances, music, temples and Hindu rituals.
If you’ve been wanting to explore Southeast Asia but don’t know where to start, Bali is an ideal destination due to its well-developed tourism industry and friendly people. With family living in Bali for the past decade, I’ve had the chance to visit twice, once before kids and once with a toddler. Keep these travel tips in mind as you begin planning.
Because of Bali’s location near the equator, the island tends to be hot and muggy throughout the year. The high season in Bali is approximately May through September. During these months, expect more crowds and higher prices but also drier weather. It is easier to find better deals on accommodations in the low season, October through March, but this is also the rainy season. If you decide to travel to Bali during those months, expect wet afternoons and some days of constant rain.
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If you fly from the west coast of the U.S. or Canada, you’ll be in air for at least 12 hours before you change planes in one of the large East Asian hubs such as Hong Kong, Osaka or Taipei. Afterward, getting to Bali requires another flight of several hours.
To break up the long travel time, consider a stopover of a few days. This may also lessen the effects of jet lag, as it gives you a chance to split the long sequence of flights and adjust to the time change in steps. When we flew from California to Bali, we changed planes in Osaka, Japan, and scheduled a three-day layover with no additional charge to our airplane tickets.
TIP: The time difference between the U.S. west coast and Bali is 15 hours. This means that for at least the first couple of days, you and your family may experience serious jet lag. Days and nights may feel switched, and the kids might wake up full of energy in the middle of the night. To help make the transition smoother, keep the first few days of your itinerary light and add more activity as your jet lag lessens.
Bali has become more crowded as its popularity with tourists has increased in recent years. With 4 million visitors to this small island every year, you’ll need to plan carefully to ensure that you get the type of Bali vacation you’re looking for.
For easy beach access, try Seminyak, where upscale restaurants, good shopping and luxurious hotels and villas line the shore. Sanur is an older area worth checking out if you’re seeking something more laid-back and affordable. North Bali is much more relaxed, but keep in mind that getting there requires a long (yet beautiful!) drive across the island from the airport. To get farther off the beaten path, look into the posh resort area of Nusa Dua. It’s less connected to the local culture, but the 5-star hotels offer clean, quiet beaches and beautiful gardens.
If beach time is less important, you might consider Ubud, a small town surrounded by rice paddies in the highlands. With art galleries, spas and yoga studios, the vibe here is more cultural. Know that like other parts of the island, Ubud has become more crowded over the past decade.
Bahasa Indonesian is the language of Indonesia and the most common language on the island of Bali. However, English is widely spoken among people in the tourism industry, and restaurants and other services have English information. The locals will appreciate your attempts to use Indonesian and are often eager to teach visitors a few words such as terima kasih (thank you) sama sama (you’re welcome).
Bali’s food safety standards have improved greatly in recent years, and the food and water is generally clean and safe at hotels and restaurants. Tap water is not recommended for most travelers, but the abundance of plastic water bottles creates a serious environmental problem. Try using a larger refillable bottle and look for refill stations at your hotel.
If you want to be more adventurous with food choices, use common-sense precautions: Ask for drinks without ice, choose food that is cooked well and hasn’t been sitting out long, and avoid raw vegetables. Consider asking your doctor for an antibiotic to take along just in case of food poisoning.
Like other tropical countries, Indonesia has a risk of disease that travelers should prepare for in advance. A typhoid vaccine is generally advised for travelers over the age of two. If you plan to travel with a child under the age of two, discuss the risk of typhoid with your family physician.
Other vaccines that are usually recommended before traveling to Bali are hepatitis A and B as well as tetanus. Malaria is not considered a risk on Bali. For more information, check the CDC website for detailed health information and contact your physician at least one month before your visit.
Stay away from stray dogs, which occasionally carry rabies, and use caution around wild monkeys. These primates are notorious for snatching anything they can — sunglasses, jewelry, snacks, etc. They’re fun to observe, but it’s best to do so from a distance.
Open-air markets selling souvenirs and handicrafts are very common in Bali, especially at the tourist sites. While prices in most shops are set, at markets bargaining is expected. Many vendors will begin the process by chatting and asking where you are staying. They will then state an inflated price, often three to four times the amount a local would pay. If you feel comfortable bargaining, this is the time to do so.
Practice common-sense safety here to avoid being pickpocketed. You may also hear the shouts of men asking if you need a taxi or other help; some of them can become pushy, but feel free to simply ignore them.
The Balinese are warm and friendly — you’ll instantly notice their smiles. They adore children and show their affection for little ones openly. Some people may touch your children on the head or arms, and others may ask to take photos with them.
The combination of natural beauty, colorful local culture and friendly locals is the reason Bali has become so popular. It’s a good choice for families thanks to its well-developed tourism industry and fun activities like the Bali Bird Park and sunset dance at Uluwatu. What an opportunity for kids to experience a different culture in a beautiful tropical locale!
Editor’s Note: Photos by Jenna Francisco except where noted.
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