While many families visiting Indonesia never stray beyond Bali (and who can blame them?), the rest of the archipelago offers kid-friendly adventure and culture in equal measure.
An hour’s ferry ride from Singapore, much of the appeal of Bintan (part of Indonesia’s Riau Archipelago) lies in the island’s aquatic offerings. Most resorts here have on-site water-sports centers where you can sign up for jet ski tours and stand-up paddleboarding as well as scuba for junior open-water divers—Tasik Divers arranges dive trips where you’ll spot clown fish, anemones, and green and hawksbill turtles, the latter of which nest on Bintan’s beaches.
On land, all-terrain vehicles are a high-octane way to explore the rain forest, and are also permitted on some beaches; teens can take the steering wheel, while younger travelers are permitted to ride pillion. For those who prefer a slower pace, guided treks with BRC Tours up 340-meter-high Gunung Bintan offer the opportunity to glimpse silver leaf monkeys and sun birds, with naturalists decoding local flora and fauna along the way. You’ll also get to taste wild fruits found en route, including mangosteen, rambutan, and jackfruit. The same company runs daily trips to traditional fishing villages and an eco-farm that supplies produce to the island’s hotels.
As for accommodation, style and sustainability unite at jungle-fringed Angsana Bintan on the north coast of the island. Family-friendly activities range from coral replanting and turtle release programs in the resort’s Conservation Lab to snorkeling and mangrove tours, and perks include free meals for kids under 12.
An hour’s flight from Bali, Yogyakarta is the gateway to the world’s largest Buddhist monument, Borobudur, which despite its size is easy to navigate and explore with kids. This living museum is best visited at sunrise, and given the early start families may wish to stay at the Manohara Resort, the only property on the grounds of the attraction. Alternatively, there’s MesaStila, set over 22 hectares on a working coffee plantation a 45-minute drive from Borobudur. Handsome colonial buildings and Javanese joglo houses sit side by side on the palm-fringed grounds, which also feature a kids’ club where young travelers can make kites, swim, or hire bikes to explore rice fields. There are informative tours of the grounds, including a guided experience where your youngsters can ride an original cog steam train, passing through plantations and Javanese villages.
About 300 kilometers to the east, Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park is the site of Java’s highest mountain and one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes. Bromo Tours will take your family from the village of Cemoro Lawang up to a vantage point on Mount Penanjakan, where you can watch the sunrise over Mount Bromo, its blown-off top continually spewing white smoke. Active travelers can then opt to climb stairs for an hour to the crater of Bromo—while the walk is not difficult, it is long and there is a lot of ash in the air, so bring masks to aid breathing.
From private villas to sprawling resorts, Bali’s plethora of kid-friendly accommodation makes it an easy choice for holidaying families. And while there’s an appeal to splashing about in the hotel pool, there are plenty of experiences that will have your tribe exploring far-flung corners of the island.
While many animal encounters around the region can be a little depressing, the Elephant Safari Park on the outskirts of Ubud is an exception. Home to rescued Sumatran elephants that now roam lush gardens, the park is dedicated to telling the story of these gentle giants. You can also sleep on site in stylish cabins with views overlooking the elephants’ stomping ground.
Kids who love spending time in the kitchen will be inspired to cook a new raft of dishes after visiting Bali Pulina (62-361/901-728), a spice and coffee farm where you can touch, smell, and taste Indonesian herbs and spices and learn about kopi luwak (coffee made with beans that are eaten and then pooped out by civets). The plantation is located in Tegallalang in the center of the island, within easy reach of some of Bali’s most beautiful rice terraces. You can explore the emerald fields independently or via a number of island tours that stop here, including full-day cycling trips run by Bali Hai.
Farther south beyond Ubud, the chocolate factory at Big Tree Farms occupies a jaw-dropping bamboo structure; inside, you can join tours (Monday-Friday at 2 p.m.) highlighting the company’s sustainable agriculture and bean-to-bar production. The farm is also adjacent to Green Village Bali, an entire village built from bamboo. Tours last for an hour or half a day—the latter are a hands-on way for inquisitive kids to learn about caring for the environment through sustainable building practices.
Slightly higher-octane are the white-water rafting trips by Bali Adventure Tours. Over a 10-kilometer stretch of central Bali’s Ayung River, you’ll experience 33 rapids, with a backdrop of wild rain forest, towering gorges, and rice terraces. The sky-high playground at Bali Tree Top Adventure Park will also get your heart racing. In northern Bedugul, the facility’s seven adventure circuits range from two to 20 meters above the ground and include suspended bridges, flying foxes, swings, Tarzan jumps, and spider nets, with many of the attractions open to kids older than four.
From temples to markets, Balinese culture is one of the main reasons why many families find the island so captivating. Dancing and music are at the core of this cultural experience, and there are dozens of places to watch local artists perform: many resorts and restaurants offer daily concerts, and there are dedicated venues such as Uluwatu Temple (nightly from 6 p.m.) and the Agung Rai Museum of Art in Ubud. Kids inspired by shows can learn the art of the kecak dance at Ubud’s Pondok Pekak Library & Learning Center; other classes here include learning to play traditional instruments, fruit carving, and Balinese painting.
Much quieter than its flashy neighbor Bali, Lombok’s appeal lies in its laid-back vibe and hospitality.
Most hotels on the island offer complimentary non-motorized water sports, including snorkeling, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding. Dive Zone Lombok takes scuba enthusiasts of all ages on guided underwater excursions around Lombok and the Gili Islands, where barracuda, tuna, and mobula rays are common sights. If your 10-year-old (or older) is looking to dive for the first time, the company also offers one- and two-day PADI “discover scuba diving” courses.
These waters are also known for pearls, and curious kids can visit Lombok’s Autore Pearl Farm for free. Hands-on guided tours explain pearl production from cultivation right through to when they are turned into jewelry. Equally informative is a tour of central Lombok’s Sukarara Village, where the tradition of weaving has been preserved through the generations—you can try your hand at the ancient art, or just watch locals at work. Visit independently, or go with Tour Lombok.
The same company offers a range of trips for active families. One of the most popular is a trek to Mount Rinjani, Indonesia’s second-highest volcano. Views over the island are spectacular from the crater lake, but it’s not easy to get to the top, and the multiday treks are recommended for older children with hiking experience. As an alternative, book a driving tour of the northern and eastern slopes of the mountain, which promise beautiful vistas minus the effort.
Many families opt to explore the island by bike, and Adventure Lombok can help you get around. There are short trips through rice fields and villages to temples, and longer, more strenuous excursions up hills to waterfalls and coffee plantations. Whatever you chose, the Novotel Lombok Resort & Villas is a great base on the island’s scenic south coast; its Sasak-inspired buildings are set amid tropical gardens just steps from the sand. There’s a special, balanced menu for children, as well as a kids’ club stocked with games and other entertainment. Young travelers also get a special gift on arrival.
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2017 print issue of DestinAsian magazine. (“Young At Heart”)