Independent Families: 'How can we see the real Bali?'


Q. I am Dutch, married to an Englishman and have a nine-year-old daughter. Sadly, both my parents, who were from Indonesia, died recently. We would like my daughter to experience the culture of their homeland - perhaps in east Bali or Lombok - and see some wildlife. My husband likes sailing, and we all like snorkelling and walking. A beach would be fine, but I would be just as happy with a pool. However, we're concerned that large, organised tours of the region would be too tiring for her.

Alexandra Pickett, London

A. Although many organised tours in Indonesia - with long distances between stops, and demanding trekking - may well be too much for your child, you could consider those few specialists that tailor their trips to suit the very young.

The Adventure Company (08454 505 311; www.adventurecompany.co.uk) is one such operator that offers active, off-the-beaten track holidays for families. It organises a 15-day Monkeys and Volcanoes trip in Bali that combines wildlife, walking and beaches. With no more than three-hour journeys between stops, plenty of swimming, and a maximum group size of 12, it's graded as "easy" by the tour company, although it does point out that Bali's high humidity can sap the energy of adults as well as children.

The itinerary begins in the central, artisan town of Ubud, and then circles north and east through mountains and along the Balinese coast. It includes walks through a "monkey forest" - where the local primates will try to mug you for nuts, a trip to the Bali Bird Park to see birds of paradise, hornbills and rare Bali starlings, and snorkelling off black-sand beaches. You'll also have the opportunity to dolphin-watch from a traditional out-rigged boat, or prahu, and spend the night with a Balinese family. During British school summer holidays - which coincide with Bali's dry season - prices start at £1,649 per adult, £1,059 per child, including flights with Thai Airways from Heathrow to Denpasar via Bangkok, full-board accommodation, and transfers.

Though still tropical, Lombok is far drier than Bali, even in the October-March rainy season, which makes a lower-cost autumn or spring half-term visit a possibility. It's also a lot quieter, with fewer visitors and perhaps more possibility for your daughter to experience her grandparents' culture unmediated by too much tourism. What's more, the snorkelling is superb - particularly in the backpacker havens of the Gilli islands - while Lombok's central, forested volcano provides plenty of hiking, with some beautiful waterfalls to swim beneath, and more monkeys for your daughter to coo at.

The Santai Beach Inn and Book Exchange (00 62 37 069 3038; www.santaibeach inn.com) is a series of simple, thatched bungalows hidden in the forest a short drive from Lombok's airport - though its relaxed rusticity means it feels a million miles from anywhere. A large wooden bungalow, sleeping three and with a bamboo porch and outdoor shower, starts at 209,000 Rupiahs (£11) per night, including breakfast. The food, prepared on site, is typical of the area - fresh, mildly spicy fish and vegetables - and children under 11 can be catered for separately if necessary. A shallow, calm beach with coral just offshore is a short stroll through the gardens, and the inn can arrange boat trips to the Gilli islands or guides for walks around the area.

As for wildlife, Lombok is only a short hop from the unique inhabitants of Komodo Island. Across Indonesia (00 62 21 7 918 3601; www.acrossindonesia.com) can arrange a private four-day excursion to the island and its near neighbours. Accommodation is on specially converted traditional wooden boats, and activities include snorkelling off pink-sand beaches, and taking a guided, easy-grade trek to see the rare, 10ft Komodo dragons in their native habitat. Prices start at US$940 (£522) for two adults and a child, full board.

To get to Lombok, you'll need to fly via Bali - Singapore Airlines (0844 800 2380; www.singaporeair.com) has February returns from Heathrow from £654 per adult, £525 for under-12s, with the advantage of transiting at Singapore's very family-friendly Changi airport.

For onward connections, Garuda (020-7467 8640; www.garudaindonesia.co.uk) and Merpati (00 62 21 654 8888; www.merpati.co.id) both have daily flights to Lombok's Mataram airport for around 290,000 Rupiahs (£16) per adult return.

For more ideas on what to see and do in Indonesia, visit the government website www.tourismindonesia.com

Send your family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, 'The Independent', 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or e-mail crusoe@independent.co.uk

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