Beyond the beaches and swanky resorts, the Indonesian island of Bali is a haven of nature and culture, and offers plenty in the way of adventure and discovery. For the intrepid family looking for a vacation that will take them off the beaten track, the bike paths of Bali beckon. A cycling holiday has plenty of appeal, especially for families: it keeps everyone active, it’s great for youngsters with endless supplies of energy, and it gets everyone together – forcing them away from their various screens and distractions, to focus instead on the route ahead and absorbing the surrounding scenery.
Bali is an ideal choice for a biking vacation for three main reasons. First is the myriad of hidden treasures to discover. With ancient temples, rolling rice fields, volcanoes and traditional villages, it’s diverse and beautiful; biking the island’s trails is a way to see and experience things you and your family might not otherwise have had the opportunity to discover. For the competitive family that likes a challenge, there are uphill climbs and downhill twist and turns, and if your tribe prefers a more leisurely pace, there are also flat, quiet and peaceful routes. Thirdly, Bali is incredibly well-equipped for biking families and there’s every chance there will be a beautiful bike-able trail right outside your hotel. However, it’s also easy to organize an air-conditioned van to transport the whole family and their gear to the beginning of a specific route; they’ll even follow or meet you at a designated point so you can take a break or head back in comfort. Bikes for hire include a range of sizes to suit riders aged 10 and upwards, and they tend to be well-maintained imported brands with high-quality gear sets. Everything from mountain bikes with front suspension to cross-country bikes with big tyres and excellent traction are all at your fingertips – not to mention experts who can advise and match the bike type to the chosen trail.
So, once you’re equipped with wheels, helmets and transport (if necessary), where’s the best riding?
Head Into The Highlands
Bali’s central heartlands are home to sleepy villages and rolling rice paddies. From the island’s cultural hub, Ubud, hop on your bikes and head out to explore the scenic trails. The surrounding area provides a great opportunity for you and your family to see and experience life-as-usual for rural farmers, and get a glimpse of how rice is grown, harvested and processed. A ride to villages like Penglipuran reveals how traditional ways of life are being preserved – each family’s compound built with identical thatched entrances – with colorful flowers being carefully cultivated everywhere you look. A single-track path takes you through rice fields, tropical rainforest valleys and alongside the river to visit Sebatu Village – famous for its artisans. Stop for the chance to see the woodcarvers, sculptors and musicians in action and enjoy sweeping views of coconut plantations.
To the northeast of Ubud, a slightly more challenging ride up the foothills of Bangli brings you to Pura Kehen, the second largest temple in Bali, which sits in the shade of a giant Banyan tree. With its three courtyards connected with steps, you’ll need to leave your bikes at the gate, but a stroll around the inner sanctum is well worth the dismount for the chance to see ancient carvings, statues and inscriptions. Besides a masterclass in ancient Hindu architecture, the view out over the highlands from your vantage point at the temple, coupled with the easy free-wheel descent, makes up for the initial uphill ride. If you’re looking for a little added adventure, plunge off-road and into nearly eight hectares of bamboo forest, following the trails through this most valuable of resources. Used for more than just building, bamboo is an integral part of everyday life in Bali, from its use in furniture-making and handicrafts to its medicinal and nutritional benefits – not to mention its significance in Balinese Hindu ceremonies and rituals. To complete your intrepid exploration, combine your ride through the highlands around Ubud with a hike to one of the area’s many cascading waterfalls.
While You’re In Ubud
Don’t miss the rice terraces of Tegalalang, just a little way north. This lush green river valley, engineered in the ninth century to use the water running off the mountains, is among Bali’s most picturesque landscapes. Sample local blends in Bali’s central coffee plantations, and although a cup of java isn’t to everyone’s taste, even the kids will be fascinated to learn about how one particular type is made. The region’s prized beans are eaten, digested, and then excreted by the civet – a small jungle cat native to Indonesia. They are then cleaned, roasted and ground to make an aromatic coffee that’s among the most delicious (and expensive) in the world. Renowned locally for it’s family-friendly facilities, the Four Seasons Sayan is easily accessed from all trails and adventures around Ubud – offering roomy, well-equipped suites, a kids’ club and a child-friendly menu.
The east of Bali is less-thoroughly explored, and as such makes for an even more peaceful and rugged adventure destination. Terrains span over forests, black-sand beaches and Mount Agung, Bali’s highest volcano – in whose foothills nestles Pura Besakih, Bali’s holiest of temples. Get out into the countryside for an easy ride down through the rice paddies and tropically-forested valleys, sloping their way towards the coast – where you can all re-invigorate with a refreshing dip in the ocean. Take scenic single-track back roads through local villages to see cashew nut farming and the fishermen coming ashore with their catches. For a little more of a challenge, head into the jungle for tougher trails.
Hit The Park
Such is the popularity of biking in Bali, the island has its own mountain bike park, set on Lake Buyan. Not for the faint of heart, but ideal for those looking for some serious thrills and spills, the off-road trails are complete with jumps and are likely to appeal to adventure-seeking youngsters. Meanwhile, there are some easy trails for less-advanced riders, not to mention a full complement of professional staff.
We asked our local Bali biking experts to give a few pointers for free-wheeling families:
- The best season for riding is during dry season, from April to September. While the countryside is gorgeous any time of year, February has the highest rainfall and is probably better avoided when biking.
- Take the opportunity to stop off and try the local cuisine. Many bike routes will wind through villages – try the coffee or a hearty plate of nasi goreng to keep your energy up
- Dress comfortably for riding, but if you plan to incorporate temples into your routes, out of cultural sensitivity bring a sarong or something to cover shoulders,.
- Be sure to check your bike, or ask an expert to, before you set off. Adjust your seat to the right height (so that you can sit comfortably with your feet flat on the ground) and check your tyre pressure and brakes.
- Do your bit to keep Bali beautiful. Being mindful of the environment and ensuring you leave no trace is good practice – not to mention a good learning experience for the kids.