Exotic enough to garner serious travel credentials, yet remarkably accessible even with tots in tow, North Sulawesi in Indonesia is a relatively undiscovered destination. Whether you spend your time traveling with kids to chill out on white sand beaches, climb up volcanoes or venture into the jungle, you’re bound for some serious adventure on this family holiday. North Sulawesi with kids...go!
Destination: North Sulawesi With Kids
North Sulawesi may not be top of the mind when it comes to family-friendly holiday destinations in Southeast Asia. Yet, the northern most peninsula of Sulawesi (the octopus-shaped Indonesian island east of Borneo) offers the adventurous family a richness of experience that’s hard to beat. Pristine beaches, unspoilt coral reefs, smoking volcanoes, steamy jungle, multi-coloured crater lakes, lush and mountainous highlands and weird and wonderful wildlife are all packed into the relatively small space of Sulawesi's northern peninsula.
You’ll fly into Manado, the capital city of North Sulawesi. There are flights to and from Jakarta and Singapore. From Manado, head straight up into the Minahasa Highlands to Tomohon, which makes a good basecamp from which to explore North Sulawesi.
The Attractions in North Sulawesi With Kids
Tomohon is a flower-filled city about 20 kilometres outside Manado. At about 800 metres above sea level, the city is a verdant respite from the hustle and bustle.
If you're of strong stomach, set out early in the morning to check out Tomohon's market where jungle meat is on the menu. Be warned, however, the fruit bat or char-grilled rat served up at the market might not be everyone’s cup of tea. These delicacies are probably best enjoyed with your eyes only, and are not really suitable for tiny tummies. Do be careful if you're travelling with sensitive children; the sight of blacked whole animals might be a little too much for some.
Still, a trip to the Tomohon market offers a great taste of local culture, where Christian beliefs mix with traditional animist practices and jungle meat plays an important part in local tradition.
For adventure seekers and volcano enthusiasts, head up to Mount Lokon and Mount Mahawu, two of the region’s active volcanoes. An easy climb to the crater of Mount Mahawu offers views of Manado bay and the Moluccan Sea. Mount Mahawu also boasts a viewing platform which is reachable by car in case little travellers can’t be convinced to hike.
The hike up to Mount Lokon is more challenging, and best reserved for hikers with more experience. Do check with local authorities before attempting a volcanic excursion as rumblings and explosions of ash have occurred as recently as 2013.
From Tomohon, you can reach Tangkoko Nature Reserve within a couple of hours drive over relatively good road. Tangkoko Nature Reserve is nestled along the north eastern shore of Sulawesi. A short walk through the jungle is all that's required to spot troops of black macaques, Sulawesi bear cuscus, and nocturnal tarsiers, adorably tiny Ewok-like primates.
Aim to be in Tangkoko in late afternoon or early evening for best tarsier-spotting conditions. Guides can be arranged at the gate of the Nature Reserve. A walk through the Tangkoko jungle is a real Sulawesi highlight and not to be missed. You’ll experience wild jungle, beautiful seaside vistas and, best of all, get within a few meters of the tiny tarsiers.
The walk is relatively easy traversing flat ground and lasting only about an hour. If you're traveling with toddlers, a sturdy carrier of some sort is suggested. Long pants and bug spray are required to keep biting insects at bay.
If you'd like to spend a few days hanging out with the tarsiers, stay at Pulisan Jungle Beach Resort where you will find quaint cottages and a beautiful stretch of sand. From here diving trips and boat journeys into the nature reserve can be arranged. Otherwise, Tangkoko can be reached by a day-trip from Tomohon. Rental cars and drivers can be arranged with your hotel.
Shopping in North Sulawesi With Kids
Shopping isn't great in North Sulawesi, (unless you’d like to bring home some barbecued fruit bat?!) but you'll find the usual beachside trinkets for sale near tourist resorts.
Food for Kids in North Sulawesi
The Minahasan food of North Sulawesi is rich, spicy, complex in flavour and truly delicious if you don't mind the odd chilli pepper (or five). It’s also known for it's exotic protein sources (think dog, fruit bat, snakes and jungle rat). For children, the usual staples of Indonesian cuisine are easy to find and you should be able to entice even the pickiest eaters with plates of white rice, fried chicken, bakwan (vegetable fritters) or soto ayam (chicken soup).
A particularly outstanding meal can be found at Gardenia Country Inn Restaurant just outside Tomohon where you can dine alfresco on a kid-friendly menu of Western and Indonesian favourites while feasting your eyes on what may just be Indonesia’s most beautiful garden.
If you’re planning a trip to Sulawesi with littlies, bringing along a stash of favourite snacks is a good idea. The more remote destinations in the region don't have much by way of Western food or nutritionally dense snacks. It can sometimes be hard to find milk, so maintaining a stash of UHT or powdered might be wise. If you have a formula-fed infant, bring all your own formula with you. [For more ideas on travel-friendly foods, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Family Friendly Accommodation in North Sulawesi With Kids
Stay at the Highland Resort, which is five kilometres outside Tomohon. The facilities are basic but there is space for the kids to play outside. Free wi-fi and massage are included in your stay. The helpful staff are extremely knowledgeable of local attractions, speak good English and are able to arrange transportation, guides and car rentals.
The Practicalities of North Sulawesi With Kids
Northern Sulawesi is remarkably safe and welcoming to travellers. While caution is always advised while travelling, pick pocketing and petty theft are rarely a problem here.
Expect warm smiles and plenty of exuberant attention, particularly addressed to your children. Be prepared for noise as churches blare gospel music and mini busses boom with techno beats, even in the wee hours of the morning. Earplugs are good idea!
Like most places in Indonesia, North Sulawesi is not particularly stroller-friendly. Travelling with a good baby carrier can help when tired legs need resting.
The risk of malaria is low in North Sulawesi, however dengue fever is a problem throughout Indonesia. Vigilant application of bug spray and sleeping under bed nets can help minimize risk.
It is not safe to drink the water from the tap in Indonesia. Only use bottled water for drinking and brushing teeth and be wary of children drinking water in the shower or the bath.
For more travel tips in visiting developing countries with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.
By Erica Knecht of Expatria, Baby