THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO UBUD
When you think of Bali, chances are you envision gorgeous temples, sweeping rice terraces, thundering waterfalls, fresh smoothie bowls, swinging monkeys, dramatic cliff vistas, yogis twisting into different shapes, or streams of incense floating in the air.
The Bali so many people imagine is driven by hyper-Instagrammed spots around the island, places where the reality is now a crowded chaotic mess.
I’m often hesitant to recommend visiting Bali to people planning a holiday because it’s the kind of place where expectation can fall short of reality.
Wth how hyped Bali is in the media, everyone wants to know the same thing I did, is it really worth visiting?
And, if it is- for how long; what should we do; what things can’t we miss; etc.
Living in Bali for three months, and residing in Ubud for most of that time, I was fortunate to experience a side of the island that many holiday-goers don’t get to see. Which, is why it’s one of my favourite places in the world.
Yes, Bali is beautiful, but the community there is also second to none, which is why I’m such a fan.
That said, I do encourage people to visit Bali, but with the right mindset.
Those flawless Instagram shots you see with zero crowds?
Not so much the reality for the masses. And, from being friends with a few of the travel influencers taking those shots, I know just how hard they work (sunrise missions, hours of photographing and editing, multiple returns to a place to get the ‘right’ take).
But, if you come to Bali with the right set of expectations, it can be a gorgeous holiday destination.
Where you stay will likely have the biggest impact on your trip- the key tourist areas of Bali all have something different to offer. And, that isn’t to say you shouldn’t consider going off the grid, either.
I built my base in Ubud, and spent the majority of my time there, because I felt a strong connection to the community.
It doesn’t hurt that Ubud is a spiritual haven.
Think: lush jungle, rice paddies, temples, monkeys, and still, a strong sense of Balinese culture.
This post isn’t meant to be a total guide to Ubud- I answer most of the common questions people have about Bali in my ultimate planning guide. Instead, it’s meant to serve as inspiration for things to do and see in Ubud to help you plan your own trip.
Exploring Jungle Paradise in Ubud, Bali
The Ultimate Guide to Ubud: What to Do
Whenever I get the question of how many days to spend in Bali, my usual reaction is, how many can you take?
There’s no shortage of things to do in Ubud, or other spots on the island. And, the great thing about Ubud, is that it’s fairly centrally located, making it a great base for day trips to the north, east or south.
Plus, there’s so much to do in the area of Ubud itself, you definitely won’t be bored on your holiday. I always tell people they can do as much as they want, or as little, pending the vibe they’re going for.
I’ve broken my recommendations into half day, day trip and one off activities to help you understand how much is possible with the time you have, and how to couple items together.
I self-drove around Ubud and the surrounding region in a scooter during my stay. If you’re going to be hiring a driver, check your list of what you’d like to see with them- they may advise some things aren’t possible or need to be rearranged, because of how intense Bali’s traffic can be.
Half-day trips from Ubud:
Watch the sunrise at Tegallalang Rice Terraces, then head to Tirta Empul Temple and Pura Gunung Kawi.
Tegallalang: Best to be here early. Sunrise is usually nice, and there’s far fewer people exploring this famous terrace first thing in the morning
- Wear sneakers (the rice paddies can be muddy, only some bits have stepping stones)
- Bring small bills for the ‘entry fees’ you’ll encounter all the way (e.g. locals who live in/maintain the field usually charge a small donation to pass)
- Pending what time you’re here, a few of the restaurants that overlook the terrace will likely be opening as you leave, and you should have no issue grabbing a swing photo if that’s what you’re after (most are attached to cafes, so you’ll need to buy something or pay 20k to use them)
- However, no entry fees and free scooter parking if you come early enough
Tirta Empul Temple: One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, andone of Bali’s holiest temples. People come from all over to purify themselves by bathing in these fountains. The water in them is thought to be purifying. It’s worth hiring a guide for here, so you understand the ritual steps and significance
- To enter, you need to wear a sarong, they’re free to borrow at the temple
- To bathe, bring a swimsuit. You’ll rent another sarong, which has to be tied a certain way over your swimsuit. There are lockers for belongings
- Entry is 50k, and you need to to buy an offering if you plan on bathing
- The temple opens at 8 am, I arrived just before 9:30 am, and there weren’t too many people, mostly locals
- No fee for parking
- 15-20 minute drive from Tegallalang (on a scooter)
Pura Gunung Kawi: Before the Balinese learned how to build temple structures, they carved them into rocks. Hiking down into this valley, passing rice terraces and few other people felt surreal. I would have never thought it’d be ever better when I arrived at the bottom. But, the temples here, carved out of rocks, are insane- I felt like I was in an episode of Legends of the Hidden Temple
- Entry fee: 50k
- Sarongs are free to borrow
- Parking fee: 2k (for scooter)
- 5 minute drive from Tirta Empul
Hike, swim and admire three of Bali’s most beautiful waterfalls: Relatively near Ubud, and all achievable to see in only a half day, nothing quite says, welcome to the jungle like waterfall hunting
- Key sights: Tegenungan, Kanto Lampo, and Tibuman
- // Chasing Waterfalls Near Ubud //
Set out on a sunrise mission to hike Mount Batur
Day-trips from Ubud:
Jet to the islands off Bali’s coast, and explore the breathtaking Nusa Penida: It doesn’t take long from stepping off a speedboat in the island’s harbour to feel like you’re in another world. The crystal clear water, ocean views that seem to stretch for infinity, and sweeping cliffs topped with swaying palm trees are guaranteed to leave you nothing short of stunned
Spend a magic day in the Mountains of Munduk: On a day trip to Munduk, you can expect hiking waterfalls, trekking rice fields, tasting coffee and local fruits, admiring temples and gazing at stunning vistas
- Key sights to see: Banyumala Waterfall, Pura Ulun Danu Beratan, Pasar Merta Sari Candi Kuning (fruit market), Jatiluwih Rice Field, Wanagiri Hidden Hill (swings with an epic view), Twin Lake Lookout, Munduk Waterfall
Head south to experience the beauty and serenity of Uluwatu: Uluwatu feels like a world away from the hustle and bustle of other trafficked tourism spots in Bali. You won’t find ultra-modern cafes crammed in side to side, like in Seminyak or Canggu. You won’t find a buzzing main street clogged with traffic and tour operators, like in Ubud. You won’t find drunk Aussies who’ve only come to Bali to brunch, like in Kuta. And, for all those reasons, I love it
- Key sights to see: Uluwatu Temple, Nalu Bowls (breakfast), Single Fin (cliffside bar), Bingin Beach, Kelly’s Warung (great for lunch)
Traverse to East Bali to have your breath taken away: Home to some of the most beautiful sights on the island with Mount Agung, Bali’s largest active volcano towering in the distance, East Bali remains relatively untrodden. There are so many incredible things to do in East Bali, but many visitors overlook it. This means a lot of the attractions are less crowded than temples, waterfalls or beaches you’ll find elsewhere
- Key sights: Pura Lempuyang (The Gateway to Heaven), Tirta Gangga (The Water Temple), Bukit Cinta, Taman Ujung Water Palace, Tukad Cepung Waterfall
Things to do in Ubud (can be done as single activities, or combined):
Walk a rice paddy, start at Jalan Subak Soy Wayah and stop at Sweet Orange Warung for a cold coconut on your journey- it’s a beautiful cafe with a conservation mission
Hang out with monkeys at the Sacred Monkey Forest: Many of the monkeys are native to the forest, but others have been rescued and placed there. There’s a functional temple within, and really, it’s just a gorgeous place to visit. If you’re on a tight budget, you can also see oodles of monkeys on the road outside the forest (they’re not limited to just the forest area), best times are early morning or before sunset when they’re most active on the roadway
- Parking fee: If you drive, depends on how long your there- it’s charged hourly
- Entry fee: 800k
- No need to book a tour in advance, it’s in town and walkable, plus a guide wouldn’t really be helpful in explaining what’s in the forest- it’s pretty observable
- Do not wear large earrings, sunglasses or hats- the monkeys will snatch them and expect to be fed in return, which you’re not allowed to do
- A note on animal tourism: I’m never a fan of it, but I think this is the best kind- meaning, the monkeys are free to roam around and have a protected environment in a part of Bali that’s rapidly continuing to develop
Take a yoga class or sound bath: Endless options for places to do either in Ubud, but Yoga Barn is my favourite for both. They do over 100 classes a week, which means there’s always something going on, and their instructors are among the world’s best, so it’s a great place to try something new
- Also a fan of these studios: Radiantly Alive, Intuitive Flow, and Ubud Yoga House
Find morning serenity at Goa Gajah Elephant Cave: Just outside of town, it’s an ancient meditation cave carved out of rock. Spend some time here, admiring the purification pools, and walk down into the jungle below to see beautiful vegetation and small waterfalls
Dance under the full moon: No trip to Ubud is really complete without trying a free form (often called ecstatic) dance class. You’ll see these classes advertised at all the major wellness hubs- Sayuri, Earth Cafe and Yoga Barn, just to name a few. They usually occur at night, and often there’s a specific reservation process, so be sure to ask questions if you’re new
Pop into the Ubud Water Palace: Beautiful to see, located behind the Starbucks in town, but often crowded
Unwind with a Balinese massage: Zen Spa is my favourite place in Ubud, but there are plenty of options for all budgets
Relax in an aromatic flower bath: Much like massages in Ubud, there are plenty of options for these delightful baths. I went to the Kaveri Spa at Udaya and Karsa Spa, and loved both of my experiences
Hike the Campuhan Ridge Walk: Okay, hike is a generous way to explain this activity. In reality, it’s a short uphill climb (can be done in trainers or sandals) and then a walk along a ridge that’s in between jungle and rice paddies, where you’ll go up and down but nothing extreme. It’s especially beautiful at sunset, and easy to walk to from the centre of town
Wander Ubud’s side streets: This will require some meandering around motorbikes, but it’s the best way to pop in and out of shops, cafes and places that look interesting to you
Learn about Balinese culture: Learn how to make a traditional offering, or visit a traditional Balinese healer
Browse the art market: I wasn’t overly impressed with the market- it’s gotten quite commercial- but, it is fun to stroll down once during your stay. Go early in the day (it opens at 10 am) to avoid most of the crowds
Pick out fresh fruit to try at the local market: Before the art market begins, Ubud’s main road and side streets are filled with fruit and veg vendors early morning (times vary, but usually 6-7/7:30 am). If you’re up early, head down and bargain to try some of Indonesia’s native fruits
Chill out at an infinity pool, if your hotel doesn’t have one, some resorts like Jungle Fish offer day passes for $25 USD
Explore Bali on a green bike tour through rice paddies, visiting a coffee plantation and learning how to make an offering
The Ultimate Guide to Ubud: Where to Stay
Near town, or along the Monkey Forest Road for easy walking access if you’re not renting a scooter.
My first time living in Ubud, I lived a 5-10 minute drive from downtown (traffic pending), and it was great to be out in the country a bit- quiet, relaxing. My second time living in Ubud, I lived down a side road off town, next to Seniman Coffee. Because, my room was back from the road, I didn’t hear much street noise, but I lived with a family and there were lots of animal sounds (roosters crowing, starting at 2/4 am daily).
Many of Ubud’s beautiful resorts are out of town, but if you’re down to splurge, Udaya, Jungle Fish, Kamandalu or Hanging Gardens would be beautiful options. Truthfully, I’m not familiar with many of them because they’re all out of my housing budget. But, any booking platform like Agoda or Booking.com will have loads of options with reviews to peruse.
My first night in Ubud, I did treat myself to a stay at Bisma 8, which is near the Monkey Road and walking distance to quite a lot in town. I loved my stay there- the rooms are spacious and luxurious. The infinity pool views are next level, and the cafe, rooftop restaurant and gym on-site are just added benefits as far as I’m concerned.
The Ultimate Guide to Ubud: Where to Eat
One of the things I enjoyed most about living in Ubud? The abundance of fresh, healthy food.
Make no mistake though, if you’re in the mood for Western food (say, a burrito or pizza), you’ll have no issues getting your fix.
In my complete guide to Ubud’s best cafes, I go into more detail about my favourite places to eat.
But, if you’re after a list of recommendations of where to start, and what places are best known for- look no further:
- Warung Biah Biah: Great to try Balinese eats
- Kismet: Vegetarian deliciousness with hipster vibes
- Hujan Locale: Farm to plate
- Milk & Madu: Trendy? Yes. But, the Aussie inspired breakfast and lunch menu is healthy & a bit indulgent, and their 2-for-1 wood-fired pizza deal on Tuesdays is two thumbs up
- Kafe: Affordable, Western-inspired staples with some Indonesian cooking thrown in
- Sayuri: The go-to place for your health fix in Ubud
- Bali Buda: Delicious and sustainable dishes. Here too, the menu is vast, so it’s easy to find something for everyone. Don’t miss their market around the corner either, it’s a mecca for health food, products and eco-conscious everything
- ZEST: Beautiful meals and in an open-air, elevated setting, but also on the pricier side
- Yellow Flower Cafe: Perfect for breakfast overlooking the jungle
- White Ginger Warung: Indonesian dishes with a bit of a Western twist, and very reasonably priced for the quality
- La Pancha Mama: Vegan meets Mexican
- Akasha: Come here to feel like you’re dining in an Aladdin meets Balinese jungle situation
- Expat Roasters: Great for brunch or an afternoon cake pick-me-up
- Clear Cafe: Their menu is far-reaching- items draw global inspiration, so there’s truly something for everyone
- Lazy Cats Cafe: Ace for a lazy breakfast above one of Ubud’s busiest roads- the breakfast quesadillas are bomb
- Gangga Coffee: Best for breakfast or lunch in a chiller setting (located just outside of town)
- Earth Market: Mega healthy and delicious, but a bit more expensive than some of the competitors, like Bali Buda
- Blu Cafe: Beautifully designed smoothie bowls, each is a work of art
The Ultimate Guide to Ubud: Where to Have Coffee
Canggu and Seminyak get their fair share of attention for all their cool cafes and eateries, but I actually preferred my haunts in Ubud.
All around, they felt more authentic. Each seemed to have an owner with a story- something you don’t find as much in Canggu and Seminyak, where so much is foreign owned and operated.
My favourite spots for coffee:
- Senimen Coffee Studio
- Lazy Cats Cafe
- Gangga Coffee
- Monkey Cave Espresso
- Expat Roasters
- Anomali Coffee
- Tony Raya Art Lounge
- Old Friends Coffee
For additional questions about planning a trip to Bali, such as when to visit, what to pack, what to expect, how long to visit for, and where else to visit in Indonesia, head to out my planning guide.
Have you ever been to Ubud? Is it somewhere you’d like to visit one day? What would you add to this ultimate guide to Ubud?
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