Known as the spiritual capital of Bali, Ubud is a hub of cultural activity. In fact, apart from a beach side location it has everything you could ask for from a holiday destination. We spent four days here right at the beginning of our final three weeks and I found it to be a delightfully small town with a big character.
As you first drive into Ubud, it feels like you are entering an ancient city from Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones. Vines hang from the canopy above and crumbling stone walls rise up on either side as you edge slowly towards the central hustle and bustle. While the centre of Ubud is nothing like this, that initial moment hinted at what was to come and I found myself instantly falling in love with this town.
Here is my guide to making the most of Ubud:
We stayed at a delightfully small family-run hotel called Frangipani Bungalows , which boasts just 7 or 8 rooms set in a tiny garden oasis. There is a beautiful pool in one corner and it is situated down a small side street, just 5 minutes from the centre of Ubud. We stayed in both a superior and deluxe room and found that our stay was pleasant and comfortable, with breakfast served on our balcony/terrace each morning. Our host happily organised drivers and bespoke tours for us at a good price and went out of his way to make sure that everything was to our satisfaction.
I love individually owned and run hotels, simply because the personal touch is always so much more heart felt than some of the chains. Especially if you are on a budget, go on the search for a small slice of paradise; there are hundreds of them in Ubud.
Ubud is teeming with amazing food choices, whether it be for lunchtime or of an evening. We loved Daily Baguette for lunch, as they did the most heavenly paninis and sandwiches right in the centre of town. Their seating area above the premises also allows you to people watch as you eat – which is a favourite of mine! In the evening Casa Luna was a firm favourite of ours, putting a Balinese spin on some classic dishes such as Paella as well as serving all the Indonesian classics such as Nasi Goreng.
While it is always nice to have a western-style meal every so often (I’m guilty of the odd Italian here and there), I think it’s important to indulge in local cuisine and Ubud makes this so easy!
Things to do & see:
There are countless things to do and see in Ubud, and unfortunately due to our time restraints we were unable to take part in everything. Here are some recommended activities based both on what we did and also what was recommended to us by friends.
The Royal Palace:
This place is so much harder to find than you think, simply because Ubud has so many spiritual sites around its centre. While I would recommend trying to visit all of them, the Royal Palace is especially intriguing because of it’s large complex of buildings and temples. When we visited there was a lot of renovation being done and therefore I have no photos, but in the evenings there is a stunning traditional dance show in the gardens which can be viewed from Cafe Lotus, a popular restaurant in town.
The Monkey Forest:
A complex of temples, statues and buildings with the added bonus of hundreds of mischievous monkeys. Personally not my cup of tea as these clever creatures scare me, but very popular among tourists. Feed the monkeys bananas and be prepared to lose any possession that isn’t fixed securely to your body. However the complex does offer some lovely shaded walks and a great art gallery at its centre.
The shops around Ubud are brilliant, with many internationally known brands setting up home in the bustling tourist destination. However it is the markets that you really want to explore. Morning markets teem with every fruit and veg you could possibly think of, while the afternoon markets sell trinkets to take home for your friends and family. The colourful umbrellas and small alleys create such a unique experience that you may leave with your purse considerably lighter!
The Rice Terraces:
Around a twenty minute drive out of Ubud’s centre, the Tegallalang Rice Terraces have become one of the most iconic photos of Bali. The picture perfect terraces stretch as far as the eye can see and you are able to freely explore these for a donation to the respective owners. We spent around an hour here as part of a bigger tour, for which we hired a driver for the morning. My advice would be to get there early and if you are heading out on hired motorcycles remember that you need to obtain an international driver’s licence from the local police; they regularly pull over tourists to check.
You cannot go to Bali without experiencing a spa day, and Ubud’s plush green surroundings make this the perfect place to relax. We tried to get into Karsa Spa, which came highly recommended by friends however unfortunately this was booked well in advance due to us visiting during high season. Instead we headed to Tjampuhan Hotel & Spa which is set in beautiful gardens overlooking a stream. The spa itself is set within a unique grotto, with hot and cold pools as well as sauna and steam rooms. Our treatments took place in a private room which opened up onto the gardens and it was so peaceful to listen to the running water as we relaxed with a full-body massage, scrub and petal bath.
Ubud has so much more to offer; this is just a tiny snapshot of some of the things you could get up to in Bali’s spiritual hub. It is a great place to begin your trip before heading to the coast for some beach relaxation.