Ubud, Bali: Planning Your Trip

Ubud Rice Fields

 Ana Alarcon / TripSavvy

Ubud, Bali, once a mostly serene “hippie” destination for travelers interested in yoga, healthy food, and fresh air, has grown into one of the busiest and most popular destinations in Bali. Elizabeth Gilbert’s book "Eat, Pray, Love"—and the 2010 film of the same name—permanently pushed Ubud to the forefront of the tourist radar.

But despite its popularity, green rice terraces still cling to the edges of town, defiant against impending development. Vegetarian eateries and hipster cafes serving excellent coffee abound. Boutique shops showcase Bali’s famous craftsmanship and work from local artists. Hindu architecture and peaceful temples compensate for increased consumerism with an air of ancient authority.

You’ll want a few days to get the most from a visit to Ubud. These tips will expedite the process of getting to know Bali’s cultural epicenter.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit Ubud is during the summer months of June, July and August, when the weather is driest and the days are sunny.

Language: Being the cultural center of Bali, you will hear plenty of English spoken here. However, the majority of people in Ubud will be fluent in either Bahasa Indonesian or Balinese.

Currency: Rupiah.

Getting Around: Offers will come in abundance from private drivers as you walk around Ubud. If you need one, rather than accepting offers on the street, ask at your reception. They'll inevitably have a family member willing to drive you, and there will be a lot more accountability. Negotiate a rate and details before setting out. The ride sharing app Grab is popular on Bali; it's convenient for getting around by car. Because of trouble from the local taxi mafia, your driver may act "low key" or want to collect you somewhere other than at the main entrance of the hotel.

Travel Tip: Despite the tranquil reputation of Ubud, simply walking around town is often frustrating. Jammed traffic—vehicles and pedestrians—and severely broken sidewalks require a bit of energy to navigate. The sidewalks around Ubud are notoriously uneven and damaged; broken drainage holes with jagged metal bars pose hazards that injure travelers every year. You may find yourself wishing you had packed combat boots rather than flip-flops. Before stepping off the sidewalk to avoid an obstacle, cast a quick glance over your shoulder to ensure that an impatient motorbike driver isn’t zipping along the curb in your direction. People often drive the wrong way on Ubud's one-way streets.

Ana Alarcon / TripSavvy

Things to Do

Bali's coasts are great for sand and sunsets, but Ubud is arguably the cultural, artistic, and holistic heart of Bali. You could spend weeks taking advantage of the many health-improving options before starting on all the sights and activities.

  • For first-timers, the premier of all things to do in Ubud is to visit the Monkey Forest. The green sanctuary occupies the southwest corner of Ubud, but the resident macaques roam freely, sometimes bullying passerby and making raids on nearby shops. Opportunities for up-close photos abound, just watch out for your camera!
  • Seeing a traditional Balinese dance performance in Ubud is almost compulsory. Yes, the shows are touristy; regardless, they're entertaining and memorable. The nightly shows are easy to find and feature talented performers in colorful costumes.
  • Yoga is ubiquitous in Ubud. Whether you're a pro or just curious, there are endless opportunities for taking advantage of cheap sessions in beautiful settings. A single yoga class is usually US $10 or less; it gets even cheaper if you purchase a pass or bundle of several classes. The Yoga Barn is by far the largest and most popular place for travelers to try yoga, but there are many other options.
  • The Betel Nut on Jalan Raya Ubud to the west of Ubud's town center is a beautiful venue that often hosts cultural events. Check their schedule for documentary screenings, poetry readings, and special events.
  • The Ubud Art Market, at the corner of Jalan Ubud Raya and Jalan Monkey Forest, is an outdoor art clearinghouse. It opens early (6 a.m). Get there in the morning and be prepared to negotiate for inexpensive gifts, souvenirs, and handmade goods. But don't believe for a minute that every wooden object on display was made by an artist in Bali; much of it is imported from elsewhere in Asia.
  • Ubud is home to many beautiful Hindu temples, although they may be closed for prayer times and special days on the Hindu calendar. Don’t wear shorts if you plan to explore the temples. Men and women are expected to cover themselves with a sarong; some temples provide them for free at the entrance while others will rent you one for a small fee. Always remove your shoes before entering a religious place.
Variety of West Sumatra (Padang, Indonesia) Food
Fidelis Simanjuntak / Getty Images

What to Eat and Drink

Ubud is blessed with an abundance of good eateries, vegetarian cafes, juice shops, and European-style restaurants. You won’t have any trouble finding healthy food, although menus are a little pricey compared to the rest of Indonesia.

For a cheap, authentic Indonesian meal, consider eating in the local warungs or find a Padang rumah makan (eating house). You can enjoy a plate of rice, piece of fish or chicken, vegetables, boiled egg, and fried tempeh for around 25,000 rupiah (US $2) or less! Look for eateries with food displayed in the window; simply point at what you want to put on your plate of rice.

Make sure to watch out for arak, a locally produced spirit often the primary alcohol found in happy hour drinks because it's so cheap. Call it Indonesia's "moonshine." Sadly, methanol poison from drinking arak is responsible for the deaths of locals and tourists each year.

  • Padang Food: Warung Masakan Minang Halal is a simple-but-excellent Padang eatery on the north end of Jalan Hanoman (left side when facing Jalan Raya Ubud, the main road).
  • Traditional Roast Pig: To sample babi guling (roast pig) prepared deliciously the Balinese way, get to Warung Ibu Oka. The simple restaurant was made famous by the late Anthony Bourdain. It's only open four hours a day; pigs are stuffed with herbs and roasted off site. Don't expect to eat anything else there other than babi guling and the sides that accompany!
  • Balinese Food: For a healthy, very affordable meal of local tempeh and nasi campur (mixed vegetables on rice), check out Warung Biah Biah on Jalan Goutama. If it's too busy, which it often is, try any of the nearby eateries on the same street — competition is fierce.
  • Vegan Food: For the healthiest vegan options and medicinal teas in town, Seeds of Life (also on Jalan Goutama) is the most unique of Ubud's many places to eat healing food.
  • Western Food: The Italian-run Buonasera just down the street from Seeds of Life serves the best brick-oven pizza in town with a glass of red wine.
  • Bars: Unlike Gili Trawangan in nearby Lombok's Gili Islands, Ubud isn’t exactly a “party” destination. Regardless, you’ll find a handful of fun bars to socialize in. CP Lounge is a large, popular, late-night place with hookah pipes, live entertainment, pool tables, open-air hangouts, and an enclosed dance floor with a DJ.
Ubud Royal Palace Street at Night, Bali, Indonesia
holgs / Getty Images

Where to Stay

As a major tourist destination, Ubud boasts a wide variety of accommodations, from villas and lodges to boutique hotels. Just 20 minutes north of Ubud, the Capella Ubud offers 22 luxurious one-bedroom suites with sprawling outdoor decks and private plunge pools, featuring bold patterns and design quirks like brass monkeys lining the roof. Other great luxury options include the relaxed, sun-filled COMO Uma Ubud and the Viceroy Bali in Ubud's nearby Valley of the Kings. For an adults-only option, the 11 on Kajeng is walking distance from both the town center and the Juwuk Manis rice paddies. And for the budget-minded, the Sri Ratih Cottages offer rustic charm and breathtaking views just minutes away from all of the action.

Culture and Customs

Ubud is an artistic town, and craftsmanship is part of its identity. A large community of artists and craftsmen call Ubud home as well as many talented metalsmiths and jewelers. Numerous galleries are situated around town. On the fringes of Ubud, hand-carved goods are literally piled outside of workshops; many will offer you discounts (and shipping) on sizable works. If you own a stone and have considered commissioning someone to create a custom piece of jewelery, Ubud is a good place to do so.

Money Saving Tips

  • Unlike in other parts of Southeast Asia, minimarts along Jalan Monkey Forest don't have consistent pricing. A Coke or bottle of water in "tourist" minimarts may cost as much as three times more than regular price at a shop literally two doors down.
  • If yoga is going to be a big part of your visit to Ubud, ask up front about booking a package or bundle of lessons rather than paying each time. You'll often receive a discount for committing to several classes; sometimes accommodation is discounted with yoga bundles at places such as Yoga Barn.
  • Many homestays and guesthouses in Ubud offer free breakfast—choose a place that does and take advantage!
  • Grab a ridesharing app in Southeast Asia similar to Uber and Lyft, allows you to pay drivers in cash rather than through the app.
  • Travelers often visit the same places in Bali and may be going your direction. Ask around to see if anyone is interested in sharing a private taxi to split costs and cut down on traffic.
  • The airport serves as somewhat of a hub for public buses. If you absolutely can't get a ride somewhere, you can always get back to the airport then go onward from there.
  • Using an ATM attached to a bank branch is always the safest as there is less chance that a card-skimming device has been installed. Also, ATMs that are physically near their bank sometimes offer higher daily limits and a better chance of getting your card back in the event it is captured.
  • ATMs often display the currency denominations available. Whenever possible, use machines that dispense 50,000-rupiah banknotes: they are easier to break than the 100,000-rupiah notes. Paying for a cheap coffee with a 100,000-rupiah note is bad form; vendors may have to run for change.
  • If renting a motorbike, fuel up at proper petrol stations rather than buying bottles of gasoline from vendors on the side of the road to save money and get better performance.
  • In Indonesia, you can begin a transaction by asking bisa kurang? (sounds like: bee-sah koo-rong) or “Can discount?” Sometimes you'll receive a smile and small discount right at the start!