Ubud Travel Guide: Where To Explore, Eat, and Stay



Ahhh, Ubud. Relaxation oozes through the air here, that is as long as you’re outside of the center of town. While the epicenter of Ubud may be bustling with traditional craft markets, tourists, and never-ending traffic, zen is possible to find if you venture just outside of the area. Here's where to explore, eat, and stay in Ubud.


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WHERE TO EXPLORE IN UBUD




Ubud is Bali’s spiritual hub and is a must-visit destination on any trip to the tropical island. From fantastic cultural art, rich history, inspiring Balinese architecture, neverending healthy eats, and spiritual awakening via yoga and massage, there is something for everyone to enjoy in Ubud. Read on for my favorite places to explore, eat, and stay in Ubud. If you’re interested in learning more about Balinese culture and Hindu spirituality while in Ubud don’t miss my guide to temple hopping in Tampaksiring. If you don't have a lot of time to explore Ubud customize your own 10-hour tour with a private driver for just US$69 with your must see's from the below suggestions.



STOP AND SMELL THE LOTUSES AT PURA TAMAN SARASWATI





Ok, don’t actually stop and smell the pink lotus flowers at the water temple–you’ll likely fall into the pond! Lotus flowers symbolize beauty, purity, and fertility, all descriptors fit for the temple’s namesake, the Hindu goddess of knowledge and arts, Saraswati. The tranquil city center temple is a great place to start a day exploring Ubud.





The serene Pura Taman Saraswati boasts stunning classical Balinese temple architecture with doorways that will seriously take your breath away. To visit the temple grounds is free but to enter the prayer areas you’ll have to be properly dressed Balinese style in a sash and sarong. During my visit, the temples were closed so I was only able to take in the beauty of the exterior facades. Plan your visit in the late afternoon and stay for the evening traditional dance performance which begins at 7:30 PM.





STEP BACK IN TIME AT YEH PULU





Continue exploring Ubud’s scared spaces by stepping back in time at Yeh Pulu. You guessed it, just like most of the sacred spaces in Ubud, Yeh Pulu is a water temple. In fact, Yeh literally means water. Pulu, on the other hand, means earthenware bowl, a name which chosen to honor one of the elaborate relics found here.




The path to the king's meditation niches is lined with ancient relief featuring rock wall carvings depicting daily life and worship. These are impressively detailed and well preserved considering their age. Yeh Pulu was only discovered in 1925 but the archeological ruins are believed to have been erected in the 14th century. The ancient shrine is surrounded by scenic farmland, waterfalls, and rice terraces. Carve out a decent chunk of time to explore Yeh Pulu and the surrounding area before moving on to the next temple.

VISIT THE ELEPHANT CAVE AT GOA GAJAH


Goa Gajah is one of the most frequented temples in Ubud due to a gorgeous stone cave which features an entrance engrossed with a slightly terrifying face. Huge bulging eyes protrude from the face and look left framed by large ear adornments. To enter, you walk through the massive mouth. There aren’t actually any elephants in the cave. Instead, it was named after the adjacent Petanu river, which is locally called elephant river.


Beyond the cave, the temple has many sites to discover from ancient shrines, a scenic nature walk, lilly pond, and many stone carvings of Hindu gods. There are Buddhist artifacts which have been unearthed here dating back to the 8th century. As per usual, it is also a water temple with many meditation pools, waterfalls, and fountains.


FIND PEACE AT PURA SAMUAN TIGA


And the best gado-gado in all of Indonesia. If you’re lucky during your visit a woman will be whipping up the traditional dish at her stall right outside of the temple. She’s so popular that even at 3 PM there were 10 local men eating her gado-gado as they gossiped in the grass. 





The temple itself is mesmerizing, Pura Samuan Tiga, or Temple of the Meeting of the Three, is one of the oldest temples in Bali and houses ancient sculptures of Shiva and Buddha. The temple was entirely deserted when I visited except for a few friendly High Priests who pointed me in the right direction. Despite its name the temple actually has seven courtyards, instead of the usual three. However, there was a meeting of three here between leaders of three conflicting villages that settled their differences here and launched a time of peace in Ubud. After the meeting, it was decided that Balinese kingdoms should have three main temples to represent mountains, villages, and sea. Three also represents the Hindu trinity of Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma, locally known as Tri Murti.





STROLL THROUGH RICE TERRACES





A stay in Ubud wouldn’t be complete without one stroll through the numerous rice terraces. The most popular place to do so is the Tegalalang Rice Terrace which is about 20-minutes north of Ubud. There are several points to enter the terraces but the main entrance is likely to be over-crowded with tourists at any point of the day. Instead, I entered at one of the many cafes sprinkling the northern section of the rice terraces. From here you can walk down steep dirt pathways to enter the valley of rice terraces. 



Be careful, I slipped down the steps and landed right in a rice patty pond. I was covered in dirt but gave the local farmers a good show, and laugh! All of these photos were taken after my fall too, can you see my mud stains?


Where you enter Tegalalang you’re sure to be surrounded by a stunning vista. These rice terraces are well maintained due to their popularity. I preferred visiting a more off-the-beaten-path section of the terraces and had the scenic surroundings all to myself. The Tegalalang rice terrace spreads out over several villages. The tiered irrigation system used to grow and maintain rice, known as Subak, is what gives the area it’s picturesque appearance. 


Tegalalang may be the most famous rice terrace in Ubud but there are literally dozens of others to visit. The most tranquil was the local rice field I visited in Sebatu village. But I saw many other mesmerizing rice terraces most places I went in Ubud such as the scenic drive to Om Ham Yoga Retreat as well as the terraces surrounding Yeh Pulu (above) and at the entrance of Pura Gunung Kawi Temple (below).


WALK ACROSS THE CAMPUHAN RIDGE


Literally seconds outside of the Ubud city center is a peaceful oasis waiting to be explored. The Campuhan Ridge walk is around 6-miles long of a paved path across a verdant high ridge in Ubud. The raised vantage provides endless views of the lush jungle and the occasional luxurious bungalow as far as the eye can see. You may expect to come across rice paddies, the Sungai Wos River, and on clear days, views of Mount Agung in the distance. 


The walk is absolutely free and starts from the incredible Pura Gunung Lebah at the edge of Ubud. I hope to live in Ubud someday and when I do I will make the time to either start or end my day here a few times a week to connect with nature and get centered. 


SNAP A PICTURE ON A BALI SWING


If you’re on Instagram you’ve certainly seen dreamy shots of travel influencers in impossibly long flowy dresses lingering in the air on a giant swing over the dense jungle. You can get that shot too, but you’ll fork out a pretty penny at Bali Swing or Zen Hideaway, cost around US$30. The most picturesque is the swing that you can visit on this Get Your Guide Ubud tour for US$75 which also goes to waterfalls and local villages. If you’re looking for a more economical option there are swings to be discovered all around Ubud, and Bali! Keep your eyes peeled for the swing near the beginning of the path on the Campuhan Ridge. Not only are these swings free, there was also no line, no dangerous drop, or unsightly harness. Happy swinging!





As mentioned above there are several swings that are free to use around the Tegalalang Rice Terrace. These are kitschy with fun signs that help you proclaim your love for Bali. Most are located in cafes so don’t be a jerk and at least order a coffee if you stop to snap some pics. You’ll probably spend a few hours strolling the terrace so why not fuel up with a quick meal while overlooking the rice terraces you’re about to explore?



FIND YOUR BALANCE AT YOGA





It’d be safe to say that Ubud likely has the most amount of daily yoga classes per square mile. Whichever type of practice you prefer, you’re certain to find it at a studio or ashram in town. I only practiced at Om Ham during my yoga retreat at the resort which was my first time trying Kundalini tantra yoga. Daily at 3 PM there’s a free lesson in the Om Ham garden which is open to outside guests. If Om Ham is out of your budget Master Ketut Arsana also operates Ashram Munivara which has some of the most affordable yoga classes in Ubud at around US$3 per session. When I go back to Ubud I’d like to try a community class at Yoga Barn. There are at least 15 sessions a day available at Yoga Barn but classes can be steep at almost US$10 each and some classes accommodate upwards of 60 people. Check the monthly Yoga Barn schedule here to find out timings for free community classes. 

Find zen at yoga retreats around the globe.


EASE YOUR BODY AND SOUL WITH A BALINESE MASSAGE


If yoga isn’t your choice of spiritual healing you’ll have no shortage of spa experiences to choose from. I was spoiled and had six spa experiences during my stay in Ubud from soaks in saunas to deliriously delicious Balinese massages. A massage in Bali can be as inexpensive as US$5 for a 1-hour treatment. If you’re looking for a lap of luxury check out my article on the best spa experiences in Ubud.

WHERE TO EAT IN UBUD


Ubud restaurants are a haven for healthy food lovers. From organic produce to plant-based specialties you can nurture your body through your dishes while visiting the jungle paradise. These were a few of my absolute favorite meals I had while in Ubud at organic cafes and local eateries, called warung. I loved the fantastic brew at Anomali Coffee and vegan coconut ice cream at Tukies. I also had delicious and affordable Indonesian food at Black Pearl where I had lunch with my dear friend Nam of Laugh Travel Eat but we were so busy catching up we forgot to snap any pictures! I missed out on trying Fair Warung Balé as the social enterprise restaurant was always full so be sure to make reservations in advance. The warung is operated by Fair Future Foundation and channels 100% of profits into the foundation’s free health and medical care initiatives which impacts 30,000 people annually. Fair Warung Balé also serves as a training cafe for the local community where young adults between ages 14-22 can learn about the hospitality industry and gain skills that will help them secure future employment. 

NESSA WARUNG


My absolute favorite cafe in Ubud is the lovely Nessa Warung. The tiny hole-in-the-wall is operated by the sweetest local family who pour their heart and soul into every dish they create. Gado-gado is a must here as well as the fresh sugar and ice-free juices and homemade guacamole. There are only a few tables and their operating hours seem to be sporadic but be sure not to miss lunch at this lovely local warung. Don’t come starving though as each dish is prepared to order and can take a bit of time as there’s usually only one person manning the kitchen. Grab one of the front tables to people watch, order a drink, sit back and relax. Not only is the food here fresher than anywhere else, but the prices are lower! Most things on the menu cost less than US$3.

SARI ORGANIK


For a delicious farm to table dishes served in a traditional wooden structure nestled above the rice terraces make your way down the Jalan Subak Sok Wayah ridge to Sari Organik. They are pioneers of the organic scene in Ubud as they opened their kitchen doors over a decade ago. Meals at Sari Organik are prepared using ingredients from their adjacent organic farm. The menu matches the zen ambiance and also includes meat options and gluten-free dishes. Everyone is certain to find something here to thrill their taste buds at this farm-to-table sustainable dining establishment. If you don’t see something on the menu that you fancy you can stroll into the farm and pick your own spices, fruits, and vegetables and have them prepared as you’d like in the kitchen. Nearby is the dreamy herbal sauna at Dragonfly.

CLEAR CAFE


From a seemingly never-ending menu of exotic dishes to serene decor Clear Cafe quickly became not only my favorite vegan eatery in Ubud but quite possibly in the world! As the name suggests, everything served here is created with wholesome nutritious ingredients at ridiculously affordable prices. Mostly everything is sourced locally in Bali, with strawberries from Bedugul, organic greens and tangerines from Kintamani, cashews from Karangasem, seaweed from Nusa Penida, palm sugar from Klungkung, 100% pure coconut oil from Tabanan, and more. I love their ethos of ‘clean food for clear minds’- a reminder I think we all could use, even the healthiest of eaters! While there are an array of Balinese dishes to choose from, diners can also select from Mexican, Italian, and American specialties. Food is paired with a long list of drink options from tonics, teas, smoothies, and kombucha. 

ART KAFE


The sweet ambiance at Art Kafe can make you feel cozy even on the hottest of days. From homy decor to beautiful mix-and-match plates every detail here comes together to create an organic food haven. Spending time here felt like having lunch at your bohemian aunt's house. Inspiration oozes from the walls in the form of vintage photos, incredible wall hangings, random adornments, and retro furniture. The open-air rustic wood hut-like structure stands out among high-end establishments in the hub of Ubud. Besides the decor, the dishes also don’t disappoint. They live up to the cafe’s name with a presentation that is nothing short of artistic. Everything is organic but the meal isn’t limited to vegetarian options and includes various meat dishes for those who aren’t plant-based.

DAYU’S WARUNG


Another local spot that’s a hidden gem is Dayu’s Warung. Raw. Vegan. Gluten Free. Health-conscious eaters can find it all at this Balinese warung. The food is incredibly fresh and flavorful and with such low prices, you don’t have to feel guilty for trying multiple Indonesian-influenced dishes! They even offer cooking classes and sell a variety of plant-based cooking materials and products in the cafe. Do remember that it’s cash only. If you can’t find a table at Dayu’s Warung she also owns nearby Fussy Bird which offers a similar menu of healthy dishes.

WHERE TO STAY IN UBUD



There is no shortage of amazing accommodation options in Ubud! I absolutely loved my yoga retreat at Om Ham and homestay in Sebatu Village. If you’re looking for an idyllic place to stay closer to the city center look no further than the luxurious Sapulidi resort which is complete with a spa, art gallery, yoga classes, and more. Just far enough away from the city center Sapulidi is a serene oasis with luxury jungle villas built among rice patties. They operate free shuttle service to the city center and can also help guests coordinate bike rental.





Sapulidi is dedicated to improving the local community through their ongoing partnership with Yayasan Solemen Indonesia (Solemen) which helps disadvantaged persons in Bali. I was touched by their thoughtful logo of bare feet, which was selected in solidarity with those who can’t afford to buy and wear shoes. I’d love to participate in their barefoot fundraising walks around Bali next time I visit the island. 








I stayed in a deluxe double room which includes breakfast and is only $44 a night on Booking.com. There is an outdoor bathtub and natural toiletries served up in ceramic containers–my kind of affordable and sustainable luxury! When I wasn’t soaking in the bathtub I was snoozing in the cloud-like canopy bed or floating in the infinity pool. 






Although I didn’t have a chance to partake the resort organizes daily meditation and yoga classes which I’m sure are just as soothing as the wonderful Balinese massage I was treated to in the Bulakan Spa bungalow. Sapulidi is the perfect place to get centered and clear your mind. Even a stroll through the lush green property can leave you feeling refreshed. Nature compliments the ambiance here and even a rainstorm transforms the lively environment as ducks play in fresh ponds of water and kingfishers fly by leaving a flash of blue in their wake. I dream of returning to Sapulidi someday!





WHAT NOT TO DO IN UBUD





There are quite a few common tourist activities in Ubud that are so unethical I find it shocking to learn they’re so popular. Please consider the damage you’re causing before participating in any of the below experiences.



DON’T VISIT THE MONKEY FOREST

I’ve already gone on about how unethical interactions with wild animals are and if you’ve ever had a face off with a monkey you know just how terrifying these creatures can be. Why would you willingly put yourself in a situation where you're almost guaranteed that a monkey will climb up onto your body and may even bite you or pee on you? They’ll also snatch your cell phone, camera, bag, or anything else they can get ahold of. They’re not domesticated or trained animals. Don’t do it for the Instagram validation, I’ll swiftly unfollow you. Being bit by a wild animal is a sure fire way to capture some nasty diseases. The inhabitants of Monkey Forest are used to humans feeding them so they won’t shy away from you, this isn’t natural and this sort of behavior should not be encouraged. Numerous vendors sell bananas around the parks and almost every travel influencer has posted a shot with a furry gray long-tailed macaque monkey on their shoulder mid-attack. It’s no secret that the monkeys are hostile here. It’s a shame as there is a temple within the park that is said to be beautiful, as well as the surrounding nature. If you do decide to visit Monkey Forest make sure you have health insurance in case of any incidents and don’t ever look a monkey directly in the eye. If you don’t go rest assured, you’ll have plenty of chances to see wild monkeys around Bali, and safely take their picture from a distance. I’m sure you can find a better way to spend US$3.50 in Ubud.

AVOID KOPI LUWAK COFFEE

Another animal atrocity that Ubud is famous for is Kopi Luwak coffee. Known as the most expensive coffee in the world a cup will cost you around US$5 in Indonesia, but upwards to US$100 elsewhere in the world. The pretty price tag stems from the lengthy process to make the coffee. That process is basically making coffee from poop. I can think of 10,000 other ways I’d prefer to get my caffeine fix, like maybe an IV bag of espresso? The time-consuming process isn’t what makes this coffee so unethical. Instead, it’s the way that the creatures who make the invaluable poo are treated. Toddy cats, or palm civet, are kept in tiny cages and forced to eat unnatural amounts of coffee cherries to produce Kopi Luwak.

DON’T VISIT ELEPHANTS

Elephants aren’t native to Bali. Bali is an island. Any elephant that’s here was brought here to work, even if they’re at a sanctuary. Rescued elephants should be returned to conservation and rehab facilities in their native habitat. Any elephant experience in Ubud is simply exploitation even if it’s a rescue center or sanctuary that doesn’t offer riding, tricks, or interaction. Don’t stay or visit Mason Elephant Park, even though it has a facade of being eco-friendly. You may witness wild elephants in Borneo or Sumatra so add those destinations to your Indonesian itinerary instead if you’d like to see elephants. 

Thank you, Sapulidi for hosting me in Ubud at your gorgeous resort. This post contains affiliate links. All opinions and photos are my own. Please read the Miss Filatelista disclosure policy for more information.

4 comments:

  1. Lovely comprehensive guide! Though, I am guilty of visiting the monkey forest and I loved it there! In all honesty, I had a wonderful experience and wouldn't mind visiting again =)

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    1. Hi Meghna, while I am saddened to hear that you'd return to the Monkey Forest even after knowing its unethical I'm glad you enjoyed the guide. Thank you for leaving your thoughts here.

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  2. I adore Bali and this is an epic post!

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    1. Bali sure is easy to adore! So glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks, Erin!

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