After three days of flying, and about an hour and a half of driving, my husband Rob and I finally arrived to our destination of Ubud, Bali. As the first city we visited in Bali, it was our introduction to Balinese culture.
Ubud has the best of both worlds – a bustling tourist district filled with restaurants and shops, and on the outskirts, a calmer zone with breathtaking views of the sprawling rice fields, and farmland.
The centre of the town had a familiar energy. It felt like I was walking the downtown strip of my hometown of Nassau, Bahamas (save for the language differences). Much like Nassau, Ubud is a town that is reliant on tourism, and it is reflected in the streets, in the people, and in the culture.
The main streets in this area of Ubud bustled with a mixture of taxis, scooters, and pedestrians crossing to and fro the patchy sidewalks. After about a day of exploring, we noticed a similar pattern emerging that made every street feel like a clone of the one before — there was a mixture of restaurants, homestays, massage parlours, clothing shops, tourist centres offering excursions and scooter rentals, small convenience stores, and local taxi drivers advertising their services with signs that read “Taksi” or by broadcasting “Hello, Taksi?” from their designated stoop.
And while this area of Ubud had much of the characteristics of any other tourism hub, what stood out for me was the craftsmanship, and the feeling of authenticity, that is largely missing from Western culture. Everything seemed to either be handmade or have some personal touch, and even the smallest of details were tended to with care. This all made sense when our driver informed us that the Ubud area is actually known as the art capital of Bali.
This attention to detail and craftsmanship could be observed in pretty much every aspect. The most glaring examples are in the intricate details of the Hindu temples, and stone carvings on many of the streets. It even felt like the same attentiveness and care carried over to the preparation of food, because just about everything we ate or drank was delicious and fresh.
Located in the Southeast area of Bali, Ubud is an ideal area of Bali to visit if you desire the convenience that comes with city life, as well as the close access to some of the most famous spots of Bali.
Where we stayed
Ubud has so many options for accommodation. Tou can choose to stay in the outskirts, among the rice fields or in the center of it all within walkable distance to restaurants and other amenities in central Ubud. We chose the latter for our time in Ubud, and booked Iman Homestay which was located off Jalan (street) Goutama. Although it was labeled a homestay, it felt more like a hotel because it was in a separate building from the family’s home. Iman Homestay had air-conditioned rooms, free WiFi, and a complimentary homemade breakfast. You would think that because it was in the centre of it all, it would be loud and anxiety-inducing. However, it’s location at the end of a side street made it a quiet solace from the busy streets. It was also very affordable at about $25 – $35 CAD/night (IDR $250,000 – $350,000).
Something to note: Many Balinese accommodations seem to have an open bathroom, whether it is situated completely on the outside, or has some window or open element that remains open. Be prepared with bug spray, and mosquito repellent, which you can buy at local convenience stores.
What we did
On our first few days in Ubud, we took advantage of our accommodation’s proximity to popular points of interest. We took the five or so minute walk to the Pura Taman Saraswati (Saraswati temple), which was our first exposure to a Hindu temple. A walkway bordered by lotus ponds on either side leads up to the intricately crafted Saraswati temple.
Typically you will need to wear a sarong to enter into a temple, but in this case it wasn’t necessary.
We also enjoyed several Balinese massages, starting with a much-needed 30 minute foot massage on our first day (which cost about $5 CAD / IDR 50,000), and an hour long couples massage on our second day ( for about $22 CAD/ IDR 220,000) at the Sundih Family Spa a few feet away from our homestay.
On a subsequent day, we hired a driver to give us a tour of the more popular areas of Ubud, which included the Bali Pulina Agro Tourism (Coffee plantation), Tegenungan Waterfall, Tegallalang Rice Terrace, and the Tirta Empul. With the exception of the Bali Pulina Agro Tourism tour, all of these sites had an entrance fee of between IDR 10,000 and 25,000 (about $1 – 3 CAD).
The Pulina Agro Tourism coffee plantation was a great way to start out the morning. They offered a complimentary tour of the facilities, and the Luwak coffee production process, as well as a free tasting of the various flavors of their coffees and teas. This excluded the Luwak coffee, which was available for tasting at a price.
The plantation also had an extraordinary view of their grounds, which included swings and nests. Observing the area from the cafe area was free (see below video), however, to access the grounds below there is a fee.
The Tegallalang Rice Terrace was our next stop. It was another great view, but there were at least 100 steps to get down. It wasn’t the safest stop — several of the concrete steps that led into the rice terrace were shaky or slippery. My best advice for this: wear tennis or some secure type of shoe, and drink lots of water. I was so tired after walking down, and then back up the rice terrace, I thought I was going to black out while we were waiting for our driver. Once you get to to the end of the concrete-tiled trail, you can opt to take a photo with some farmers for a donation, or pay a fee to ride a swing overlooking the terrace.
The Tirta Empul, a Hindu water temple was destination number three on our day tour. The Tirta Empul is most known for its spring water that is believed to be holy. Local Hindus visit this temple for purification and prayer. At this temple, sarongs were a requirement for both men and women, and could be rented by-donation at the entrance. We opted not to go into the water, because we weren’t dressed for it, but there were dozens of other visitors taking advantage of this site.
Word of advice from our driver: There are women selling bananas and other fruits along the entry way to the temple. They may try to put it in your hand or get you to touch it. However, if you touch the banana, you will have to pay for it. The family ahead of us fell into this trap, and had to pay.
The Tegenungan waterfall was our final stop on our tour. We didn’t really get to enjoy this because we were so tired from walking the rice terrace and the other spots. Similar to the Tegallalang rice terrace, the steps leading to the waterfall were a bit precarious. My best advice for this: wear tennis or some form of secure shoes that can get wet, bring your swimsuit and take a towel.
On one of our final days in Ubud, we did the Campuhan Ridge Walk – a 30 minute or so hiking trail each way over a sweeping landscape offering scenic views. We did this walk in the late morning, but I wouldn’t recommend this time because it was so hot, and there were not much areas for shade. Try to do it in the early morning, or in the late afternoon, before the sunset, or if you’d rather do it in the heat of the day, wear something that will keep you cool, a hat, sunscreen, and a bottle of cool water.
Planning your own trip to Ubud? I compiled an abridged guide for you below!
Hotel: We stayed in the Iman Homestay – in the range of $25 – $35 CAD/night. It included an air-conditioned room with a private bathroom, free WIFI, and complimentary breakfast each morning.
Restaurants: Warung Biah Biah // Melting Wok Warung // Warung Pondok Madu // Clear Cafe // Buenosera Restaurant (I gave more details on these places in my post: Six must eat spots in Ubud) // Celts & Spells (for crepes) // Tukies Coconut Shop (for coconut ice cream)
Tours/Things to Do: Free tour and coffee/tea tasting at the Bali Pulina Agro Tourism (Coffee plantation) // Traditional Balinese massage // Tegenungan Waterfall // Tegallalang Rice Terrace // Campuhan Ridge Walk // Saraswati temple // Tirta Empul // Goa Gaja or Elephant Cave (I didn’t get to see this place of interest on this trip, but is on my list of things to do when I return to Ubud.)