What to do in Ubud

Bali’s spiritual heartland is filled with ancient temples, rice paddies and jungle. Expect yoga overlooking verdant terraces, uber-local eats and traditional dancing.

By Stephanie Cavagnaro
Published 19 Jul 2019, 06:00 BST, Updated 23 Jul 2021, 10:29 BST

Why go 
Beyond the party central Kuta Beach area and the surfer-chic Canggu coast, you’ll find a wilder, history-steeped side to Bali if you head inland, where crumbling temples date to the ninth century, cheeky macaques swing through forest canopies and terraced rice paddies interrupt jungle-wrapped hillsides. Ubud channels its deep spirituality and connection to nature by catering to the wellness-seeking crowd. There are shops selling eco-friendly threads to wear on the mat, health food emporiums, raw food cafes and serene shalas welcoming all levels of yogi. After all, Ubud gets its name from the ancient Balinese word for ‘medicine’ — come here, and you’ll feel better in no time.

What to do 
Go with the (yoga) flow — head to one of several standout shalas, such as Intuitive Flow, whose wood-and-glass studio overlooks the jungle; Chakra Yoga, meanwhile, has holistic retreats, some including sessions with Balinese healers, while Radiantly Alive introduces aerial techniques with Sky Yoga. But perhaps best known of all is The Yoga Barn, whose spacious set-up in the centre of Ubud include seven studios offering100 classes a week, ranging from sound healing to relaxing morning flows. There are also detox retreats, an ayurvedic spa, self-guided juice cleanses and a thatched ‘kafe’ in which to fuel up on spirulina energy balls and Balinese jamu cleansing shots. 

Don’t miss
Swing over to the Ubud Monkey Forest. Laced with pathways and around 600 mischievous Balinese long-tailed macaques, it may come as a surprise to find a nature reserve like this in central Ubud. Watch as monkeys gulp down sweet potato, playfully give chase and care for their young. But the vibe isn’t zoo-like: there are towering trees and three Hindu temples (the oldest dating to the 14th century), while the moss-covered Dragon Bridge — adorned with firesome carvings — slices through a towering banyan trunk to cross a narrow gorge. The whole complex was built according to Tri Hita Karana, a traditional philosophy centred on a harmonious relationship between god, people and nature.

Where to eat 
Save your rupiah to splurge at Locavore, where hyper-local ingredients, modern-rustic decor and creative plates and cocktails combine to stunning effect. The six- and nine-course ‘locavore’ and ‘herbivore’ set menus start from 895,000 rupiah (£50). Dishes from each include a Foie Gras Kambing, with goat liver mousse, pickled wild berries and kombucha vinaigrette, and the veggie Sirsak, with barbecued soursop, coriander tiger milk, lime pickled coconut and wild Balinese kale. Another option in this wellness wonderland is to go down the raw route. Overlooking gardens with a stream and fish-filled ponds, Clear Cafe has a menu that spans cooked dishes such as tiger prawn burritos to standout raw options like sprouted granola with fresh fruit.

After hours 
Catch a Balinese dance performance. Graceful Legong incorporates intricate hand motions, fast-paced body movements and tales of heroic romance. Ubud Royal Palace puts on nightly courtyard shows with an orange-painted stone gate as a dramatic backdrop. Kecak, meanwhile, tells the tale of Ramayana. Rings of men in a trance-like state chant ‘chak-a-chak’ as the story unfolds. Watch the fiery spectacle at Pura Dalem Taman Kaja temple every Wednesday and Saturday. Performance schedules can be found on the Ubud Now & Then website. Alternatively, go low-key with a film screening at Paradiso, which bills itself ‘the world’s first organic vegan cinema’ — recent titles have included Trumbo, Fight Club and If Beale Street Could Talk.

Gazebo, Hoshinoya Bali
Photograph by Hoshinoya Bali

Where to stay
Beyond the hostels and Airbnbs of central Ubud, it’s hard to beat the hillside spot of Hoshinoya Bali, where lush jungle tumbles down to the sacred Pakerisan River. It blends Japanese and Balinese styles: tiered rooftops, thatched alang-alang gazebos, tropical flora and murals hand-carved by local artisans. Three canal-like pools snake around 30 villas like a river. All rooms have poolside lounges and come in three categories: Bulan (plenty of outdoor space), Soka (large living areas) and Jalak (drop-dead jungle views). Marble floors, Japanese-style futon mattresses, soaking tubs and Bose speakers add to the minimal-luxe aesthetic. Don’t miss the couch-lined Cafe Gazebos jutting over the valley like bird cages. Sip chilled Balinese Moscato at dusk or head to the gazebos for a breakfast basket filled with salads, pink guava jam, pastries and fruit. For heartier helpings, the restaurant has a nine-course tasting menu and a menu of a la carte classics like beef rendang. Free cultural activities, meanwhile, include making canang sari (Hindu offerings), traditional dance, and tasting jamu, a tamarind and tumeric elixir. Salute the sun with morning yoga (or daily moonlight and aqua yoga), and eke out more me-time at the spa, where a funicular funnels guests towards the valley. The 120-minute Body Relaxation is R&R heaven: a foot bath, an oil massage, a scrub, a wrap and a soak in an al fresco salt bath studded with pink frangipani flowers.
Rooms from $700 (£545) per night, B&B. Body Relaxation massage $150 (£115). 

Top 3: Day trips from Ubud

1 Tirta Empul: Take to the holy waters at this stone temple, a 25-minute drive from Ubud. Hindus descend in droves to the inner courtyard for ritual purification in the pools, which feature 30 spouts. Temped to try? Stand waist-deep and wait to dip your head under each of the watery cascades.

2 Tegalalang: Terraced rice fields and groves of palm trees curve dramatically towards a steep valley. This vibrant green scene attracts the tourists for a good reason: this is iconic Bali, where workers follow subak, a traditional irrigation system that diverts rivers through terraces and temples.

3 Tegenungan: Escape the heat in the cooling pool of this lowland waterfall. Around 20 minutes south of town, the falls are cradled in the green of palms, vines and moss. Walk down a set of steps and follow the cairn-studded Petanu River before reaching the clean waters. It gets busy, so an early start is advised.


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