Planning your first ever trip to Ubud and not sure where to begin? Fret not friends; we’ve got you covered with this first-timer’s guide specifically created to help with just that!
Read on for tips on how long to stay, what to eat see and do, and how not to break the bank while you’re doing it all.
A First-Timer’s Guide To Ubud
Ubud (pronounced “Oobood”) is found in central Bali. It’s 1.5 hours from the airport (or Kuta/Seminyak area) on a good day with minimal traffic. And about 1.5 hours to Padang Bai, where you can sail on to Lombok and the Gili Islands (Trawangan, Air, and Menos).
Ubud draws hoards of visitors in due to being so rich in arts and Balinese culture. Traditional craftsmen specializing in wood carvings, painting, and silversmithing sell their handmade wares for fair prices. Making this the place to stock up on souvenirs and gifts.
It’s oftentimes referred to as the heart of Bali. And is a true utopia for vegetarians, vegans, and yogis. Or those looking to embark on a spiritual retreat.
The center of town is bursting with bohemian cafes, spas, and shops a-plenty. While the surrounding areas are made up of tranquil farms, rice paddies, and dense forests. There’s a little something for everyone, no matter if you like to be in the thick of the action or tucked away in the backwoods.
How Long To Stay
If you’re just wanting to see Ubud itself, it could easily be done in a day trip from somewhere else on the island. I’d recommend hiring a driver to take you around in that case, as opposed to cramming yourself on a massive tour bus.
If you want to spend some time exploring the northern and/or eastern highlights of Bali, consider staying 3-5 nights in Ubud and using it as your home base.
Don’t stay on Monkey Forest Road unless you’re looking for a Kuta-like experience. It’s better to stay somewhere with views of a valley, forest, or farm. Get away from the madness that is found in town, and really relax in the quiet solitude of the nearby villages.
Agoda has a plethora of affordable and luxury hotels, villas and homestays. The basic ones start around $10 CAD per night (not even joking!). But they’re ultra-modest. You can score yourself a room at a 4 or 5-star hideaway for around $30 – $70 CAD per night. Resorts go up all the way to $1,000+ CAD per night if you’re feeling extra spendy.
For a unique lodging experience, and especially if you’re traveling as a group, check out Airbnb!
(PS. If you’re new to Airbnb, use my sign-up link for $50 off your first stay!)
There are so many cool cafes with meat-free fare and gourmet smoothie bowls that it’s easy to see why vegetarians and vegans go bananas for Ubud.
On the other end of the spectrum (the meat spectrum, that is), there are masses of satay bars and quality street-side warungs.
There’s certainly no shortage of restaurants serving up local and western cuisine. And our meals in Ubud were great, but we didn’t eat at any specific places that stood out as amazing enough to mention here.
Downtown Ubud is a congested spot with restaurants and shops lining the narrow streets. It’s also home to the Royal Palace, the art market, and the well-known monkey forest. It’s touristy. To say the least. You can thank (or curse) the movie Eat Pray Love for a lot of that.
Leave the main tourist hub, even by a little, and you can expect to see rolling green rice terraces, water-filled rice paddy fields, and luscious tropical forests. This quieter side of Ubud is so rural and picturesque.
The city center is small enough to see on foot. But this happens to be the most crowded and kitschy part of town. Especially on and around Monkey Forest Road. You probably aren’t going to want to spend all your time here.
The rest of Ubud is not as walkable. It’s actually very spread out. You can rent a motorbike if you’re comfortable navigating the streets and are okay with the windy hills you’ll have to drive.
The traffic and the blind corners were a hard no for me, however.
Taxis don’t run on meters here. You’ll need to negotiate a price before hopping into their unmarked van (yes, really. Unmarked vans). Unfortunately, there isn’t much wiggle room in terms of the price. You can expect to pay about 50.000 rp for a one way trip from your hotel/resort into town.
If you’re lucky, your hotel or villa might offer a free shuttle to and from downtown. Just inquire at the time of booking.
The other (and personally favored) option for getting around is to hire a driver for the day. You can pay a fixed rate for a predetermined amount of time and go to and from as many locations as you’d like. Centrally or as far reaching as you can get within that time frame.
Ubud is a fantastic choice for those seeking something other than sun, sand, and surf. There is so much to eat, see, and do in town and the surrounding villages. Here are just a few options:
- Sacred monkey forest sanctuary. Ah, Monkey Forest. The most visited attraction in the area. Yes, it’s true – there’s a chance of getting bitten by a cheeky monkey and contracting rabies. So don’t feed them bananas and don’t taunt them. And whatever you do – don’t try and HIDE food from these mad-tempered creatures. If they happen to climb on you, do your best to remain calm.
- Ubud Palace. It’s not so much an activity as it is something to see. The palace is located at the corner of Jalan Raya Ubud and Monkey Forest Road; next to the Art Market.
- Ubud Art Market. This two-story market is filled with trinkets, crafts, and clothes galore. Try to resist the wood-carved phallic bottle openers, if you can (winky face). If the beautiful batik sarongs draw you in, be prepared for some fierce haggling. And be forewarned that some of the stall owners can be very aggressive trying to gain your business.
- Tegalalang rice terraces. You probably envision these rice terraces when you think of Ubud, don’t you? Be honest. You totally do! They’re one of the most iconic attractions in the area, and everyone wants to see them. Aka they’re crowded and touristy as all heck. Thanks to our super helpful driver, we discovered a little trick to take in these quintessential views without the crowds of people. You can find out what that trick is here.
- Mt. Batur. This mighty volcano is located in the north, about an hour and a half drive from Ubud. A crowd-pleasing adventure is to wake up at an unholy hour to climb Mt. Batur and watch the sunrise from the summit. I like to be comfortably asleep in my bed at 4 am when I can help it. So I chose an alternative activity: having my morning iced coffee at a restaurant in the nearby village of Kintamani, overlooking Mt. Batur. I would have loved to canoe Lake Batur at the base of the volcano. Or relaxed in the hot springs. But regrettably, we didn’t leave ourselves enough time for that.
- Spa treatments. You’ll find many humble options with rows of massage tables separated by thin cloth curtains, and prices starting around 80.000 rp an hour ($8 CAD). There are just as many luxury spas, though, with serene rice paddy views, and gigantic rose petal filled tubs to soak away any aches or worries you may be holding onto. Prices are much higher, though, and go up a seemingly infinite amount.
- Relax at Jungle Fish ‘beach’ club. What an awesome place to spend a day. Lounge in a hanging daybed and float in the peaceful infinity pool. With the jungle as your backdrop, you can’t help but have a relaxing time.
- Swim in Tegenungan waterfall. Ubud, being inland, is mighty hot without that refreshing ocean breeze. This waterfall is a great escape from the humid weather. A trip here pairs quite nicely with a visit to the closeby Tegalalang rice terraces. Just keep in mind that many other like-minded folks probably have the same idea as you. This is no secret watering hole deep in the Bali jungle. But rather, a busy and bustling attraction.
- DIY east coast day trip. Hire a driver for the day to take you around the east coast of Bali, making little stops at numerous points of interest along the way. Take a break in the beachside town of Candidasa for lunch, and head over to Charly’s Chocolate Factory for a rip on their palm tree swings.
- Ujung Water Palace. A beautiful palace with remarkably maintained gardens and grounds. Don’t make the hour and 45-minute drive out just to see this site. But if you’re in the area (for example: doing a tour of the east coast), this is a nice stopping point.
- Drive out to Virgin Beach. Ubud is not on the water, so after a few days of staying in the jungle, you may be hankering to get back in the Indian Ocean. 1.5-hours east of Ubud is one of the most stunning beaches we ever did see: Virgin Beach. I wouldn’t hesitate to call it the best beach in Bali, in fact.
Activities To Avoid
- Elephant Safari Park / Taro Elephant Sanctuary. The word “sanctuary” is being grossly misused here. I can’t/won’t recommend you visit. In fact, I encourage you to stay away! No matter how popular this place is, or how many locals, tourists, and guidebooks alike tout it as being a humane and ethical way to interact with elephants, it is not. It’s an establishment that promotes rides, circus tricks, chains, and bullhooks. Going here was a big fat regret in my books.
- Try the world’s most expensive coffee. If you visit a kopi luwak plantation you can sample this infamously pricey cup of java. In case you haven’t heard… it’s made from cat poop! It all sounds fine and dandy, but upon further reflection, I realize this is an activity we should have deleted off our list. Many of the plantations gather and cage a large number of these civet cats in tiny confounds and feed them a diet almost exclusively of coffee beans.
Money Saving Tips
- Go to Bintang supermarket to pick up drinks and snacks to keep on hand at your villa. Some items, like potato chips, can be crazy expensive (like 70.000 rp per bag / $7 CAD). Meanwhile, other treats, like sleeves of Oreos and Ritz crackers and cheese sandwiches cost a mere 9.000 rp / 90 cents CAD. Browse the aisles to find the best deals.
- Eat the local food. We had some fresh and tasty meals for only 20.000 rp each ($2 CAD) from the neighborhood warungs. The price cannot be beaten.
- The long-tailed macaque monkeys found in the Sacred Monkey Forest are sneaky little thieves. Take off any jewelry, watches or sunglasses, and keep a tight hold on your camera or phone when you enter. These rascals are capable of opening your backpack and throwing your wallet and hotel room key off a bridge into a river below. We witnessed it. Having your valuables accessible to the monkeys could make your trip to the forest one of the most expensive activities of your holiday.
Heading to Bali? Check out our Bali destination page for more related posts.
More Destination Guides
I’m excited to share with you our first-timer’s destination guides for a number of areas in Bali. Over the next few weeks, we’ll have guides up for Uluwatu, Canggu, Seminyak, and Kuta. Plus Gili Trawangan. So check back two Wednesdays from now for the next one 🙂