The first time I went to Ubud, I expected everything to look like the photo above: towering palm trees, gently swaying rice fields, maybe a pool or a waterfall dotted here and there. The city center ended up being a strong contrast to my imagination–Ubud is a city after all, with some congestion and smog and Starbucks, too.
Of course, lushness exists throughout Bali and is the reason why this magical island has gotten so busy in the first place. On the one hand, Ubud is pretty overtouristed. I’ve had my own minor moral battles over whether visiting these days is harmful, neutral, or insignificant/merely selfish. It’s a bit of a moral quandary with traveling in general–I don’t belong to the camp who thinks ‘bringing in tourism money’ is a salve for everything.
On the other hand, Ubud offers so much to someone interested in yoga and healing. And I’d like to think Balinese culture is so strong and tradition-based that the tourism impacts the island less than other places. When I see another outcrop of high-end hotels replacing a previously untouched rice field, though, I do wonder if that is really the case.
Even with these questions on my mind, Ubud has remained a place that I love to visit and return to year and year. These are my recommendations if you’re going, too.
Where to stay:
Ubud is densely peppered with guesthouses throughout the city center, as well as more natural retreats and resorts further afield. If you’re staying for a while, as I did for my yoga teacher training, you can usually find a place you like on foot or online, and arrange a better monthly price with them.
I would recommend staying further out from the busiest streets of Jalan Monkey Forest and Jalan Raya. This leaves you with either: finding a place outside of the city (motorbike or taxi-ing into town), going up to Penestanan, which is kind of an in-between (you can rent a motorbike or embrace a longer walk in), or looking for a spot tucked away but still centrally located, like Jalan Jembawan.
One word of warning–I’ve had experiences booking a place only to show up and have the room already taken by someone else! This wouldn’t be a problem with higher-end resorts, but if you’re going for guesthouses (which I love, because you often still have a small pool and a beautiful garden for the cheaper price) bear in mind that your best-laid plans may change.
Radiantly Alive (pictured above) – located on Jalan Jembawan, recently upgraded with more space and a cafe, which I have not tried. Their classic ‘RA Vinyasa’ classes are great, and they offer other fun classes like aerial yoga, too. All the teachers I have had there are awesome and play good music. I did my yoga training here and really enjoy their classes for a daily practice, as it’s less of a tourist destination than the Yoga Barn. They also have great workshops and short trainings–I really enjoyed the shamanic breath work I did with Devi Ma, which happens regularly.
The Yoga Barn – if you’re going to Ubud, you probably already know the Yoga Barn. It’s a large, and very beautiful, yoga complex with offerings such as yoga nidra, kirtan, sound meditations, and so many trainings and workshops. They have a diverse range of day-long workshops, which can be great if you want to learn but aren’t around for a full course. The cafe onsite is yummy and serene, and I love their classic Sunday ecstatic dance–more on that below!
There are other studios around that I haven’t been to, such as Ubud Yoga Center and Intuitive Flow–they look great and I’d love to try them next time but so far I have remained a creature of habit.
Sayuri Healing Food – my favorite restaurant. A lot of beautiful raw food and reishi and spirulina on their weekly rotating menu. They have comfy seats and plugs if you need to work on your laptop, or just hang for a couple hours. I love the pad thai and smoothies, and their triple berry cheesecake is to die for (and raw vegan). I also really enjoy the outdoor area/garden in the back, and they have a small shop in store so you can buy their yummy dragonfruit kefir or coconut chips to go!
Clear Cafe – a classic spot with great interior design. I love that you can sit at a table or down on the ground depending on the area of the restaurant. Unlike a lot of my favorite restaurants in Ubud–not completely vegan, but very vegan oriented. Get buckwheat strawberry pancakes for breakfast, an icy blended drink (sooo good) and a dragon bowl for lunch, and a turmeric elixir and heartier curry or sandwich for dinner. Then slide down the fireman’s pole from the second floor for a fun exit, no matter the time of day.
Sage – slightly more out of town (south of the Yoga Barn), but so worth the hike, even if you’re on foot. But maybe catch a ride for convenience. The restaurant has an intimate and candelit vibe–with the white paint and little windows, it kind of feels like you’re in a Greek island’s taverna, but more cute and vegan. Their Aloha Burger is famous for a reason, and their appetizers and bowls are great too.
Mudra – a thoughtfully designed spot on a pleasant street, one of my favorite ones to walk down. The food can get a bit pricey here for the portions, but the menu is diverse and the food is well made. It’s a great place to sit down and chill–you can tell the owner really cares with all the little details.
Yellow Flower Cafe – located in Penestanan, slightly out of town but walkable. This is a laidback cafe with good healthy food and a sweet location–it’s a good break from the high end spots and Instagram crowd.
The Yoga Barn Kafe – great for breakfast and lunch and sitting to journal for a bit before yoga class. I recommend the lemon ginger honey drink that comes in a giant mug, as well as the macrobiotic breakfast and the pumpkin curry for lunch.
And a whole bunch of other good options:
- Dayu’s Warung – yummy and nourishing, down to earth.
- Taksu (the spa) – has an all-you-can-eat salad bar that’s a great lunch.
- Kismet – good for their kombucha smoothies (yum) and seitan skewers and fast Wifi.
- The Elephant (in Penestanan) – good food and good views.
- Moksa – even more out of town. You’d definitely need a ride. Fancy raw food that’s nice for something different or a date night (with yourself/another).
- Puspa’s Warung (same street as Mudra) – a little streetside spot that’s great for a quick dinner and a break from all the health food.
- For coffee: a lot of the cafes above have good coffee. If you’re more particular, there’s Seniman Coffee – they roast and sell their own beans – and Revive in Penestanan. Both happen to be owned by Aussies :)
Hotel Tjampuhan – buy a day pass to use their sauna, steam room, hot and cold pools overlooking a lush jungle stream. Yep, pretty dreamy. You can also walk up nearby Campuhan Ridge (pictured above–same name as the spa, different spelling), then come here to cool off and relax.
Nur Salon – a very traditional place to get a Balinese massage. Be prepared to get in the nude in an open air (but private!) room–I love it because you can feel the breeze and listen to the birds while you get massaged! It’s right in the middle of the city, too, so it’s a good place to take a break from walking around in the heat. They also offer scrubs and flower baths.
Skin Organic Spa – a nice, clean place to get a mani pedi or a wax.
Activities & Shopping:
Sound healing at Taksu – I’ve only been once and would love to go again. The woman was super knowledgable and kind, and played the coolest array of instruments in a gorgeous room. Great overall experience. Happens every Wednesday, and on the new and full moon.
Ecstatic dance at the Yoga Barn – ahhhhh, ecstatic dance. This is the classic one in Ubud– many others have popped up now, but I think the bright and lively Sunday morning vibe is my favorite. Happens every Friday evening and Sunday morning–the key is that you go two hours before the start time to line up for a post-it with a number–yes, it’s that popular. Then go drink a smoothie, people watch, or just chill until the event, where you’ll exchange your ‘ticket’ for entry. If you’ve never been to ecstatic dance, be prepared to let go, dance, sweat, and shake yourself clean.
Shopping – there is so much shopping around, the best way to approach it is to walk up and down the main streets and make it an activity! From yoga clothes to jewelry to incense to souvenirs, you can find a lot of good stuff if you spend the time to look. I really like Yir Jewelry–they make reasonably priced 92.5 silver pieces with a spiritual tilt.
You can buy nuts, seeds, snacks, chocolate, limited groceries, and organic toiletries/incense/etc. at the Earth Cafe Market and Bali Buda Mart. There are also a couple of supermarkets in and around town.
Getting around Ubud can be a bit of pain if you’re on foot–heavy on the senses, hot and loud and diesel fume-y. However, I recommend it if you are not that comfortable on a motorbike, for your own and other’s safety. A lot of places with rent you a motorbike regardless of your ability, so it’s up to your judgment. Other options are scooter taxis, or having your accommodation call transport for you.
You can download the apps ‘Grab Car’ and ‘Go Jek’ for transport from the airport (recommended, otherwise you will pay for a rather expensive ride to Ubud)–but the ‘taxi mafia’ in Ubud disallows rideshare apps, so you won’t be able to use the apps again once you’re in the center. The best option I found was to get the Whatsapp of a nice driver you meet and just message them for a ride in or out of town.
If they are not personally free, they’ll probably just send a friend or a cousin – and because it’s Bali, I’ve found everyone to be super friendly.
Note: I was last in Ubud in September 2018, so some of my information may be slightly outdated. I look forward to going back soon ;)