Ubud is interesting.
On one hand, it is often thought to the be the spiritual center of Bali, and after Eat, Pray, Love, it has become a place that travelers gravitate towards in search of a holistic holiday.
At the same time, Ubud is absolutely frenetic. Men shout “Taxi! Taxi!” at you every five meters, the sidewalks are jam-packed with gawking tourists, stray dogs bark as you walk past and yes, scooters zip down the roads at breakneck speeds, weaving in and out of traffic and leaving a trail of black smoke in their wake.
When I booked my trip to Ubud, I imagined myself being one of those people hopping around town from one yoga studio to another on my cute little scooter. One look at Ubud’s streets, and the news that a tourist had died in a scooter accident on the day of my arrival, made me completely change my thinking.
There was no way I was going to rent a scooter in Ubud.
Instead, I spent five days exploring Ubud and its surroundings in other ways: often by foot, sometimes by complimentary shuttle, occasionally with a car and driver and yes, sometimes on the back of a scooter driven by a local who was more confident on the roads than I could ever be.
Below, I’ve listed my ten favorite things to do in Ubud. These are ten things that you can do – easily – without renting a scooter or hiring an expensive private driver. Check out the list, and let me know in the comments if you’ve got any questions about traveling in Ubud, scooter-free!
1. Wander Through the Ubud Monkey Forest
Seeing monkeys in their (semi-) natural habitat is a highlight of any trip to Ubud, so visiting the Ubud Monkey Forest should be at the top of your list of things to do in Ubud. More than 700 monkeys roam freely through this forested area, protected (and occasionally fed) by the park rangers. You can get up close and person with monkeys, including adorable babies, or you can keep a wide berth if you’re not comfortable getting too close. For all the essential information about visiting the monkey forest, read my guide.
2. Splurge or Save at an Ubud Spa
Bali is famous for its spa culture, and there are few places with as wide a variety of spas as Ubud! As a dedicated spa traveler (I stripped down naked for two days in Germany to compare the country’s two most famous spas!) I knew that I would have to visit a spa while I was in Ubud… but which spa to choose? Should I splurge on a five-star luxury spa treatment or save on a cheap massage from one of the countless streetside massage parlours?
Ultimately, I settled on the middle ground. Based on some recommendations that I read on Facebook, I booked an appointment at Sedona Spa in Ubud. They were one of the few cheap spas in the center(ish) that offered outdoor flower baths. For 190,000 IDR ($19 AUD or $15 USD) I booked a ninety-minute package featuring a relaxation massage, a coffee body scrub and a soak in an outdoor flower bath. The experience was lovely and an amazing value – I can highly recommend Sedona Spa in Ubud for travelers on a budget. To reserve, just contact them on WhatsApp via the number on their site.
If you’re looking for more of a therapeutic massage to work through muscle aches, or if you want a more indulgent spa experience, the most famous spas in Ubud are mostly attached to upscale hotels. The Spa at Maya is one of Ubud’s most famous day spas, while the Spa at the Four Seasons is equally luxurious.
3. Visit Traditional Balinese Hindu Temples
There are Balinese Hindu temples throughout Ubud, and most are open to visitors who want to look around. The easiest temple to access is Saraswati Temple, which is located immediately beside the Starbucks. As I posted on Instagram, I’ve never had a more beautiful view from the queue for the toilet in a Starbucks before!
You can also visit Pura Dalem (just a little bit further down the street) and Pura Gunung (near the entrance to the Campuhan Ridge Walk). When I visited, both of these larger temples were under construction and only occasionally open to the public. There are many other temples, large and small, around the outskirts of central Ubud, usually marked by their ornate, towering gates.
Some temples expect visitors to wear a sarong when entering, but others do not. Usually, if sarongs are expected, they can be borrowed or rented at the temple entrance. Similarly, some temples have clear signs prohibiting women who have their period from entering, while others do not. You can probably get a sense of expectations as you enter the site.
4. Bargain at the Ubud Art Market
If you’ve got room in your suitcase, the Ubud Art Market is a great place to stock up on cheap dresses, elephant pants, rattan purses, jewelry and souvenirs. It is located right across the street from Ubud Palace and is open from morning until the tourists go to bed, so well after dark.
In Ubud, it is customary to haggle a bit with vendors in the market. Don’t accept their first offer. Instead, counter with a lower price (about 50% less than what they originally offered) and meet somewhere in the middle. Compare prices between vendors and let them know if another seller offers you a better price. If you think you’re being ripped off, you can always try walking away to see if the vendor will call you back with a fair price. Of course, no matter what approach you take, make sure to treat the vendors with respect!
The streets around the edges of the art market house a number of cute boutiques featuring clothing made by local designers, natural beauty products and leather goods (including vegan alternatives). If you’re looking to buy something a bit nicer, make sure to head into the shops, not just the market stalls.
5. Learn to Cook Indonesian Food at an Ubud Cooking Class
One of the highlights of my time in Bali was the half day I spent at Pemulan Bali Farm Cooking School. Situated about thirty minutes outside of Ubud, they offer free return transportation for both their morning and afternoon cooking classes.
I have a full post about my Balinese cooking class, where I talk about the three stages of our experience: an early-morning tour of a local produce market, a tour of the cooking school’s organic farm (including picking many fruits and vegetables that we used in our own dishes) and, the highlight, preparing six different Indonesian dishes… and eating them all!
6. Stretch Your Legs on the Campuhan Ridge Walk
I’m pretty committed to getting my 10,000 steps a day (my only complaint about scuba diving days is that I look so lazy on Fitbit!) so I knew I had to check out the Campuhan Ridge Walk in Ubud. This is a nine-kilometer trail that runs in a fairly straight line from central Ubud (near the entrance to the Warwick Ibah Hotel) to some of the villages north of the town center.
Along the way you will pass through some beautiful rice terraces, quaint villas, warungs where you can grab a drink or a full meal, and even some spas! At the start of the trail there is an affordable swing, if you’re on a budget but still want a “swing shot” for your Instagram feed. Don’t expect to find benches or shade along the trail, however.
I didn’t walk the full length of the trail as I had to be back in town for my treatment at Sedona Spa (see above), but the length that I did cover was beautiful. I’ve heard it’s even lovelier in the early morning, as the mist rises from the rice terraces, so consider getting an early start and stopping for breakfast at one of the warungs in the first village.
7. Heal Your Spirit With Sound Therapy
To me, travel is about doing things that you might not have the opportunity to do back home… and participating in a sound therapy session in a purpose-built pyramid in the middle of a rice terrace certainly fits that bill!
Pyramids of Chi is a new-age spiritual center that focuses on sound healing experiences. I visited for one of their monthly Full Moon ceremonies, which started with a shamanic fire ceremony (mostly just acknowledging the four directions, and led by a Cherokee healer… I saw some humor in the fact that I came from Canada to Bali to participate in a Cherokee ceremony!) and then progressed into a one-hour sound healing session in their larger pyramid. The sound healing experience was certainly unlike anything I’d done before (including guided meditation and flotation therapy… I sound like a hippie here!) – I alternated between complete relaxation and wondering, “WTF is that sound?!?!”. After the sound therapy we all headed back to the main house for a lovely communal vegetarian dinner.
There are many different events organized by Pyramids of Chi, including daily small-group sound therapy and larger, more elaborate events like full moon ceremonies, new moon ceremonies and sacred cacao ceremonies. Check out their website for dates, times, prices and descriptions. No scooter requires, as they have free shuttle service to and from Ubud Palace.
8. Get Entertained by Traditional Balinese Dance and Theater
Ubud can seem a little sleepy in the evening, so if you’re looking for something to do after the sun sets, consider purchasing a ticket for one of the traditional dance or puppet shows that take place a few times each week. If there are any shows that night, chances are good that someone in the street will offer to sell you a ticket. However, I believe that the Bali Taksu website also has a reliable list of performance times, locations and prices.
In Bali, puppet theatre is known as wayang. Typically, shadow puppets are used to tell ancient Hindu stories and local lore. The exact style of puppet varies from island to island, so even if you’ve seen a show on Java or elsewhere in Indonesia, you may have a different experience in Ubud.
Balinese dance is recognized by UNESCO for its unique cultural significance. In the past, Balinese dance was a sacred ritual that could only be performed at religious ceremonies inside Balinese temples, but today the Balinese have created semi-sacred and entertainment dances to share their culture with tourists. The dances often tell the same stories as are seen in puppet theater, such as the Kecak Dance, which tells stories from the Hindu Ramayana around a blazing fire.
9. Explore Lush Green Rice Terraces *
#9 and #10 both come with asterisks, as they are not accessible by foot or free shuttle from central Bali. However, both the Tegallalang Rice Terraces and Tirta Empul Water Temple are easily and affordably accessed by car from Bali. Personally, I visited both as part of a full-day tour (in an air-conditioned car!) offered as an Airbnb Experience for less than $40 USD. Both destinations get busier as the day goes on, so ask your guide or driver to take you there early.
The Tegallalang Rice Terraces are a short drive from central Ubud. Entrance to the terraces is free, though you may be asked for a donation (10,000 – 20,000 IDR is fine – we weren’t asked for any money though) and it’s easy to wander around and explore on your own (just be careful not to step in a water channel… or on a snake!). If you’re with a guide, he or she can explain the process of harvesting the rice and share more information about the different varieties of rice grown in Bali.
This is also one of the top stops for Bali’s famous swings. You’ll pay about 250K IDR for two rides on a swing over the terraces: one ride facing out for the beautiful view, and the second ride facing the road so you can get some cute photos. Personally, swinging wasn’t a priority and I gave it a miss, but it look like lots of people were having fun.
10. Cleanse Yourself (Metaphorically) at Tirta Empul Water Temple *
One of the highlights of my time in Ubud was my visit to Tirta Empul Water Temple, an important site in Balinese Hindu culture where locals come from all over (especially on the night of a full moon) to cleanse their souls in the sacred waters.
If there is anywhere where it’s worth having a guide, this is it. There is so much to learn about the Balinese Hindu faith, and so much to understand about how to navigate the water temple respectfully, that you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not having a local guide here. For example, most tourists don’t realize that the first water fountain is actually for use by people who need to be cleansed after cremating the body of a loved one! Our guide showed us exactly which fountains we should and should not use, and explained exactly why. We could see appreciation in the locals’ eyes as we queued at the correct fountains in the water temple.
I recommend that you bring a towel and swimsuit to Tirta Empul. If you don’t have your own sarong, you will need to rent two at the site: the first one stays dry and is for exploring the grounds, while the second is to wear in the water. If you rent a sarong for use in the water, you will also get a private locker (with key) to store your things. Again, a good guide will help you navigate the process simply and easily.
Have you been to Ubud, Bali? Are there any other things to do in Ubud that are great for travelers without scooters? Let me know in the comments!