A guide to Ubud
A guide to Ubud
I am amazed by how religion, culture and tourism intermingle in Ubud. It’s great to see that Balinese people still dress traditionally for their ceremonies at temples and lay small banana leave plates of flowers outside of every house. Plus, Balinese are just so friendly. However, one can totally see the effects and changes tourism has brought about. The area boasts many very modern and hip restaurants and coffee places.
The more time you spend outside of the touristy center, the more of the “real” Ubud you’ll get to know: you can watch the workers in the rice fields, go to local markets or grab something traditional to eat in a small warung.
There is tons of content on Ubud on the Internet, so I try to keep this guide short and only recommend my favorite places to shop, visit and eat. I have come across many influencers (besides: is there even one influencer on this planet that hasn’t been to Bali yet?) that give advice on Bali and I added the, to me, most helpful accounts at the very end of this blog post and linked them with their social websites.
Best travel time to visit ubud
The question that should be asked is, whether there even is a perfect time to travel to Ubud? In my opinion, every month is a good choice really. I visited Ubud in February 2018 during the rainy season and it rained only twice during our stay but more on that in the following section.
February, in my opinion, was the perfect timing for our travels since the volcanic eruption in November 2017 had affected the number of tourists visiting the island. As February is actually low season (but still a little busy), the eruption of Mount Agung probably made some people change their minds on their visit to Bali.
My Airbnb hosts from Casa Avana said that this low number of visitors in Ubud has to be a result of the eruptions and the ash cloud in the preceding months. It will be warm all year round, but during rainy season one has to expect some unforeseen rain showers.
Weather in February
Most of the time people think it’s raining non-stop during the rainy season, but actually, that’s not the case. Rainy season can be just a bit more cloudy and what makes it “rainy season” is the rain that occurs 1-2 times a day – just make sure you hide somewhere because that’s heavy rain and you’ll be soaking wet even if you wear a raincoat. Apart from that, I’ve always experienced sunny and a bit more humid weather after the rain.
Though, I must admit that sometimes it got quite chilly in the evenings in Ubud which I am not used to from my visits to my Thai family during the rainy season.We were very lucky with the weather during our stay in Ubud. Even if the sky was overcast in mornings, the sun managed to come out by the early afternoon. Actually, I don’t know what I would have preferred – overcast sky or super hot days. As soon as the sun was shining, I was just looking for the next shady place to hide.
Anyway, everything was better than having to deal with snowy weather and freezing temperatures for a month at home! Because a normal human being that isn’t used to this hot and humid weather can’t spend a whole day exploring and therefore sometimes needs a break to refuel with a good iced tea or coffee at one of the many coffee places Ubud has to offer.
Ubud offers a wide range of beautifully decorated coffee places and restaurants.
Cafes and restaurants
Lazy Cats Café
Coffee – Vegan – Vegetarian – Raw Food
This one is definitely one of my favorite spots in Ubud. It’s very special in terms of floor plan, interior style and food. I had a hard time finding the location because you don’t spot the café right away when you drive by since the café is located in the first floor and the main door is not a real eye-catcher that you’d notice as soon as you pass by. As opposed to the bohemian style of many other restaurants and cafes in Bali, Lazy Cats has a really interesting mix of industrial, comfy and vintage style interior.
“BEING LAZY DOES NOT MEAN DOING NOTHING. IT MEANS DEDICATING TIME TO YOURSELF, WITHOUT THE NEED TO BE PRODUCTIVE.“
… that’s what the blackboard at Lazy Cats says and that’s exactly what I did there: nothing very interesting besides talking to strangers five hours straight and enjoying a very well-prepared lunch. My boyfriend and I shared the yummy Tempeh BBQ Burger and the Bali Bowl. Definitely make sure to taste a smoothie if you’re not going for one of their delicious coffees!
Coffee specialties – coffee shop
At Seniman they know their handcraft pretty damn well. One just has to have a look at their very extensive coffee menu. If you want to experience a coffee treat of a special kind you have to go there. They cater to the needs of a wide range of tourist types: digital nomads can dive into work at one of the many tables that provide power for their laptops; those who come to enjoy a cup of coffee can take a seat either at their terraces or in an enclosed space upstairs or downstairs.
Seniman thought everything through very carefully: there might not be a parking space for your scooter right in front of the café, but a guy will park your scooter in a garage and bring it to you when you leave the café; there’s also sort of a locker space for the helmets that the staff will happily store for you while you’re enjoying a good cup of coffee. That being said, Seniman – in my opinion – offers a top-notch service without being expensive.
Café du Monyet
Coffee – Breakfast – Rice fields
On my travels, I do a lot of walking. So as I was shopping along the street of Jl. Monkey Forest and went past Café du Monyet I saw that there was a ricefield at the end of the café. The center of Ubud is pretty much only concrete buildings and having spotted a coffee place next to a rice field in the middle of “touristy” Ubud was sort of a win for me.
Actually I wasn’t really planning on having breakfast (no2), but I didn’t want to miss out the opportunity to enjoy the view of the ricefield. When I was visiting in the morning, my boyfriend and I were the only people stopping by. Don’t expect perfect coffee. Breakfast is good and basic, but in comparison to others it also doesn’t really stand out. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the atmosphere and view in the middle of “concrete jungle” in Ubud center.
Restaurant – Delicious Burgers
Watercress offers a good selection of mouthwatering fast food dishes. It’s hard to decide on just one dish. I wish I could have gone there a few more times to work my way through the menu and try every single dish.
We actually wanted to grab dinner outside of Ubud, but as it turned out Plan A and then also B were both closed when we arrived (very annoying after driving through Ubud for an hour), we headed to the center because we knew that restaurants there would for sure be open. El Mexicano was one of the least busiest restaurants and so we headed there.
I honestly don’t quite understand why it was that empty – most probably because other restaurants enjoy more attention on social media. El Mexicano is the sort of a restaurant that I would imagine in Tulum: colorful, hip and comfortable. And also in terms of food, there is nothing to critize about: it’s ready within minutes and so good!
My Airbnb host recommend this place to me, after we had been to a few local warungs just to stand in front of closed doors. This is not a very typical warung where you can choose of a variety of prepared meals that are displayed in a glass cabinet. It’s a basic restaurant that serves typical and western dishes like Nasi Kuning or Pizza. I highly recommend going for the Nasi Kuning – many locals told me that they love Nasi Kuning at Warung Hana. So if locals go there and love the food, for me, that’s always a good sign of authenticity in taste and also of the dish itself.
Bale Udang is the place where bigger groups and families head to for lunch or dinner. It’s more expensive than basic warungs, but offers a wide range of local dishes. Like I said, it was pretty difficult to find cheap and local places that were open. So we decided to head to Bale Udang to eat some Indonesian food. The atmosphere is very nice: you can sit in one of the many separated bamboo huts with a view on the rice fields that are arranged alongside the pond. I loved their food and especially the Ginger Punch that was so refreshing!
What to visit
Ubud has quite a number of places that you can pay a visit. I must admit that I didn’t make it my mission to go to every single sight in Ubud just because I was expecting so many people at each one of them.
To me, Ubud already is a sight itself with its many Balinese (royal) family compounds, called Karang, spread all over the area. They just look so beautiful! Especially when driving around with a scooter, the first thing I’d see was a normal house front but then – if I looked close enough – I could see the different building elements and shrines that in a bigger picture look somewhat like a temple compound. But in fact they are private residences of Balinese families.
Tegallalang Rice Terraces
Pictures don’t do this place justice. It is so much bigger than what it seems like and there are so many hidden corners everywhere you go. Make sure you don’t only stay along the one path they provide for tourists! Walk around and take pictures, the earlier you go there – the calmer it is. My boyfriend and I actually were the only people from 6-7.30am, at around 6.30am workers started to pop up in the fields.
One worker even approached us and asked us a few questions; and from that moment on he stayed with us, showed us “better” corners of the rice fields which in the end turned out to be the touristy path of the rice fields where he offered us to take a picture with typical props for the work in the rice terraces – of course, for money. We kindly refused the offer.
He stayed with us, watched us fly the drone and followed us on our way back to the scooter and then asked: “Maybe you want to give me some money?” But not in a pushy way! I knew this was gonna happen. And since he had shown us around (even though we didn’t ask him to do so), he had given us very detailed explanations on the whole process from planting the rice plants, the maintenance to harvest, we gave him some money. He wasn’t expecting an exact amount of money, I guess for him it was just an appreciation of his guided tour so to say.
Entrance fee: FREE
Pura Desa Ubud
Having seen tons of pictures on social media before going there, I had had the impression this temple is situated on a large compound like Angkor Wat. So I was kind of shocked that, as soon as you enter, you’d have to walk by a small restaurant and the Starbucks entrance to get there. But nevertheless, it is actually really pretty and you can watch local children try to fish in the ponds. For me, this was a good opportunity to enjoy the calmer atmosphere in the middle of Ubud center for a while. During the day, many tourist groups visit this site, so, in case you want to avoid the crowds, you’re best advised to visit in the early morning or late afternoon.
Entrance fee: FREE
Goa Gajah is nothing too fancy and not really impressive. For an entrance fee of not even one Euro you can stroll around, walk past a small waterfall, feel like you’re exploring a bit of a jungle since part of the grounds is covered in luscious green and visit the Elephant Cave. SYou can easily see that there is low maintenance – tables and chairs lying in the corners, but I didn’t expect much for having paid 15.000IDR. If you have something to cover your feet, feel free to bring a towel or a cloth with you. But in case you forget to bring something, there are various stalls that sell colorful sarongs and at the entrance, they free sarongs to use.
My personal opinion: I wouldn’t consider it a must to visit this place. We just happened to have stayed somewhere nearby so we thought we could pay this place a visit.
Entrance fee: 15.000IDR (which equals € 1,-)
Only buy what you are a 100% in love with to keep your wardrobe small and not to follow the ulterior motive of the fast fashion industry
Now to my favorite part: shopping in Bali! Usually, I don’t go shopping on my travels, but Bali is a totally different case –
Jalan Monkey Forest
You can find everything alongside this street leading straight to Ubud market: clothing brands, souvenir shops, restaurants etc… My favorite shops were definitely:
- Bamboo blonde (clothes)
- Island to Island (jewelry)
- gle (clothes)
- Tropicana (clothes & swimwear)
Yes, Ubud Market isn’t really a market that locals would go to. It’s more a place where tourists can go to buy souvenirs and clothes. Nevertheless, I loved the atmosphere and it didn’t hurt walking past all those shops and having a look at what they were selling. I used the opportunity to buy my favorite fruits that I haven’t had in two years. If you want to visit a real local market you can head to Tegallalang Market in the early morning.
We drove by the market in the early morning at 6.00am on our way to the rice terraces and noticed that people were busy buying things there. So we made sure to stop by after our visit at the rice terraces. When we visited at around 7.30am it was already less busy than at 6.00am. Tegallalang Market is the kind of market I am used to seeing around my family’s village in Thailand – people selling fresh fruits and veggies, herbs, eggs, chicken and many other things. Everything but touristy stuff.
We just walked through and had a look at a few – to us – unknown fruits and veggies. It was nice to finally go to a place where there are no tourists and find yourself surrounded by “real” local life that I was so desperate to find in Ubud. Sure, Bali, in general, is very busy and elsewhere in Indonesia it is still very calm, but it was so nice to see that there is still a part of their life that is untouched by tourism.
Where to sleep in ubud
If you’re like me – the kind of traveler that wants stay away from the crowds – I highly recommend staying outside of Ubud center. I stayed at an Airbnb near Goa Gajah. Renting a scooter is almost a must for a stay in Bali anyways: it will allow you more flexibility during your stay and it’s a fast way to get around in Ubud area. Renting a scooter costs 60.000IDR per day which is not expensive at all, in addition, gasoline is also really cheap.
Here’s my blog post about Airbnb Casa Avana that I stayed at.
Planning your stay:
helpful websites and social media accounts
Mark Wien’s Youtube channel for restaurant recommendations in Ubud
some inspiring blog posts:
Ubud Guide from Clarinta Travels (English)
Anna-Laura Kummer’s Ubud Guide (German)
The girls from welikebali Bali Travel Guide