The question I get asked the most about Ubud is – what is there to do?
While it’s true that Ubud is not close to any beaches, which is what most people think about when they hear ‘Bali’, that just means its charm lies elsewhere. So ditch your swimmers, and let’s scale mountains, go off-road cycling and get your paddles on.
Here are my top 6 things to do while in Ubud:
1. White Water Rafting at Telaga WajaI like to shake things up with a little bit of adrenaline after immersing myself in tranquil yoga sessions and chilling-by-the-pool marathons.
White water rafting is the ideal way to encounter the best of Ubud’s nature from the ground level. I highly recommend Sobek company for your rafting trip – they’re professional, they keep their rafting gear in tip-top shape, and they have a 100% spotless safety record. This activity is for anyone of all skills – I was a total rafting noob the first time I went. But they brief you thoroughly so you’ll always know exactly what to do during the rafting trip, in case of emergency, etc. Indonesians get a heavily discounted rate, so if you’re Indonesian, make sure to mention this during booking.
Sobek gives you two river options: Telaga Waja River and Ayung River. Trust me when I say you should definitely choose the Telaga Waja trip. The river provides so much more twists, turns and excitement, and way more breathtaking landscapes. I once made the mistake of ‘trying out’ Ayung River. I literally almost fell asleep – it was so boring. My sister and I joked that we could even have a tea party in the raft at Ayung. That’s how meh it was. So definitely go with Telaga Waja for an ‘Indiana Jones-ish’ experience. The trip even ends with a splash! (A butterfly-in-tummy-inducing 5 meters drop!)
I recommend: Telaga Waja White Water Rafting
Price: USD$79 per person
Book here: http://balisobek.com/TelagaWaja.asp
2. Cycle the Ubud Countryside
This is by far one of my most favorite activities in Ubud. I have constantly recommended it to friends and family. Basically, the Cycling Tour invites you to relish Balinese landscapes and daily life on two wheels through the lens of amicable local guides.
They start by picking you up from your accommodation, where they will then ascend by car to the top of Mount Batur. You will then enjoy a stunning sunrise over the mountain while enjoying a simple yet delicious Indonesian breakfast. Afterwards, you’ll be each given a mountain bike, and begin your descent for about 90 minutes. These 90 minutes are one of the richest experiences in Bali that you’ll ever have.
First, you stop at a Balinese coffee plantation to discover tropical coffee and taste a dozen of different types of coffee beans. This includes the Luwak – the most expensive coffee in the world! Don’t worry, here it costs just $1.50 for a glass. After that you cycle through paddy fields, art galleries, and traditional villages. You’ll stop at a traditional Balinese compound and understand more about how locals live.
Even though I am semi-local, everything I learnt from the guide was completely new to me. It was a truly mind-opening experience to learn about the culture of their tight-knit community. The entire trip then cumulates into a satisfying lunch by the rice fields – a charming buffet style Balinese food galore that’ll hit the spot after 4 to 5 hours of cycling.
I recommend: Bali Eco Tours – Downhill Cycling Tour
Price: Rp. 450.000 per person (around USD$40)
Book here: http://baliecocycling.com/cycling-tour/
3. Mount Batur Sunrise Hike
Mount Batur is an active volcano located in north-eastern Bali. Rising to 5633 feet, Mount Batur can be summited by physically-fit hikers in around two to three hours. My very fit German boyfriend found the trek “a breeze”, while I wheezed and panted and swore multiple times throughout the trek – but made it up alive.
There are countless tour providers offering the Mount Batur Sunrise Trek, so you just have to pick one. Usually, you can even arrange one with your accommodation – which is ideal so you won’t get cheated on as a tourist.
The trip will begin as early as 3 AM (depending on where you’re staying in Ubud) and a car will take you to the base of the mountain. From there, you begin your guided trek in the dark towards the summit. Note that the air is thin, and the weather pretty chilly, so dress accordingly. Once you reach the top, the clouds will part to present to you one of the most breathtaking sunrises. This is the ideal selfie time – provided you don’t look like a complete hobo by then. (which I did, but oh well.) Your guide will then serve you breakfast is usually eggs and bananas steamed with the crater steam, which is quite an interesting experience on its own!
I recommend: Arranging a guide from your accommodation
Price: Depending on where you live (the closer to Ubud the cheaper it is), but we paid Rp. 550,000 (around USD $50) per person for a pick-up, a guide, and breakfast included.
Book here: http://baliecocycling.com/batur-trek/
4. Bathe in the Tirta Empul Water Temple
What can I say – a truly magical place. Come here as early as you can to catch this exquisite temple bathing in Bali’s exceptional morning light. The locals make pilgrimages to this source of holy water to purify themselves from bad influences and vibes in their lives. The compound itself is not that big, but it makes for quite amazing pictures. To enter the temple compound, one has to wear a sarong (which is provided in the entrance), and females have to have their hair tied up. You can also participate in the holy bath, so bring change! P.S. If you’re one you period, you’re prohibited to enter this temple as it is a sacred area. Please respect their customs 🙂
Location: Manukaya, Tampaksiring, Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia
I recommend: Going there on your own, it’s not too hard to get there. However, I can also recommend going in as part of a photo tour.
5. Trek the Tegelalang Rice Fields
Get your dose of terraced and vibrant green rice paddy field here. Visually one of the most stunning locations around Ubud, this definitely has to go into your to-do list. The high roadside location is cool and breezy and it is a well-known spot for tourists to stop and take photos. There are also numerous art kiosks and cafes near the ledge offering their ware.
Location: Jalan Raya Tegelalang
I recommend: Going there early in the morning, it gets scorching hot at noon. And wear proper shoes if you plan to venture into the paddy field.
Price: Rp. 10,000 entrance (Around USD $1)
6. Take a Balinese Cooking Class at Casa Luna
What better way is there to enjoy a culture more than through its food? Even though I’m Indonesian, Balinese cuisine tastes very unique and special to my tastebuds. It’s characteristically lighter and more refined, and usually uses even healthier ingredients. After your Bali trip, I’m sure you’ll be itching to recreate some of these dishes back home.
Casa Luna Cooking School is organised and run by Janet De Neefe and her team of locals. In case you didn’t yet know, Janet De Neefe is Australian-born, but is married to a Balinese man and has been living in Bali for over 30 years. Her knowledge on Balinese and Indonesian food in general is much better than mine (and I’m Indonesian!), so don’t let the fact that the class isn’t run by a Balinese bother you. She also owns 2 famous restaurants in Ubud (Casa Luna and Indus), and has published cookbooks and is the brains behind the Ubud Food Festival – so you’re definitely in good hands!
The cooking class I did was a Vegan Class, however they also run non-vegetarian/non-vegan classes. The class is held at her guesthouse, and had about 12 participants in total. It began with her introducing all the spices required in Balinese cooking. Spices are basically 99% of what makes Balinese food, so learning about the right combination was super helpful. The rest of the class is then dedicated to preparing food together which results in a couple of main dishes that all the participants feast on together at the end.
I like how the cooking part is very hands-on, but yet they provided a lot of help. All the utensils and ingredients needed were all there and presented well, and her helpers were always ready to guide us on how to chop/mince/cook the ingredients. Do note that Balinese cooking and Balinese culture in general is focused on “togetherness” and achieving something together. So it’s not about cooking a dish by yourselves and then comparing your results with each other. This class is about cooking everything together – everyone plays a small part which contributes to the final meal.
Location: Jl. Bisma, Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia
Price: Rp. 450,000 (Around USD $40)
This is not an exhaustive list of course, there are tons of other things to do in Ubud. But these are my top 6 must-dos for all those going there just for a couple of days. Go on then, enjoy this magical place!