Ubud Recommendations Inspired by Locals, Not Eat, Pray, Love

I am little embarrassed to admit it, but I have wanted to visit Bali ever since reading Eat, Pray, Love. Seriously, how cliché is that? But, I am being honest here. I added Bali to my travel list almost solely because of this well-known best-selling book about a woman’s experience of falling in love with a (very attractive) Brazilian divorcé while biking through rice paddies in the lush exotic countryside.

So, way before my best friend visited Bali twice in two years, and before my college friends honeymooned there, and before another close friend spent a whole month doing yoga there, I wanted to go to Bali! And it is because of Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful book.

We spent 10 days in Ubud—the focus of the book—and I loved it just as much as I thought I would. Though my experience was a little different than Gilbert’s, I still had an incredible time. In the book, Gilbert studies with a medicine man, buys a home for a local family, and spends a lot of time meditating near rice paddies. Unsurprisingly, we did none of those things. And there was no Brazilian divorcé.

Instead, Andrew and I stayed at an Airbnb in the center of town hosted by a friendly and helpful local couple. They loved to share recommendations with us so we sensibly followed them. From everything we did in Bali, here are some recommendations we are happy to pass on to our fellow travelers out there.

7 Awesome Things to do in Ubud, Bali

Do Some Yoga

 My first time successfully getting into flying pigeon!

My first time successfully getting into flying pigeon!

Yoga studios in Ubud are like Starbucks in the US—they are on every corner. And for good reason. Bali is considered one of the epicenters of Yoga so a lot of wonderful yoga teachers from around the world have lived and trained in the area. 

We bought an unlimited week pass at Radiantly Alive yoga studio for $60 USD and did yoga every day for a week. Going to a new studio made me miss my home studio (Flex & Flow—it is the best) but it felt good to dive right back into my yoga practice after many months of sporadic efforts. 

We chose Radiantly Alive because they had a huge variety of classes with many different time slots. We could choose from gentle Yin classes, Arm Balance workshops, and even Aerial yoga classes. I even met a fellow Californian that took 16 classes during his one-week unlimited pass! They had something for everyone—including beginners. 

Eat at Warungs

Warungs isn't a restaurant's name. A warung is a small family-owned restaurant. These small hole-in-the-wall eateries are typically cheaper and more casual than normal restaurants. They serve local Balinese dishes such as my favorite, mie goreng—noodles cooked in coconut oil with veggies and tofu—or Andrew’s favorite, gado gado—a spread of veggies, tempeh, tofu, peanut sauce, and rice.

Our favorite warung was PuSpa’s. We kept coming back for lunch at PuSpa’s Warung because the food was delicious, the family was friendly, and the fresh juice was the best we had in town for the lowest price. On a hot day, a refreshing mango juice really hits the spot.

Barter at Local Markets

Stroll through the local markets in Ubud to see beautiful textiles, wicker purses, and tons and tons of those funny hippie pants. You will find great souvenirs at the markets for very low prices. However, never pay the first price you hear. Instead, offer a quarter of that price and work your way up. I made a game of it and tried to get my purchases for half of the original price. And don’t worry, bartering is completely expected and that first price most likely has a mark up on it.

Hike Mount Batur at Sunrise

Mount Batur is the active volcano of Bali and a vigorous scramble to the top will give you magnificent views of the island. I repeat—a rigorous scramble. One woman in our tour group mentioned the hike was much steeper than she expected. Our guide politely replied, “It is a volcano.”

We booked a tour through Airbnb Experiences that included a driver, a guide for the hike (which is necessary in the dark), snacks on the summit, and a little outing to some hot springs on the way back for $60 USD per person.

It is best to hike Mount Batur early so you can watch the sunrise from the summit and avoid the mid-day (or even late morning) heat. The bummer is that means you must start the hike around 4 am to be at the top for sunrise. Since the volcano is about two hours North East of Ubud, this could mean a very early (2 am or so) wakeup call. The temperature before sunrise was just slightly chilly for shorts and a tank top but I warmed up as soon as we started moving.

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Visit Temples

There are temples all over Ubud but after hearing horror stories of tourists paying taxi drivers to go from one tourist trap temple to the next, I was hesitant to visit any. But our hosts recommended a couple so we dutifully rented motorbikes for Rp. 50,000 each, packed our sarongs, (necessary for respectful entry to temples) and explored. We visited both the Pura Tirta and the Gunung Kawi Temples early one morning—the perfect time to avoid crowds and heat.

The Pura Tirta temple is a sprawling property that contains a bath filled with fountains. Locals go there to get in the water, sit under one of the fountains, and do a cleansing meditation. Our host mentioned we were welcome to participate, but shoulders and knees must be covered in the water and I didn’t want a wet sarong so we just walked the temple grounds.

The Gunung Kawi temple and funerary complex is down a ton of stairs, then stretches across a small river. There are 10 giant shrines carved right into the side of a cliff and surrounded by tranquil gardens. We had to pay a small fee (Rp. 20,000) to enter Gunung Kawi but the shrines were so impressive it more than made up for the cost. Overall, we did not feel like trapped tourists at either temple.

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Walk Above Ubud

Ubud is a bustling town filled with locals on motorbikes, stray dogs, and sunburnt tourists. If you need a break, take a wander on the Campuhan Ridge Walk. Within walking distance of the center of Ubud, this walk is about 3 km long. After you climb some stairs, you will be on a paved road above the town with views of rice paddies and sounds of birds singing. At the end of the road, there are a few warungs where you can stop for a fresh coconut. Try one!

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Attend a Kecak Dance

On the day we planned to go to the Kecak dance I was feeling a bit lazy and reluctant to leave our comfy room. Fortunately, I got over it and went to the show. Man, am I glad I did! I could not stop grinning afterward. I was completely awestruck by the performance. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

A Kecak is a traditional Balinese dance and musical drama. They are often advertised as fire dances so a lot of tourists expect a circus-like fire show and end up disappointed. But a Kecak is really a musical drama performed around a fire to tell a story from the Ramayana Epics—an ancient Sanskrit story. The synchronized chanting of the sound “cak cak cak” creates a rhythmic background while actors in colorful costumes play out the dramas of battle, love, and death.

Our Balinese hosts have been to Kecak dances all over the island and swear the best one is at the open stage of Pura Dalem in Ubud. The dance takes place every Monday and Friday evening at 7:30 pm and costs Rp. 80,000. Get there just before 7 pm to ensure you get a front row seat so you can be close to the action.

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Throughout all these activities, just enjoy the Balinese people. Every local we encountered was very kind and more than happy to help us out when we got confused or had questions. We had a fantastic, and yes, romantic time in Ubud and I hope you enjoy the area as much as Andrew, I (and Elizabeth Gilbert) did.

 Our guide on Mt. Batur, Kadek, was one of the many friendly people we met. He grabbed my hand when I slipped on the hike, offered us water every few minutes, and took us on an additional trail to see more of the mountain. 

Our guide on Mt. Batur, Kadek, was one of the many friendly people we met. He grabbed my hand when I slipped on the hike, offered us water every few minutes, and took us on an additional trail to see more of the mountain.