Ever since Eat Pray Love, Bali has been a firm favorite on the solo female traveler’s radar. After all, it was here where Liz found enlightenment amongst the rice paddies, new friends, a new fortune and finally a new love.
While the movie doesn’t really tell us where Liz is finding this Balinese paradise, ever since single women have been flooding Ubud, yoga mat and green juice in hand with high hopes for finding their own personal Javier Bardem. That and a general tourist influx has crowded the little town, in the middle of Bali, in recent years but still, Ubud’s charm is second to none.
I guess I was one of those yoga mat carrying women (mind you, I hate green juice!) when I came to Bali last year to write my book. I initially wanted to stay somewhere close to the ocean but Ubud immediately stole my heart. If I had one word to describe Ubud it would be lush. Surrounded by rice paddies and jungle, it feels so green and reminds me of the Jungle Book somehow.
And while the city has gotten quite congested with scooters, monkeys and Yoga Barbies alike, I stayed. I think it was the crumbling sidewalks, the elephant statues everywhere, said monkeys, and the prawn sausage at Locavore to Go that made me. Ever since I cannot imagine coming to Bali without returning to Ubud for a few days.
Are you a Bali first-timer? Here is my personal Ubud beginner’s guide to my favorite things to do, see, eat and where to stay in Ubud.
Where to stay in Ubud
I have tried a few accommodations in Ubud and I am glad to report there is something for every budget and every taste. Since Ubud is not by the ocean, I’d go for a hotel with a proper pool. If you don’t mind being out of town I can highly recommend the Alila Ubud with one of the most Instagram-worthy infinity pools I have ever seen.
If you prefer even more seclusion and romance get yourself a luxury tent at Sandat Glamping. No need to rough it while you enjoy your own plunge pool and starry skies in the midst of rice paddies. For that location, do take a date because it is incredibly romantic and a plunge pool needs company for skinny dipping.
For those who like to be a little bit closer to the action and design lovers, Bisma Eight is the place to be. I have seldom seen such a beautiful hotel and again #poolgoals. Worth mentioning are the waffles with sorbet for breakfast and the oversized wooden bathtub.
The location is amazing too as you are within walking distance of the Monkey Forest and other sights, but still a bit away from all the hustle and bustle.
If you are looking for a budget option, my go-to source is Airbnb. It would take a while to check out all the beautiful places from bamboo nests to sleek lofts. My favorite was Jati Homestay for an unbeatable price of EUR 10 per night for a private room and ensuite bathroom at the end of a little alley off Jalan Hanoman, one of the main roads in Ubud.
Another place I have returned to many times is this bamboo gem on Jalan Penestanan. The area is more residential but you will find some amazing food options within walking distance including the best Gado Gado at Warung Mendez and beloved raw vegan restaurant Alchemy. Perfect for fans of zen outdoor living.
Where to eat in Ubud
Ubud is a little slice of culinary heaven and more importantly has something for everyone: carnivores, vegans, raw foodies and everything in between.Some of my favorites include the aforementioned Warung Mendez for great, inexpensive Balinese food, Cafe Pomegranate for unbeatable rice paddy views while you get your digital nomad on, and Kafe for healthy post yoga food.
Folk Ubud is a fun option for a lazy afternoon as they have recently added a pool in the backyard. Perfect to swim off that burger afterward!
If you are looking for something fancy look no further because Ubud is home to some of Indonesia’s best restaurants: Locavore and Hujan Locale. And if you want to get a taste without the pricetag head to Locavore to Go. The deli serves the most amazing breakfast (think duck eggs benedict on a waffle) and sandwiches. If you are lusting after the decor and the cutlery head next door afterward to Kevala Home that sells the beautiful china.
What to do in Ubud
Take a stroll along Jalan Hanoman and Jalan Monkey Forest to find shops selling everything from kitsch to treasures, see little temples and statues on every corner, and watch out for the daily blessings that the Balinese put out on the sidewalk in front of their shops. Ubud is quirky, Bohemian and equally full of tourists and people trying to sell you something – all part of the experience, people watching is fun in Ubud!
It is also a great place to go shopping for local handicrafts – beautiful woodwork, woven goods, and fabrics can be found in and around town.
It is also one of Bali’s cultural centers. Throughout the year you can watch Cecak dance performance at the Pura Puseh Ubud, touristy but still worth seeing. Literature fans should come in October when the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival is on.A more spiritual experience is a visit at the Pura Tirta Empul. In this temple, you can join the Balinese and wash away any ailments and sins in the water fountains. Keep in mind that women need to wear a long dress or sarong as well as a sash and are not allowed to enter a temple when menstruating.While you can join the washing ceremonies in the fountains, make sure to take a spare set of clothing to change into after – no bikinis allowed!
Photography fans and Instagram lovers shouldn’t miss a visit at the Tegallalang rice terraces. Far from original or very functional, they are oh so scenic that you will almost forgive the Balinese for charging a small entrance fee. The likes your images will get and the drone footage you can take home will be worth it. Professionals will come early, take a cute sundress and a personal photographer. If you want a more authentic experience I recommend you rent a scooter and explore the rice fields surrounding Ubud by yourself. Who knows – you may even stumble upon a hidden waterfall!No Ubud visit would be complete with a visit of Ubud’s most famous sight: the Sacred Monkey Forest. To be honest, while I have done so in the past I am not a fan anymore of paying for bananas to get a picture. However, I am a fan of just finding a quiet corner in the truly beautiful forest, sitting still and waiting for the monkeys to come to me, banana or not. As per usual when cheeky monkeys are involved, watch your bag, sunglasses or in my case, dress.
It didn’t take Eat Pray Love to put Ubud firmly on the map for all things spiritual and wellness in Bali. Find your bliss at famous Yoga Barn or for less crowded classes at Radiantly Alive Yoga and Ubud Yoga House. Don’t forget to get some mala beads in one of the plenty yoga shops.
If you prefer less activity and more bliss, get yourself an appointment at the Karsa Spa. After a stroll along the beautiful Campuhan Ridge Walk heaven awaits with a rose petal bath and a four-handed massage. If you want to learn more about Balinese beauty secrets head to the Kayumanis Ubud Private Villa and Spa. Here you will pick your own ingredients and learn how to make a traditional Lulur before getting massaged outdoors.
If you are in search of hidden gems and looking to get off the beaten path you might be one blockbuster too late when it comes to Ubud. However, this little town has perfected the concept of eating, praying, and loving and is well worth a trip when in Bali… Whether it’s with Javier Bardem, or just by yourself!
All images by Annika.