Ask anyone who’s been to Bali how they would describe the country in one word and 95% of people will say “magical.” The other 5% will say “beautiful.” And that pretty much sums it up- Bali is 100% magical and beautiful. While you can find incredible things across the whole country, Ubud is a top destination for experiencing the awesomeness that Bali has to offer.
I was constantly looking around wide-eyed thinking (many times out loud) “is this place for real? Whoa, amazing! Holy insane beauty Batman!” You get the idea. From the ornate temples to the ancient relics to the rice fields to the prayer offerings, to the burning incense seemingly at every corner, Ubud is not to be missed.
There’s a ton of wonderful things to do in the Ubud area, but here’s my picks for the top 8 best things to do in Ubud:
1. Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
The Monkey Forest is a gated sanctuary in the heart of Ubud that’s actually right off one of the main roads, (conveniently named) Monkey Forest Road. This dense bit of jungle, officially called Mandala Wisata Wanara Wana, houses three holy temples and is a must-see when in Ubud.
The main attraction here is- you guessed it- monkeys! As soon as you enter the park you quickly learn that when they say “monkey forest” they ain’t kidding… these guys are everywhere!
The park sells some bananas and sweet potatoes that visitors can purchase to feed the monkeys. There are signs that teach a quick lesson in monkey etiquette- the most important being- don’t pretend to give a monkey a banana and then take it away or not give it to him. Noted. We didn’t opt for the feeding experience but those monkeys will get all up in your business if you let them- they were climbing right up people and hanging out on their shoulders for those bananas.
Some monkeys are smaller but there are some big guys in the mix equipped with some pretty big fangs. But they seem pretty friendly as long as you’re respectful.
So the monkeys are pretty cool but the park itself is a sight to be seen. Towering ancient trees and remnants of what looks like ancient stone buildings being swallowed up by thick greenery. Definitely a must!
Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
Hours: 8:30am – 6pm
Entrance fee: adult/child 30,000/20,000Rp
Address: Jl. Monkey Forest, Ubud, Bali 80571, Indonesia
2. Elephant Safari Park
If you love animals, definitely go visit the Elephant Safari Park. The park was started by an Australian transplant who founded the park to rescue and provide a new home for logging elephants living in terrible conditions in Sumatra.
There are multiple options for visiting the park. You can just visit for a few hours, take an elephant ride, or get up close and personal bathing the elephants in the wee hours of the morning. I was lucky enough to work on the film “Water For Elephants” in which one of the main characters was an Indian elephant, and just being around that awesome guy totally sold me on how amazing elephants are.
I literally jumped at the option to hang out with and bathe the elephants and I’m so glad we did- it was a really fun and awesome experience! A car picked whisked us away to the park in the wee hours of the morning and we spent a couple hours hanging out at the park scrubbing elephants, and then hopping on and going for a spin in their elephant pool.
Pricing: tour including transport; adult/child US$65/44
Hours: 8am – 6pm
We signed on for a day of adventure withBali Adventure Tours- bathing the elephants in the morning and then rafting in the afternoon. I highly recommend both- but you can just do the rafting option as well. The package with the elephants and rafting is pretty reasonably priced, and it includes a surprisingly delicious buffet lunch in-between the excursions.
The route goes down the Ayung River and if you’re worried about safety, don’t be- the river is pretty mild and low key. There’s some fun rapids but nothing really scary or challenging. One thing to keep in mind is that the launch and exit points to the river have A LOT of stairs. It’s no biggie- just something to keep in mind if you have a stair phobia or something ;).
The route is about 2 hours and river winds through some gorgeous green canyons with some waterfalls here and there. As you get closer to Ubud you can see luxury hotels perched on the sides of the canyon. At the end of the rafting trip you’re greeted by hot showers and fresh towels in a clean and modern locker room. Not bad!
Bathing elephants & rafting ; $140 / person
Rafting; $77 / person
4. Gunung Kawi
There’s a ton of amazing cultural sites and temples galore around Ubud, but when we read that Gunung Kawi looks like something out of an Indiana Jones movie- we were sold! You can’t go wrong with anything Indiana Jones-y.
Gunung Kawi’s history is a bit mysterious, as there’s different hypotheses on its purpose.
Gunung Kawi Temple is a collection of ten candi (shrines) cut out of limestone cliff faces in imitation of actual statues. The candi stand at 8m-high are are sheltered in niches cut into the rock. One belief is that each temple served as a memorial to deified royalty because they are similar to burial towers found throughout Central Java. Inscriptions over each Candi hint at the construction to be in the 11th Century.
At the entrance to the trail that leads to Gunung Kawi you’ll pay a small fee to enter, and as like most religious places in Bali, visitors are all required to wear sarongs (men and women). It’s helpful to know that there are many street shops lining the route to the entrance and those women hocking sarongs are pretty aggressive.
It was really the only time we were a little uncomfortable our whole time in Bali because the women were literally grabbing my arm and pulling me to their stores. They’ll tell you that you need a sarongs and so you have to buy from them, but you’ll know better because you read our blog :). You can either bring a sarong, or there are free sarongs they loan you at the entrance to Gunung Kawi.
The site itself is really cool and yes, ’twas something out of Indiana Jones. Vines, ancient rock carvings, and mystery abounds.
Admission fee: adult/child 15,000/7500Rp
Location: Tampaksiring , Indonesia
5. Local Dances
Bali’s artistic culture is reflected in the many unique styles of music and dance. We saw a Kecak and Fire Dance at the Uluwatu Temple (so cool), and a Legong and Barong Dance at the Ubud Palace.
The Ubud Palace is a must-visit on its own, so you can kill two birds with one stone by seeing a dance at the Palace. We were running a bit late so we didn’t get the best seats, but I recommend going at least a half an hour early so you can get some primo seats close to the front. Bali Trips has a good schedule of dances in the Ubud area.
Legong Dance at the Ubud Palace; 7:30pm
Admission Fee: 80,000 Rp.
6. Luxury Resorts
Normally it would be uber lame to add a resort to a “must-see” list, but the level of awesomeness of the resorts in Ubud shouldn’t be missed. If you can swing it, stay at a luxury hotel- your money will go a long way, so if there’s ever a place to splurge- this is it! We stayed at the Maya Resort and it was incredible. At every turn there’s one gorgeous thing after another. The service, the food, the EVERYTHING!
If you don’t stay at a luxury hotel- go visit one for the spa or even dinner or drinks. The eye candy alone is SO worth it.
Rooms start at $210/ night*
*We found an epic deal on Expedia after we booked our flight. Expedia is doing this new thing where for a certain time period after you book a flight with them, you have access to significantly reduced prices. We scored at paying 40% off the normal price at Maya which ended up being about $180 a night.
Spas in Bali abound, and they’re really reasonably priced. And, like most things in Bali- they’re super beautiful. You can get a 45-minute massage starting at $10. But just like the luxury hotels, the luxury spas are also pretty darn reasonable for what you get.
We opted for a package deal at the Spa at the Maya which was around $80 per person for an hour oxygen facial treatment, hour massage, plus lunch and a healthy juice at the delicious River Cafe just across from the spa. We had no idea what the heck an oxygen facial treatment was, but we totally felt like we looked five years younger afterwards. Aha! So that’s what celebrities do on a weekly basis! I need me an oxygen facial machine.
8. Rice Terraces and Touring the Countryside
The landscape in the area around Ubud is really phenomenal. Rolling lush country is dotted with rice fields and small towns full of handmade wood carvings, paintings and other local goods. You could explore for days, but a great option is to hire a car for the day or afternoon to tour around the Ubud area. You can stop at artisan towns, beautiful temples, and the not-to-be-missed rice terraces carved into the hillsides.
There are lots of extremely friendly drivers in Ubud, but if you would like a recommendation drop us an email! We were lucky that a friend of my husband had recommended a wonderful driver in the Ubud area, Wayan. Wayan is so friendly, helpful, and speaks very good English. We actually emailed Wayan before our trip and he picked us up from the airport. It was a lovely welcome to Bali after 30 hours of traveling!
Are there other must-sees in Ubud that you think should be added to the list? What are you favorite things in Ubud?