Ubud’s a classic stop on every Bali backpacker’s itinerary. While the beaches are certainly the main magnet for travelers coming to this idyllic Indonesian island, the jungles of Ubud can ensnare the senses. Here, a few days can easily turn into a week, a week into a month, and so on and so forth—until you’re a curmudgeonly ex-pat, whipping past trucks on your scooter en-route to an early morning yoga class. If you’re considering a trip to Bali, or you’re already planning on a jaunt to Ubud, read up on these fun things to do to make the most of your trip.
Visit the Tirta Empul Temple
A Hindu temple with an ancient history, Tirta Empul is the perfect place to figuratively and literally soak in some of Bali’s culture. A short motorbike ride from Ubud puts you at the sacred temple, built over a thousand years ago to commemorate a legendary Balinese battle between a nefarious ruler named Mayadenawa and Indra, a goodhearted Hindu deity.
Elaborate pools, replete with symbolic fountains, are the focal point of the Temple, as "Tirta Empul" translates to “holy water spring”—referencing a moment from the myth when Indra conjured up healing waters.
Tourists intermingle with genuine worshippers, so be sure to be respectful. That means renting or bringing a sarong, and consulting a guide before entering the pools. In case you still don’t get the picture: this is a sacred pool, and double backflips and bellyflops are frowned upon.
Motorbiking to the Tegallalang Rice Terrace
On the front covers of Bali guide books and in every traveler’s mind’s eye are the majestic rice terraces, cut like stairways of green grass and brown glass into the steep hillsides of the island. Tegallalang is one of the most photogenic terraces, and as such it’s become one of the most famous rice terraces. Henceforth, throngs of tourists and unavoidable tourist traps are to be expected.
It’s a fun motorbike ride from Ubud, and the further out you get from Ubud along the country roads, you’ll cruise through other admittedly less pretty but also significantly less monetized rice terraces. If you do opt for Tegallalang, we recommend going early in the morning to avoid the crowds. Above all, don’t expect an untainted cultural experience; it’s more than likely you’ll be shoulder to shoulder with other shutter-snapping tourists, trying to frame groups of hikers out of your shot.
Attend the Kecak Fire and Trance Dance
No—there will be no playing of high-BPM trance music at this event. Rather, the Kecak Fire and Trance Dance tells a story from the famous Ramayana epic, and to do so, the complex performance calls on a chorus of howling and clapping men as well as several ornately costumed and overwhelmingly talented dancers. The performance culminates with a pile of coconut husks being lit on fire. Then, a dancing man in a trance kicks through the embers, and finishes his breathtaking performance breathing heavily and oblivious to his freshly blackened feet.
While the nuances of the story may pass well over your head, as the rhythmic chanting is obviously not done in English, the language of dance speaks for itself. And regardless of whether you understand the words, you’ll surely be nodding your head: the music is an inexplicable medley, a mix of monks chanting, hip-hop-inspired beatboxing, religious prayer, and the wild sounds of the Balinese jungle. While the audience is almost entirely made up of tourists—to be expected given the price and location—the performance itself maintains a sense of cultural authenticity.
The performance happens every Wednesday and Saturday near the palace in Ubud. You really can’t miss it, as walking around town, locals will press flyers into your hands in an attempt to sell you tickets.
Get Your Yoga On
Ubud’s got a reputation as the yoga capital of Bali, but it’s not always like Eat, Pray, Love makes it out to be. Sure, strolling the streets, you’ll run into sweaty, post-Shavasana yogis with rosy cheeks and rolled up yoga mats slung over their sculpted shoulders. And yeah, there’s a yoga spot and a smoothie shop on every block. But in reality, the town can also feel crowded, touristy, overwhelming. This vibe can make going to yoga feel almost clichéd, but it all depends on your attitude: a rewarding class will also offer a respite from the hustle and bustle of motor-biking Bali’s thoroughfares as well as a rejuvenating reason to stay even longer in Ubud.
That said, whether you’re a daily practitioner of yoga or you’re looking to get into it for the first time, Ubud’s a fantastic place to visit. The Yoga Barn is one of the most famous spots, and they offer over 15 classes—daily—so you can always find something that fits your schedule and practice.
Intuitive Flow is a smaller, one-room studio, and their open-air practice space is tucked up on a verdant hill and looks out over the jungle. Definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for a quiet place to practice in Ubud!
Hiking Campuhan Ridge and Mount Batur
Lush jungle hikes in and around Ubud are a major draw to the zone. In town, a mellow, classic, and stunning sunset hike is the Campuhan Ridge Walk. It’s not particularly steep or strenuous, but over 9 kilometers of winding through the Ubud jungle and tromping across a grassy ridgeline, you’ll work up a little bit of a sweat.
Note: it’s also a great place to go for a jog at dawn, though at sunset the trail tends to get pretty crowded. For more info, check out this guide from Bali Magazine.
While Campuhan’s the place to be at sunset, sunrise early birds should look to Mt. Batur, an active volcano within striking distance from Ubud that’s a popular morning mission. It really takes a late night departure—around 2 AM—in order to get a glimpse of the sunrise from the top of the peak, but if you’re chasing gorgeous vistas on your travels, then Batur’s a smart choice.