By Grace Koelma | Dare List Mama
Ubud is a lush, exotic paradise, unlike any other place we've visited in Asia. It is a raw, vegan, clean eating and regular foodie's paradise, also known for its art galleries, yoga studios, picturesque tropical tree lined streets, and hundreds of the greenest rice fields you've ever seen.
If you're planning a trip to Ubud, then this is the guide for you.
It's the most detailed and extensive guide to Ubud you'll find. (We're not kidding... if you find a longer one, let us know!)
What you'll find in this guide
We're a classic example of the 'opposites attract' rule for couples. Grace is a travel research ninja and likes to travel with an emergency item and contingency plan for every possible situation. "But I haven't read the reviews on it yet!" is one of her oft-repeated phrases.
Eric is the most laid-back traveller on the planet, and likes to be more spontaneous. "Let's cross that bridge when we get to it" is one of his favourite expressions.
We also travel with a toddler, so keep an eye out for our bonus kid travel tips.
So this guide has the perfect balance of planning, spontaneity and toddler-induced chaos prevention.
We'll cover everything from places to eat (the family-friendly options and just plain awesome!), what to see and do (keeping a toddler entertained is no small task!), how to get around, the layout of the town and surrounds, how much things cost, what the culture is like and much more! Make sure you check out the interactive map below, too.
Watch our video wrap-up of Ubud
Visa entry requirements
As of March 2016, the original VOA (visa on arrival) for a 30-day visit is now free for these countries (including USA, UK and Australia). We stayed for 28 days, so the free visa was all we needed. You don't need to apply beforehand, it's all done at the airport when you arrive.
If you want to enter the country for up to 60 days, there is a paid 30-day VOA, which can be extended once, up to 30 days. If you'd like to stay longer, you must leave the country temporarily (ie. do a 'visa run') before you can return to rinse and repeat. You'll need to keep a sharp eye out at the airport on arrival, as most tourists come for 30 days or less, and the line for the 60 day VOA is hidden off to the side.
Getting to Ubud from the airport
Denpasar is the only international airport in Bali. Regardless of when you arrive (we flew in at 11.30pm), it's hot, loud and crowded. There are no trains in Bali and buses are infrequent and unreliable. Ubud is located up in the hills about 90 minutes north of the airport, so the easiest way there is by car.
Taxis from the airport to Ubud cost around 500,000 IDR ($37.50 USD, $50 AUD) and take anywhere from 1 hour 20 minutes to 2 hours (depending on traffic). If you can, time your flight to come in early morning or late at night to avoid sitting in gridlock traffic for hours! Also, arrange a driver beforehand and they can take you for as little as 350,000 IDR. Finding drivers before you arrive in the country is fairly easy, using something like the Ubud Community Facebook group.
It's important to know that, at the moment, using the Uber and Grab Car services is illegal in Bali (I won't go into the reasons here.)
A note on taxis with children: In Indonesia, like much of south-east Asia, there are very few child restraints or carseats used. While travelling in cars, we found it safest to strap our 2-year-old son to us using the Baby Bjorn, then put the seatbelt on over it.
Typical afternoon gridlock on Jalan Raya.
Transport in Ubud
Public transport is hard to find in Ubud (I saw a public bus rattle past once, but had no idea where the bus stops were or what the timetable was). Admittedly, public signage is not one of Bali's strong points.
The taxi industry in Bali is unregulated, so instead of looking for the usual cars with signs on top, you'll be looking for unmarked taxis (basically just cars). They're not hard to find! Taxis are fairly cheap and in abundance, particularly on Jl. Raya (the main street of Ubud). If you need a ride somewhere, just walk along Raya for 10 seconds and you'll be asked if you want a taxi by one of the hundreds of men standing on a corner, holding up a sign.
A normal fare is around 50K ($3.75 USD, $5 AUD) for a trip from Ubud centre back to where you're staying, or 100K if you want them to come to the shops, wait for you and take you back.
You can always negotiate (remembering that a difference of 5K is only 50c, so don't bother haggling too much with the small fares), but always agree on a fare amount before you hop in and they'll honour that.
To get a driver for a day to see the sites further out of Ubud costs around 500-600K for 8 hours. We hopped in a taxi one night with a driver who spoke excellent English, so we asked him to take us around the island two days later.
The climate of Ubud and when to visit
Being tropical, Ubud is hot all year round, with a distinct wet season and dry season. Its proximity to the mountains means that rain can come swiftly: it can be a sunny, blue-skied day and change within a few minutes. The showers are intense, but don't last long.
The wet season runs from November - March, and the dry season from April - October. The months of July and August are the most popular times for tourists, but we visited in March and April, and really didn't mind the afternoon monsoon rain. It's cooling, and a relief from the humidity. It rained around 3pm every afternoon, so if you're going out during the wet season, always bring an umbrella and/or poncho with you. Always!
The centre of Ubud and surrounding villages
Ubud is located in a (mostly) flat valley, with the surrounding villages of Penestenan, Sayan, Gianyar and Bentuyung on the hills and ridges surrounding. If you plan on walking or cycling, keep these hills in mind, especially in the 98% humidity. Pack lightweight, breathable clothes - exercise gear is ideal. Materials that can dry quickly are great too. We found it difficult to dry our hand-washed items in the high humidity. There was just too much moisture in the air.
If you stay somewhere in the centre of town, you'll be fine to walk to most restaurants and points of interest. If you're staying in one of the villages outside the centre of Ubud (like we did), you'll need to hire a car, bicycle or motorbike to get into town easily. Keep in mind there are a lot of one-way streets, and even though the Balinese turn a pretty blind eye when it comes to road rules, it can be pretty hairy travelling the wrong way down a one-lane road, even if three motorbikes ahead of you are doing it!
Taking taxis everyday gets expensive, and means you need a regular driver who can come to your accommodation to pick you up. Eventually, we just preferred to hire bikes and do things our own way.
Getting around Ubud with kids
Using the hiking backpack makes it easy to walk with a toddler, and a bonus workout session for Dad! 😉
A bit of research told us not to bother bringing a pram to Ubud, and the advice was spot on. The footpaths are uneven and there are deep drop-offs, drains and large gaping holes where the pavement has fallen in and hasn't been repaired. It can be a bit dangerous, so I'd advise you to carry young ones in a baby carrier, and keep your eyes on the pavement as you walk.
We brought two carriers with us, a Karinjo hiking backpack by Kathmandu, and a Baby Bjorn baby carrier.
Watch your step!
Stopping to put the chain on... again!
The street address system in Ubud is... non-existent. If you're staying in a large hotel or spa/resort, your driver won't have any trouble finding it, but if you're staying in an Airbnb villa out of town (like we did) prepare to be confused. If possible, ask your host for precise directions beforehand and screenshot them on your phone (so you can access even if you don't have wifi). There are no street numbers on the roads outside of town, no letterboxes or visible numbers on the road. We just had to use landmarks to explain the location to drivers. When our family came to visit, we filmed a 'how to find us' video to orient them beforehand.
Health and staying safe
While education on clean water and hospitality standards have improved greatly in Bali, you can still be hit with the odd case of Bali Belly if you drink water or ice drinks provided at restaurants. We chose restaurants with great Tripadvisor reviews, drank the water, and didn't have any issues.
To stay on the safe side, don't drink or brush your teeth with the tap water provided at your villa or in public places. Our villa came with a water filter system that we could refill, or you can buy filtered water at supermarkets. The Pondok Pekak Library also has a cheap water refill station.
It's also a good idea to peel things like apples, pears and cucumber before you eat them.
Staying in a tropical location near a river means you'll have to be prepared for mosquitoes. Cases of malaria and dengue fever are thankfully rare in Bali, but they do happen.
Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk. You can spray yourself with tropical strength mosquito repellant and burn the citronella mosquito coils, but we found the best option was to wear these awesome, hassle-free PARA'KITO mosquito repellant bands 24/7. We're big fans - they're great for kids because you don't have to spray them with the chemical-heavy insect repellent, comfortable to wear and simple to replace.
PARA'KITO mosquito repellent bands: read our full review here.
Sorry Mozzies... Leo is wearing his Para'kito mosquito repellent band.
Where to stay in Ubud
There is a plethora of accommodation in Ubud, especially in the last few years since Ubud exploded into the limelight as a must-visit travel destination, popular with digital nomads, yogis and alternative health therapists.
The huge demand for accommodation means that villas are continually being built to meet it. Sadly many are built over existing rice fields - environmental sustainability is a concept that still escapes most residents of Bali. There's no recycling scheme either.
We loved our accommodation overlooking the rice fields.
Where you'll stay will depend on the kind of Ubudian experience you're after, and whether or not you have kids.
If you're after a luxury, short term stay, there are lots of beautiful hotels, resorts and spas in Ubud, recommended on booking sites. If you're after an authentic, rustic Balinese experience, or are looking for a more budget option for longer-term stay, there are homestays, often found on Airbnb, booking websites and via the Facebook groups Ubud Community and Ubud Housing and Rental.
If you're wanting to stay for a few months, I'd recommend finding something on Airbnb for a week or two, and then using those Facebook groups to find something you can inspect while you're there. They're private groups you'll need to request to join first.
If you want to be close to the action and nightlife, don't mind crowds and street noise at night, stay somewhere near the grid of main streets, or any of the ones that connect them: Jl. Raya, Jl. Hanoman and Jl. Monkey Forest.
Beware of staying to the south of Ubud, as the traffic along Jalan Hanoman (near the Yoga Barn) can get very gridlocked.
Walking along in our neighbourhood - away from the hustle and bustle.
If you have kids, I'd recommend finding accommodation in a homestay on Airbnb or another booking site, and choosing a spot a little way outside the hustle and bustle, up near the beautiful rice fields. We loved our stay in Bentuyung village (20 minutes walk from the town up Jl. Suweta), and the village of Penestenan gets a lot of good reviews from ex-pats as well. Jl. Sri Widari and Jl. Kajeng (pictured below) are other gorgeous little streets.
New to Airbnb? You can get $30 off your first trip here.
Staying with a Balinese family
This was probably the nicest surprise in Bali. When we booked our private, self-contained villa set in a beautiful walled garden, we didn't realise how much interaction we'd have with the family. In the past, our Airbnb hosts have been polite but kept their distance.
Leo loved playing in our beautiful enclosed garden.
The setup at this villa was perfect. We had all the privacy we needed, but could walk through our walled garden and into the family's compound to chat and ask questions whenever we wanted. We felt safe, and like we were part of a community, which was important for us since we'd just left our community in Australia, and were processing that transition.
Our hosts helped us hire bikes, showed us around the local fresh food market, walked the Campuhan ridge with us, and took us to their local temple during Galungan as well as the bigger Tirta Empul and cleansing pools. We became friends, and by the end their daughter was minding Leo for us, and we were eating meals together. We will always remember our time with Ayu, Ketut, and their daughters, and can't wait to visit again one day.
Eating with our Balinese host family
Hiring help is common in Bali, and very affordable, with most nannies charging between 35,000-50,000 IDR an hour (that's $2-3 USD and $3-5 AUD). We asked for help for a few hours during our last week in Bali. Once we'd tried it, we had no idea why we hadn't made it happen sooner!
There are a few nanny in Bali Facebook groups you can check out, or just ask other ex-pats for recommendations when you arrive.
Leo loved spending time with his nanny.
What to do around Ubud
There is truly something for everyone in Ubud: even just walking around the town sparks a lot of opportunities to explore temples, art galleries, markets, great cafes and little hideaway bookstores.
- Explore the natural surrounds: Campuhan ridge walk, local rice paddies and the Monkey Forest (be careful, as the monkeys bite! We didn't take Leo there for that reason).
- Visit temples and sacred sites: Goa Gajar (Elephant Temple), Pura Tirta Empul with the cleansing pools and Pura Taman Saraswati.
- Learn Balinese dance, cooking or craft: take one of the courses at the library or advertised on the street.
- Wind your way through the markets and boutique shopping streets: Check out the traditional art and clothing market and the fashion stores on Jl. Monkey Forest.
- Watch a traditional Balinese Legong dance: nightly concerts cost around 100,000 IDR each, and are held at the Lotus Cafe, Pondok Pekak Library and The Palace. (Dances go for around an hour, starting at 7.30pm, so keep this in mind if you have toddlers who like to wriggle - like ours!)
- Indulge in a pamper or massage: spas are on every corner and you can get a full-body 60 minute massage for just 80,000 IDR ($6 USD, $8 AUD).
- Visit the famous rice terraces: Tegalalang rice terrace is 30 minutes from Ubud or the lesser visited Jatiluwih terraces are around an hour away.
- Our favourite secret spot in Ubud (featured in our wrap up vlog) is the little lane through the rice paddies at the end of Jl. Kajeng.
Campuhan Ridge Walk
This is one of the most beautiful walks in Ubud, with 360º views across the valleys on both sides of the ridge. It's located just a short distance from the main shopping streets, but as soon as you're up on the narrow ridge path, you feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle.
It's an easy walk, between 1-2km depending on how far you choose to go before turning around, and is incredible at sunrise or sunset, when the light is radiant and the temperature is cooler. Read our full review and instructions for finding it here.
The Campuhan ridge walk in Ubud
The views from the top of the Campuhan ridge (and best photo opportunity!)
Pura Tirta Empul
We were privileged to be taken to Pura Tirta Empul by our Balinese host family, and it was a very special experience. It's about 40 minutes drive or scooter ride from Ubud, but is hidden away off the main roads, and most tourists get there via tourist buses.
Tip: If you can direct yourself there using Google Maps and get there early (before 10am), the pools will be a lot more quiet, allowing you to immerse yourself in the Hindu ritual of cleansing.
We had to wash under 9 different fountains... This was near the end, and you can see Leo was starting to get cold!
Get there early!
After 10am the lines for the cleansing pool look more like this.
Where to buy groceries in Ubud
There are several western-style supermarkets and fresh produce markets in Ubud. If you're after western brands, import prices mean that they'll be more expensive.
Buying dairy products
Milk and dairy products aren't staples in the Balinese diet the way they are for westerners, so you'll find a lot of long-life, UHT and milk substitutes instead, as the stores prefer products with a longer shelf-life. There is one or two brands of fresh cow's milk, but it's expensive, at around 30,000 IDR per litre ($2.25 USD, $3 AUD). Luckily, Bali's hipster foodie culture means there will be imported almond, soy and rice milk available in the big supermarkets (a miracle in Asia!)
There are imported cheeses, but they're double or triple the price of what you'd be used to at home.
Straight from the farmer - this is as fresh as it gets!
Bread and health foods
The Balinese don't eat much wheat either - their equivalent are pancakes made of rice - but there are a few western bakeries in Ubud. Bread Life is a chain store with more dense, Asian style sweet breads. The Daily Baguette and Monsieur Spoon are both French bakeries with delicious baguettes and pastries.
We also loved that there was a range of organic and health food items available, like chia seeds, coconut flakes, coconut flour and coconut water.
You can read our full guide and interactive map here.
Buying baby items
Bali has options for baby food, formula and nappies, though you may prefer to bring items from home with you. How much you'll bring will depend on how long you're visiting Bali for, and whether you're doing long term travel (like us) or a shorter holiday.
If you have a toddler, make sure you have inflatable 'floaties' for safe swimming.
Baby items you can buy in Ubud
- Diapers (nappies) and pull ups. Keep in mind there's less choice, and the quality isn't the same as what you'd find in Australia, Europe or the USA. Watch my review of nappies in Bali here.
- Baby wipes
- Infant formula
- Cow's milk, almond milk, soy milk (see our shopping guide)
- Inflatable floaties for swimming
Baby items you may want to bring
- Swimmer nappies for the pool
- Chemical-free, sensitive baby wipes
- A portable baby change mat
- Preferred nappy rash cream (they don't have much choice in Bali)
- Medela quick clean micro-steam bags (perfect for sterilising)
- Medicine and health: a baby priobiotic, teething gel, cough medicine, children's paracetemol and a general antibiotic just in case
- Bandaids or plasters (we didn't find any good quality ones that don't peel off)
- Huggies nappies for overnight, to prevent leakage
- A mosquito net for the cot
- Mosquito repellent suitable for kids, like these PARA'KITO bands
Everything you need to know about nappies in Bali is right here!
Eating out with kids
One of the trickiest things we navigated in Ubud was eating out at night, because it coincided with just when our 2-year-old was hitting the 'hangry' stage of the day. Cue the screams and tantrums (and my embarrassed face when the other diners stared). By the end of our time in Bali we became masters at eating out: the key is to get there early, order before you get the menus, chow it down and RUN! Haha.
The best restaurants in Ubud
We occasionally cooked in the villa, but the kitchen in our villa was pretty basic, and western prices in the supermarkets, plus market vendors tripling the price for fruit and vegetables when they saw we were tourists meant that eating out at local warungs was often cheaper than buying raw ingredients.
At the local warung up the street we could get two dishes, rice and an entree takeaway for 45,000 IDR (yes, just $3.40 USD and $4.50 AUD). That was the cheapest we found, but we probably averaged around $15 a meal when we ventured away from the local cuisine and sampled the Italian, Mexican, Japanese, raw/vegan and Western food that Ubud has to offer.
We found lots of restaurants we loved in Ubud, and many had great facilities for kids.
Where to play with toddlers and kids
Unfortunately, there's not a lot of choice for parks and playgrounds in Ubud, so we had to get creative when it came to finding things that Leo could do safely, and places he could run around. We found a bunch of free options in Ubud, some cheap options and a few places within an hour by car.
Where to work as a digital nomad
We tried out working in few cafes while we were in Ubud, and found a few good options. There's nothing quite like working in your own villa, though!
Couplepreneurs... It's a (work) date?
- Kahiyang Coffee - top of our list! This place has the most delicious single origin Sumatran coffee in Ubud, yet being 5 minutes out of town means it's usually pretty quiet. It has a cool Island vibe, fast WiFi (most of the time, it's Bali!) and awesome, chilled out staff.
- Anomali - good coffee and a cool upstairs area where you can chill uninterrupted, but the internet is a little patchy at times. We didn't have a VPN at that point, so maybe that would have helped.
- Clear Cafe - we didn't get the chance to work here, but popped by one night for a meal with Leo. The cafe was huge, the WiFi was fast, and there are lots of spots to work (low tables and floor pillows, regular tables, and an upstairs and downstairs section). The food and cafe are beautiful - check out our full review here.
- Soma - time slows down when you walk through the traditional Balinese doors at Soma. It boasts a bunch of cool upstairs areas to chill and work in peace and quiet, and while its food isn't the tastiest I've had, their raw cakes were pretty cood! Order yourself a fresh young coconut and a raw cheesecake, find a spot with strong WiFi, and you'll be set for hours!
- Hubud - we didn't get a chance to visit the famous co-working space as we found some great little cafes near our villa, and didn't organise a nanny until the end of our stay. We'll definitely check it out next time we're back - by all accounts it's a great option for digital nomads.
- Outpost - located 15 minutes south of the main street, Outpost is a little out of the way, but another dedicated co-working and living space for digital nomads.
- If you want to meet other digital nomads in Ubud, check out the Ubud Digital Nomads Facebook group (you'll have to request to join).
Phew! What a list. If there's anything we didn't cover, feel free to ask in the comment section below.
Grace is a writer, designer, digital nomad, mum (otherwise known as toddler chaser), slow traveller, wild things appreciator, culture immerser, coffee opportunist... She frequently uses big words (some of which are definitely made up), likes long walks and even longer books, and her focus on wellness in 2017 means she is learning to obey her FitBit. Except when she's glued to her computer!
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