Ubud, a town in central Bali, has managed to sidestep both Bali’s tourist-sprawl and five-star spa resorts, and attract visitors without losing its soul. Nestled inland among verdant rice paddies, this hip little town has attracted European artists since the 1930s, and that bohemian imprint remains in its idiosyncratic bars, galleries, shops, restaurants and guesthouses. It is famous as an arts and crafts hub, and much of the town and nearby villages seems to consist of artists’ workshops and galleries. There are some remarkable architectural and other sights to be found, and a general feeling of well being to be enjoyed, all thanks to the spirit, surroundings, and climate of the place.
While Ubud seems to outsiders like one small town, it is in fact fourteen villages, each run by its own banjar (village committee). Ubud has grown rapidly, and some central parts are creaking under the strain of coping with the number of visitors. That said, most development is sympathetic to the zeitgeist, if not designed specifically in the local style. Growth continues apace, but there are still terraced rice fields along the rivers, and away from the town centre, regular, quiet village life carries on relatively undisturbed.
In many ways, the history of the Ubud area (not so much the modern day town) is the very history of Bali itself. Ubud has a known history back to the eighth century, when the Javanese Buddhist priest Rsi Marhandya came to Bali from Java, and meditated at the confluence of the two Wos rivers at Campuan, just west of the modern day town centre. A shrine was established and later expanded by Nirartha, the Javanese priest who is regarded as the founder of Bali’s religious practices and rituals as we know them today. At this time the area was a centre of natural medicine and healing, and that is how the name Ubud originated: Ubad is ancient Balinese for medicine.
Further temples and monasteries were established over the next 400 hundred years or so. The temple complex at Gunung Kawi, and the cave temples at Goa Gajah (just east and northeast of Ubud), are architectural remains from this period. Many of the dances, drama and rituals still practised in Ubud today, originated at this time. King Airlangga ruled all of Java and Bali in this era, and his seat of government was located in what is now the village of Batuan, just southeast of Ubud.
The Javanese Majapahit kingdom conquered Bali in 1343, and the key final victory was against the Pejeng Dynasty centred at Bedulu, just to the east of Ubud. A great flowering of Balinese culture followed, and the ancestry of Ubud’s current day aristocratic families can be traced back to this period. In the sixteenth Century, there was a total transplantation of the Majapahit Kingdom to Bali as the Islamisation of Java forced them eastwards. Power flip-flopped between various dynasties and feudal lords, but the Ubud area remained a very important cog in the various regencies which ruled the island.
In 1900, Ubud became a Dutch protectorate at its own request, and the colonialists interfered little, allowing the traditional arts and culture of the area to remain relatively unchanged. The modern era of Ubud perhaps began in the 1930s, when foreign artists were encouraged by the royal family to take up presence in the town. From their Ubud base, the likes of Walter Spies and Rudolph Bonnet were instrumental in promoting an understanding of Balinese art and culture worldwide. From the 1960s onwards, travellers started to arrive in earnest, mostly intrepid types as the infrastructure was still very limited indeed. Since then, Ubud has developed rapildy into a high profile, top class international destination, whilst still maintaining its integrity as the centre of Balinese art and culture.
Orienting yourself in Ubud is fairly straightforward. The town sprawls for several kilometers in all directions, with all of the small villages within a five km radius of the central market being loosely referred to as “Ubud”. If you choose a reasonably central place to stay, it is easy enough to get around on foot.
Central Ubud has three main streets: Jl Raya Ubud, Jl Monkey Forest and Jl Hanoman. Jl Monkey Forest, which runs south through town to the Monkey Forest, is a built-up area, and home to a wide array of accommodation, art galleries, and cafes, as well a number of local services such as schools, a sports field, pharmacies, and travel agents. Jl Hanoman, which runs parallel to Jl Monkey Forest just to the east, is a bit quieter and makes for more pleasant walking.
To the immediate west and northwest are the villages of Campuan (Tjampuhan, Campuhan) and Kedewatan, home to some of the most upmarket hotels in the whole of Asia, with views over valleys sculpted by the Ayung and Wos rivers. Directly to the south, past the Monkey Forest and still within a twenty minute walk of the central market, is Padang Tegal which then runs into the southern villages of Nyuh Kuning and Pengosekan, about three km from central Ubud. Directly to the east is the village of Peliatan, and then Teges and Bedulu, home of the ninth century Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave)
Due to its elevation at 600 m above sea level, Ubud enjoys cooler temperatures than the coast, and it is sometimes necessary to bring a pullover for the evening. The midday sun can still be scorching though and the humidity often relentless, a murderous combination for temple tramping which, in hilly Ubud, usually requires climbing up and down staircases. (Head out early to beat the heat and the crowds.) If there is a time to avoid, it would be the depths of the wet season in January and February — when it rains in Ubud, it really rains.
Ubud is so crammed with attractions it can almost seem like a visual assault at times. Try to make sure you allocate at least a week for your visit here, and take your time to explore properly. Visitors who jump up to Ubud for just two or three days of their Bali holiday, stand little chance of understanding much of what is going on around them.
The key historical sites are located out of town, some as far as 20 km away, and you might find it worthwhile joining a tour to visit these. If you do visit attractions such as Goa Gajah, Gunung Kawi, Pura Kehen and Tirta Empul under your own steam, try to find a knowledgeable guide when you get there. Whilst you will certainly appreciate the beauty of these places, their cultural and spiritual significance may be lost without a guide.
Puri Saren Agung , The Ubud Palace
This was the palace of the kings of Ubud until the 1940s, and some royal descendants live there to this day. Parts of the complex are off limits to the public, but entry to the rest is free. You can wander around most of the large compound exploring the many traditional and not excessively ornate buildings. If you really like it, you can stay the night. Take time to appreciate the stone carvings, many by noted local artists like I Gusti Nyoman Lempad. Ubud Palace is also Ubud’s best setting for dance performances every night. Read more..
Ubud Traditional Art Market
The Ubud main market never looses its unique charm. Located in the center of city, it’s very easy to find. There are many local artists displaying their work and loads of merchandise for sale. You can find both traditional and modern crafting, like mats, clothes and paintings, for a very good price. But we are also sure that you will find your daily groceries over there, especially your fruits and veggies. You might have to wake up earlier in the morning to get there, but there’s nothing like a market place to give you an honest flavor of the local culture. Read more..
Tirta Empul Temple and The Holy Spring Water
One of the holiest temples in Bali built around hot springs that still bubble in the central courtyard. The Balinese come here to bathe and purify themselves physically and spiritually. The complex dates to 960, but the present buildings are largely modern reconstructions. Pack your bathing suit and experience the springs as the Balinese do. Ducking your head under each of the 13 holy springs, feel the significance of the waters as they cleanse your past and you emerge ready to create the future. Read more..
Goa Gajah, The Elephant Cave
The centerpiece here is a cave dating back to the ninth century, the entrance to which is an ornately carved demon’s mouth. Inside are some fragmentary lingam and yoni statues, as well as a statue of Ganesha. Large, carved guards stand around pools near the entrance, and a little path leads to a waterfall, rice fields, and some Buddhist stupa fragments. Some parts of the Goa Gajah complex were not excavated until the 1950s. Nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Read more..
Gunung Kawi Temple
Tampaksiring (18 km northeast from Ubud). Dating from the eleventh century, this is presumed to be the burial complex of King Anak Wungsu and his many wives. Reached by climbing down 371 steps, the location at the bottom of a steep valley lined with paddy fields, is quite stunning. The structures are carved into the sides of a steep river valley, and the river crossed by twisting trees and vines. You must take off your shoes before entering into the central pura complex. Read more..
This picturesque temple located right in the heart of Ubud honors Saraswati, the Goddess of knowledge, literature and art. Pura Taman Saraswati is is set within a beautiful water garden with thousands of lotus flowers, so bring your camera. Learn more about Ubud’s temples.
This complex of rock carvings is close to Goa Gajah but far less well known. The carvings date from the fourteenth or fifteenth century, and are set in a very attractive rice field. You can reach Yeh Pulu on foot through the rice fields from Goa Gajah, but you will definitely need a guide for the 45 minute walk as there is no path to speak of. In addition to the carvings, there is a holy well here, and the attendant priest will be happy to bless you with the well water. Temple dress code applies. This is a much underrated and under-visited site, and is highly recommended.
Goa Garba is located in Banjar Sawa Gunung, Pejeng Kelod village, Tampaksiring, Gianyar, Bali. It is situated 400 meters above sea level, lies under the Pengukur-Ukuran Temple, above the Pakerisan River. On this site there is a hermitage carved out of the cliff, which was believed to be the meditation place of Mahapatih Kebo Iwa. It is a natural site that exudes calm. Even to this day, Goa Garba is frequented as a place of meditation. It is estimated to have been built in the 12th century during the reign of King Jaya Pangus. Read more..
Rice Terrace at Tegallalang
The rice fields terrace are almost works of art. The fields are various shades of green and are extremely well maintained. The coconut trees still give an extra charm. Be sure to walk through the rice fields to explore close its distinctive architecture. After the tour, relax in one of the many cafes overlooking the rice fields. It may be a good opportunity to experience the famous Balinese coffee Kopi Luwak, regarded as the most expensive coffee in the world. Read more..
Monkey Forest Sanctuary Ubud
The shady, green Ubud Monkey Forest is the most popular stop for tourists in the town of Ubud itself. This cool and dense swath of jungle, officially called Mandala Wisata Wanara Wana, houses three holy temples. Hundreds of playful and interactive Macaque monkeys call the sacred forest home and roam freely around the tree canopy and temple complex. The steady stream of tourists has made the monkeys bold enough to even reach into pockets in search of something interesting! Read more..
Bali Safari and Marine Park
Enjoy the best safari experience in Bali at the home of hundreds of amazing animals representing over 60 species including the Komodo, Orang Utan, and the Bali Mynah. You can choose to enjoy your safari journey from the elephant back with our Elephant Back Safari, interact with your favorite animal up close at the Animal Encounter space, experience the wildest fine dining moment surrounded by lions, meerkats, and porcupines at the Tsavo Lion restaurant, and unwind with the spectacular show of Bali Agung at their state of art theater in the park, Bali Theater or make your own big splash at Water Park and Fun Zone.
Bali Bird Park
is a zoo with over a thousand birds from more than 200 species mostly endemic to Indonesia. Visitors are encouraged to get up close and personal with park “residents”, who live in enclosures that closely resemble their natural habitats. The park’s layout is designed to recreate a walk-through of the Indonesian islands (with a detour through other parts of the world).
Elephant Safari Park at Taro
For this once-in-a-lifetime experience, head to the Elephant Safari Park in Ubud. While you won’t see them in their true natural state, you’ll be impressed by their friendly demeanor and extraordinary talents. The park’s facilities include a trail for the elephants to give rides, a restaurant, a research laboratory, a small botanical garden, and a lodge for overnight guests. The park is home to about 30 Sumantra elephants.
A visit to an art museum is probably not what most people associate with a trip to Bali, but Bali has a unique painting tradition. Within the last couple of years, paintings from some of the most well-known painters from Bali has reached prices well above 2.000.000$ on auctions. On top of that, Bali’s has some world class art museums, so whether you are a true art aficionado or just enjoy walking through a museum discovering new artists you should consider adding a visit to one of Bali’s art museums to your Bali itinerary.
Blanco The Reanaissance Museum
Blanco, arguably the most famous and successful artist to ever live in Bali, built his magnificent studio on top of a mountain overlooking the Campuan River. This flamboyant building, a unique blend of Balinese architecture imbued with the spirit of his native Spain, houses an interesting collection of works drawn from different periods of his long career. During his life it was visited daily by hundreds of people from all over the world. The artist, full of “Catalan charisma,” earned himself the sobriquet “The Fabulous Blanco,” an expression that mirrored his talent for creativity. His former home is now a museum showcasing his sometimes bizarre but always interesting work. Think Salvador Dali transplanted to Asia. In the garden you can take pictures of the exotic birds flying around. Read more..
Neka Art Museum
One of the finest museums on the island, boasts a collection of fine art inspired by Bali, but over the years the museum has expanded its scope to include other works from Indonesia to show the place of Balinese art within the wider national context. The first hall is the Balinese Painting Hall. In this hall one can appreciate ancient puppet style paintings that have narrative scenes from Indian epics, Balinese-Javanese literature, and almanac. Ubud style paintings such as the works of Anak Agung Gede Sobrat and Ida Bagus Made Poleng can also be seen in this hall. The works of Ida Bagus Made Widja, Batuan style paintings, created in 1930’s also hanging on the display wall. In this hall, one can also appreciate a collection of modern adaptation of Batuan style painting by I Wayan Bendi. Read more..
Museum Puri Lukisan
Located in the heart of Ubud just a few steps away from The Ubud Palace. The history of the museum started in 1929 when Rudolf Bonnet an Amsterdam born artist arrived on this beautiful island, and introduced the ideologies, techniques and materials of western art to Bali. His cooperation with Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati, the Prince of Ubud, initiated a new era of Balinese art and painting. Later in 1936, Pita Maha, an artist’s cooperative was formed by Bonnet, Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati, Tjokorda Gde Raka Sukawati, and I Gusti Nyoman Lempad. In 1952, the Museum Puri Lukisan was founded to carry out the ideas and uphold the rules of Pita Maha. Read more..
The Agung Rai Museum of Art / The ARMA
Located just south of central Ubud, the Agung Rai is much more than a museum; it’s also a center for cultural events, performances, art classes and workshops. The museum itself is based on the personal collection of the Balinese entrepreneur, Agung Rai. Inside the larger of the two large buildings that make up the museum, you will find contemporary art and originals, as well as reproductions, from some of the Balinese masters and foreign artists that have influenced Balinese art. A visit should also include a stroll around the beautiful grounds, where you might encounter performers practicing or craftsmen working. Drinks are included in the ticket price.
Activities in Ubud
White Water Rafting
Bali has two main rivers for rafting that are both category III: the Ayung, just outside Ubud and the Telaga Waja in the foothills of Mount Agung, which is only a category III due to its distance from help. And while these are not going to challenge the most intrepid of rafters, the scenery, backdrop, and occasional adrenalin rush, especially in the rainy season when the rapids are swooshing from the mountains, justifies their position as the number-one organized adventure tour on the island. Each raft journey takes about 2 hours and is suitable for ages 6 and up. Some outfitters have their own lunch place at the end with warm showers and fresh towels. Be prepared for a long walk down many steps and up.
Biking is a great way to explore Bali’s country side. You can rent a bike and go on your own or you can join an organized tour with cycling tour operators here . If you go on your own, stick to the back roads as the traffic on the main roads can be nerve wrecking. Enjoy a scenic Ubud cycling tour along the off-road routes or urban cycle paths exploring the finest scenery of the beautiful countryside. A cycling tour is a great way to get away from the crowds and see the island in a new and unique light. Read more..
Ubud is the place to learn and practice yoga, particularly with classes costing as little as 110,000 rupiah (about $10; even less if you buy a multi-day pass). The two main places to bliss out are the Yoga Barn and the more contemporary Radiantly Alive, whose classes include Fly High Yoga (using straps to hang from the ceiling) and Acro Yoga (a blend of acrobatics and Thai massage). Read more..
Watching Dance Performance
No visit to Ubud is complete without seeing at least one traditional dance performance. Although the performances are very tourist-oriented, this is a great opportunity to see classic Hindu legends being told through dancers in colorful, traditional costumes. If you’re in the right place at the right time, you may see dances performed in the temple ceremonies for an essentially local audience.
Shopping in Ubud
The sheer quantity of arts and crafts available for purchase in Bali is overwhelming. There is something for all budgets, from tourist trinkets to fine art and antiques. It is a shopper’s paradise of fabrics, clothing, wood and stone carvings, paintings, and doodads of varying quality. Unlike the tacky, beach-tourist feeling of shopping in Kuta, Ubud provides a much more sophisticated experience. Local shops are filled with unique and beautiful crafts, art work, carvings, jewelry, and gifts to take back home.
Bali Arts Class
Ubud is the perfect place to develop your artistic skills, or learn about Balinese culture and cuisine. The range of courses offered could keep you busy for a year. Museum Puri Lukisan, the oldest art museum in Ubud, runs one-hour to one-day workshops on everything from batik and Balinese painting, to gamelan-playing and Balinese dance. Bali Centre for Artistic Creativity has three-hour art classes as well as outdoor painting, life drawing and kids’ classes. Or create your own jewelry at one of Studio Perak’s half-day silversmith courses.
Balinese Cooking Class
Balinese cooking class provides a fascinating insight into Balinese life and culture through the country’s food, cooking and culinary myths. Learn about the exotic herbs and spices used in ceremonial and everyday Balinese dishes as well as contemporary cooking.
Sweet Escape Ubud Day Tour
Ubud is the center for arts and culture in Bali. Each activity in here is associated with spirituality, cultures and traditions, proximity to nature and the relationship between human beings. One day Sweet Escape Day Tour to Ubud is one of my recommendation for those who would love to see the real Bali life; the people, culture and nature while creating a wonderful moment in your life with the love one. The perfect introduction to Bali’s fascinating culture and handicrafts, picturesque rice paddy fields and traditional villages. This tour will leave you feeling culturally and physically enriched!