In the heart of Bali: Adventures in Ubud

In the heart of Bali: Adventures in Ubud

Lush, artsy and steeped in Balinese culture, Ubud got a well deserved high-profile nod when scenes of Julia Roberts biking through the area’s picturesque rice paddies in Eat, Pray, Love inspired wanderlust (and probably jealousy) in film-goers everywhere. Sometimes dubbed as Bali’s beating heart, Ubud is situated near the center of this Indonesian island — a 12-mile drive from the airport in Denpasar.

Don’t let the traffic deter you; it will plague your trip from Denpasar to Ubud (and most of your trips on the island for that matter). Motorbikes dart through seemingly impossible spaces, and the scene is like an ever-shifting collage of motorized vehicles, stray dogs, greenery and street-side stands. But when you arrive in Ubud, a sense of inner peace seems to settle in and you can see that Bali’s landscape lives up to all its silver-screen glory.

With some of the friendliest people you’ll come across on your travels and a long list of unique experiences at your disposal, Bali has the ability to calm the busiest of minds and satisfy the adventurer in all of us.

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Here are a few not-to-be-missed experiences near Ubud…

Sunrise hike up Mount Batur

Some days (like the day these photos were taken) the sunrise hike isn’t, well, sunny, but it’s quite an experience nonetheless. If you’re staying in Ubud and you book through Bali Trekking, someone from the company will pick you up at 2:40am (yes, you read that right). Don’t forget a headlamp — or at least a small flashlight — because you’ll be hiking in the dark. After about an hour-long drive from Ubud, you’ll arrive at your starting point and meet up with a guide. Mount Batur is a volcano, so the top features a large crater (known as the “main crater”). The hike is fairly short (about an hour) and not very difficult, though there are loose rocks along the path. Once you reach the top, your guide prepares breakfast for you — hard-boiled eggs, banana sandwiches (cooked bananas on white bread) and tea or coffee. And then you wait for the sun to send colors across the sky.

If you happen to catch a cloudy day, you may not actually see the sunrise, but the hike up in total darkness is exciting on its own and the views are beautiful. At the top, you can experience the volcanic steam that flows out of crevices, gather a huge amount of information about the volcano from your guide, and even hike into a bat cave if you’re up for a little extra adventure. On the way down you’ll stroll by huge areas of growing vegetables as well as some animals (mostly roosters and a few dogs).


Mount Batur in the distance


Looking down into the main crater of Mount Batur.


Mount Batur’s main crater


Roadside roosters on the trek down


Dogs – especially strays – are almost everywhere in Bali.


Chile peppers growing along the road leading down from Mount Batur.

Coffee plantation visit

Many of the Mount Batur hiking packages are paired with a visit to a coffee plantation where you’ll get a lesson in Bali’s infamous luwak coffee. This coffee, considered somewhat of a delicacy, is made from beans that were eaten, digested then excreted (seriously) by an animal called a luwak. This animal’s digestive process is said to give the coffee a high-quality, desirable taste. It’s worth a try if you can look past the production process.


Cacao pod at the coffee plantation


Items that add flavor to the coffee


Chile peppers and other coffee flavorings


Regular coffee beans vs. beans that have been processed by a luwak’s digestive system


Coffee grinds in the making


A coffee tasting


Coffee samples


Biking through rice paddies and local villages

This is your chance to make like Julia Roberts and get your Eat, Pray, Love on. The area around Ubud is laid out like a quilt of rice paddies, many of which are beautifully terraced. Hop on a bike (Bali Bike offers various tours — you can even design your own if you want) for the best views of the landscape and an inside look at local villages. Your guide will let you stop along the way to trek out into the rice fields, pick up some snacks at open-air stands and visit places such as local schools.


Irrigated rice paddies


Rice fields: A close up


Trekking out into the rice paddies — don’t fall in!


Terraced rice paddies


A rice kernel


Worker in the rice fields


A Balinese school near Ubud


School children on their last day of school for the year

Monkey Forest

Warning: Do not enter with bananas in hand! Food is sold at the entrance to Monkey Forest, which is in downtown Ubud, but unless you want to be swarmed by at least 10 monkeys within seconds, leave the treats outside. You’ll still be able to get up close and personal with the monkeys — they’re everywhere you turn! The forest also features a few temples and huge trees, many with sweeping bundles of roots. Most of the monkeys will ignore you as long as you don’t have food (and you don’t get too close to any food they’re already munching on), but some may chase you if provoked. Be particularly careful of getting too close to any of the monkeys with babies.


A monkey protecting her baby


Impressive trees in Monkey Forest


Look up! These tree roots seem to stretch to the sky.


Monkey enjoying a snack


Monkey Forest, Ubud, Bali


Pensive monkey


Monkey Forest, Ubud, Bali

A (cheap) trip to the spa

Spa treatments in Bali can be very affordable. (We’re talking about £29 for a full body scrub, an hour-long massage and a pedicure.) So, take some time to treat yourself. You can even spend almost the entire day at the spa for only about £55. The spa featured here is Spa Hati in Ubud, where they offer nail treatments in beautiful open-air seating areas and the traditional Indonesian lulur body scrub, tinted yellow by turmeric.


Spa Hati reception area


Entrance to Spa Hati


A couples massage room at Spa Hati


Open-air nail treatment area at Spa Hati


Hot tub available to Spa Hati guests


Papaya, ginger tea and honey served to guests at Spa Hati


Villa stays

Villas are popular places to stay in Bali, and it’s worth considering some of these off-the-beaten-path accommodations to land a unique stay. Many offer various perks such as dedicated drivers or cooks. The villa featured here is The Springs in Ubud, which has a full kitchen and an extensive raw food menu. The dining area is open air. You’ll sit on floor pillows while looking out at terraced rice paddies, noshing on dishes like raw lasagna and sipping drinks made from passion fruit picked on the property. Not enough to be convinced? An infinity pool sits just a short walk from your bedroom, the bathroom has an open roof so you feel like you’re showering in a rainforest, and you’ll sleep in one of three bedrooms that could be described as the ultimate fantasy suites. This place should probably be renamed ‘Paradise.’

villa-2 villa

Food and culture

Ubud is known for its artsy side, so peruse the stone carvings and woodwork along many of the streets and pop in and out of shops downtown. You’ll find a number of goods made from leather, wood and stone, as well as many clothing and jewelry shops. Don’t forget to barter — the original stated price is rarely what you could get the goods for. It’s not uncommon, for example, to land a shirt for £4, so use your negotiating skills.

Sampling some of the local food and drinks is also a requirement. There are plenty of restaurants in downtown Ubud and people are more than willing to give recommendations. Duck into Kafe for a hippy-ish vibe, some good coffee and organic food, or make a reservation at Murni’s Warung where you can dine overlooking a river and taste test some traditional Indonesian dishes, like nasi goreng.


Stark and Bintang – the beers of Bali!


A program that aims to promote animal welfare and education in Bali.


A street-side fruit stand near Ubud


Offerings on the street. Most people in Bali practice Hinduism.


A market in Sukawati


Fish for sale

Tips for traveling to Bali:

  • The traffic is heavy in many parts of Bali — plan ahead and leave extra time to get to your destination. A 12-mile drive may take more than an hour!
  • People are advised not to drink the tap water in Bali. Make sure you locate bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth. Travel clinics may advise against eating raw fruits and veggies too.
  • Visa rules tend to change often for travel to Bali and Lombok, so check the latest information before your trip. ProjectVisa is a good place to start.
  • You’ll be charged a departure tax when you leave Bali, so make sure you set aside the 150,000 rupiah you’ll need to pay at the airport.
  • About 17,000 Indonesian rupiah are equivalent to £1. It may feel strange to take hundreds of thousands of rupiah out of an ATM at first!
  • Schedule an appointment at a travel clinic several months before your trip to Bali. There are several preventative vaccines and measures they’ll recommend. They’ll also recommend bringing DEET to use during your stay as some mosquito-bourne illnesses are a concern.
  • Stray dogs are everywhere in Bali. Don’t be overly alarmed if you’re not a dog person though. Most of them won’t approach you.
  • It’s customary (and respectful) to remove your shoes before entering many places, such as stores.

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(All images: Melisse Hinkle)

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