Top Ten things to do in Ubud, Bali for the Ultimate Wellness Retreat. A wellness inspired travel guide to one of the most magical places in the world.
I spent ten days in Ubud, Bali a few months ago for a much-needed solo adventure/wellness retreat. Bali was a different type of trip for me, I didn't want to spend every day on the go, trying to see all the sites and do all the things. I really wanted to settle into the vibe of Ubud and allow for some much needed down time, reflection, and crazy amounts of self-care. Ubud delivered, in a huge way.
Nestled in the lush ancient forests and rice fields of central Bali, Indonesia, Ubud, meaning medicine, is the spiritual center of Bali. Maybe you remember it featured in Elizabeth Gilbert's “Eat, Pray, Love”? Ubud was the “Love” bit.
Expats, wanderers, adventurers and health seekers warn of the special gravitational pull that Ubud has, it has a tendency to keep you there longer than expected. I met a woman that landed in Ubud 10 years earlier, and never got on her return flight home.
Although I made it home, part of me feels like I never really left Ubud. It has stayed with me in a fierce way and I am literally counting down the days until I can return.
Ubud is a mecca of wellness, the air heavy with incense from daily prayers, massages cheaper than lunch, the best yoga, cafes, and restaurants serving up every variety of green juice, kombucha more ubiquitous than beer. I settled in quite well.
I complied a list of my top 10 things to do in Ubud, but keep in mind I was not on a mission to “do it all”, quite the opposite really. So if you are looking for a comprehensive “must see all the things in Ubud” list, this isn't it. If you want a little guidance on your wellness adventure in Ubud or just a peek inside my journey, well then keep reading 🙂
Top Ten Things to Do in Ubud, Bali for the Ultimate Wellness Retreat
1. Do Yoga
Every morning I started my day with the 7 am flow at The Yoga Barn in Ubud. It was a very short walk from my hotel and a true oasis of calm. The setting is otherworldly and the classes are phenomenal. Even if you aren't a die-hard yogi I highly recommend taking at least one class here to experience the vibe and soak in the views. It is the best start to your day in Ubud.
2. Eat Raw, Eat Well.
Ubud does health food and does it well. I saw more progressive food items in Ubud than New York and Los Angeles combined (charcoal bun on a beet burger perhaps?) I ate mostly raw food when I was there, it's what my body wanted in the extreme heat. My favorite spots that I kept returning to were Atman Cafe, The Elephant, The Garden Kafe and Juice Bar at Yoga Barn, and Bali Buddha.
3. Treat yo'self
I had a “spa” treatment of some kind almost every day ranging from foot reflexology, rose flower baths and yogurt scrubs, to a cranial sacral treatment where they poured hot oil on my head, then covered my hair in what appeared to be avocado mouse, wrapped my head in a banana leaf and put me in a 375° oven for 30 minutes until crisp (JK about the oven part) and I loved every last second of it! The quickest way to settle into the wellness vibe of Ubud is to dive into treatments. It's important to mention that an hour treatment is somewhere between 15-20$ that is not a typo.
Basically, my days were made up of yoga, green juice, Bubur Ayam (see below), spa treatment, nap, explore, smoothie/green juice/and or other food, sleep.
Wellness retreat vibe ✔️
4. Visit Monkeys
The monkey forest was a stone's throw from my hotel and I wanted to visit every day. In addition to my fascination with just staring at “normal” monkey activity, the landscape of the monkey forest is breathtaking. Take your time, wander around, watch the monkeys but do me a favor, don't tease them and don't scream in delight, you are visiting their home. Monkeys are the boss and they mean business, they will steal your stuff if you aren't careful. A teenage monkey and I had a very intense discussion about what was mine and what was his. I was calm and firm and he was belligerent and naughty, he basically flipped me the bird, hissed and stormed off. I loved him even more. Anyway, look at these gorgeous creatures.
5. Walk a ridge
The Campuan Ridge walk is a short hike behind the hustle and bustle of Ubud and into the lush green hills and valleys. It is beautiful and peaceful and the perfect morning retreat. Leave early (it gets so hot!) and stop at the Karsa Kafe at the end. The entire walk takes around 2 hours there and back. I stopped at the Karsa Kafe for a solid hour, you can see why. Lounge in the sweet little huts, drink a mango lassi (or two), take in the view and just Ubee (see what I did there ☺️)
The hike is a little tricky to find, but here is a great guide to get you there.
6. Post Ridge Walk Spa (insider tip)
I was lucky enough to meet a friend of a friend who had recently moved to Ubud, Sara. One night we shared a gorgeous dinner together and Sara graciously showered me with some pretty stellar Ubud tips. The Hotel Tjampuhan & Spa for a post-Camphuan Ridge Walk relaxation session was my favorite tip of all! For around 20 bucks you can get a day pass to just soak in this spa, enjoy the hot and cold plunge pools and stare into the most beautiful vistas. The day I was there I was all alone and kept pinching myself at the experience. Until I had a visitor, a slithery friend who blended in perfectly with the stone carvings. I was totally confused and kept thinking, “It's so weird how that snake carving looks like it's moving”.
I got closer and realized it was an acutal snake, slithering toward me.
That was the end of that.
I still recommend the spa. I would totally go back. Snakes deserve a spa day too.
7. Buy local – Buy Bali Buddha
This is another insider tip from Bali Sara, there is a little store called Bali Buddha and you must go! I have a mini fascination with grocery stores/health foodie style stores around the world. Bali Buddha is small but mighty I found bags of raw cacao beans for around $2!! and super rich and dark Coconut Palm Sugar for a major bargain. I bought too many bags to mention here, and I don't even care that my luggage weighed about 500lbs. on the way home.
8. Eat Bubur Ayam
I didn't eat a ton of traditional Indonesian food while I was there, and that is a regret. I was just so tickled by the healthy options. Also, I was traveling alone, without Jordan, my eating travel companion. Eating alone I really allowed myself to tune in and respond to what my body wanted and as it turned out most of the time I wanted light raw food, or sometimes just a juice.
On day 3 I ordered the traditional Bubur Ayam for breakfast and fell in love. It's basically the best chicken rice soup you've ever had. It was the perfect post-yoga nourishment.
9. Embrace the chaos
This isn't so much a “to-do” as an experience tip. I was so taken aback by the stark contrast between the oasis of calm that is Ubud and the chaotic intense energy that is also Ubud. It is calm AND chaos. It is both. The motorbikes and fumes and beeps and poverty and homeless dogs (my heart), it is everything. The main streets are chaos, behind the main street is paradise. It takes adjusting, but embrace all of it. The Balinese people are kind, generous and curious, I never felt unsafe, but I also held onto my NYC sensibilities. Also, never walk down the street without looking where you are walking, NEVER! The “sidewalks” are full of gaping holes that this girl could have easily fallen in, and it wouldn't be the first time I've fallen down a hole in a sidewalk. True story.
10. Climb a volcano
This experience could be it's very own post and I struggle to even find the words to describe it, but I'll do my best.
The Mt. Batur volcano hike was on my list of “Hell Yes!” Having recently completed a solid 100-mile hike over the Pyrenees mountains and across Spain I thought this would be a fun mini-challenge.
Yeah, I was kind of wrong.
Here is how it works, at 2 am a tour company will pick you up at your hotel (I used Bali Sunrise Trekking) then you drive an hour or so to reach the base of the mountain. They feed you awful coffee or decent tea, hand you a flashlight and off you go with your guide. The hike starts at 4 am and the goal is to reach the summit by 6:30ish am for sunrise.
All of this seemed doable.
About 3 minutes into the hike, in the pitch black, I was second-guessing my poor decision making. This was not a hike up a mountain, we were basically scaling the side of the mountain, Spider-Man style, for hours! There were many moments I thought I would die. My guide was patient and kind and I think he kind of liked my slow pace, it gave him ample opportunity for smoke breaks.
Yup, I couldn't get up the mountain but my guide smoked 1/2 a pack on the way up, no problem.
I was alone. Just me and my smokin' guide. I had started out with a young couple from Californian, but it was quickly evident that they had a very different pace so ahead they went with a high school student that pops over to scale the volcano before school starts.
I didn't make it to the summit for sunrise. I barely made it at all. The sunrise pictures are from the side of the mountain.
Honestly, there were about 100 times in those few hours that I questioned what the hell was wrong with me to sign up for this.
Then I reached the summit and the payoff was pretty great.
Once you arrive your guide prepares breakfast for you. Eggs cooked in the volcanic steam. That part was cool. Although I could have eaten about 20 eggs at that point, not just 2 (well 1 because I gave one of mine to this homeless volcano dog).
Climbing Mount Batur is still in my top ten but I would NEVER do it again. If you are in excellent shape and really love the idea of scaling a volcano at 4:00 am then go for it. Or, you can just look at my pictures.
Side note: most tour groups offer an additional stop after the hike at a natural hot spring in Lake Batur. I hated this part. The hot spring felt like an amusement park, and I did not enjoy sitting in hot water when it was 95 degrees outside and I had just scaled a mountain. I was cranky and the whole thing felt kind of yucky. I desperately wanted to be back in the hotel for a good nap.
I stayed at the Anumana hotel in Ubud, and would definitely return. The services were incredible, my room was gorgeous, the pool was fantastic, and the breakfast was my favorite!
So that's the whole list. My mini retreat to Ubud, loved loved loved this magical place.
Heading to Ubud sometime in the near future? PIN this image to your travel board!