Discovering Ancient and Mystical Bali in Ubud

Nestled deep within lush tropical foothills sits a cluster of over a dozen tiny villages that comprise the tranquil town of Ubud--the artistic and cultural center of Bali. The jungle-covered hills and terraced rice paddies surrounding this laid-back locale are dotted with ancient temples and palaces that still play a central role in the country's complex culture. With a name originating from the ancient Balinese word for medicine, Ubud is certainly a place to seek healing and peace as you rest your body and spirit.

Bali is a mystical place, rich with culture and vibrant traditions, and nowhere is this more obvious than in Ubud.

Wander down narrow cobblestone streets past a plethora of local eateries and shops--referred to natively as warung. Explore ancient Hindu temples adorned with ornate moss-encrusted carvings depicting an ancient history rich with mythology. Stroll shady pathways leading through crumbling ruins, hanging gardens and gin-clear pools of water as long-tailed Macaque monkeys howl and play in the canopy overhead. In the evening, as the heat subsides, take in a legong--a traditional Balinese-style dance that involves elaborate costumes, complicated finger movements and evocative facial expressions.

Balinese dancing in Ubud, Bali

The steep hills, deep gorges and rushing rivers throughout the region provide ample opportunity for active outdoor pursuits, while myriad spas and yoga and meditation retreats lend the chance to seek solace and centeredness.

Many artisans call Ubud home, as evidenced by the multitude of shops selling Balinese art and handicrafts.

Balinese stone carving in Ubud, BaliBalinese people are particularly friendly--quick to lend a smile--and often happy to indulge the inquisitive onlooker. Peruse the local market for a unique handmade souvenir, or tour a silversmith shop and learn about the trade as your soon-to-be favorite piece of jewelry is crafted in front of your eyes.

Some Balinese temples date back to the 9th century and the hills surrounding Ubud are home to prime examples. Many are within a short distance from the town center so you can organize a tour with a local English-speaking guide or follow your guidebook on a walk through temples rife with delicate carvings shrouded in mystery and moss. Whether you choose to explore by bike, scooter, motor taxi or foot, experiencing these ancient sanctuaries is a must.

Thermal bath at Tirta Empul temple, Ubud, Bali

Observe as pilgrims gather to cleanse--both physically and spiritually--in the holy waters that spring from the earth in the thermal baths and fountains of Tirta Empul, Bali's holiest of temples. Later, retreat to the quiet courtyards and chambers of Goa Gajah, the Elephant Cave where still-flowing fountains and cryptic caverns depict demented demons and elegant figures believed to stave off unwelcome spirits.

The cuisine of Bali is as unique and multifaceted as the culture itself, borrowing from both Chinese and Indian influences. Family-run warungs offer traditional meals like babi guling (roasted suckling pig), nasi campur (mixed rice with various sides) or delicious satay (grilled meat skewers). Later, enroll in a cooking class to learn how to add another delectable dish to your quiver of exotic recipes. And never pass up an opportunity to savor Ubud's succulent tropical fruits, regardless of how peculiar they may appear!

Balinese coffee and tea in Ubud, BaliA trip to Bali wouldn't be complete without a sampling of the world-renowned coffee and tea that thrive in this tropical climate. The steep, lush hills surrounding Ubud are home to some of the most delicious coffee in the world. Take a tour of one of the many plantations and sip the smooth Arabica brew while observing the roasting process and learning how coffee gets from plant to mug.

Find yourself in awe of the mystery that abounds as you explore recently unearthed temples and courtyards. Marvel at the natural beauty of the dense jungle, smoldering volcanoes, pristine lakes and exotic beaches that only add to the mystique of this place. So stay a few extra days in Ubud before or after your Backroads Bali Bike Tour and rejuvenate your mind and body.

3 Responses

  1. Sue Kamins

    Hi Austin,

    Every 5 years I take each of my children on a trip where ever they want to go. This year, my 25 year old daughter has mentioned that she would like to go to Bali. I would like some information about taking a 10 day (or so) trip sometime after May 15th, 2015. I live in Northern California. I am 62, so a moderate paced trip is what we are looking for. Please let me know what is available, itinerary, common plane fares, and lodging. Thanks, Sue

    • Hi Sue,

      What a wonderful tradition you have to take your children traveling! We have an 8-day Bali biking trip that runs in the spring (May 3 is the last spring departure) and winter (October 11 is the first winter departure) that you might be interested in. Details are available at or feel free to call our Berkeley office at 800-462-2848 for more information.

      Thank you!

  2. Bali tour

    Hi Austin, This post is really a good narration about Ubud, the cultural center of Bali. I have been to Bali several times and each time I found something new. Your post has refreshed my memories regarding Bali tour. Thanks a lot for this post and keep on publishing these type of posts. Looking forward your next post.

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