Prompted by a close friend to meet her in Bali after her yoga training this spring, it didn’t require much more convincing for me to jump on the opportunity to join her in paradise. Located in Southeast Asia, Bali is an Indonesian island that is known for its lush landscape, Eat Pray Love infamy, and health + yoga scene—all against the backdrop of rolling rice fields, beautiful beaches, and tropical jungle vibes. Eager to experience the magic of Bali, I booked my ticket and began to prepare for the approximately 30 hours of travel, and what would prove to be the trip of a lifetime…
There isn’t direct flight from the US to Bali, but several airlines offer flights with only one lay over, which makes the long travel time doable. I flew EVA Air, connecting in Taipei, and Emirates also has good flight options that connect in Dubai. With the right plane snacks, with a big order from nuts.com and some bars and treats, and travel essentials like neck pillows and earplugs, the flight is totally manageable—and a great way to catch up on some reading or start a new TV series (for me it was Big Little Lies). Check out my latest Clean Sweep for a round-up of my travel necessities. Your final destination should be Ngurah Rai Airport in Denpasar, Indonesia, which is roughly a 45 min to 2 hour, depending on your first destination on the island.
My friend had a wonderful driver in Ubud that we used the entire time. His name is Agung and he arranged transport for us to the airport, along with transport between destinations and the fast boat to the Gili Islands. He is so warm and welcoming (along with his driver Wayan), is incredibly reliable and can help you navigate anything transportation or otherwise. You can reach him on WhatsApp at +62 812-3918-3383. Let him know Lily and Justine referred you!
UBUD: Bali’s ‘spiritual and cultural center,’ Ubud is brimming with yoga, art and beauty.
EAT: the healthful options in Ubud are plentiful and the food is nourishing and cheap (think $3 USD for an organic, cold pressed green juice and $5 USD for a macro bowl!). The dining scene in Bali is very casual, and with the exception of a few upscale restaurants, most of these places are perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner or an afternoon snack. Many restaurants require patrons to leave their shoes at the door, which makes for a grounding and relaxing dining experience 🙂
Sage: a cute vegan café with several gluten-free options. Any of their tacos can be converted into bowls and their use of jackfruit and tempeh as meat substitutes ensure that the food is both satiating and nourishing. Sage was my first meal upon arriving to bali, and I felt immediately revived from a green juice, savory bowl and delicious vegan mint chocolate chip ice cream for dessert.
Garden Kafe at Yoga Barn: this very casual outdoor café is located within the Yoga Barn—Ubud’s main yoga studio and wellness center—and is great to grab breakfast post morning flow or a snack or light lunch between classes. The Super Tropical Bowl is a perfect way to sample some of bali’s exotic fruits (dragon fruit, passion fruit, jackfruit, etc.) and is served along with raw muesli and homemade nut or coconut mylk. The raw chocolate, energy balls and cold press juices and smoothies from the Yoga Barn juice bar are also great options to enjoy while using the Garden Kafe wifi to plan your day (or your next meal).
Clear Café: is a colorful, casual and laid-back restaurant with fresh food for every palate. Upon entering Clear, you are transported into a high-vibe health lounge with an open-air jungle feel. Strong wifi and multiple lounge areas enable you to set up shop and work or lounge for hours while enjoying a super-food smoothie or dragon bowl. Clear offers vegan and vegetarian options along with fresh seafood—and all the cooking is done in 100% pure coconut oil.
Soma Café: an indoor-outdoor café, Soma resembles a high-vibe treehouse. All the food is organic and the herbal teas come straight from the garden. Different elixirs offer support for whatever your body is feeling (I recommend the belly love juice with aloe + tulsi to settle a traveler’s stomach upon arrival to Bali). Set back in the shade on a quiet side street, Soma offers a perfect afternoon escape from the Bali heat and a tranquil space to refuel.
Sayuri Healing: an amazing restaurant- and community- built around food that’s healing for the body, mind and spirit. All the food at Sayuri is plant-based, gluten-free, and predominately raw with the intention to raise your vibration. Try the reishi chai latte with cashew milk or shilajit hot chocolate (infused with bamboo charcoal) for a calming and yummy elixir alongside any of the raw vegan desserts. I also loved their bottomless bowls such as the ocean-bowl or nurish-a-bowl for a savory mixture of veggies (raw and cooked), ferments, seaweed, topped with a choice of nori & dulsi gomasio, “cheese” croutons, other crunchy superfoods and a delicious dressing.
Bali Buda: a great healthy outpost for the conscious traveler—this little market has all the staples you may have forgotten at home, or realized you need mid-trip. Bali Buda carries everything from activated charcoal tablets & tongue scrapers to their signature Bali Buda granola in bulk and all the nuts, seeds and energy bites to prep you for day trips/travel home from Bali.
Mudra Café: a gem of a café located off the beaten path of bali’s main road, Mudra offers ayurvedic Asian cuisine and all the food is sourced fresh daily from the nearby farm or ocean. Mudra is the perfect place to start your day with their “Awakened” coffee and a smoothie bowl or decadent avo toast. The lunch and dinner menu offers gf-friendly poké, Indian-inspired curries, and other savory veg + grain bowls.
Hujane Local: a more modern and upscale take on traditional Balinese cuisine, Hujane Local infuses their dishes with the prominent flavors of Indonesia, while sourcing most of their food from the kitchen garden or local farmers. Beautiful interior and room for lounging or grabbing a drink at the bar make for an upscale, yet affordable experience. A gluten-free menu and very accommodating staff help with any food allergies. The green papaya salad + stir fried Asian greens go great with the Acehnese prawn curry or the crispy whole fish with ginger flower.
Seeds of Life: this casual raw food café is one of the most inventive and progressive in Bali’s health food scene. The tonic & tea bar offers blends that use stand out ingredients such as reishi, cordyceps, shisandra berry, ashitaba, amalaki and more. The homemade nut milk is so amazingly creamy, as are all the vegan cheeses and homemade raw dips. Break your fast with their famous banana & walnut pancakes and a SOL Jar filled with all the goods or stop in for an afternoon snack for the spontaneous combustible dips of the day!
Bridges: upscale dining with beautiful jungle views. The service at Bridges is excellent, the staff is extremely friendly, and they are very accommodating to all dietary restrictions. We were delivered a basket of gluten free bread just minutes after we sat down!
Mozaic: fine dining with a Michelin star chef in Bali! Available as either a 6 or 8 course dining experience, Mozaic showcases flavors and dishes that fuse the native cuisine with international influences. All courses contain entirely seasonal ingredients (which means an ever changing menu) and there is a vegetarian option for the tasting menus. The best part—this memorable meal won’t break your traveler’s budget.. at $52 USD for the 6-course tasting experience, it’s definitely worth the splurge.
Alchemy Café: one visit to Alchemy and you will want to stay for breakfast lunch and dinner. The white, open air space creates the perfect vibe to linger over a meal with friends or sit alone and bring your laptop or read. The morning breakfast bar is truly amazing and enables you to pair a smoothie or nut milk with custom toppings like: fresh tropical fruit, homemade granola, vegan coconut or chocolate mousse and other super food crunches. The coffee is strong (for those travelers who need a dose of something more intense than the Balinese coffee) and the homemade dairy-free milks make for a delicious flat white (or whatever drink you’re craving). The breakfast bar runs until 11 am, when it turns into a make your own salad buffet that offers bottomless salads with all the toppings (kraut, savory nuts, veggie salads, etc.). If you’re not into the DIY, or just not craving a salad, Alchemy has a full menu with other great vegan options, including nachos and veggie sushi rolls. When you finish eating, explore the to-go goodies and grab a juice or vegan dessert to take away.
Seniman Coffee: cute coffee bar and restaurant that caters to the traveling crowd. The wifi is as strong as the coffee and there is a communal vibe that makes it a good place to chat with fellow travelers and exchange tips. There is a full menu as well (breakfast through dinner) in case you get hungry, but it seems like coffee is their strong suit.
Naughty Nuri’s: if you’re trying to get a little naughty while abroad, Naughty Nuri’s is known for their perfectly-poured martinis. Anthony Bourdain even rated them as the best martini outside New York! This local Warung, also known for their bbq ribs, definitely knows how to make a stiff martini. The ambiance is no frills, and the rest of the menu is eclectic- and sadly not gluten free or clean food friendly- but it is definitely worth a visit and martini cheers (especially if there are any rib lovers in your travel group).
Locavore: upscale, contemporary dining in Bali with an ingredient-driven menu that celebrates the local farmers, fishers, and food purveyors of Indonesia. The food here is fresh, inventive, and each dish is plated like a work of art. You will need a reservation in advance, as they fill up quickly and walk-ins are hard to ensure—though it’s definitely worth the res! You can also stop into Locavore To-Go during the day if you want to get a taste of what they have to offer.
The Yoga Barn: if you are staying in Ubud, and have any interest in yoga, you should undoubtedly check out one (or many) of the offerings at the Yoga Barn. True to it’s name, The Yoga Barn is a massive indoor/outdoor yoga facility with multiple studios, a café, and an Ayurvedic spa. An extensive daily class schedule allows for students of any skill or comfort level to experiment with those classes that interest them the most. In addition to pure vinyasa classes, Yoga Barn offers Kundalini, Yoga Nidra, Meditation, Tibetan Sound Healing, gong baths and several other healing classes and workshops. Take a class, stay for a sparkling kefir, juice + raw chocolate, and then explore another healing workshop or free community talk.
Radiantly Alive: another great studio in Ubud, Radiantly Alive is somewhat smaller than the Yoga Barn with fewer daily classes and workshops. That said, the instructors and classes are all amazing and offer a fresh perspective on the traditional vinyasa flow.
SPAS: one of the best parts of travel through bali is the affordable yet luxurious spa treatments. You will be walking around a lot and it’s always a welcome afternoon treat. Massages range from $10-15 USD for full body and all the spas offer a variety of involved treatments—such as deep tissue massage, Ayurvedic abhyanga or shirodhara, or massage with a yogurt scrub + rose petal bath.
Nur Salon: clean, affordable spa located within a tranquil temple environment. Treatment rooms are partially outdoors so you can hear the birds chirp as you relax onto the massage table. At the end of your treatment, you’ll receive some extra TLC in the form of a warm bath and body rinse using a coconut ladle 🙂
Ubud Bodyworks Centre: more than a spa, Ubud bodyworks is a healing center with an array of treatments to heal weary travelers or yogis, or to leave you feeling extremely relaxed. For the full experience, I recommend trying the spice bath massage or a deep tissue therapy massage. The staff is incredibly caring and an intake form before your treatment informs your masseuse of any problem areas where they should focus. Definitely call the day before to book your appointment, as this spot is popular and often booked for day-of walk ins.
KUSH: an Ayurvedic rejuvenation center + spa located on the Yoga Barn property, KUSH is a deeply tranquil spot to experience any traditional Ayurvedic treatment. You can’t go wrong when choosing a treatment, and each treatment begins with a cleansing footbath + glass of lemongrass infused water and ends with a warm pot of ginger tea. This is a must-visit and also worth booking in advance to ensure availability.
Taksu Spa: a long list of treatments, a friendly and informative staff to help you select your best treatment, and beautiful grounds/treatment rooms that immediately transport you to a soothing oasis. Each treatment comes with a complimentary jamu juice (turmeric tonic) or hot tea + if you’re hungry post treatment, the Taksu garden cafe has a long list of smoothies, juices and a great lunch time salad bar buffet.
STAY: With a backdrop as beautiful as Bali, most lodging options, whether a 5-star hotel, Airbnb or homestay, provide a tranquil and welcoming place to luxuriate during your trip. Below are some recommendations at varying price points, but I recommend checking Booking.com as a starting point.
Como Shambhala Estate or Como Ubud
Green Field Ubud
SHOP: no trip to Ubud would be complete without some shopping at the local markets (where you can have fun bargaining – always bargain!) or the shops in town. Be sure to visit the main market- across from the Ubud Palace- for beautiful silk robes, straw purses, sarongs, Buddha sculptures/statues, incense or fresh fruit for the day.
Other great Ubud finds are the mala or “prayer” beads (if you attend any yoga class in Ubud you will see students and teachers wearing mala beads on their neck or wrists). Traditional malas have 108 beads and can be used for reciting mantras (108 times!) or just worn for fashion as a beautiful reminder of whatever they signify to you.
SIDEMEN- DAY TRIP + COOKING CLASS: we ventured to this gorgeous, green, sleepy village town as part of a traditional Balinese cooking class with Green Kitchen. This was one of the highlights of our trip and the cooking experience is entirely organic and as authentic as they come. The cooking school instructor will arrange to pick you up from your hotel and take you first to explore the local Sidemen market place and gather a few spices (like galangal root + turmeric root) that you will use during the class. Then you are taken to his family home and farm to meet his roosters, trek through his family rice field, and collect the remaining ingredients you need (long beans, lemongrass stalks, rosella buds, chili peppers, and other goodies). Once in the open- air kitchen where you do all the prep work and cooking, prepare to get down and dirty. A mortar and pestle, banana leaf filter and wood-fire stove are your best tools and you will be grinding spices by hand, grating coconut, and frying peanuts in a vat of coconut oil. The pay-off is a feast that is savory, delicious and well-worth the work. From a spicy curry with homemade coconut milk, to gado-gado peanut sauce & pan-fried corn fritters and decadent black rice pudding for dessert, it will be one of the freshest, most delicious meals ever. The cooking school will drive you back to your hotel with leftovers, recipe sheets and a full belly. NOTE: expect this excursion to take at least half the day (and allow for transport time) when scheduling anything (i.e. a massage) later in the afternoon!
Keep reading for part 2 of my Bali guide….