Bali's surf and beach culture is unrivalled. But for a change of pace, head inland to the hills and valleys of ancient Ubud, the island's historic and spiritual centre.
The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
A visit to Ubud's Sacred Monkey Forest is a treat for both young and old. Located just a stone's throw from Ubud town, this lush garden is dotted with ancient temples, and home to around 600 delightfully cheeky macaque monkeys. As long as your pockets and bags are devoid of food, the amount of interaction you have with the monkeys is up to you. Bananas for feeding are available for purchase inside the sanctuary.
Downhill cycling tours
There are few things more exhilarating than gliding downhill on a bicycle with the warm wind in your face, inhaling exotic aromas, finding your way through quaint villages and following the paths alongside rice paddies – kind of an Eat Pray Love-on-caffeine experience. The only drawbacks: the essential helmet restricts wind through the hair, and it's so tempting to speed that it's easy to miss the nuances of village life along the way.
Bali has a number of cycle tour companies with varied itineraries, including Ubud. Book one, and you and your cycle will be transported from your resort to the top of a nearby mountain. There you and your group mount your cycles and head downhill to a designated pick up spot. Whee!
White Water Rafting
Looking for a bigger adrenaline rush than downhill cycling? White water rafting down Ubud's Ayung River might be just the thing. The rapids are, at most, grade three but a rafting expedition also provides plenty of tranquil time to enjoy the lush tropical vegetation as you float past. Once the rafts are packed away, there are photo opportunities at the waterfall and – of course– if there are any water mishaps you know you are not going to catch a chill. As with most activities, all hotel transfers are included.
Rice Paddy Walks
The areas surrounding Ubud are famous for rice production and an organised walk through the vivid green paddies – officially known as the Tegallalang Rice Terraces – is both relaxing and educational, providing an insight into the cultivation and harvest of this staple crop. Tours usually include visits to vegetable and spice farms, and a local school, plus a delicious Balinese lunch to conclude.
One of the best things about visiting Bali is the food, a uniquely delicious cuisine relying on fragrant Balinese spices and superb local produce. Ubud has a great number of cooking classes, but one that stands out for its excellent staff, and dedication to authenticity and sustainability is the Balinese Farm Cooking School. Like many cooking schools, Balinese Farm includes a market visit to start the day. Whichever school you book, it's worth checking you'll be visiting a market as it really adds to the experience.
While rental cars are widely available in Bali, sometimes it can be easier to leave the driving to those who understand the location and the law. Booking a day tour with a personal driver is a stress-free and educational way to experience some of the best the Ubud area has to offer.
If you're looking for a tour guide, I can recommend Wayan from Amansuka Tours, whose pride and passion for his homeland are truly inspirational. He offers a number of tours; depending on your choice, your day will include visits to local markets, traditional craft producers, ancient temples, natural beauty spots, and more.