Ubud or Canggu: Which Bali Destination is Better to Visit?

Ubud or Canggu
Photo credit: JRF/The Surf Atlas
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If you’ve been planning your Bali getaway and it’s come down to a coin toss between Ubud or Canggu, keep on reading. This guide will run through the ins and outs of both destinations. It’ll reveal the vibe, the attractions, the hotels, and the things there are to do in both, and hopefully get you on your way to putting the finishing touches to that Isle of the Gods itinerary.

The truth is that both Ubud and Canggu offer something pretty awesome. The first is the mystical jungle escape of south-central Bali. It’s got lush rice paddies and palm forests, ancient Buddhist and Hindu shrines, and one of the most enthralling markets on the island. The latter, meanwhile, has risen and risen in recent years to become arguably the coolest spot in Bali as a whole, touting sunset beer bars, pool bars, surf rentals, chic villas, and vegan cafés by the bucket load.

We’ll try to run through several of the individual aspects of these places to compare them properly, from the atmosphere to the sort of accommodation you can expect to enjoy. We’ll also contrast some more practical things, like the ease of travel and the cost of a stay in both Ubud and Canggu. All ready? Let’s begin…

Ubud or Canggu: The vibe

Lush Ubud
Photo credit: JRF/The Surf Atlas

Ubud and Canggu are very different places, and they both tend to draw a very different crowd. The first has made its name as Bali’s artist colony. The people who come here are often clad in elephant-print yoga pants and hemp vests. There are also lots who are looking to delve headlong into the history and heritage of the island, which Ubud offers thanks to its overload of temples, shrines and art galleries. Others are interested in traditional shopping at the batik and gamelan workshops.

Canggu is really all about hipster living. It’s not for nothing that the town managed to trump even the hallowed Chiang Mai of Thailand to the top of the world rankings of digital nomad destinations in recent years. The residents (and a lot of them are long-term residents) tend to be young, tech-savvy, and mad about surfing. Canggu caters well to them. It’s packed with creative co-working spaces, cafés, roastery coffee shops – that sort of thing.

Ubud or Canggu: Dining and food

Balinese food
Photo credit: JRF/The Surf Atlas

Indo is a lot like the rest of Southeast Asia. AKA: You’re not likely to go hungry wherever you stay. The same goes for Ubud and Canggu, although Ubud does tend to focus on more regional Balinese and Javenese cooking. It’s riddled with rustic warung (family-run Indonesian taverns) that sell local delicacies like suckling pig (not one for the veggies) and gado gado (better for the veggies). It’s a prime place to go if you’re the sort who likes to taste traditional dishes when you travel.

Canggu is a bit of a dining hotspot, but the theme is far more international. The closer you get to the epicenter of the town around the beachfronts, the more Scandi-cool coffeeshops (don’t miss Crate Café and La Finca) you’ll encounter. There’s also wood-fired pizza (try Luigi’s Hot Pizza and Fabbrica) right next to Vietnamese pho houses and Indian roti kitchens.

Ubud or Canggu: Nightlife

Nightlife
Photo credit: JRF/The Surf Atlas

There’s always something going on after dark in Bali’s main towns. Ubud actually has a reputation for hosting one of the more chilled nightlife scenes. It’s largely about laid-back bars where you can chat with like-minded travelers, play pool, and sip well-mixed cocktails. Some of the stand-out options include Spice Night Bar, a sleek cocktail lounge with some of the best margaritas we’ve tasted outside of Mexico, and Hippie Fish, which has a cracking wine list and a cool Polynesian Tiki feel.

Canggu is way more hedonistic in general. It’s not the party mecca of the Bali south coast. That honor goes to Kuta. However, it can get super wild. The beach bars usually lead the way. We’re talking places like Old Man’s and Finn’s, where there’ll be pumping EDM and DJ parties from sunset all the way to the small hours of the morning. Venture into the interior of Canggu and you’ll find a whole host of other sorts of venue, from beer houses serving Belgian ales to skate bars like Pretty Poison and alt-rock warehouses to boot. There’s something for everyone.

Ubud or Canggu: Hotels

Canggu hotel pool
Photo credit: JRF/The Surf Atlas

Bali boasts thousands upon thousands of hotel options. It’s not the number one destination for international travelers in Indonesia for nothing, you know? The general mix of places in Ubud leans towards the more eco-luxury end of the spectrum. We’d say the crème-de-la-crème of stays are the jungle-shrouded resorts on the outskirts, which gaze over the rice paddies and have infinity pools and Balinese bungalow suites. Check out:

  • The Runik ($$) –A fantastic hotel close to Ubud’s rice paddies with a small pool and friendly owners.
  • Ubud Nyuh Bali Resort & Spa ($$$) –Five-star luxury and an organic-feel pool that sits plum in the middle of the forests.

The hotel offering in Canggu is pretty impressive to say the least. There are a few of the sort of eco resorts you get in Ubud, but they’re much more urban in these parts. There’s also a big push towards surf stays, which means hostel-style camps with swimming pools, board rentals, and on-site surf instructors. What’s more, as Canggu has established itself as the go-to destination for digital nomads in Bali, the area has gathered more and more self-contained flat and villa rentals. Many of those boast their own gardens and pools, not to mention lightning-fast WiFi. Some of our favorite places to stay in Canggu are:

  • Aradhana Villas by Ekosistem ($$$) – A clutch of standalone luxury villas with lush tropical gardens and uber-slick modern interiors.
  • COMO Uma Canggu ($$$) – COMO is an eco-surf resort with style, situated right by the ocean with its own stunning infinity pool. Honeymoon in Canggu, anyone?

Ubud or Canggu: Price

Rice paddies in Ubud
Photo credit: JRF/The Surf Atlas

Bali’s not the cheapest part of Indonesia to visit. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. What’s more, the south coast where you find Canggu is among the priciest parts of the island as a whole. The recent digital nomad craze has cranked costs skywards even more, so you will pay a premium to stay here. That’s especially true in the international cafés and restaurants – a coffee alone can cost up to 70,000 IDR ($4!). Hotels also cost extra by the coastline, with some of the bigger resorts in Canggu priced at upwards of 2.8 million IDR ($200) a night in the main season.

We’d say Ubud is actually the cheapest of the major destinations in the touristy south-central part of Bali. A very good hotel here can set you back just 1.4 million IDR ($95-100) a night, but, of course, you can pay more for luxury if you’d like. Meals will be less, particularly if you stick to the warung. They do the best chow in Ubud anyhow and have dishes like skewers with rice and peanut satay for as little as 25,000 IDR+ ($1.70+).

Ubud or Canggu: Ease of travel

Monkey Jungle
Photo credit: JRF/The Surf Atlas

One of the great draws of Ubud is its remoteness. Okay, so it’s not as far-flung as the villages of Gretek and Kubu on the far side of Mount Agung, Bali’s mighty volcano. However, it’s still a world away from the beaches of Padang Padang and the resorts of Nusa Dua. The downside of all that is that it takes about an hour to get from the airport to your hotel in Ubud in normal traffic. Even more annoying: The going rate for the ride is a whopping 300,000 IDR. Uber rides will do it for less, but it’s a risk because the infamous Bali taxi mafia don’t like that happening. Once you manage to make it to Ubud, things do get easier. It’s a much smaller town than Canggu and – with the exception of the rice terraces – you can pretty much walk between all the major attractions.

Getting to Canggu after you land in Denpasar Airport should be quicker than getting to Ubud – around 25-30 minutes in the car is normal. But it’s not always that simple in Bali. The roads that connect to Canggu from the terminals go through the heart of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak. They’re three of the island’s busiest resorts. So, traffic can be a nightmare, especially at peak times like mid-morning and evening. (We remember being stuck in a taxi to Canggu for at least an hour once!). In addition, getting from A to B in Canggu is rarely a breeze. Most people will rent a scooter. Others will rely on taxis, but that’s no easy matter when the local drivers despise the ride-sharing apps.

Ubud or Canggu: Attractions and things to do

surfers in Canggu
Photo credit: JRF/The Surf Atlas

What you’ll do in Ubud is likely to be a whole load different to what you do in Canggu. The mainstay draws of the jungle town are the Monkey Forest (a macaque-ridden woodland filled with haunting Hindu shrines) and Ubud Market (a place to haggle for woven baskets and batik throws). Loads of people also come this way to wander the wonderful Tegallalang Rice Terrace and hike the foothills of south Bali, so it’s an all-round cultural-adventure destination at heart.

Canggu has one thing that Ubud doesn’t: Beaches. They’re not the best in Bali by any stretch. The sand is largely brown and black volcanic sand, and there’s none of that tropical palm covering you get down on the Bukit Peninsular or over on the Gili Islands. What Canggu’s beaches do offer is surfing. There are fantastic breaks at Batu Bolong, Echo Beach, and Berawa. Some breaks are challenging intermediate+ spots with fast lefts off fast peaks. Others are better for beginners.

Ubud or Canggu? Which one should I visit?

Ubud and Canggu are two of the most popular spots to add to any Bali itinerary. We think you’ll have a blast of a time no matter which you choose to go for. Even better, try and find space for both and you’ll get to experience a duo of different places, with different attractions, and different vibes.

That’s the keyword here: Different. Ubud is the jungle-shrouded arty culture hub of Bali. It’s a total must for anyone interested in Balinese Hinduism or traditional handicrafts. The town is also closer to the mountains and nature, so you’ll find better hiking and more away-from-it-all draws in this corner of the Isle of the Gods.

Canggu, on the flip side, prefers laid-back beach bars and digital-nomad cafes. It’s an energetic, youthful place filled with cool drinking spots and creative eateries. It’s proved very popular among those looking to stay in Bali for an extended period, too, mainly because there’s already a thriving expat community. On top of that, it’s got surfing for all levels and beaches to boot.

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Joe has been a freelance travel writer for over nine years. His writing and roaming have taken him from the colonial towns of Mexico to the chowks of Mumbai to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not putting together the next epic blog on the best Greek islands or ski fields in France, you can usually find him surfing or hiking – his two top hobbies.