I spent a week in Bali without ever going to the beach and had the time of my life. Here's what I did instead.
Annie Zheng/Business Insider
- While most people know about the Indonesian island of Bali as a beach paradise, I found the interior jungle, and specifically the city of Ubud, to be a far more interesting place to explore.
- Ubud has a bustling community of local Balinese, digital nomads working on startups, and vacationers exploring Ubud's mix of rice terraces, temples, spiritual retreats, yoga and meditation classes, and villas set into the countryside.
- Ubud would be easy to make fun of due to its proliferation of New Agey seekers, vegan and raw food establishments, and more, but it's the earnestness and positivity that permeates the city that makes it a place you want to experience and return to.
Bali is the kind of place you visit more than once.
When my driver, a burly man named Wayan, picked me up from the airport during a trip to the island this past May, the first thing he said to me was, "Welcome back. So, how many times have you been to Bali?"
In most places, I'd think he was making a joke. It was my first time to the island, after all. But, in Bali, the vacationers, expats, and travelers always seem to come more than once.
From a Filippino yoga teacher to a German programmer to a Australian cafe owner and countless others I met, again and again, I heard a similar refrain: I came here the first time not knowing what to expect, but after being in Bali for a few days, I knew I'd be back. Now it's my fourth, fifth, or tenth time.
It didn't take me long to figure out why. While Bali has become known for its endless parade of Instagram influencers, honeymooners lying in infinity pools, and beach sunsets to end all beach sunsets, I think it's the city of Ubud and the jungle interior of the island that keeps people coming back.
Ubud has been known as a spiritual and mystical center to Balinese for centuries - Ubud means "medicine" - but, over the last few decades, it has sprouted a community of New Agey seekers and expats seeking to live the good life.
Add in a new generation of digital nomads working on startups by night and yoga during the day and you have the mix for a dynamic community that keeps people coming back.
While overtourism is a problem - the number of annual tourists has jumped from 2.2 million in 1990 to 13.7 million last year - many foreigners are beginning to work with locals to build sustainable tourism businesses and many of the best guesthouses, shops, restaurants, yoga studios, tour companies are run by local Balinese or Indonesians.
In May, I spent a week in Ubud and never even bothered to hang out on the beach. I didn't need to. There was far too much to do in Ubud. Here's what I did: