On an island full of popular destinations, Ubud and Canggu are easily two of the top spots on Bali. But despite being just twenty or so miles apart, they’ve developed noticeably different vibes.

As the island’s cultural center, Ubud is a tourist town, as well as a hub for hippies and others on an Eat Pray Love-inspired journey.

Canggu, on the other hand, is a California-esque surfing hotspot and hipster enclave, and a contender for the title of World Digital Nomad Capital. Where Ubud is funky, spiritual, and peaceful, Canggu is sleek, modern, and hip.

Hopefully, you’ll have time to visit both towns and can appreciate the best of what each one has to offer. But if time requires you to choose between them, here are some of the things to consider.

Beach

There’s no competition here: if the beach is calling, Canggu is your place. Unlike Ubud, which is located in the center of Bali and at least an hour from the nearest beaches, Canggu is right on the sand. There are a few different places to lay your towel down, with Echo Beach, Berawa Beach, and Batu Bolong Beach as the top spots.

Canggu

While these aren’t the island’s best swimming beaches, and there isn’t much diving or snorkeling nearby, Canggu is a surfing hotspot. You can take lessons, rent a board, or just sit on the sand and watch the pros. Sunset at the beach is also something of an institution in Canggu, with rows of bean bag chairs right on the sand and beach bars serving up cheap, cold Bintangs while the sun goes down. Whatever you plan to do in Canggu, schedule your day’s activities around making it to the beach at sunset; that’s what the residents do, after all.

Food

The bad news is that it’s hard to decide which town has better food, but the good news is that you can’t go wrong either way; both Ubud and Canggu have some of the best restaurants I’ve eaten at anywhere in Southeast Asia. Balinese cuisine is delicious, and the Western and international restaurants in Ubud and Canggu are top-notch. Both towns are also immensely health-conscious, which is clear from the abundance of healthy eateries. Dishes packed with fresh produce and so-called superfoods are the norm, and vegan and gluten-free options are never hard to find.

As a digital nomad hotspot, though, Canggu has more cafés that are great for working on your laptop, while only a few spots in Ubud have the requisite outlets, air-conditioning, and comfortable seating. And if Bali is the smoothie bowl capital of the world, Canggu just might be the smoothie bowl capital of Bali. Relatedly (I think), it’s also one of the few places in Southeast Asia where brunch is a verb, and each brunch spot is more meticulously designed than the last.

But Balinese food seems less present there, or at least less accessible, whereas tiny warungs serving up local dishes are everywhere in Ubud. And if you wanted, say, a series of wheatgrass shots to align each of your chakras, well, you can probably guess where you’ll find it.

As hard as it is to decide whether Ubud or Canggu is the better foodie spot, it’s even more impossible to choose the best place to eat in either town. But (if I had to), Clear Café, Atman Kafe, Wulan Vegetarian Warung, and Seniman Coffee Studio are among my top picks in Ubud. And in Canggu, Crate Café, The Shady Shack, Betelnut Cafe, and Jikaa Coffee x Eatery are not to be missed.

Ubud

Nightlife

The calculation here is also simple: if you’re looking for nightlife, Canggu is the obvious choice.

Not surprisingly for a town where tourism revolves around culture and wellness, Ubud isn’t really the place to party. Much of the town seems to shut down by around 9pm, though Bar Luna, No Más, and Laughing Buddha Bar are among the places that stay open later. For a serious night out, CP Lounge is the sole spot where you can dance until the wee hours of the morning. While you’ll always find someone who wants to party, Ubud has far more people who wake up before dawn than stay out until it.

Canggu, on the other hand, is one of Bali’s biggest nightlife destinations, and staying out until the sun comes up is hardly unusual there. La Brisa, Old Man’s, The Lawn, and Finn’s Beach Club are long-time favorites. If you’re looking for drunken nights on the sand, head to Canggu and hit up one of these beloved spots.

Shopping

Both Ubud and Canggu have more than enough places where you can find things to take home, so it depends on what you’re looking for.

If local souvenirs are the priority, you’ll be overwhelmed by the options in Ubud, which is also basically an emporium for all items yoga-related, spiritually-inspired, or hippie-influenced – yoga clothes and accessories, jewellery made of sacred symbols, art featuring spiritual figures, and so forth. All the streets in the center of town are lined with shops and stalls, selling everything from cheap, mass-market souvenirs to upscale designer items.

Canggu isn’t really known as a shopping destination, though more and more boutiques are popping up in town. It doesn’t have the same range of souvenirs as Ubud, but it’s probably the best place in Bali to find surfing gear, beachwear, and trendy Western-style clothing and decor. Canggu’s best shopping is located near Berawa, Echo, and Batu Bolong Beaches, and the Love Anchor Weekend Bazaar is a can’t-miss. From a traveller’s standpoint, though, shopping in Ubud is more of an experience in itself, with chaotic market stalls to peruse and plenty of items you won’t find at home.

Tegallalang Rice Terraces, Ubud

Yoga

Ubud is one of the world’s leading destinations for yoga, wellness, and spirituality. It’s home to the world-famous Yoga Barn, which really helped put it on the map as a yoga destination, though dozens of daily classes are held at many other places around town. Radiantly Alive has emerged as the Yoga Barn’s top competition, but Taksu Yoga and Ubud Yoga House are also beloved.

On offer in Ubud is every spiritual and personal development practice you’ve ever heard of, and many you probably haven’t. All different styles of yoga, meditation, dance, martial arts, and massage, along with devotional chanting, ecstatic movement, sharing circles, cacao ceremonies, and sound healing, to name a few. There are always multiple retreats and teacher trainings going on, and a few nearby ashrams also welcome visitors.

But while Ubud is inarguably the capital for all things spirituality and well-being, Canggu has a handful of yoga studios itself, with The Practice, Serenity, and Samadhi Bali topping the list. If you’re looking to dive deep into the worlds of holistic wellness and spiritual exploration, you’ll love Ubud. But if that all sounds a little woo-woo, Canggu will be a better fit.

Canggu

Cost

Despite its reputation as a luxury honeymoon destination (which it can be), Bali is actually a budget traveler’s dream, with quality accommodations and delicious meals available at astonishingly low prices. That said, Canggu is one of the island’s pricier spots, while Ubud offers some of the best value I’ve found anywhere in Southeast Asia.

In both places, though, you can save significantly by choosing mainly local food, staying and eating in areas away from the tourist/expat centers, and getting around on your own (either by foot, bicycle, or motorbike). Still, if budget is a primary concern, your rupiah will go further in Ubud.

Final thoughts

Ubud and Canggu are both tremendously popular, but they have distinctly different vibes. If you think it’s possible for something to be so hip it’s painful, you’ll be unable to stop yourself from sneering at “the Gu” (yes, really). If you can’t take energy healing seriously, Ubud (which doesn’t have a nickname, as far as I know) will leave you rolling your eyes.

My two cents? Well, while Canggu has a great vibe, it’s a place that could be anywhere. Actually, it almost feels any surf town was picked up from Australia or the U.S. and plopped down in Bali; I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that I saw more foreigners there than Indonesians.

On the other hand, I’ve never been anywhere quite like Ubud. There’s no denying that it’s super touristy, and the town center is crowded as a result. But while Ubud is packed with both tourists and expats, I appreciated that they seem to coexist with a local population, and that Hindu temples, daily offerings, and traditional architecture can be found on nearly every street. Plus, the nature around Ubud is unparalleled, with lush, terraced rice paddies right outside of town. But of course, as a yoga teacher myself, my preference for Ubud might be a tad bit biased.