Two weeks in Indonesia: Day-by-day plan for a sprawling island nation

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Put simply, Indonesia is massive.

The world’s largest archipelago nation, its 17,000-odd islands are spattered across more than 3,000 miles of the equator.

Its 250 million inhabitants speak more than 700 languages and practice six official religions, not to mention a range of animist traditions.

One calculation suggests it would take 48 years to visit all of Indonesia. Yet, if two weeks is all you have, that shouldn’t stop you from discovering this diverse nation.

These four itineraries, for different types of travelers, deliver a taste of Indonesia, from epic volcano climbs to indulgent retreats, from pristine islands to ritual sacrifice, from ancient temples to world-class barrel waves.

Two weeks of adventure: Diving, surfing and volcanoes

Komodo: More than dragons.

Nights 1-3: After flying into Lombok, first up is climbing the sacred volcano, Gunung Rinjani.

It’s worth spending an extra day trekking to the smoking cone. has full details.

Nights 4-5: Recuperation comes via a couple days on the Gili Islands, off Lombok’s northwest coast.

Gili Trawangan offers backpacker fun, Gili Air sophisticated partying and Gili Meno is all about serenity.

Nights 6-8: Indonesia is a global surfing destination, and Lombok, like Bali, has world-class breaks.

Kuta, in south Lombok, has waves suitable for everyone from beginners to advanced.

Desert Point, a metronomic left-hand barrel off southwest Lombok, draws expert surfers from across the world.

Nights 9-13: Flying into Komodo airport in Labuan Bajo, Flores, offers an opportunity to explore the Komodo islands.

Besides the famous dragons – giant, carnivorous lizards that are found only here – the diving around the beautiful islets off Komodo is some of Indonesia’s best: expect to see sharks, turtles, mantas and much more.

Cannibal Rock is an epic high-current dive; Batu Bolong and Manta Alley are more approachable for less experienced divers.

Staying on the pretty island of Kanawa is recommended rather than in Labuan Bajo proper.

For the experienced, it’s worth diving Komodo from a liveaboard.

The world’s most luxurious live-aboard dive boats

Two weeks of culture: Temples, crafts and animal sacrifice

Indonesia's Buddhist Borobudur temple.

Nights 1-3: Yogyakarta, the cultural capital of Java is the jump-off point for the 8th-century Buddhist temple of Borobudur, one of the world’s great religious monuments.

It’s best to visit at sunrise, as the mists lift from the forested mountains.

Yogya is home to the kraton, the ancient sultan’s palace that’s the city’s answer to an old town, and modern art at spaces like Cemeti and Sangkring.

Nights 4-7: Next up, the Hindu island of Bali and its spiritual and cultural capital Ubud.

Ubud is home to iconic Hindu temples like Monkey Forest, Gunung Kawi and Tampak Siring and is the place to catch a kecak dance. There are ancient rice field landscapes to explore and and crafts, from silver-smithing to Balinese painting, to learn.

Inside Bali’s super luxurious mansion hotels

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See Bali's stunning rice fields from above
01:05 - Source: CNN

Nights 8-13: Makassar, Sulawesi is the gateway to the highlands of Tana Toraja, where locals still practice ancient and gory funeral rites, including buffalo sacrifice.

It’s recommended to hire a driver for the journey up to Rantepao with stops along the way to see the world’s oldest cave art and the pristine karst landscapes around Rammang-Rammang.

In Toraja, it’s possible to attend a funeral ceremony – peak season is August to September, but there are ceremonies year-round, and visitors are welcome when dressed appropriately and bearing gifts.

It’s worth hiking the beautiful highlands for at least a couple of nights, staying in traditional tongkonan houses with their soaring roofs. It’s a way to experience how Toraja’s old religion, Aluk Todolo, still shapes daily life in this theoretically Christian region.

There are also cave graves and ancient trees where young babies were once buried.

Hunting down the world’s oldest art in South Sulawesi

Two weeks of luxury: Retreats, reserves and private yachts

She looks relaxed enough. Sign us up, COMO.

Nights 1-5: On Bali, the serene haven of COMO Shambhala Estate outside Ubud, has suites that seem to hover over a jungled gorge and spring-fed pools that tumble down towards the Ayung River.

To make the most of their stay, guests can alternate between hiking, massages and treatments on and around the property and adventures in and around Ubud.

There are degustation dinners at two iconic Ubud restaurants: Locavore, where all food is locally sourced, and Mozaic, where chef Chris Salans trained under David Bouley and Thomas Keller.

Bali: Insider Travel Guide

Nights 6-10: Travelers can head by plane or helicopter to Labuan Bajo and charter the luxurious Alexa, a private Indonesian-style sailing yacht with just a single cabin but the full complement of staff, from private chef to spa therapist and dive crew.

Five nights of cruising includes stops to dive or snorkel with mantas, visit the Komodo dragons, look for whales and enjoy a natural marine jacuzzi, before arrival at the island of Moyo.

Nights 11-13: Deserted beaches and unspoiled nature are on offer at Aman’s tented Amanwana resort on Moyo, a forested idyll off the less-visited island of Sumbawa.

Hikes through the forest involve encounters with deer, macaques and possibly wild boar; pristine reefs can be explored on dive or snorkel trips.

West Flores: So much more than Komodo dragons

Two weeks off the grid: Jungles, rivers and islands

Houseboats are the best way to experience Borneo's Mahakam River.

Nights 1-4: From Balikpapan, in Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, houseboats can be taken up the Mahakam River, with visits to Dayak longhouses, riverside trading posts, wetlands, lakes and floating villages along the way.

Expect to see rare freshwater dolphins, bizarre proboscis monkeys and a myriad birds.

Nights 5-9: A flight to Berau brings travelers to the jump-off point for the magical Derawan Islands.

There are private island dive resorts or simple homestays on the islands of Maratua or Derawan.

Snorkel sights include stingless jellyfish in marine lakes, plus manta rays and turtles in the ocean. There are also dives with sharks and barracuda; lounge on white sand beaches or sink into the simple rhythms of tropical island life.

Nights 10-13: Back in Berau, the Lesan forest area is worth exploring. Canoe trips down rushing rivers under the towering canopy can be combined with overnight stays in Dayak villages.

The impressive jungle here is home to one of Borneo’s largest populations of wild orangutans, although the vegetation is so thick that sightings aren’t guaranteed.

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Theodora Sutcliffe is a freelance writer and occasionally photographer: she writes about diving, culture, adventure, food and cocktails, with a focus on Indonesia and China.