Timor-Leste is a Southeast Asian island country located northwest of Australia in the Lesser Sunda Islands. Also known as East Timor, it spans from the eastern half of the island of Timor to the Oecussi region of the isle. The country includes the islets of Atauro and Jaco.
Fun fact: Did you know, East Timor is the newest country in Asia. It offers off-the-beaten-track experiences for adventurers. You can climb mountains, dive into pristine reefs, and explore traditions that have weathered the test of time.
Dili is considered as one of the world’s best places for diving, visiting international events, or trying delicious seafood. There are palm parks, fresh fruit markets, walking avenues, restaurants, bars and shops available in the city.
It is also one of the best places if you want to meet the locals. If you travel to East Timor, start from the capital. Here you will buy everything necessary and plan for the next steps of your journey.
Note: Sadly, Dili also represents the darkest side of Timor-Leste’s history. The former Portuguese colony became an independent state only in the year 2002 after a series of civil conflicts and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
Things To Do in East Timor
Tourists in East Timor are a rare breed. Simply traveling from village to village, you’re likely to hear choruses of “malay” (the Timorese word for foreigner) and folks will want to engage you in conversation. One could spend several days just enjoying the feeling of being a very welcome stranger.
Carnival de Timor
Carnival de Timor is all about fun, music, and multiculturalism. Initiated by the Ministry of Tourism, it is the annual festival held in Dili in middle of April (sometimes in May, depending on rain season). The parade starts in a landmark and end in Palacio do Governo, greeted by bands and award for the best-dressed group. The crowd continues to dance into the night with live music and other carnival attractions.
East Timor is located at the end of the Indonesian archipelago, north of Darwin, Australia and at the base of the Coral Triangle, which hosts the highest diversity of coral and reef fish species on earth.
Nino Konis National Park
East Timor is well positioned for ecotourism. The Nino Konis National Park, situated in the eastern part of the country, is a protected area. It is considered as some of the last surviving zones of tropical lowland rainforest in the world with a rich coastal environment. The national park highlights bird-watching, diving, trekking and pre-historic archeological sites.
Atauro & Jaco Islands
The Atauro Island is a real paradise on earth. Both Atauro Island and Jaco Island in Tutuala attract divers, snorkelers, and green tourism enthusiasts. Both destinations also provide eco-lodge facilities (with support from local NGOs in the region.)
There are also numerous opportunities for snorkeling, diving or trekking. The water here is so clear that you can see the fish swimming in it.
A must-see attraction is the local divers and fishermen in Atauro, who fish using only traditionally made goggles and spear guns. Atauro is also well known for its distinctive wooden sculptures and is an excellent place to buy various handicrafts.
Trekking & Hiking
For adventurous wanderers and hikers, East Timor offers world-class trekking, which can be experienced near places such as Mount Tatamailau (the highest mountain peak at 3000m above sea level), Ainaro, Mt. Matebian (Baucau) and Mt. Kablaki, to name a few.
Please keep in mind that mountainous regions make up most of Timor’s terrain.
While trekking East Timor, you can keep busy by looking for some of the 260 species of birds on offer (the entire continent of Australia has some 650 resident species), thirty-two of which are endemic and eight of which are exclusive to the island of Timor and found nowhere else in the world.
Portuguese fortresses, churches and other monuments are scattered throughout the nation. For history enthusiasts, East Timor’s resistance tourism which worth exploring are the Xanana Gusmao’s (current Prime Minister of East Timor) hiding place, Balibo (known for the killing of 5 journalists by the Indonesian soldiers), Santa Cruz (known for a massacre in 1991), Japanese caves in Baucau and many more.
Coffee had been the main export commodity for East Timor since the colonial period. To visit East Timor is to taste its coffee grown in several regions such as Ermera, Maubisse, Manufahi, and Liquisa. Travel to the coffee plantations takes you through winding mountainous roads, until over 1,000m above sea level altitude, cool climate (as low as 15C), and greeted by smiling farmers who are more than willing to welcome you to their homes.
Timor’s coffee is relatively known across the world and amongst organic coffee drinkers. It is now even sold in Starbucks Seattle as ‘Arabia Timor’ brand. Several organizations are promoting East Timorese coffee as Fair Trade Coffee in U.S., Japan, and South Korea. One Japanese coffee expert praised Timor’s coffee as, “one of the remaining original species in the world today.” (Horiguchi-san, 2005).
Hand Weaved Textiles
East Timor also produces various types of weaved textiles and products for export and unique souvenir. High end and expensive tais (East Timorese traditional hand-weaved textile) are made from nature-produced colors, while more economical textiles use chemical dye. Thirteen districts in the nation produce distinct design and colors to another. Tais markets are available in Dili; however, for antique collections, one must visit the districts.
East Timor has some of the best scuba diving in the world, and this is a major draw for tourists with East Timor shore diving becoming known worldwide amongst the diving community. Pristine beaches and coral reefs stand in stark contrast to one of the poorest populations on Earth.
Dili offers the diver some great close dives. Only 5 min from the center of town is Pertamina Pier. One of East Timor’s best dives for critters, octopus, and schooling Barracudas.
There are two major diving companies in Dili Freeflow Diving and Dive Timor-Lorosae.
Dili Rock is 10 min west of Dili. This is one of Timor’s most popular dive sites as it acts as the main training dive site. Known for its easy access and great conditions Dili East also offers great opportunities to see Leaf Scorpionfish, Anglerfish, and Ghost pipe fish.
As you head further West towards Liquica you come to such dive sites as Bubble beach (known for its amazing bubble fields and spectacular deep dive) the gravel pit and Devil ray point.
East of Dili
East of Dili divers can experience shore diving at its best. Easy access along the coast allows divers safe entry to great wall dives. Secret garden, K41, Bob’s Rock and Lone Tree are some of the amazing dives that can be done within an hour of Dili. Approximately 40 min East of Dili the diving starts and continues as far as Com some 200km away.
The variety of dives along this stretch of road is endless yet K41 and shark point is among the favorites of the local divers.
Without a doubt, Atauro Island is East Timor’s most pristine diving area. Around the island is a large variety of dives suitable for every level. Visibility is always excellent, and the abundance of fish life and coral is simply overwhelming.
Culture of Timor
East Timor offers a rich cultural heritage spun from tens of thousands of years of human habitation, the Portuguese and Indonesian colonial periods, and from the depths of a society which has cultural traditions as the fabric of that bonds society together.
Here, you’ll also find legends of Austronesian origin come to life. Poetry is a traditional art in East Timor. Even the Prime Minister of the country, Xanana Gusmao, is both a celebrated citizen and a famous poet.
The local architects in the capital city, Dili, reflect Portuguese artistry.
Climate in East Timor
Timor-Leste has a tropical climate due to its location in Southeast Asia. The wet season begins in November and ends in May. The dry season occurs from June to October.
The local cuisine is mostly pork, fish, basil, and tamarind. Many staple dishes feature both corn and rice. Portuguese influence can also be found in many flavors and spices. Your taste buds will feel happy.
You will hear many languages spoken here. These include Atauru, Baikeno, Bekais, and Bunak, and also many others.
The United States Dollar (USD) is the main currency. Only a few very expensive hotels accept credit cards. You can withdraw money from the ATMs using Cirrus/Maestro credit cards.
The main way of transportation in East Timor is “mikrolets.” These are mini-vans, which are extremely cheap. Car hire is available in Dili. However, roads are generally in poor condition and self-driving can be very hazardous.
In Timor-Leste, they use electric sockets and plugs of types C (as in Europe) and I (as in Australia). The standard voltage is 220V. So, bring an international adapter, if you are coming from the USA, Canada, or Japan.
August 15, 2016 12:00 am Leave your thoughts