East Timor is not the first place that jumps to the mind of most travelers who are in search of a tropical paradise to visit. The small Southeast Asian island-nation is still a little bit off the typical tourist trail, having only broken free from Indonesia’s oppressive grip (after a bloody struggle) in 2002. However, The ‘Crocodile Island’ (the myth surrounding the island’s creation is that a crocodile transformed into the island of Timor as part of a debt repayment to a young boy who had saved its life) is now enjoying its hard-won independence and is basking in a state of richly-deserved peace. East Timor is vibrant, outward looking and open for business.
The island’s natural beauty is breathtaking and puts it in a prime position to attract wanderlusters looking for pristine white sand beaches, great diving, gloriously hikeable mountains and tropical sun.
We predict that East Timor is going to emerge as one of the most popular tropical paradise destinations in the world over the next few years, so get in there early and experience this beautiful country while it is still innocent and unspoiled.
East Timor is a destination worthy of any bucket list. So have a read through our recommendations and take note of any that particularly tickle your fancy in your BUCKiTDREAM planner!
Trek through East Timor’s Beautiful Landscape With its lush, green mountains, yawning valleys, rolling hills and network of rugged hiking paths East Timor is a trekker’s paradise. We recommend hiring a local guide to make sure you find the best hiking spots the island has to offer.
Relax on Some of the Whitest, Sandiest, Most Untouched Beaches in the World East Timor has miles of pristine beaches and the best of all is Jaco Island, just off the east coast; truly divine. There are plenty of great beaches near the capital city Dili; Areia Branca and Dollar Beach are two of the most popular and have lots of restaurants and bars but, predictably, they can get fairly busy. If you’re after a spot of seclusion, the capital is also surrounded by many deserted white-sand beaches; you just have to put on your explorer’s cap!
Explore the Capital City Dili Taking a guided tour of Dili will ensure that you see all the main sights the city has to offer. The important government buildings, monuments and markets can all be seen in one day and you’ll learn that the best thing about this small city is the intrepid, curious and friendly locals.
Go Diving and Snorkeling East Timor has some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the world. Located at the end of the Indonesian archipelago at the base of the Coral Triangle, it has a huge diversity of coral reef and marine life. There are easy shallow dives as well as deeper dives for the more experienced adventurer. There is an abundance of excellent diving sites all along the north coast and around Dili. The best location in the whole country is Atauro Island, revealing a vibrant underwater world, teeming coral and excellent visibility. Dive Timor-Lorosae is a good Dili-based dive company.
Climb Mount Ramelau At 2,963 meters, this is East Timor’s highest mountain. Mount Ramelau looks over a beautiful patchwork of hilltop villages and broad valleys; it’s not a tough climb, only a three-hour trek to the top, and the views are certainly worth it.
Take a Motorbike Tour of the Island Timor Adventures offers 8 or 13-day motorbike tours. This is a very fun way to get (even more!) off the beaten track. These tours follow a big loop out of Dili to Jaco in the east. Be prepared for some crazy terrain (some stretches of road are smooth and new, some are nothing more than rocky dirt tracks), roaming pigs invading your path and lots of wide-eyed and inquisitive locals, eager to chat.
Learn about East Timor’s Dark History at the Timorese Resistance Museum and Chega The National Museum in Dili is a fascinating place with exhibits that will amaze and educate you in equal measure. Chega is a former prison that houses an exhibition dealing with the painful period under Portuguese and, later, Indonesian rule. Some of the cells in this old prison have been preserved as they were when they were holding political prisoners. A macabre but enlightening dose of reality.
Visit the Local Coffee Plantations Coffee has been East Timor’s main export since colonial times. Coffee plantations are in the mountainous, higher-altitude and thus cooler areas of the country, such as Ermera and Maubisse. The plantation farmers are often more than delighted to welcome you into their homes. Tasting the rich, nutty and delicious local coffee fresh and in its home environment will instantly turn you into a coffee snob and unfortunately means that you will never be able to enjoy your morning Starbucks in quite the same way again! Eco-Discovery offers multi-day tours of the coffee plantations.
Climb up to Kristu Rei Dili’s most prominent landmark is a statue of Jesus Christ overlooking the city and harbor. It’s a short climb to the top of the hill and the view out over the city and ocean is spectacular, especially at sunset.
High-end Timor Plaza Hotel & Apartments is a modern, classy venue with an excellent Japanese restaurant and a hip, rooftop cocktail bar.
Medium For a comfortable hotel in central Dili, Discovery Inn offers great service, very friendly staff and a decent restaurant.
Budget Gino’s Hotel Lda will provide a lean and homely hotel, only a 15-minute drive from Dili airport. Helpful staff can recommend great local tours and events.
Being surrounded by the ocean, it goes without saying that East Timor has outstanding seafood. Any of the many beachside restaurants or cafes will serve a delicious ‘catch of the day’, simply grilled and super-fresh.
The East Timorese local restaurants specialize in freshly grilled fish and excellent curries. Nautilus is on the shorefront in Dili and its prawns and succulent lamb shanks are not to be missed. Diya is a fine dining restaurant in Dili with a very hospitable atmosphere and spectacular fresh local fish.
Portuguese, Indonesian, Chinese, Italian, Japanese and Thai restaurants have all opened in Dili over the last decade.
The fresh fruit on sale on the island is especially good. Local mangoes, watermelons, papayas, bananas and coconuts are bursting with an intense flavor that makes western, supermarket-bought fruit taste, sadly, rather…cardboard-ey.
Drinks and Nightlife
The main center for nightlife in East Timor is without a doubt the capital. Dili has some fun nightclubs, live music venues and plenty of lively drinking dens. The bars and restaurants at the beach are where the main action happens and if you want to keep the party going all night, Club 88 is a popular late night club.
Tips and Culture
November to May is the wet season. The dry season lasts for about 6 months during June to October.
Buses run to most parts of the country and main cities (Dili, Baucau, Maliana, Los Palos and Suai) are well linked.
The easiest way to travel around Dili is by mikrolet. These minivans are numbered and each number goes on a set route, charging their passengers very reasonable prices.
Taxis are another good means of transport in and around Dili. Fares are cheap ($1-3).
You can hire a car in Dili for around $85-$120 a day.
The roads can be very tricky to navigate outside Dili and there are usually no road signs.
Carnival de Timor is an annual festival held in Dili in April. The city really comes alive with music, dance and lots of street parties. There is a big, colorful parade with bombastic marching bands, traditional local music and dance and extravagant costumes. The party continues deep into the night. This is a great way to meet Timorese locals, party hard and get a taste of the unique, traditional culture of this enchanting island.
East Timor is still largely unexplored by Western tourists. The people are open and friendly and very enthusiastic to meet foreigners who want to see their country and hear their story. So while you are relaxing in a Dili beach bar, sharing a beer with a local, or motorbiking through an obscure and remote mountain village, why not inspire your friends by sharing your dream East Timor experiences on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram?