The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, commonly known as East Timor, is a country in Southeast Asia. It lies northwest of Australia in the Lesser Sunda Islands at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago. East Timor includes the eastern half of the island of Timor, the Oecussi (Ambeno) region on the northwest portion of the island of Timor, and the small islands of Atauro and Jaco.
East Timor officially the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste is a sovereign state in Maritime Southeast Asia. It comprises the eastern half of the island of Timor, the nearby islands of Atauro and Jaco, and Oecusse, an exclave on the northwestern side of the island, within Indonesian West Timor. The country’s size is about 15,410 km2 (5,400 sq mi).
East Timor was colonised by Portugal in the 16th century, and was known as Portuguese Timor until November 1975, when the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN) declared the territory’s independence. Nine days later, was invaded and occupied by Indonesia and was declared Indonesia’s 27th province the following year. The Indonesian occupation of East Timor was characterised by a highly violent decades-long conflict between separatist groups (especially FRETILIN) and the Indonesian military.
In 1999, following the United Nations-sponsored act of self-determination, Indonesia relinquished control of the territory. East Timor became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century on 20 May 2002 and joined the United Nations and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries. In 2011, East Timor announced its intention to gain membership status in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations by applying to become its eleventh member. It is one of only two predominantly Christian nations in Southeast Asia, the other being the Philippines.
Dili has a wide range of hotels at every price level.
Outside of Dili, there are really only two other bona fide hotels in the country, at Baucau and at Com. However, there are plenty of creative options if you don’t insist on luxury, and these range from guesthouses to convents to camping.
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.
General Diving Information
Dili offers the diver some great close dives. Only 5 min from the center of town is Pertamina Pier. One of East Timors best dives for critters, octopus and schooling Barracudas.
10 min west of Dili is Dili Rock (east & west). This is one of Timor’s most dived sites as it acts as the main training dive site. Known for it’s easy access and great conditions Dili East also offers great opportunities to see Leaf Scorpion fish, Angler fish 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 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 are among the favourites of the local divers.
Without a doubt, Atauro Island is East Timor’s most pristine diving area. Around the island is a large variaty of dives suitable for every level! Visibility is always excellent, and the abundancy of fish life and coral is simply overwhelming. Our dive masters will be more than happy to show you the hidden secrets of Atauro’s underwater world.
There are two major diving companies in Dili Freeflow Diving and Dive Timor-Lorosae.
Detailed Dive Site Information
Dive Sites of Timor-Leste contains detailed descriptions of most popular dive sites, with links to maps and scuba resources, provided by long-time divers in the country.
Marine Life of East Timor
Wikimedia Commons has pictures of some of the stunning marine life at marine animals of East Timor
Airport, Bus, Train Station
AIRPORT, BUS, TRAIN STATION
Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport’ (IATA: DIL ICAO: WPDL), formerly known as Comoro Airport, is the main international airport of Dili.
Major international airlines that serve Dili directly include:
- Airnorth from Darwin, Australia
- Air Timor from Singapore. Chartered ‘Silkair: Singapore’ flights.
- Citilink from Bali (Denpasar), Indonesia.
- Sriwijaya Air and its sister company NAM Air from Bali (Denpasar), Indonesia.
Currently International flight details in and out of Dili are as follows:
- Airnorth– 6 flights per week. Flight Time – approx 1 hour in Embraer 170 Jet, at the following times:
Morning Services (Mon,Wed,Thu,Fri,Sat): Depart Darwin 0630, arrive in Dili 0715. Depart Dili 0800, arrive Darwin 0945. Afternoon Service (Mon): Depart Darwin 1500, arrive in Dili 1615. Depart Dili 1700, arrive Darwin 1845.
- Air Timorfrom Singapore. Three times a week full service chartered ‘SilkAir’ flights every Tue, Thur and Sat as follows:
Depart Singapore 0920, Arrive Dili 1400. Depart Dili 1515, Arrive Singapore 1800.
- Citilinkfrom Bali (Denpasar), Indonesia. Daily return flights from Bali.
- Sriwijaya Air and its sister company NAM Airfrom Bali (Denpasar), Indonesia. Both airlines have one Daily return flights from Bali.
Flying out of Dili, you are subject to the airport departure tax of US$10- which must be paid in cash at the airport counter beside passport control.
There is a direct bus service daily between Dili and Kupang in West Timor, Indonesia. Journey takes 12 hours. There are many land travel minibus services to cater for individuals or groups travel from Dili to Kupang (West Timor) and return. Timor Travel, Paradise Travel, Leste Oeste Travel are few of the minibus companies that provide travel services to several different destinations along the Dili-Kupang route at a very affordable prices.
From Dili, catch a bus to the border (US$3, three hours). Once you get off the bus, go through East Timorese customs and immigration, walk across the border into Indonesia, go through Indonesian immigration and catch another bus for your onward journey to Atambua or Kupang.
From Atambua, regular mikrolets (vans) or ojeks (motorcycle taxis) run to the border at Mota’ain.
Note that you cannot get an Indonesian visa on arrival at the border and the Indonesian embassy only processes a small amount of visa applications each day, on a first-come, first-served basis. You may need to queue at the embassy in Dili at 3am to have a chance of getting a visa.
Carnival de Timor – Carnival de Timor is the annual festival held in Díli in February or March and is all about fun, music and multiculturalism. Festivities usually take the form of a parade, and all participants will be dressed up to the nines! Both modern and traditional costumes will be on show, and Timorese from all the different regions of the country participate. Bands line the streets and the crowd usually continues to party into the night to the live music.
Easter Festivities – Depending on when Easter falls on the calendar, expect to see processions, services and celebrations for Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Visitors will be warmly welcomed in church at any time.
Independence Day – This is the big one! The Timorese proudly celebrate 20th May – the day East Timor gained independence. Festivities include celebrations, cultural events, sporting competitions and parades all over town.
Sunset Fair – Running from Independence Day on 20 May until Proclamation of Independence Day on 28 November, the Sunset Fair runs every Friday night in the Cristo Rei Park area. You’ll find food, drinks, music and dancing.
Díli “City of Peace” Marathon – This international marathon attracts competitors from around the world around a route that takes in much of the capital. There’s also a half-marathon and 7km fun run if you don’t feel like completing the full 26.2 miles.
Tour de Timor – By reputation one of the world’s toughest bike races, the Tour de Timor takes riders through some of the most spectacular parts of Timor Leste over six day-long stages.
All Saints Day and All Soul’s Day – All Saint’s Day (November 1) and All Soul’s Day (November 2) are significant to Catholic East Timor. Many religious services take place, and people will spend time visiting cemeteries and re-paint and decorate the graves of their family members.
Santa Cruz Cemetery Massacre Anniversary – November 12 is a significant day for East Timorese. Night vigils are observed and candles are to remember those who were massacred by the Indonesian military at the Santa Cruz Cemetery in 1991.
Food & Beverages
FOOD & BEVERAGES
The East Timorese, like the Indonesians, have a staple diet of rice and spices. The East Timorese palate includes a taste for several international cuisines in addition to the traditional East Timorese cuisine. Portuguese, Indonesian, Chinese, Italian, Western, Japanese and Thai cuisine have made their presence felt in East Timor. Significant numbers of foreigners living and working in East Timor ensure a loyal clientele for these restaurants.
The staple food in East Timor is rice. Commonly grown food crops include taro, cassava, sweet potatoes and maize. Beans, cabbage, cowpeas, onions, tomatoes and spinach are well-liked vegetables. People also rear poultry, goats and pigs. Fish forms an important part of the diet and acts as a supplement to any meal. Most traditional East Timorese recipes use a generous dose of spices. Mangoes, watermelons, papayas, bananas and coconuts are the most commonly cultivated fruits here. Carbohydrates like sago or other grains form the main dish for many a East Timorese meal.
Fried fish is a very popular dish, with prawns being considered a delicacy. Curries are a standard dish, with chicken curry topping the list as a favourite. Several authentic Indonesian, Japanese, Portuguese and Chinese dishes find favour with many East Timorese.
Coffee is grown organically in East Timor and the level of caffeine in this variety is very high. Those looking for something other than coffee can have beer, which is widely available in both pubs and restaurants in East Timor.
Bills presented in East Timorese restaurants do not have a service charge added to them and tipping is not mandatory. If you feel like tipping, you can tip 10% as a guide.
Explore the flavours of East Timorese cuisine
Restaurants in East Timor and local food joints around this new nation offer the traditional Asian curries with their fragrant spice pastes and fried accompaniments. The East Timorese local restaurants specialise in fresh grilled fish and excellent curries, and also provide a chance to fully experience local cuisine and hospitality. Local food also lends itself to Papuan influences, so you will find yam and sweet potato on the menu when you stop at rural food stalls.
Numerous beachfront bars and nightclubs provide the nightlife in Dili. Both food and drinks are served and the bars/nightclubs are kept open till late. Some very nice inner city restaurants include Nautilaus, Diya, Ocean View Hotel and Gion Japanese Restaurant. In the Meti Aut area is the newly renovated Atlantic Bar and Grill which is arguably amongst the best service and quality in Timor. Another is the Caz Bar where kayaks can be hired late in the night and a barbeque serves fried fish and all the beach side meals such as sizzling garlic prawns, hamburgers and a large range of cold beer.
Buses, mostly of the small variety found on remote Indonesian islands, run to most parts of the country and main cities like Dili, Baucau, Maliana, Los Palos and Suai are quite well linked. Indonesian-stylebemos (vans) and mikrolets (minibuses) – legacies from its 24-year rule – run from these cities to nearby villages.
In Dili, you can hail a ride on a mikrolet for 25c to get around. The mikrolets are numbered, and each number goes on a set route. To get off, simply tap your coin on the metal handrail and the driver will stop for you. You pay the driver when you get off.
Mikrolets, buses and “angunna” (truck with open-air back for passengers) are your main means for getting from one district to another one. Most of these departures take place very early in the morning and drivers have a tendency of doing keliling (Indonesian for “going round”) where they spend considerable time combing the streets and scouting for passengers before actually departing.
From Dili to other Districts.
• To travel westward, take transportation from Tasi Tolu “bus terminal” (it’s not really a terminal with a shelter but all the buses and mikrolets gather here to travel westward). e.g. of area in the West: Liquica, Bobonaro
• To travel eastward, take transportation from Becora bus terminal. e.g. of area in the East: Baucau, Los Palos
• To travel southward, take transportation from Taibessi bus terminal near the Taibessi market. e.g. of area in the South: Ermera, Maubisse
Fares range from US$3 – US$10 depending on distance.
Taxis are one of the best means of transport in and around Dili. Fares are not very steep ($1-3) and there are lots of them! However, you do need to negotiate the price with the driver first before hopping on. There are few taxis in the evening so do expect an extra $1-$3 more on your trip, especially if it’s really late and your destination is far.
You can hire a vehicle (Saloon or 4WD) in Dili for around $85-$120 a day from Rentlo or other companies. However, do be prepared for adventure – besides the tricky roads there is the lack of road signs to contend with. It is possible that you will get so caught up with driving that you miss out the great scenery around you.
While in Dili you will need to confine yourself to a speed limit of 40 kph. On open roads you may rev up and touch 50-60 kph. Tourists from the west might find the going slow but that is the maximum speed that can be achieved on Dili roads.
Ensure that you are carrying a valid driving license or permit with you. This can be either from your country or you can have it issued in East Timor. Your license should specify the kind of vehicle you are allowed to drive. Do drive carefully and remember that there is no provision here for third-party motor insurance.
The Oekusi (Oecussi) Enclave, Ataúru (Ataúro) Island and Dili are well connected by ferry. A boat ride to Jaku (Jaco) Island will prove to be a memorable experience. An added attraction here is that the fishermen also cook fish for you on request!
Although there are airports in Baucau, Suai and Oecussi, there is not a regular domestic air service yet within East Timor. There are small MAF planes that can be chartered to fly to these destinations, which are normally utilised for medical evacuations.
Motorcycles/scooters are a great way to see the country: you’ll be afforded the freedom of traveling wherever you want at any time, and will have a rather small responsibility in terms of a bike to park over night. Bungee cords may be purchased from Star Moto in Baucau to fasten your luggage to the bike.
There are no more commercial bike rental operators left operating. Perhaps try Dili expat forums and couchsurfing to rent from an international resident.
East Timor continues to face sporadic internal ethnic & political tension and related violence may occur. This may not be targeted at foreigners or tourists, but follow the guidelines below. During periods where this is not an issue, remember you are travelling in a very poor country, and crimes such as assault and theft do occur: There is still a considerable international presence in East Timor, including a United Nations mission and international police and military (mostly conducting capacity building and training for national security forces).
The Canadian Foreign Affairs department warned on June 22, 2010: “Violence or demonstrations may affect transportation routes and land border crossings as well as flights in and out of Dili’s airport. Disturbances have occurred in the vicinity of Dili’s Comoro airport, areas surrounding internally displaced persons camps, and at food storage warehouses. There has been continuing gang-related violence, arson, robbery, and vandalism. Gangs in Dili have attacked cars with stones and darts fired from slingshots, particularly during the early evening and at night. Local taxis should not be used. Travellers should avoid armed irregular groups, including martial arts groups that may be resident throughout the country. Travellers are advised to avoid unnecessary local travel and exercise extreme caution.”
The US Dollar is the legal tender currency in East Timor and all transactions are in dollars. Banks and a few ATMs can be found in Dili. East Timor issues coins denominated in centavos and are not the same size as U.S coins, although U.S. coins are widely accepted. If you are from a country or territory with the US dollar as a official currency, you will not need to worry about understanding prices and currency transferring. Also if you are from Bermuda, Panama, or Bahamas, the official currency(ies) of the mentioned countries and territories have fixed exchange rates to the US Dollar. Meaning what price is said in East Timor will be understood with your country’s/territory’s official currency. Example; $150 US Dollars will equal $150 Bermudian dollars, but you will still have to exchange currencies.
What to buy
Aromatic coffee beans and colourful hand-woven cloth called Tais are the two items that should be on your must-buy list when shopping in East Timor. All convenience stores and even some roadside stalls sell excellent coffee. Just as Scottish clans have specific patterns for their tartans, families in East Timor have Tais in specific patterns and colours.
Roasted coffee beans will be a great gift item. Note, some countries have strict rules about importing any food item.
East Timorese coffee is grown organically and tastes fabulous. Coffee was introduced in East Timor by the Portuguese. The local way of making coffee is to roast the coffee beans till they turn black and let out a great aroma. Low acidity levels ensure the excellent taste of East Timorese coffee.
A few of the coffee varieties like robusta have very high levels of caffeine. A late night cuppa might keep you up for hours, which might put you in a fix, as East Timor doesn’t have nightlife options outside of Dili.
Be sure to buy your coffee in a traditional market rather than Dili’s grocery stores, where the product will often be pre-ground and very stale.
Tais come in different designs and colours, depending on the region they are from, and they represent a distinct family. In Dili you should visit the Tais market to buy Tais and local silver jewellery. Tais can also be bought from street vendors.
The other items that will interest you are ethnic woodcarvings, batik cloth and embroidered fabrics sporting regional patterns. The ethnic woodcarvings available here are somewhat like the ones you might get in Africa.
A market can be found in every main town on the island. You may not find the huge array of shops in East Timor that you are accustomed to. These markets, however, cater amply to local needs. The marketplaces give the locals a chance to meet and interact with others on a daily basis. A walk through an East Timorese market will help you learn about the local produce of the region. Tourists attract a lot of attention so be prepared to be stared at. Also expect to be overcharged as many tourists before you have paid exorbitant prices willingly.
Along the waterfront, you will find many fruit stalls. These stalls are mostly run by women and are stocked with delicious local fruits. The papayas, mangoes and bananas are really tempting; make it a point to try out any unfamiliar local variety.