East Timor Travel Guide

Until 2002, East Timor was a former Portuguese colony that belonged to the Indonesian Archipelago. Now it stands proud as an independent country, albeit one of the poorest and least developed of the new nations.

What’s Cool

Few other tourists, amazing coastline, decrepit colonial architecture, off-the-beaten-track adventures, Dili's landmarks, Baucau's caves, diving off Atauro Island, cheap bemos.

What’s Not

Lawlessness and occasional riots, political tensions, frequent power cuts, high crime rates, limited infrastructure, tropical cyclones, refugee camps.

When to Go

Best: July-November
high season: May to November low seasons: December to April

Visas

US/Can: on-arrival (30 day)
EU: on-arrival (30 days)
Aus/NZ: on-arrival (30 days)

Essential Info

Time: GMT+9
Electricity: 220V 50Hz
2-pin European and 3-Pin Australian
Money: US dollar (US$)
Phone: ICC (+670) Outgoing: 00

Although its road to independence was traumatic, East Timor now welcomes tourists to explore its many breathtaking beaches, diving spots, natural wonders and remarkable Portuguese colonial architecture. Dili, the capital, offers a laid-back atmosphere while local markets are vibrant with chatty sellers and an array of food as well as impressive handmade souvenirs.

Baucau is East Timor's second city with an equally scenic backdrop as Dili. The city center has a few colonial charms to keep you lingering a day or two but the beach is the main draw. Food in East Timor is cheap and tasty, which is less than can be said about the local liquor.

Travel-wise, East Timor is yet to assert itself on the world tourist map and its tourism infrastructure is basic, with security issues putting many travelers off. But if you don't mind things rough and ready, this is one of Southeast Asia's least trodden destinations, making it an exciting prospect for die-hards.

Travel to East Timor - Getting There

Most tourists choose to fly to Dili, the capital city of East Timor, from Australia and Indonesia. There are several flights provided by Airnorth and Qantas. By land, you can enter via the main land border crossing at Motain, about 115kms west of Dili. Drivers need a valid driver's license either from their country or issued in East Timor. Daily bus services are available between Dili and Kupong in West Timor, Indonesia, but the journey can be quite boring, with about 12-hour ride. To get around in East Timor, buses connect most parts of the country. Alternatively, you can opt for Indonesian-styled 'bemos' (vans) and 'mikrolets' (minibuses) that run from main cities to nearby villages.

East Timor Things to Do

Dili
This small, relaxing capital with a touch of Portuguese charm features several tourist spots including the exquisite Portuguese Castle, the State Museum of East Timor and a couple of old Catholic churches.
Baucau
Here you can admire various Portuguese architectural wonders and explore the caves used by the Japanese during the WWII.
Areia Branca (Pasir Putih)
The most beautiful beach in the country, located outside Dili. Tourists can enjoy a peaceful day on golden sand and swim in glistening waters.
Atauro Island
Easily accessible by boat from Dili is an enchanting island with one of the great diving spots in Southeast Asia.
Com
A charming fishing village, ideal for weekend getaways. Fishing and snorkeling are main activities here.
Oecussi
Politically belongs to East Timor but is located in West Timor, this sleepy little town has excellent coral reefs and mountain biking routes. Accessible by boat and ferry.
Diving and snorkeling
East Timor boasts some of the most unspoilt diving spots in the region. Atauro Island and Areia Branca are known for their crystal clear waters and rich marine life.
Mountain Biking
Mountain biking junkies can find challenging routes on rugged mountains in Oecussi. Hiking is also possible in the mountains or in the interior of the town.
Dining
If current political situations allow, you can find a variety of food in East Timor including authentic Indonesian, Chinese and Portuguese cuisines. Local signature dishes are fried fish and chicken curries.
Shopping
Two main things you must bring home are coffee and 'tais' (traditional hand-woven clothes), which can be found at local markets or roadside stalls. Tais are particularly special as the design varies from region to region. Batiks, woodcarving and silverwork also make great souvenirs.
Nightlife
You will be amazed at a number of bars and nightclubs in Dili, some located on the gorgeous beachfront. These places are open until late, serving both food and drinks.
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