Dili Travel Guide

When East Timor broke free of Indonesian occupation in the early 21st century, Dili found itself thrust to capital status. The result is a beachside community with big aspirations and plenty of laid-back atmosphere.

The transition to capital status was admittedly rough around the edges, especially since so much of the conflict with Indonesia was centered here. What little infrastructure there was burned between 1999 and 2002, leaving a laundry list of rebuilding campaigns. There are no five-star hotels or fancy restaurants, but most of Dili’s visitors wouldn’t be interested if there were.

Budget travelers are the main demographic, but be warned: East Timor’s ATM system is riddled with fees and surcharges that often exceed the total amount withdrawn. Stretch your finances longer by withdrawing large amounts or better yet, show up with a stash of traveler’s checks and US dollars in your money belt.

The city core holds a collection of Portuguese colonial buildings that help tell the story of East Timor’s perpetual occupation. When the Portuguese withdrew in 1975, Indonesia showed up and added architectural layers like the new cathedral and Jesus Statue.

Diving is an obsession with Dili’s visitors, drawn by the ‘untouched’ reefs that won’t be able to claim that title much longer. Diving operators in Dili lead tours to Artauro and Jaco islands, where the clear waters and diversity of aquatic life are exceptional.

At its heart, Dili is a haven for independent travelers who shy away from holiday infrastructure in all its forms. These are the kinds of people you’ll meet holed away in budget guest houses - travelers who came for a brief vacation and ended up staying weeks or longer.

Getting There & Away

East Timor’s Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport is situated about four miles west of town and offers a lackluster list of connections to Bali, Singapore and Australia. There aren’t many carriers jockeying for your business so fares are high in every season. The overland route to Indonesia connects through Batugade in two hours.

Things to Do

Dili Attractions

Statue of Jesus

This 65-foot statue was donated by indonesia and presides over a popular outdoor area on a headland east of the city center.


Also built by indonesia, the cathedral represents dili’s unique and sometimes baffling relationship with its neighbor.

Governor’s Palace

This building was built by the portuguese and served the colonial governor, but was partially destroyed during the revolution. when reconstruction is complete it will be home to the timorese president.

Mount Ramalau

The highest peak in the country is within reach of dili and can be scaled on foot in two hours or taken on in an atv.

Jaco Island

Trips to this island oasis can be organized from dili and allow for basking on secluded beaches or scuba diving around the coral reef.

Xanana reading room

Popular with budget travelers, this quirky place has a variable selection of books that you can swap or buy for next to nothing.

Motael Church

Part of dili’s colonial legacy, motael church was built by the portuguese and went to serve as the centerpiece of the timorese struggle against indonesia.

Atauro Island

Farther out, this island is still part of the dili district and holds the national title of best destination for diving and snorkeling.