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A Quick Guide to East Timor

A Quick Guide to East Timor

East Timor (Timor-Leste) isn’t a country that’s on everyone’s list. Indeed, a lot of people haven’t ever heard of it. With just 60,000 tourists a year, it’s a well-kept secret of Southeast Asia. Now is the time to visit – before everyone else works out just how awesome it is!

Here’s what you should do on your visit to Timor-Leste.

Explore the capital

Dili is, as far as Southeast Asian capitals go, very manageable. You can wander around freely, and there are actually footpaths in most of the city – a luxury in my experience! Highlights include wandering along the seaside boulevard to the lighthouse, paying a visit to the Christo Rei statue at the far end of town, and grabbing a $1 coconut from one of many vendors along the road.

Find out about the country’s fraught history

Maybe it’s just a sign of my own ignorance, but I had no notion of Timorese history before I visited. Colonised and invaded over and over, Timor-Leste only became independent in 2002, which gives you some idea of the real proximity of some of the issues it has faced as a country.  Check out the Resistance Museum in Dili for a very well put together account of the country’s struggles, from Portuguese colonialists to Indonesian invasion.

Dotted around Dili are other interesting historical sites, such as the crowded Santa Cruz cemetery, the location of a mass shooting in 1991 during a peaceful memorial procession, which sparked huge global protest. You can also visit the Xanana cultural centre and the Chega! Exhibition for more insight on these events and other aspects of recent East Timorese history.

A Quick Guide to East Timor

Hike up Mount Ramelau

Not the easiest-to-reach peak in Asia, Mount Ramelau is nonetheless well worth the effort. The village of Hatobuilico, from where the hike begins, is itself worth a visit, due to its location among the hills, and the picturesque hike to get there. Make it up Mount Ramelau for sunrise and on a clear day you will be rewarded with unbeatable views of both coasts – glorious!

Snorkel or dive off Atauro Island

East Timor has some of the best snorkelling I’ve ever experienced (and I spent two whole months doing it in Indonesia!). Head over to Atauro Island on the cheap ferry ($4 or $5 one way, depending on the day) and get a boat out to the outer reef, for about $10.

Jump into the water and you will immediately want to yell out in delight (but don’t do that, or you’ll get a mouthful of water). Crystal clear sea, white sand, pristine coral, and a whole lot of weird and wonderful fish will be your reward.

A Quick Guide to East Timor

Make the trip to Jaco Island

Jaco is spoken of in hushed tones by visitors to East Timor, because it’s so darn hard to get to. It requires at least three days just to make the trip, which gives you some idea of how the roads are. You can’t stay there because it’s sacred to the local people, but it’s entirely unspoilt for this very reason, and utterly stunning.

Browse some amazing craft markets

The tais of Timor are unique. Intricately woven patterns are created as the centrepiece of beautiful handicrafts – from table runners all the way up to rugs. Each of the thirteen districts has its own distinct patterns and techniques, so if you get the chance to venture further afield, definitely spend a bit of time exploring outside the capital. Otherwise, Dili’s central tais market is a diverting place to spend an hour or so.

East Timor is set for a tourist explosion in the next few years, and you can see why. It’s got all the right ingredients: friendly people, natural beauty, fantastic beaches and accessible marine life. It’s definitely worth heading over there before the hordes descend.


Article written by:

Hi, my name is Samantha, Finance Managing Guru by day, Travel Blogging Enthusiast by... well... day too! Haha! Travelling King is the destination hotspot for the wannabe traveller! Showcasing affordable, luxurious getaways for the budget conscious! With the combination of my financial knowledge and travelling experiences I aim to show you, with a little planning, the right budget and a realistic goal you can fulfil your travel fantasies and explore the world whatever your budget or desires may be!