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Holidays in East Timor

Understanding East Timor

The eastern half of the island of Timor, East Timor, is a former Portuguese colony that declared itself independent from Portugal on 28 November 1975 Nine days later, Indonesian forces invaded and occupied the former colony, with the tacit approval of the United States and Australia By July 1976 the colony had been annexed as the province of Timor Timur

Over the next two decades, Indonesia integrated the colony, with many significant positions of authority being occupied by Indonesians rather than the East Timorese An estimated 100,000 to 250,000 individuals are believed to have lost their lives during a campaign of pacification during this time

The United Nations supervised a popular referendum on 30 August 1999, in which the people of East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia After the results were announced, gangs of independence opponents, supported by the Indonesian military, terrorised the population in a civil war that destroyed much of the country's infrastructure A United Nations peacekeeping force led by Australian forces was sent in to re-establish a civil society and reconstruct the nation

On 20 May 2002, East Timor was internationally recognized as an independent state under the official name of the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste


East Timor has a hot and humid climate tropical November to May is the wet season with the temperatures averaging 30ºC the year round, with temperatures far cooler in higher altitude areas

The dry season during lasts for about 6 months during June to October

The wet season can damage the roads in East Timor, making travel difficult to remote district areas during this time

Talking in East Timor

Tetum and Portuguese are the official languages, but Indonesian which is widely spoken, and English which is very limited, are working languages according to the constitution There are also about 37 indigenous languages, of which Tetum, Galole, Mambae, and Kemak are spoken by significant numbers of people

A person who is proficient in Indonesian and Portuguese can get around quite easily Don't expect to understand locals' conversations though

What to see in East Timor

Tourists in East Timor are a rare breed Simply traveling from village to village, you're likely to hear choruses of "malay" the Timorese word for foreigner and folks will want to engage you in conversation One could spend several days just enjoying the feeling of being a very welcome stranger

East Timor is located at the end of the Indonesian archipelago, north of Darwin, Australia and at the base of the Coral Triangle, which hosts the highest diversity of coral and reef fish species on earth

East Timor offers a rich cultural heritage spun from tens of thousands of years of human habitation, the Portuguese and Indonesian colonial periods, and from the depths of a society which has cultural traditions as the fabric of that bonds society together

East Timor is well positioned for Community-based Ecotourism, which has been written into the nation’s tourism strategic plan The Nino Konis National Park situated in the eastern part of the country is a well protected area and considered as some of the last surviving zones of tropical lowland rainforest in the world with rich coastal environment The national park accommodates bird-watching, diving, trekking and pre-historic archeological sites

Atauro Island and Jaco Island in Tutuala attract divers, snorkelers and green tourism enthusiasts Both destinations provide eco-lodge facilities with some support from local NGOs in the region A must-see attraction is the local divers and fishermen in Atauro, who fish using only traditionally made goggles and spear guns Atauro is also well known for its distinctive wooden sculptures and is an excellent place to buy variety handicrafts

For more adventurous tourists, East Timor offers what is simply world class trekking, which can be experienced near places such as Mount Ramelau ± 3000 above sea level, Ainaro, Mt Matebian Baucau and Mt Kablaki in Same district, to name a few

While trekking East Timor , you can keep busy by looking for some of the 260 species of birds on offer the entire Continent of Austrália has some 650 resident species , 32 of which are endemic and 8 of which are exclusive to the island of Timor and found nowhere else in the world

For example, the Timor Bush Warbler was recognized as a distinct species as recently as 2001 & it is ikely that the elusive montane species can be found in the hills of East Timor The Bush Warbler is one of the many endemic birds that will be the focus for intrepid birdwatchers coming to TL

Portuguese fortresses, churches and other monuments are scattered throughout the nation For history enthusiasts, East Timor's resistance tourism which worth exploring are the Xanana Gusmao’s current Prime Minister of East Timor hiding place, Balibo known for the killing of 5 journalists by the Indonesian soldiers, Santa Cruz known for massacre in 1991, Japanese caves in Baucau and many more

Besides having large coffee plantations in Same and Ermera, East Timor also produces various types of weaved textiles and products for export and unique souvenir High end and expensive Tais East Timorese traditional hand-weaved textile are made from nature-produced colors, while more economical textiles use chemical dye 13 districts in the nation produce distinct design and colors to another Tais markets are available in Dili, however for antique collections, one must visit the districts

What to do in East Timor

Scuba diving

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

  • Dive Photo Contest of Timor-Leste 10 9-15 October 2010 will see first-class divers and underwater photographers from all over the world participating in East Timor's first ever underwater photo contest This event is an initiative of President Jose Ramos Horta

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 11 and Dive Timor-Lorosae 12

Major events

Dili Marathon

The 2010 Dili Marathon, 13 will take place on Sunday 20 June 2010, beginning at 6:30AM There are four events that people can enter:

  • Full Marathon 42195km
  • Half Marathon 21097km
  • 10km Fun Run
  • 5km Fun Run

The proposed course for the Dili Marathon was measured by IAAF and AIMS and has received preliminary approval

2010 Tour de Timor

Dates: 13/09/2010 - 17/09/2010 14

The second Tour de Timor Mountain Bike Race will build on the significant successes of the inaugural event of 2009 and is promised to be "Bigger, Better, Tougher" TDT2010 is a 5 day international endurance MTB race which follows a 500km circuit over the mountain ranges of East Timor TDT2010 will again engage thousands of Timorese as organisers, volunteers, spectators and competitors, together with hundreds of International athletes and intrepid thrill seekers as it travels through its five-stage multi-district course The race will continue to raise the profile of East Timor as a beautiful and peaceful place for tourism and investment This year's event will consolidate the successes utilise knowledge and experience acquired in 2009 to host a truly dynamic and professional race 350-400 riders will take part

Timor-Leste Dive Photo Contest

Professional scuba divers and photographers from around the world are being invited to participate by President Jose Ramos-Horta The event will run from the 9th till the 15th of October, 2010 and is a unique four-day photography competition, which has a lucrative prize pool of USD$30,000 The objectives of this initiative include showcasing East Timor's tremendous scuba diving potential and to promote it's marine-based tourism to the region and beyond

The contest will also serve as a mechanism to provide education on the environment, biodiversity and many marine-based opportunities that the pristine waters of Timor can offer the people of East Timor In conjunction with this initiative, the organisers will also produce “The Underwater World of Timor-Leste”, a multimedia exhibition for the people of East Timor

The exhibition will feature multi lingual explanations on marine ecology, habitats and the animals that dwell in and around them With visual aids ranging from locally produced artistic renditions, high resolution panel printing, projections/film areas with appropriate subtitling and even small aquariums, the exhibition will allow interaction in ways never achieved before in educational platforms here in East Timor It is planned that school groups will be able to visit the exhibition, which will open on September

International Motor X - East Timor

16/10/2010 - 17/10/2010 at the Delta Speed Way Dili International Motor Cross is on again for the 3rd year International stars coming from Australia will be presenting a free style / racing event The President and Prime Minister will be attending the spectacular event The event will take place at the Delta Speed way Tickets are available from Rentlo / Dili Club / Tiger Fuel or +670 747 5550

2010 World Adventure Challenge Timor-Leste

The inaugural Timor-Leste Adventure Challenge is a six-day multi-stage multi-discipline adventure race incorporating several extreme sport and orienteering challenges a held form Bovember 1st to 12th 2010 The event will be designed and packaged for television and seeks to attract some of the top adventure race athletes in the world The event is aimed at showcasing the nation's stunning scenery to a wide, international television audience In particular, it seeks to showcase East Timor as an ideal destination for the growing numbers of adventure tourists worldwide With commercialization and distribution through international television networks, the event could generate the most positive exposure the country would have ever seen in its 10-year history

In 2010 East Timor is hosting the 2010 Darwin to Dili Yacht Rally 15 The Rally will start on 3rd of July 2010 at Darwin Harbour, Australia and finish in Dili Harbour, East Timor The course will be from Darwin harbour to Dili Harbour

Buying stuff in East Timor

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 issued coins denominated in centavos and are not the same size as US coinage, although US coins are widely accepted

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 families have specific colours for their tartans, families in East Timor have Tais in specific patterns and colours

Roasted coffee beans will be a great gift item for your friends back home Carrying roasted coffee beans will not make trouble for you with the customs authorities in most countries


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 Local Handicrafts

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

Dili Waterfront

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

Food and eating in East Timor

The East Timorese, like the Indonesians, have a staple diet of rice and spices Even though there is trouble in obtaining supplies from outside due to political unrest, many restaurants in Dili serve Western cuisine Several foreigners living and working in East Timor ensure a loyal clientele for these restaurants

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

The staple food in East Timor is rice Commonly grown food crops include taro, cassava, sweet potatoes and maize Beans, cabbage, cowpeas, onions 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

National specialities

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

National drinks

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 If you feel like tipping, a 10% tip is the norm

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

Drinking in East Timor

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

Accommodation in East Timor

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

Cities in East Timor

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