East Timor is not a common destination on the typical backpacker’s or tourist’s itinerary. The poor infrastructure and occasional political upheavals can be a turn-off for many travelers. However, for those who don’t mind going off the beaten path, East Timor offers a wealth of sights and experiences that you won’t find in too many other places in the world. The scenery here is spectacular, with pristine white sand beaches, turquoise waters as far as the eye can see, and friendly locals that are genuinely happy to see visitors. In addition, this is a history buff’s dream. Over the centuries East Timor was colonized by both Portugal and Indonesia, and only recently gained independence in 2002. Visitors can still see remnants of Portuguese forts and the fight for independence at sites around the country.
The capital city of Dili is located directly on the sea, and an interesting place to visit for its scenic beaches, colorful art markets, Portuguese architecture and restaurants, and expat-frequented bars. From here visitors can visit the clear waters of Cape Fatucama, which lies just behind the large Jesus statue that attests to East Timor’s mainly Christian population. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a fishing trip out to the reefs offshore with the locals in one of the ubiquitous dugout canoes. For those who prefer their days a tad lazier, there are many comfy cafes to sit in and watch the world go by and quite a few bars and pubs where you can meet other travelers and expats. Dili is also a great base for diving trips along the northeastern coast and Atauro Island.
Atauro is just 25 km off the coast of Dili, but it can feel at times like a deserted tropical island. With lush green mountains inland and white sand beaches and crystal clear waters encircling the island, Atauro Island tops the list for one of Southeast Asia’s most beautiful destinations. Here, visitors can go snorkeling or diving, hike the many trails that snake through the jungle and up the mountains, or relax on the veranda of a thatched roof bungalow overlooking the beach and the sea. This is an incredible place to see colorful tropical fish and interesting coral formations, as the waters are transparent for many feet around the islands.
This small town nestled in the valley below the slopes of Mount Ramelau is peaceful and scenic, and a good place to escape from the dust and heat of Dili. The 3-4 hour drive from Dili takes you past coffee plantations, lush forests, and rolling hills. The biggest draw to Maubisse for travelers is its close proximity to Mount Ramelau, the highest mountain in East Timor. Many people start the 2-hour trek to the summit in the early hours so that they can watch the sun rise over the island.
Nino Konis National Park
This incredible expanse of stunning natural scenery encompasses the far eastern tip of East Timor and the islands offshore. The marine life here is the most diverse in the world, with vibrant tropical fish and oddly shaped corals. This makes the park an excellent place to go diving and snorkelling. Many people make the eight hour bus trip from Dili just to see Jaco Island, an uninhabited patch of land in the ocean that has stunning white sand beaches, impossibly tall coconut trees, and flocks of rare, colorful birds. The only way to get to the island is to hire a local to take you in a dugout canoe.