Timor-Leste. One of the youngest countries in the world and a place many people have never heard of, and even less have visited.
This beautiful tiny island nation may be home to just over a million people, but we can guarantee you that Timor-Leste has countless incredible experiences waiting to be discovered, and wonderful places to visit.
And the beaches! Some of the best – and quietest – in the world.
“Want to visit Timor-Leste?” is a sentence barely uttered around the globe, but it should be – and we’re going to let you know why.
Timor-Leste – a little background
Timor-Leste, or East Timor, is a country with a tumultuous history – it was a Portuguese colony for 200 years, and as soon as they left, the Indonesians came in and invaded for another three decades.
It is estimated that about a quarter of the population died under Indonesian rule, and many more atrocities were committed during Portuguese colonial time also.
Timor-Leste finally became independent at the turn of this century, and has been officially independent since 2002. Since its independence, Timor-Leste has tried to grow its tourism industry, but it still remains the 25th least visited country in the world, partly due to its troubled past, its location as an island nation between (within) Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, its size and its absence from the global discourse.
Visiting East Timor as a tourist – what reaction should you expect?
The Timorese are a proud and tough people. They have been through a lot over the past decades and are still struggling to recover, yet somehow, they seem to be some of the most positive people in this world.
They have a very strong sense of family and community, and they will always take care of those they love – and tourists that want to visit this stunning island paradise.
As a tourist, the Timorese are incredibly friendly and will want to ask you many questions and get to know where you’re from.
Although there is a significant community of expats in the capital, Dili, outside of the city you may meet some people who have never encountered a foreigner before.
Although English is not commonly spoken here, don’t let that put you off visiting Timor-Leste – because this tiny country has so much to offer and so few tourists are yet to discover it.
Why you should visit Timor-Leste
People might assume that a place as remote as East Timor, and with so few tourists, might be dangerous to visit – but that’s far from the truth.
Timor-Leste is a very safe and friendly place for travelers, especially if you are willing to learn some basic vocabulary in Tetun, the most commonly spoken local language. Thankfully, the language is fairly easy to learn and pronounce, and the locals will appreciate you trying.
Places to visit in Timor-Leste?
The capital, Dili, is a great place to start any trip. A must-visit here is the Resistance Museum, which depicts the Timorese struggle for independence. Another East Timor tourist attraction is the Cristo Rei, a religious monument set atop a hill in the capital.
But Dili also has fantastic beaches, restaurants, hotels and bars on offer. Anything you expect from a city is here, but with a Timorese twist to it.
However don’t spend too much time in the capital, as the villages have so much to offer too. Each municipality/village is different and all are fantastic Timor-Leste tourist spots. That’s thanks to the diverse nature of Timorese scenery, where you can choose between small beach towns, such as Baucau, and cozy mountain towns, such as Ainaro.
You can also do some hiking at the stunning Mt Ramelau – another must-visit Timor-leste attraction. You can find local homestays as well as expat-owned, sustainability-focused initiatives nearby – and in most villages by looking online – or better yet, by asking locals or expats in Dili.
And finally, to Timor-Leste’s crown jewel and the place to visit– Atauro island. Atauro is an island off the coast of Dili known for having more marine biodiversity than anywhere else in the world.
It has remained mostly untouched by divers and is barely polluted, and only recently have scuba diving businesses been established on the island in order to let tourists experience diving in this remarkable place.
Diving here can be a little expensive – usually within the 100-400 USD range for beginners – but scuba diving in Timor-Leste is definitely an experience not to be missed, as you will find sealife here that can’t be found anywhere else.
So there it is – Timor-Leste. A true hidden gem wrapped in sun, sand, resistance, and of course, adventure!
Visit East Timor – how to get there
Located in the Timor Sea, across the ocean from Darwin in Australia, and between Indonesian island territory, East Timor can be a bit of a difficult place to get to. You can really only arrive by plane from Bali or through a bus ride from Kupang, also in Indonesia.
If you choose to arrive by plane, flights are not as cheap as they usually are in Southeast Asia – around 150 to 200 dollars. If you choose to arrive by bus, the ticket is only around 20 dollars, but the trip will take you from 10 to 12 hours! The reason for this, is the lack of a proper tourism industry, as well as exclusive deals the government has made with airlines in order to keep flights coming in and out of the country.
Although it may not seem worth making such a trip for a tiny country like Timor-Leste, this place will undoubtedly show you a piece of the world that is unlike anywhere else.
Because of its isolated nature, Timor-Leste has remained Timor for centuries, and the difference between the fast-paced city folk you will meet on your travels in Bali, compared to the kind-hearted, quiet folk of the Timorese villages, is stark and unmissable.