Look, I get it. You’ve seen Thailand’s Koh Phi Phi and Bali’s Gili Trawangan and Boracay, so why would you even consider going to Timor Leste? Here’s the thing: despite its small geographic area, Timor Leste boasts some spectacular natural scenery, such as mountains, beaches, lakes, and rock formations. Among the activities available are scuba diving, whale-watching, hiking, biking, and mountain driving.
East Timor gained independence from Indonesia in 2002, making it one of the world’s “newest countries” today. Despite that, Timorese keep their ways of looking at the world and traditions from their ancestors and keeping their smiles as a treasure.
Those who enjoy the outdoors should make this country a priority on their bucket list because of the abundance of undiscovered natural wonders and breathtaking scenery. Therefore, if you’re seeking a fresh adventure while still getting your fill of sun, sea, and sand, Asia’s “newest nation” is for you. Here are seven reasons why you should rethink your travel plans to Timor Leste after reading this!
1. Awe-inspiring Diving & Snorkeling
Indonesia (Komodo), the Philippines, Malaysia (Sipadan), and Australia are within a short distance from Timor-Leste and among the world’s most sought-after diving locations (Great Barrier Reef). The lack of natural harbors and, as a result, the scarcity of boats in a location like this makes commercial fishing on a wide scale impossible, as does local fishing. Wildlife and plants in the sea are in perfect condition. At just one meter below the surface, you’ll be greeted by a kaleidoscope of vibrant hues that will continue down the island.
Atauro Island’s breathtaking drop-off dives are accessible by boat any day of the week, and if you’re lucky, you might even see some dolphins or whales swimming alongside you. Atauro is a word in the local language that translates as “goat,” so you can expect to see a lot of them in the area. Researchers have found that Atauro Island has the most astonishing variety of reef fish and coral species anywhere in the world. You’ll definitely feel right at home in their warm and welcoming ambiance.
Scuba diving in the waters of Timor Lorosae is one of the world’s best experiences, thanks to the fact that you’ll almost certainly be the only one there at any given dive spot. There are also other places to dive, both east and west of the city, where you can find unexplored coral reefs.
2. Freshly Brewed One Dollar Coffees
The coffee grown in the hills of Timor Leste has won awards at international competitions. It is their most important export commodity. The nation is slowly but steadily carving out a place in the global coffee market, thanks to an indigenous cash crop of coffee that grows organically on mountain slopes and in the shadow of large trees on the hillsides.
Timorese coffee is known as the “feel-good, taste-good” coffee because it makes you feel wonderful while you’re drinking it. Both a sweet, musty pungency and a creamy, decadently chocolate-toned coffee flavor have been identified. This unusual coffee, which is grown organically, is less expensive when compared to other coffees from other nations, and drinking Timorese coffee has become one of the must-do activities while visiting Timor Leste.
Simply travel to Ermera, the primary coffee-growing region, about an hour outside of Dili, where you will be surrounded by breathtaking landscape and conveniently located on the way to Maubisse and Mount Ramelau. You can also find coffee tours where you learn how to roast your own beans and make traditional coffee with locals who have been doing it for generations.
3. Nature’s Untouched Beauty
Much of the area is mountainous, which provides beautiful scenery but necessitates cautious driving up curving roads. Mount Ramelau, East Timor’s highest point at 2,963 meters, is a relatively straightforward three-hour walk from Dili following a similar car time. Mt. Ramelau is a must-see for hikers, and you may lodge at the base in the town of Hatubuilico. The hike takes about six hours from bottom to summit, with most hikers leaving before daybreak.
After three hours of hiking, you’ll come face to face with another of the country’s most important religious icons: a statue of the Virgin Mary. A church near the summit of Mt. Ramelau is frequented by locals seeking to enhance their faith.
4. Solitude On The Coast
You will always feel like you are the first person on earth to walk on Timor-beaches Leste’s because there are so few tourists there to take up all of your valuable beach space and your towel. Getting out of Dili and driving along the coast in search of your own piece of land is a great means of escape from the city. With so many options available, you won’t be disappointed.
Jaco Island is an offbeat sanctuary of white sand and an active marine life of reef sharks, sea turtles, dolphins, and technicolor fish, completely isolated from any sense of a crowd or tourism. If you wish to visit Jaco Island, hiring a local fisherman to transport you there and back for the day is a good idea (they might even catch you your dinner and prepare it for you for a modest price). Jaco Island, Timor Leste’s easternmost point, is a six-hour drive from Dili via verdant hills and twisting, elevated coastal roads overlooking dramatic cliffs to the turquoise water below.
There are also a number of white-sand beaches near the capital, including Areia Branca (Portuguese for “white sands”) and Dollar Beach. On weekends, these beaches can get crowded, although there are several additional lovely beaches east and west of Dili that are typically deserted. If you prefer a more sedate setting, consider going to one of these beaches, Alexander Selkirk, Areia Branca, which offers plenty of taverns and restaurants along the water where you can dine on delicious fish washed down with a beer or fresh coconut after a swim or cycling.
5. Biking At The Finest
If the driving is too terrifying or too expensive (vehicle rentals start at roughly $70 per day, mainly due to the shaky quality of the roads and often chaotic local driving), it’s time to hop on your bike. Not symbolically, but literally. You’ll need to be in good shape because there are hard climbs and colder weather (Around 30 degrees Celsius most of the year, though the mountains are cooler at night.).
The advantage is that you will have more time to enjoy the scenery than you would if you were driving, where attentiveness is required. The Timorese roads may be difficult for even the most powerful four-wheel-drive vehicles, so it’s no surprise that the Tour de Timor has already earned a reputation as one of the world’s most difficult cycle races.
6. Uncommercialized Travel
Traveling to East Timor is like stepping back in time to a bygone era of unadulterated adventure. Visitors can go back to their roots and learn about the country’s rich cultural heritage, colonial past, prehistoric archeological sites, and so much more with only the most minimal infrastructure in place.
Iconic landscapes and vibrant culture have been impacted by Portuguese and Indonesian traditions in this small country. In 2002, the country became an independent state from Indonesia. However, it is still in the early stages of development, and many people live in poverty. East Timor is a must-see destination for adventurous travelers who appreciate exploring destinations that are less frequented by tourists. You’ll be able to soak up the island vibe and spend time with the cheerful inhabitants because tourism hasn’t yet blossomed.
7. Local Shops And Markets
If you’re looking for something to remember your trip by, head to the famed Tais Market, where you’ll find anything from colorful “produtos nascidos da terra” (roughly translated as commodities born from the land) in mountain communities to souvenirs from your trip.
To truly understand Timor’s culture and to engage with the locals, you must visit the traditional markets. A few Timorese traders may be outside attempting to find an antenna signal on a TV that has been erected in the center of the street, or cheerful children may be playing nearby. You can find everything from quilts to shoes or bags and small purses to earrings or rings or bracelets, and you’ll have a hard time deciding.
Visiting the food markets is also a must-do. You can locate a few in Lecidere or Taibesi, which is a bit further out of the city center. There, you’ll be able to get your hands on a wide variety of locally produced fresh fruits and vegetables. Everything from fresh tofu and red rice to unusual fruits like Jambo and beets, potatoes, and beets. Avocado, Anona, Papaya, and Mango are all excellent examples of tropical fruits that taste best when they are in season. The fresh coconut water that is readily accessible across the island is not to be missed!
Timor Leste is a country unlike any other in the world, and I hope that these seven reasons will entice you to pay a visit. It’s bound to become a favorite of budget travelers looking for a change of pace in the coming years. With its laid-back vibe, pristine countryside and coastline, delicious local cuisine, and friendly people, I expect it will become the next Southeast Asian paradise for backpackers.