Timor Leste is probably one of the least traveled country in Southeast Asia getting only around 60,000 travelers per year. The majority of those travelers are on a visa run from Indonesia, and they often stay just in Dili which is a shame as the country shines on its own when you started to go out of the capital city.
In August 2018, I decided to spend 10 days traveling in Timor Leste trying my best to get off the beaten path as much as possible and even though I had mixed feelings about traveling East, I had the greatest time exploring Atauro and the mountain region of the country, so here is a 10 days guide to exploring Timor-Leste cities, culture, and stunning countrysides.
Timor Leste Itinerary Map
Why Go to Timor Leste
With the overtourism we are seeing all over the world, traveling in Timor Leste is a breath of fresh air. The country lacks tourism infrastructure hence allowing us adventurers to explore the country as it is meant to be, through the ways the locals do.
You are also rewarded with stunning nature from the marine life of the underwater world around Atauro island to the quiet mountain region of Maubisse, all of which are untouched by mass tourism, which is not easy to come by in Southeast Asia. If you are looking for a real adventure, this is the place to be.
How to Get Here
The cheapest way to get to Timor Leste by air is to get yourself to Bali and from there, fly from Denpasar airport to Dili via NAM or Sriwijaya Air. The flight can cost as low as 35 USD per way if you book it in advance. You can book a flight through Skyscanner.com or Momondo for the cheapest price. You can also fly from Singapore and Darwin, Australia but it is considerably more expensive so I would recommend going through Bali instead.
For a flight to Bali, AirAsia offers many cheap flights from hub airports like Bangkok or Singapore so it is best to visit Timor Leste in between your trip through Indonesia.
If you are an EU passport holder, you are exempted from the visa requirement so do not line up when you arrive at the airport. Just go straight through to the immigration and stamp your passport in.
For the rest of us, you can get the visa at the airport for 30 USD. Make sure you have some USD on hand when you arrive.
When to Go
The best time to visit Timor Leste is during the dry season which is from June to September where you will maximize clear days, good visibility underwater and minimize the chance of getting stuck somewhere due to flooded roads.
Where to Stay
Dili - Timor Backpackers - 15.00 USD/Night (Dorm) | 65 USD/Night (Twin Room) - The only hostel with a reliable wifi.
Atauro - Atauro Dive Resort - 18 USD/Night (Dorm) | 35 USD/Night (Double Room with Sea View)
Hato Builico - Pousada Alecrim Namrau - 15 USD/Night (Private room) + 5 USD for breakfast and dinner
Maubisse - Green School - 35 USD/Night (Double room) - To book this place, head over to Leublora Green Village Facebook page and write Bella, one of the team member listed on that page and book it through her.
Baucau - Victoria Restaurant and Guesthouse - 35 USD/Night (Double room)
Jaco Beach - Valu Sere Beach Bungalows - 20 USD/Night (Bungalow right on the beach. There is currently no way to book it online so just show up.)
How to Get Around
The cheapest way is to travel by public transport which may come in different forms such as Microlet for traveling around a city, big buses for long-distance travel, and open-roof truck for shorter and more remote destinations.
Microlet is the cheapest option and are available everywhere in most towns and cities and it only cost 25c per way. The problem is you need to know which number to take but you can always ask the driver before you get on and they should be able to tell you whether it is the right microlet or not. Once you get onto the van, you will be squeezed into the van and if you want to get off, use a coin and bang it against the handle rail to let the driver know where.
For cities like Dili, you have the yellow/blue taxi as an option. For the yellow cab, the most common one, you will have to negotiate a bit before getting into the car whereas the blue taxis are metered.
Dili is the biggest city in the country and it is the main hub for buses that go around Timor Leste so you will be coming in and out of Dili often. There are 3 bus stations each traveling in different directions so depending on where you want to go, you will need to know which bus station to get the bus from.
For more information about Dili bus stations and stops, here is a comprehensive guide to Dili, Timor Leste.
If you have enough budget to rent a 4WD, it is the easiest and most comfortable way to travel around the country. Roads in Timor Leste are horrible through and through and if you want to travel far and wide, especially eastward to Baucau and Jaco island, renting a jeep is the best way to go. You can rent a motorbike or 4wd for 35 - 145 USD per day + 25 USD for insurance. If you are interested, I would recommend asking Rentlo, one of the few rental companies in Dili that actually replies to your email.
Tips: Book in advanced to get the cheapest car on the list.
See more: Rentlo car rental rates for May 2018.
This place is cheaper than most countries but not dirt cheap. Expect to pay around 30 - 50 USD per day per person including accommodation and food.
Keep in mind that this is just a suggested daily budget based on my style of traveling, which is leaning more toward the budget side of things. If you want to stick to this budget, expect to sleep in dorms, eat out only a few times, and be comfortable using the cheapest and most convenient way of transportation, which often times involves walking.
Timor-Leste is an expensive country by Southeast Asia standard. Most of their infrastructure is still under maintenance or non-existent. The fact that they are using US dollars doesn't help either as everything is extra expensive when negotiating. That said, you can still travel cheap, but trust me, it is not a fun experience for anyone.
If you want to travel comfortably, you will need to rent a motorbike or a jeep which, as mentioned above, is not cheap at all. Food can be cheap if you eat outside of the tourist area and if don't mind eating local food. It should cost you around 2 - 4 USD per meal. If you are eating at a western restaurant, prepare to pay double that. Hostels are only available in Dili and Atauro island and it should cost around 10 - 18 USD. You don't have many options except staying in guesthouses or homestays outside of Dili and it should cost between 20 - 45 USD per night. Hotels in Dili can go upward 45 - 75 USD per night.
Reliable WIFI is hard to come by and in Dili, I only found one place with reliable WIFI which is at the Timor Backpackers. I found no WIFI available anywhere else except in Dili.
Thankfully, the cell network is pretty fast with most areas covered with a 3G speed so I would recommend getting a SIM card from Telkomsel either at the airport in Dili or Dili's city center before your trip. You can learn more about the available price plans here: Timor Leste Prepaid SIM card.
If you are looking for a travel insurance to go along with your trip to Timor Leste, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure. They have a simple and flexible search system that allowed me to find the right insurance for the right amount of time at an affordable price in seconds. If you need a travel insurance, give WorldNomads.com a try.
10 Days Itinerary to Timor Leste
Dili (2 nights)
Dili is likely the first place you begin your journey in Timor Leste unless you are traveling by land via the western border from Indonesia. Dili is a seaside city with a nice chill vibe, relatively great infrastructure, and makes for a good base to launch yourself into the countryside. The beautiful Cristo Rei statue, located only a few kilometers away from the city center is a great place to go for a small hike especially at sunset.
The beach behind Cristo Rei statue is also worth visiting with beautiful clear water, remote location, and tucked away from the main road, there is no better place to swim in the ocean than here.
If you are interested to learn more about Timor Leste, the history, the struggle and the independence, Archives & Museum of East Timorese Resistance and "Chega!" exhibition are a must do when you are in Dili.
Timor Leste used to be a Portuguese colony so be sure to walk around the city and spot some beautiful colonial architectures like the Motael Church and the largest of them all, the Dili Cathedral.
For more information on what to do in Dili, here is a one-day ultimate guide on things to do in Dili.
Atauro Island (2 nights)
One of the best trip you can make in Timor Leste is to take a ferry up north to Atauro island, a remote island off the coast of Dili and is one of the best places to go snorkeling and diving. The best part is you don't even have to travel long hours to get here. It's only 2 hours away by ferry and you will be rewarded with a quiet fisherman town, peaceful Beloi beach, and the stunning coral reefs for you to explore.
Snorkeling is awesome even just off the Beloi beach. There are plenty of fish and colorful coral reefs all along the stretch and even more so the further you are from the beach. There is also another spot to go snorkeling/diving but you will have to get a boat out which you can go with Atauro Dive Resort as they run 3 times a day from 7 AM - 3 PM.
Be sure to also go up the viewpoint in the early morning to catch a glimpse of how remote and big the island is from above.
If you want to have an authentic experience, you can also stay at a homestay which you can organize through Atauro Dive Resort or you can find the contact info of a guy I stayed with here:
Estevo Marques (Tetun)
+670 7843 6324
If you are looking for a way to get there and on things to do on Atauro island, check out my ultimate guide to Atauro island.
Dili (1 night)
From Atauro, you will have to get a ferry or a speedboat back which leaves at around 3 PM so you will need to spend a night in Dili again to prepare for your next journey into the mountains.
Hato Builico (1 night)
Photo by Kate Dixon
This town is a great base for hiking the highest peak in Timor Leste, the Ramelau peak which is best during sunrise when the sky is clear and the weather is stable. You will have to stay one night in this town and at 3:30 AM, start hiking the mountain and you should be at the summit by 6 AM, in time for the sunrise.
Getting to this town is a little tricky as it is quite remote and the road is not in a good condition so if you have a 4WD, it will make your trip much more comfortable. If not, then what you can do is take an open-roof truck from a Taibessi bus stop in Dili to Maubisse which should cost you around 3 USD and will take 3 hours and then from the Maubisse market, find a ride from the locals that go to Hato Builico and that should take you around 2 hours. Start early from Dili so you have enough time to figure out your ride to Hato Builico from Maubisse.
Maubisse (2 nights)
After a hike like that, it is always nice to have a nice quiet place for you to rest and thankfully, Maubisse, the town you passed through the day before is perfect for you to do nothing in. The town is lodged in between the beautiful hills and mountains of Timor Leste and with its cool breeze, all around untouched nature, there is no better place to sit back, relax and enjoy the sound of nature.
This is even better if you stay at the Green School, which is a place where the educate the local community on how to grow certain vegetations in this region. They also offer a really nice accommodation in a traditional hut with a killer of the mountains.
You can also walk up the hill to Pousada de Maubisse and enjoy the view there as the guest house is perfectly located on top of the highest hill in town and you will be able to see a sweeping 360 view of the town and the landscape surrounding it.
Dili (1 night)
After 2 days in the mountain, you will see almost every thing Timor Leste has to offer from mountains and beaches and you can take the truck back to Dili, rest and prepare to fly home.
If you have more time in the country and you don't mind roughing it out, you can spend 4 days traveling from Dili to Jaco Island and back to really complete the itinerary.
I didn't do this as I found the road eastward is one of the worst one out there and traveling beyond Los Palos by public transport become unreliable and tiresome. Even when getting to the Jaco island, I won't be able to stay overnight on the island as it is considered sacred to the local people so I would be there for only a few hours for snorkeling and have to travel back through the same horrid road for another 2 days.
BUT, if you have a 4WD and are looking for more adventure, continue your trip with a visit to Jaco island, one of the most remote and most beautiful islands of the country.
+ 4 Days to Jaco Island (Optional)
Baucau (1 night)
You can easily drive for 12 hours to Jaco beach if you have your own 4WD and you want to but I would suggest breaking the trip up into 2 days by spending a night in Baucau, the second biggest city in the country. You will unlikely to see any tourists here as for most of the places outside Dili, which is perfect for you to get a glimpse of how the majority actually lives in the country.
Baucau also have a few nice colonial architectures that are worth exploring such as the Pousada de Baucau, an old pension used by the Portuguese now turned into a guesthouse, and the Baucau Old Market, a grand colonial building that is considered to be the landmark of the city.
There is also a nice public pool for you to jump in and you will want to if you decided to travel along the dusty, pothole-ridden road that connects Dili and Baucau via a bus.
You can read more here: A comprehensive guide to things to do in Baucau.
Jaco Beach + Jaco Island (2 nights)
Travel to Jaco island is not easy but the reward is worth it as you will be arriving in an empty island with a pristine white sand beach, clear water, and stunning coral reefs begging for you to explore. Make sure you have a snorkeling gear with you as you won't be able to rent anywhere in Jaco beach or the island. That's how remote this place is.
If you are interested, here is a more comprehensive guide written by Richard Collett from Travel Tramp.
Dili (1 night)
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