Updated on 24th September 2018: Added the new "This East Timor" travel video to the article.
My Timor Leste trip is turning into quite an adventure. Despite my mishap on a bus to Baucau, I was able to find a paradise within Timor Leste, and it does not require traveling by buses on bad roads for 6 hours. It's the Atauro Island, just off the coast north of Dili. Why is it a paradise? What can you do on that island? Well, let's find out! Without further ado, here's is my guide on wonderful things to do on Atauro Island.
Things to Do Map
How to Get Here
There are several ways you can get to Atauro Island but it will depend entirely on which day you want to be on the island. The cheapest option is to get the local ferries that run once per week for 3 - 4 USD one way. The Laju Laju ferry runs on Thursday only and Nakroma ferry runs on Saturday only. You can take these in the morning and come back to Dili on the same day at 3 PM - 3:30 PM.
If you want to stay overnight, which I highly recommend, there is also Dragon Star speedboat services that runs from Thursday to Monday for 18 USD one way. The best option is to take the local ferry going there on a Saturday and take the Dragon Star speedboat back on Monday to minimize the cost and maximize the time. You can also charter a water taxi for 45 USD one way. If you want to read more on the schedule and where to buy the ticket, click the link below:
When to Go
The best time to go to Atauro island is between June to September where it is dry and the weather predictable with a clear sky and good visibility underwater. I highly recommend visiting the island on the weekends to coincide with the ferries and the Saturday market.
Where to Stay
Hostel and Resort
Beloi Beach - Atauro Dive Resort - 18 USD/Night (Dorm) | 35 USD/Night (Double Room with Sea View) - I highly recommend this hostel as it is located right by the quiet side of the Beloi beach and they do run snorkeling/diving trip 3 times a day, everyday. Unlimited coffee and tea, homemade food (7 USD per meal), and plenty of hammocks for you to relax. Great facilities too with shower, snorkeling gear, bungalow-style rooms etc. I had a really chill experience here.
Beloi Town - Estevao's Homestay - 15 USD/Night (double room) - A cheaper and more athentic option is to stay in a homestay. I was tipped by Sam, the woman that manages Atauro Dive Resort that Steve runs a homestay not too far from the Beloi port and I ended up staying there one night. The room is nice with mosquito nets and fan. Steve, his wife and the kids were very friendly and will go out of there way to help you out.
How I Did It
I was on Atauro for 2 nights and I decided to stay at the Atauro Dive Resort one night to do the morning snorkeling and at Steve's place one night for a quiet peaceful day with his family. You can also stay at the homestay for 2 nights, hang out, eat lunch and go snorkeling with the Atauro Dive Resort during the day.
How to Get Around
Beloi town is small and you can cover everything on foot. If you are looking for a way to get to the other side of the island to another town called Adara you can either hike for 3 hours or ask a motorbike taxi to take you there for a few USD.
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.
No internet access anywhere. They barely have electricity so if you want to stay in touch with the world, I suggest you buy a SIM card from Telkomsel either at the airport in Dili or Dili's city center. 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.
Things to Do on Atauro Island
Go Snorkeling in the Morning
The water around Atauro island was so clear you can see everything even if you are quite high from the sea bed.
One of the best things to do on Atauro island is to go snorkeling and swim with the abundance of marine life, thanks to how remote the island is. At the Atauro Dive Resort, they do offer a snorkeling/diving trip 3 times per day starting at 7 AM all the way to 3 PM. I would recommend you going on the earliest boat possible so that you will have good visibility, and calm sea, a perfect combination for a great snorkeling trip.
The trip will cost you around 25 USD and you will have around an hour snorkeling off the coast of Beloi, Atauro. They go to different spots for each trip they do so you can go as many times as you like.
The best time to experience marine life upclose is when the visibility is great and the tides not too strong, which was the case when we went out with the boat at 7 AM.
You can also rent a snorkeling gear at the resort for 10 USD per day.
Go Snorkeling Along the Beloi Beach
Make sure to keep track of time because you might spend hours snorkeling without knowing that the sun is setting like I did.
If you are looking to save some money, do not worry about the boat trip if you don't feel like spending 25 USD for a boat out to the sea. Snorkeling is also excellent just off the Beloi beach. Grab a snorkeling gear and go off into the ocean and start snorkeling along the Beloi beach.
There might be some seaweed near the beach but the further you go, the more fish and coral reefs you see. If you go further enough, you will meet a drop-off cliff where you can spot bigger school of fish and more colorful coral reefs all around the area.
You will come across many horned starfish along the coast of Beloi beach. They comes in many colors, some more bad ass than the others.
The underwater area between the Atauro Dive Resort up until the Beloi port are all covered in stunning coral reefs and plenty of fish for you to enjoy.
Go for a Morning Hike Up the Viewpoint
This is a viewpoint on the island that you should not miss. You can see how remote the island actually is from up here.
If you are an early riser and what to see the island in a new perspective, be sure to go out on a hike to the viewpoint on a hill next to the Beloi town. The earlier you go, the better as the sun can be quite brutal in Timor Leste and the lights are at its best in the morning.
If you the sky is clear enough, you might be able to see the highest peak of the island.
You can also see Dili and Timor island from this viewpoint. Simply follow the rocky road parallel to the main road that connects the port, and head north from the Beloi town towards a hill. Once you passed Barry's Place, turn left at the intersection and follow the road (or make your own route) towards the hill. It should take you no more than 15 minutes to reach the top, and you will be rewarded with both the mountain and the ocean view of Atauro Island.
Nothing quite like the morning calm sea.
If you are not sure where the viewpoint is, check out the map I made above. The trail is in blue and the location of the viewpoint is labeled on the map.
Walk around the Saturday Morning Market
If you take the ferry from Dili to Atauro on a Saturday morning, you will be able to see the Saturday market along the Beloi beach when you arrive. This is where people come together and trade their goods.
The atmosphere is very lively and quite a sight to behold for travelers like us. It is also a great place to see how the people live their lives on this remote island.
It is always fun to walk around a market in the morning. You are guarantee to see how the people live their lives in the most authentic way possible.
The market begins from the Beloi port and stretches along the beach all the way to Barry's Place.
Take your time and do nothing on a Hammock
The Atauro Dive Resort have a few hammocks along the quiet side of Beloi beach and if you used one of their services, may it be, going on a snorkeling trip with them or eating the lunch they prepared, I'm sure they will allow you to chill out and relax on their hammocks. Grab a nice book, listen to nice music or you can just do nothing and enjoy the sound of waves crashing into the beautiful shore of Atauro island.
Have Lunch at Barry's Place
Barry's Place is one of the first places on the island that got the tourism wheel in motion, providing services to tourists while employing the locals and educating the community about sustainable and ecotourism. They also serve a great buffet with local food that cost 7 USD per meal. It's a bit on the expensive side but there is not much option when it comes to food on the island and it is good to know that your money is going into helping the local community developing a sustainable tourism for the island.
Stay at Estevao's Homestay
For a more authentic experience, I would recommend staying at Steve's house. His family has a few rooms available and for only 15 USD per night, you will get breakfast and a nice room with mosquito nets and fan. The facilities are fairly basic with electricity running only in the evening but that's how they live on the island and there is no better place to experience this beautiful island.
If you want to reach out to him, here is a contact info you can use:
Estevo Marques (Tetun)
+670 7843 6324
Go Stargazing at the Beloi Beach at Night
Due to how remote it is, the island is a perfect place to go stargazing by yourself. If you are there during the no moon phase you will be able to gaze the billions of stars that made up our Milky Way.
Simply go for a walk along the Beloi beach at night away from artificial light and you will be under the flickering light of the stars. Be sure to look up or point your camera at it.
See more: Looking for a astrophotography lens for your camera? Lonely Speck's list of the best astrophotography lenses is a great place to start.
They were selling candies in town so I bought a few for the hike that brought big smiles to their faces. I love this kind of experiences.
I can not stress how beautiful the island is from both the mountain perspective and the underwater perspective. If you are in Dili for a few days, make sure you find some time to go visit the island and definitely stay overnight. If you are planning to go and have a few questions regarding the island, feel free to ask me in the comments below.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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