Updated on 24th September 2018: Added the new "This East Timor" travel video to the article.
Timor-Leste is by far one of the least-traveled countries in South East Asia. I have only met a handful of people who went there and most of them often stay in Dili, the capital city of Timor-Leste. I was curious and so I decided to embark on a journey through Timor Leste starting my journey in Dili.
Dili is a beautiful seaside city that compensates its small size with a chill vibe, friendly people and loads of interesting things to do. Here's my take on a perfect one-day itinerary on things to do in Dili, Timor Leste.
Things to Do Map
How to Get Here
The cheapest way to get to Dili by air is to fly from Denpasar airport in Bali where you can get a flight via NAM or Sriwijaya Air for as low as 35 USD one way. I highly recommend you book the flight in advanced via Skyscanner.com or Momondo for the cheapest price possible. There are also flights from Singapore and Darwin, Australia but it is considerably more expensive so I would recommend flying to Bali and then Bali to Dili.
AirAsia is also a good airline to fly cheaply to Bali from hub airports like Bangkok or Singapore so it is best to visit Dili in between your trip to Indonesia or South East Asia.
If you are from the EU, you are exempted from the visa but if you are not, you can get them at the airport for 30 USD. Prepare some USD before you land.
When To Go
The best time to go to Dili is between June to September where it is dry and the temperature hovering around 26 - 34 degrees Celcius. Avoid rainy season if you are planning to go further inland as some cities maybe cut-off during those times due to bad roads.
Where to Stay
Dili is not a cheap city for accomodation. The cheapest option with great facilities I found is this one:
Dili - Timor Backpackers - 15.00 USD/Night (Dorm) | 65 USD/Night (Twin Room)
Highly recommended this place as it is the only one of the hostel in Dili with a consistently working WIFI, air-conditioning, and a swimming pool. Don't bother asking for information and the reception though as there are mostly clueless about traveling to other cities but they are the only one with working facilities and at an affordable price. It is located behind a bar called Castaway Bar and you can simply tell a taxi to drop you there.
How to Get Around
Getting Around the City
The easiest way to get around is by taxi which often comes in yellow (non-metered) and blue (metered). You can flag any of these but for the yellow ones, always negotiate the price. They are not aggressive by any means but they do sometimes double the price of what you normally pay, so be sure to haggle whatever price they come up with.
For a blue taxi, it is new and not so easy to flag one down but when you do, it is metered so you are assured that you are paying a reasonable price. That said, I did experience a driver telling me that the minimum price is 3 USD which I realized is only true if you book it through a telephone, so let them know that you know and hopefully they will let it go.
For the cheapest option, microlet is a form of public transportation that is common in cities and is used among locals as a way to move around. For only 25c per ride, you can get almost anywhere around the city. The problem is you need to know which number to take so be sure to ask the driver if you are taking one. Use a coin and bang it against the handle rail to let the driver know that you want to get off.
From the airport, you can take a taxi to the city center at around 5 - 10 USD. They will start at 10 USD so be sure to negotiate. If you are staying at Timor Backpackers, just tell them to drop you off at Castaway Bar for 5 USD.
For going to Cristo Rei for a hike, if you are staying at Timor Backpackers like I did, you can take a Microlet #9 along the coast towards the Palácio do Governo (Government office) and get out before they turn right into land. Keep on walking east toward the Fruit & Vegetable Market and from there, you can take another microlet #12 and it will take you all the way to Cristo Rei beach where you can hike up to the statue. You can also take a taxi one way for around 3 - 5 USD and take the microlet back.
Getting from City to City
If you want to travel eastward to Baucau or Jaco Island, take a taxi (3 USD) to the Becora bus station located in the south-east suburbs of the city.
If you want to travel westward to Maubara or Balibo, you can take a taxi (3 USD) to the Tasi Tolu Bus Station located a little further away from the airport.
If you want to travel southward to Maubisse or Hato Builico, you can take another taxi (3 USD) to the Taibessi Bus Stop which is located at a roundabout in the southern part of the city.
You can find the locations of all the bus stops from my map shown above.
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 not a cheap country as they just recently gained independence in 2002 and most of their infrastructure is either non-existent or damaged badly over the years. They are currently using US dollars and that can make things more expensive for us. You can travel cheap like a local with buses that cost somewhere between 3 -5 USD, 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 could cost 35 - 145 USD per day excluding insurance and gas. Food can be cheap if you don't mind eating where the locals are eating. A dish of Bakso Mie should cost around 1.5 to 3 USD. If you are eating at a western restaurant, it could go from 4 to 10 USD. Dormitory in Dili cost around 10 - 15 USD whereas hotels will set you back around 45 - 75 USD per night.
Again, Timor-Leste is not a cheap country to travel in but thankfully, there are plenty of ATM at the airport and scattered around the country so do prepare accordingly.
Internet is scarce in Timor Leste as you expected. The only place I found with reliable WIFI is at the Timor Backpackers hostel I stayed but if you want a more consistent access to the internet, I would recommend you buy a sim card from Telkomsel at a kiosk outside from the entrance door of the Dili's international airport. You can get 2.4GB for 11 USD and I had no problem getting online while traveling around the country. 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 in Dili
Visit Motael Church
If you decided to walk along the coast line of Dili, you will not miss this place as it is located by the coast. This Portuguese-style church was built in 1955 and considered to be the oldest Roman Catholic church in the country. The artchitecture resembled the Portuguse influece you can see around South East Asia during the colonization period. It is a great reminder of how influential Portuguese were back in the days.
The interior is also quite interesting to see with wooden chairs and big fans on the ceiling, something you don't see often in churches in Europe. The church is also a good place to hide from the brutal heat of Dili.
Support The Local Craftmanship at Tais Market
A little south of the coastline, only a few minutes walk from the Motael Church, you will find a small traditional market where you can buy handmade products from the local communities. It is also a great place to shop for a souvenir but be sure to negotiate the price if you do. It is also nice to walk around and enjoy the beautiful colors of the local's craftsmanship while mingling with friendly locals.
The Dili Cathedral is a source of Timorese pride and spiritual guidance. Built by the Indonesian government in 1984, the cathedral is the largest Catholic cathedrals in the country and 2nd largest in South East Asia.
The cathedral played a great role in the East Timorese resistance against Indonesia with the Pope John Paul II recognizing the atrocities committed in the country and blessed the church giving hopes to the East Timorese people the led to independence. Knowing that, make the place a must-visit for travelers who enjoy learning the history of a country like Timor-Leste.
Learn the History at the Archives & Museum of East Timorese Resistance
Talking about history, Timor-Leste has gone through a lot to be where they are now and they have documented them thoroughly in the Archives & Museum of East Timorese Resistance which is a must-visit when you are in Dili.
The museum is dedicated to telling the story of their struggle for independence from Indonesia. It is quite a story and if you are interested to learn more, I recently wrote an article called "The Brief Story of Timor Leste" where you can read here.
The museum is closed on Sunday and Monday.
Visit the Chega! Exhibition
Another great museum is the Chega! Exhibition located not too far from the Dili cathedral. "Chega" means "enough" or "stop" in Portuguese and the exhibition is dedicated to telling the stories of all the victims of the nightmares that descended upon the East Timorese people during the occupied periods from the Portuguese to World War 2 by the Japanese and eventually to the Indonesian.
What makes this place unique from the Archives museum is that the exhibition is held in a former prison that was used by both the Portuguese and the Indonesian to incarcerate political prisoners which makes it even more eery. There is no entrance fee to visit the exhibition,
The museum is closed on Saturday and Sunday.
Pay Respect at the Santa Cruz Cemetary
After visiting both museums, I highly recommend you visit the Santa Cruz cemetery next which should be a few minutes walk from the Chega! exhibition. Santa Cruz cemetery is where the Dili massacre went down during the resistance and just by walking around the cemetery you should be able to feel the eeriness of the quiet atmosphere that surrounded the place. You can almost feel the nightmare that descended down upon the East Timorese people during that time of struggle.
Try Fresh Fruits at Fruit & Vegetable Market
If you are looking to try some fresh fruits from Timor-Leste, you can drop by the fruit market on your way to the Cristo Rei statue. It's a small and colorful place to eat some fresh fruits or simply get some nice photos for your trip on Dili.
Hike to the Cristo Rei Statue at Sunset
This is by far one of the most photogenic places in Dili. This massive Jesus statue, the second biggest in the world, is located on a hill east of the city center, right by the beach with the same name where the locals like to wind down and soak themselves in the ocean.
You can get here from the fruit market via microlet #12 and it will take you directly to the parking lot where you can start hiking.
In order to get the best view of Dili and the mountains behind it, you will have to hike up to the top which should take you no more than 20 minutes. I would recommend you to hike to the statue in the evening when the sun is not too strong and the heat bearable. You will reward with the view of Dili, the mountains and the secret empty beach behind it which takes me to my next point..
Soak Yourself in the Ocean at the Dolok Oan Beach
While you are hiking up to the statue, halfway in, you will come across an intersection that leads to either that statue or this beach. On your way down from the statue, be sure to go left down the stairs to reach the Dolok Oan beach. The Dolok Oan beach is a beautiful white sand beach where you can swim peacefully and calmly away from the local tourists which often resided at the Cristo Rei beach instead.
This is the best place to soak yourself in the water after a sweaty hike up the Cristo Rei statue.
Have a cup of locally brewed coffee at Letefoho Cafe
Timor-Leste is well-known for its coffee beans as it is one of their most important export since the Portuguese colonized the country. One of the best place to try a locally brewed coffee is at the Letefoho Cafe, located not too far from the Timor Backpackers hostel. Though this is more on the expensive side of things, the coffee is amazing and the staff was very friendly. They also have delicious pastries to go with the amazing coffee they serve there. The location of the cafe is shown below:
Have Lunch at Agora Food Studio
This place was recommended by a friend of mine and it is considered to be the pioneer of sustainable and organic food in the city. The food is a bit expensive but you are sure to receive good and clean food while also supporting the locals and the environment of Timor Leste.
If you are interested in tasting great food while supporting the locals, be sure to visit them when you are there or learn more about their initiation on their website here: Angora Food Studio
They are only open during lunch only so be there early! The location of the restaurant is shown below:
And there you have it, a guide on how to spend a day in Dili, Timor Leste. Are you planning a trip to Timor-Leste soon? If you have any question about my trip, feel free to let me know 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.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. Learn more.