This charming, lazy little seaside city suddenly found itself taking the role of national capital when East Timor became an independent country in May 2002.
The city lies on the northern coast of East Timor, squeezed along the narrow plains between the central mountains which run the length of the Timor and the Ombai Strait.
Dili is also capital of a district with the same name. The district includes the surrounding areas as well as Atauro Island.
Dili was the classic backwater during colonial times, being the main city of a remote colony in a remote part of the world. However, this heritage left Dili with a distinct Portuguese flavour and together with Macau, is probably the furthest east where you can savour genuine Portuguese food and architecture.
The city suffered badly during the post-1999-referendum violence, when many buildings were burnt and much infrastructure destroyed. However, Dili has since recovered remarkably, although one can still see many gutted buildings.
The Palacio Governo (Government Palace) is the natural 'heart' of Dili, with its waterfront and a square bordered on the south side by the impressive Government Buildings. To the east is the commercial area of Lecidere, which could be thought of as the Portuguese part of town, Colmera is to the west and the former Mercado Municipal (Central Market) is to the south. The beachfront road (Ave de Portugal) goes west, passing the Portuguese style houses of Farol, several embassies, and some (often Australian run) restaurants and hotels. Further afield is Timor Plaza, 4km to the west, along the very busy Comoro Road. To the east is the road to Metiaut, with its beachside restaurants, and on to Christo Rei, some 5km from downtown.
If you go to Dili via the Indonesian border, there are a few ways, for example you can take a bus or walk. But it takes a long time because there are many passengers on the bus, and it is a little difficult if you have a lot of luggage to walk on. But now you can use the share rent car service. This will be a way to save your time, effort and stamina on your way to Dili. You can also use the share rent car service from Dili to the Atambuah airport via the Indonesian border.
Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport (formerly Comoro Airport) (DIL) is located 6km west of downtown Dili. Bali (Denpasar) is the most popular entry point, and as of 2017 two operators Nam Air / Sriwijaya Air  and Citilink fly the route. Nam Air and Sriwijaya are the same company and you can book through the same website. Return flights are around $200 and up. Australian regional carrier Air North  operates at least one flight a day from Darwin, Australia with an Embraer 170 jet. There are also direct flights between Singapore on Air Timor  using Silkair aircraft scheduled only on Tuesday and Saturday. As there is hardly any competition, fares are high. It is usually cheaper to fly via Bali to both Singapore and Darwin, rather than fly direct, typically using AirAsia on the second leg.
There are limited domestic flights, principally to Oecusse and Suai (with STAT, office under Burger King at the airport), and MAF charter flights to Atauro and elsewhere are available .
Getting there/away: Yellow taxi drivers ask for at least US$5 for the trip into Dili ($10 without haggling). You could try bargaining. You can also walk out to the main road to Dili with Batugade to catch a number 10 mikrolet. Alternatively, you can call for a Corotrans taxi (see Get Around section).
Southwards, a road climbs up the mountains which run the length of the island of Timor, passing the hill town of Maubisse, on the way to the southern coast.
Cars can be hired from Rentlo but not Thrifty, as that company left in early 2006, shortly before the troubles began.
There are regular daily buses to / from Kupang in West Timor, where flights to / from the rest of Indonesia are available. The trip takes 12 hours. See the Get In section of the East Timor page for details.
Buses fan out from Dili to various parts of the country. Most leave very early in the morning, and would do the "keliling" (going around town to scout for more passengers) before actually leaving Dili.
Several buses leave for Baucau early in the morning from Rua Quinze de Outubro just south of the stadium near the Mercado Municipal roundabout. US$4, 3 hours. These buses can also be caught at Becora, the suburb to the east of Dili.
Dili is no longer a port of call for Indonesia's Pelni ships. There are also no regular boats to Australia.
By Cruise Ship
On foot - Dili has a clear city centre focused on the Government Palace and surrounds, which is easy to navigate on foot, however for the visitor two other areas of interest are Timor Plaza, 3km west, and the restaurants of Maitiat to the east - and it is a long walk to either.
The large foreigner and expat community in Dili means there is a lot going on if you know where to look. Facebook is popular, Things to do in Timor and Dili Sentral are good starting points. Dili Expats is a secret group also worth trying to get on.
There are good beaches near Dili. The ones near the centre of town are popular with kids but are polluted. The most accessible beaches are:
Areia Branca near Christo Rei, has several bars and restaurants.
Jesus Backside beach, which can be accessed either from a walking track that starts halfway up the stairs to Christo Rei, or by car by taking the road from Metiaut over the mountains and looking for a turn-off on the left (this is the remains of the road that used to go around the point).
Cementary Beach west of the Comoro river near the airport can be reached by walking west from downtown (in dry season) - a nice and quiet walk / run, away from any traffic noise that goes all the way down to the end of the Dili airport's runway.
Dive around Dili and Atauro Island. Compass Adventures, Dive Timor Lorosae and Aquatica Dive Resort are popular dive operators. There are a number of dive sites around Dili. Further out east, K41 and Bob's Rock are popular sites near Manatuto. Dive operators can arrange longer trips to Jaco Island. Wikimapia has a good listing of snorkeling and dive sites along Timor's north coast. Timor Leste is slowly gaining a reputation as one of the best diving locations in the world.
The Portuguese influence is most noticeable on religion. Just down and across the road from the Leader Supermarket and Timor Plaza is a church (Saint Joseph Church of Aimutin has an English mass on Sunday morning at 11.00am effective May 12, 2019 (and Tetum Masses at 7am and 5pm, Portuguese mass at 9am). Tetum mass at Dili Cathedral is at 6am and 4pm on Sundays.
Walking and hiking
There are several nice walks up in to the hills behind Dili where you can get to the trailhead by foot / mikrolet / taxi. Typically these take about 4 hours up and back. Wikiloc gives some GPS trails. A popular hike in the interior is Mount Ramalau (Local Language: Foho Tatamailau) - the highest mountain in East Timor. You can stay at a place just before the top, and climb up for the dawn (a couple of hours climb). It is a fairly popular thing to do so ask around or ask at the Hotel Dili – they can arrange a great 4WD tour. NB: It is freezing at night!
If you are on the road directly in front of the East Timor Government Building, Palacio Do Governo, face away from the airport (towards the Jesus Statue).
If you walk up the left hand road, about half way up on your right is Dili Cold Store supermarket, then you will find the Xanana reading room – a great place to know. There is a café at the back and inside is a small library (with English books), a video collection and documentaries about ET (with comfy chairs and a video so you can watch them there, and drink tea etc from the café!) and a book exchange. The book exchange is great – an eclectic mix to choose from with the policy “bring a book and $1 and take away a book, or any book for $2”. They also sell lovely postcards and have internet access.
Official working hours are generally 08:30-17:30, with a break for lunch from 12:00-13:30. Because most people go home for lunch, the actual lunch break is often 12:00-14:00. Some organisations work on Saturday mornings, but generally the weekends are free.
East Timor National holidays—Law signed 19/07/05
New Year’s Day—1 Jan
International Labour Day—1 May
Restoration of Independence—20 May
Popular Consultation Day—30 August
All Saints Day—1 November
All Souls day—2 November
National Day of Youth Santa Cruz Massacre—12 November
Independence Proclomation Day—28 November
National Heroes day—7 December
Day of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception—8 December
Christmas Day—25 December
Tolerance Days ( national commemorative days )
International Childrens Day—1 June
Falintil day—20 August
Mothers day—3 November
International Human Rights day—10 November
Ash Wednesday – (46 days before easter)
Holy Thursday – (thursday before easter)
Ascension Day – (40 days after easter)
Money and ATMs The US dollar is the legal tender, with only notes in circulation. Local Timorese coins are also used. Credit cards (Visa, Mastercard) are useful in high end hotels, but it is a cash economy. There are four commercial banks, Mandiri (Indonesian), BNU (Portuguese) and ANZ (Australian), and BNCTL (Timorese). New ATMs are popping up all the time, for visitors using international cards, BNU is best as there is no fee (other than the fee charged by your home bank), ANZ can charge high fees (up to $6 per withdrawal depending on the card you have), your international card may or may not work in other ATMs. ATMs swallowing your card is a (small) risk, and you will have to wait a day or two, then go to the branch (and queue) to retrieve your card. In addition you cannot transfer money from an ANZ overseas account to an account with the ANZ in Dili without incurring a USD$25 fee. It is best to contact your bank in your home country and seek advice about the cheapest and most efficient way to transfer money between accounts.
Moneychangers congregate outside the downtown Mandiri branch (between the Government Palace and Pateo supermarket) and will change Indonesian rupiah, US dollars and maybe other currencies, at negotiable rates.
Markets and Supermarkets
Fresh fruit and veg is available at several markets, the most easily accessible is the Lecidare market opposite the Novo Tourismo hotel, a five minute walk east of the Palacio Governo. Comoro market (one of the two big markets in Dili) on the way to the airport is a little bit hard to find as it is set back from the road. Supermarkets: Leader (next to Timor Plaza) and Lita next to the Novo Tourismo hotel, are the best places for general food and groceries. Prices are higher at Kmanek in Timor Plaza, and Centro Supermacardo along the seafront. W four stocks a lot of Indonesian produce and Pateo in downtown Dili is Portuguese run and feels like a small supermarket in Lisbon!
The local markets are amazing. When you first arrive they look grimy and the place is covered in dust in the dry season and very muddy in the wet, but if you go inside you will find fruit, vegies, coffee etc all piled in little piles (this is the measurement for purchases – around 10c for leafy vegies and 50c for everything else). If you live with a Timorese family it is wonderful to go there and bring home little treats like eggs and condensed milk, bananas and potatoes as they are usually beyond the everyday budget (rice and green vegetables are the staple diet of East Timorese).
Local arts and crafts
Eating out is one of the highlights of Dili. The combination of fresh fish, Portuguese and Asian culinary influence, and lots of expatriate money means that Dili hosts perhaps the best collection of restaurants this side of Bali. There are plenty of restaurants in Dili, from local warungs, to several excellent Portuguese restaurants, and Italian, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Turkish, Mexican, and Australian. Most popular with Timorese locals are the seafood BBQ places west of Dili (Fish on a Stick).
Timorese and Indonesian warungs, where you pick your food from the window, are everywhere and cost $1.50-$3.00 for a typical meal. One of the most popular (called "Malua", but there is no sign) is on the road from the Cathedral to Bairo Pite - look for the blue and white decor and "nasi campur" written in the window. Pick from tasty fried chicken, shoe-leather rendang or egg, then add a couple of vegetable dishes. $1.75 including bean and cabbage soup (koto) and iced tea.
Drinking places are everywhere and many restaurants double as bars. The best option if visiting Dili is to enjoy the beach bars - the ones by the eastern beaches in Metiaut are great for sunsets. The bars/restaurants will usually do good juices and sometimes smoothies, plus will offer coffee but it will usually be poor quality. Good espresso can be found at Food-L-Do, RnR, Beachside Hotel, Cafe Brasil and Kafe Aroma. There is a Gloria Jean's at Timor Plaza along with some other cafes and juice joints.
Castaway is an expat bar on the main drag along the beach in Dili. Drinks range from $4 beer and cocktails to a $10 giant margarita (Cigarettes are available at the bar but only worth it if you are feeling lazy, at $2.50 a pack which is more than double the price of street vendors' cigs!).
Dili's accommodation options have matured considerably since the post-crisis days of containers and shared bedrooms. There are now plenty of hotels in Dili, ranging from cheap(ish) and basic to $100+ hotels comparable with mid range hotels anywhere. To get anything comparatively mid range (clean, en suite, hot water, air conditioning) you are looking at $60 - $100 per night.
Some cafes around town have ads for accommodation available, but generally the only way to find out where there are places available is to ask around. There are furniture stores around, but if you can find somewhere that is furnished it will save you a lot of hassle. If you get friendly with someone who works for the government they may be able to help you find some furniture. There is one Real Estate Agent in Dili at Central Hotel near the post office which has a number of accommodation options.
There are quite a few foreigners in Dili who live in hotels or guest houses permanently. Other alternatives include:
A cleaner visiting twice a week costs about US$50 per month. As well as getting your house and clothes cleaned, this also represents an opportunity for making friends with locals. Also, having someone around the house during the day when you are not there keeps the place a little more secure. If you can live with a Timorese family it would be ideal for learning more about the local language and culture but if not, get to know your neighbours – walking around your area and talking to people can go a long way.
Dili Central Backpackers offers the best budget option in town with a range of accommodation options. Dorms with a fan start at $10/night.
There are a number of commercial places where you can access the internet such as the business centre at many of the hotels. Globel Net has Internet $4.00 per hour they also have skype so bring your own head sets.
There are very few landlines in East Timor, most being in Dili. It’s a very good idea to bring a mobile phone handset, make sure you have it unlocked in your home country first otherwise it can cost up to $30.00 to have it unlocked here, and then buy a new sim-card from Timor Telecom (US$3). Local calls are pretty cheap, and an SMS within East Timor costs $0.20. Calls to Australia are about 50 cents US per minute, or 40 cents off peak (between 8pm and 8am and all day Sunday). Calls from Australia are quite expensive – about $3.50 per minute. On 31st July 2012 the National Numbering Plan (NNP) was changed and all mobile phone numbers now require an additional '7' be added to the front of the number making a total of eight digits. Land lines remain unchanged.
There is no delivery of mail to street addresses. If you want to receive mail, you need to use a post office box at the central post office. Packages from Australia generally take about 2 weeks. It’s important that people write ‘via Darwin, Australia’ on the address, otherwise letters tend to go via Jakarta, Singapore or even Lisbon. Letters/packages have been known to take up to one and a half years to arrive, and occasionally disappear altogether, although this is the exception rather than the rule.
The Post Office (Correio Central, ) is south of Dili Stadium on Ave. Bishop Medeiros, and is very quiet. Stamps for letters/postcards to Asia Pacific are $0.50, and $0.75 to Europe.
The biggest risk in Dili is probably that of being involved in a traffic accident. It’s a good idea to bring a quality helmet in case you get a bike, or to use when riding on the back of other peoples’ bikes.
Basic precautions will ensure personal safety in East Timor. It’s generally considered not safe for a ‘malai’ (foreigner) woman (and probably a malai man, too) to walk around alone after dark. There have been a few reported incidents of people riding in taxis after dark being robbed. There have been a few malai houses broken into overnight. Generally, though, it feels very safe to walk around Dili during the day – there are always lots of people around.
The only other security precaution in Dili is to avoid gang activity which normally occurs at night, particularly in the Bairo Pite district of Dili. These gangs are based on martial arts groups within Dili, which after Timor Leste's history of violence and upheaval - is a social network for many unemployed males. Setesete, PSHT and Korak are the main gangs and their graffiti can be seen throughout Dili. It is highly recommended that travellers keep their distance from these martial arts venues and leave an area immediately if gang related violence seems to be a possibility.
You can generally get everything you need in Dili, with only a couple of exceptions, although some items are more expensive. Some of the things you might want to bring are:
With regard to dress rules there are no hard and fast rules. Dili is more liberal than the districts, where people will expect women to wear clothes which cover their shoulders (ie not sleeveless) and trousers or a skirt below the knee. Generally, it’s better to err on the conservative side. The most respectable clothing for young males are jeans with a buttoned through, short-sleeved, collared shirt. There are a number of clothing shops in Dili but they are made for Timorese sizes so it is generally hard to find anything in a size bigger than an Australian 10.
Dili is really hot all year round, but it can get very cold overnight in the central districts – so make sure you bring something warm. It’s a good idea to bring a solid pair of sandals, as well as some thongs and runners.
Dinner can sometimes be a bit dressier and most people in offices come to work dressed smart casual.
Areia Branca ("white sand"), a beach about 3 km east of Dili (under the Christ Statue).
Travelling as 'Malai'
Generally Timor Leste is a safe and hassle-free destination. Foreigners are a very common sight in Dili since independence, with a very large UN presence between 2000 and 2012 making locals comfortable seeing foreigners of different nationalities wandering the streets. It is safe to walk pretty much anywhere during the day time. At night lone women should avoid walking long distances, and travelers should be aware of the small chance of snatch and grab theft of bags. Incidences of young Timorese men groping / exposing themselves to young women do occur, but are rare.
Always were a crash helmet if riding on scooters - accidents involving scooters are by far the largest risk for visitors.
Local women dress conservatively in Dili. 'Short shorts', strapless tops and mini skirts are rarely worn by local women and may beckon unwanted attention. Generally, you want to wear 3/4 sleeve tops and long pants or skirts to protect yourself from mosquito borne diseases and to keep consistent with local dress.
Public displays of affection including holding hands may attract disapproval or vocal objection.