Earth : Asia : Southeast Asia : East Timor
The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, commonly known as East Timor (Tetum: Timór Lorosa'e), is a country in Southeast Asia. It lies northwest of Australia in the Lesser Sunda Islands at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago. East Timor includes the eastern half of the island of Timor, the Oecussi (Ambeno) region on the northwest portion of the island of Timor, and the small islands of Atauro and Jaco.
The eastern half of the island of Timor, East Timor, is a former Portuguese colony that declared itself independent from Portugal on 28 November 1975. Nine days later, Indonesian forces invaded and occupied the former colony, with the tacit approval of the United States and Australia. By July 1976 the colony had been annexed as the province of Timor Timur.
Over the next two decades, Indonesia integrated the colony, with many significant positions of authority being occupied by Indonesians rather than the East Timorese. An estimated 100,000 to 250,000 individuals are believed to have lost their lives during a campaign of pacification during this time.
The United Nations supervised a popular referendum on 30 August 1999, in which the people of East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia. After the results were announced, gangs of independence opponents, supported by the Indonesian military, terrorised the population in a civil war that destroyed much of the country's infrastructure. A United Nations peacekeeping force led by Australian forces was sent in to re-establish a civil society and reconstruct the nation.
On 20 May 2002, East Timor was internationally recognized as an independent state under the official name of the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste.
UN peacekeeping forces remained and a large number of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) began operating.
In 2012, UN troops were officially withdrawn and east Timorese police and army took over any military installations. Although there are still NGOs working within the country, their numbers have been steadily declining over 2012.
East Timor has a hot and humid climate (tropical). November to May is the wet season with the temperatures averaging 30ºC the year round, with temperatures far cooler in higher altitude areas.
The dry season lasts for about 6 months during June to October.
The wet season can damage the roads in East Timor, making travel difficult to remote district areas during this time.
Generally visitors from any country can easily obtain a 30 day tourist and business visa on arrival to East Timor at Dili Airport or Dili Seaport by filling in a simple form and paying US$30 in cash. Note however that "visa on arrival" is not available at the land border, where most travellers apart from Indonesian and Portuguese nationals must have obtained a visa or "visa application authorisation" in advance.
Check out the Immigration Department of East Timor , and specifically the link to the Tourist Visa  for details on visa requirements, and for details on how to apply for a "visa application authorisation" (which may be obtained via email before you travel), or how to apply for a visa at an Embassy or Consulate should you want to enter at a land border crossing.
Apart from Tourist & Business Visas, other visas that are available include the Transit Visa, Work Visa, Study Visa, Cultural, Scientific, Sport & Media Visa and Residence Visa.
Tourist Visa requirements as stated by the Immigration Department of East Timor are as follows:
The applicant must:
Applicants must also be assessed as being of good character and health before they will be granted the visa and/or permitted to enter East Timor.
All foreigners seeking to enter East Timor on a temporary visa are required to have a valid national passport with an expiry date not less than 6 months from the date of entry into East Timor and must have at least one blank page available for Visa stamp.
Where applied for on arrival, the visa will be granted for the duration of stay up to 30 days, and is only valid for single entry. Extension after arrival – US$35 for each extension of 30 days, or US$75 for extension of 60 days. Extension of a tourist visa beyond 30 days requires a sponsor, East Timorese citizen or work-permit holder, to complete a Termo de Responsabilidade, guaranteeing your conduct and compliance with East Timorese laws for the duration of your stay.
Those who apply in advance for a tourist visa at an Embassy or Consulate, or who apply by email direct to the Immigration Department for a "visa application authorisation" may request a visa allowing up to 90 days stay, with single or multiple entry.
Visitors are advised to hold the necessary amount for the payment of visa fees in US Dollars cash upon arrival at the border.
There are no ATM or credit card facilities inside the airport or at border posts, hence visitors must have US$30 in cash to pay for their visa. There is now an ANZ ATM outside the Dili Airport and many ATMs throughout Dili where foreigners can draw money through Visa, Mastercard etc.
Portuguese passport holders do not need a visa for short stay entry (max 90 days).
Major international airlines that serve Dili directly include:
Currently International flight details in and out of Dili are as follows:
Morning Services (Mon,Wed,Thu,Fri,Sat): Depart Darwin 0630, arrive in Dili 0715. Depart Dili 0800, arrive Darwin 0945. Afternoon Service (Mon): Depart Darwin 1500, arrive in Dili 1615. Depart Dili 1700, arrive Darwin 1845.
Depart Singapore 0920, Arrive Dili 1400. Depart Dili 1515, Arrive Singapore 1800.
The main land border crossing with Indonesia is at Mota'ain (or Motain), 115km west of Dili. The nearest East Timorese town is Batugade, 3km to 4km away. The nearest Indonesian town of consequence is the West Timorese town of Atambua. There are also land border crossings at Salele (near Suai) on the south coast, and into Oecussi at Bobometo (north of Kefamenanu on the Indonesian side) and Wini on the north-east coast of Oecussi.
As mentioned above, visa on arrival is not available at the land border for most visitors apart from Indonesian and Portuguese Citizens. See the Immigration Department's Tourist Visa link  for details on how to apply for a "visa application authorisation" (which may be obtained via email before travel) or how to apply for a visa at an Embassy or Consulate should you want to enter at a land border crossing.
There is an East Timorese Consulate in both Bali and Kupang where you should be able to purchase visas.
The same problem exists in the other direction -- even though people of many nationalities can get Indonesian visas-on-arrival when flying into Bali or other Indonesian airports, they cannot get them when traveling from East Timor to West Timor by land, and are required to have visas in advance.
However, for those going the other direction, Indonesian visas must be obtained beforehand as they are not issued at the border. Getting a visa at the Indonesian Embassy in Dili is possible; it takes one week to issue a 60 day tourist visa (return flight not needed!) and it costs US$35.
There is a direct bus service daily between Dili and Kupang in West Timor, Indonesia. Journey takes 12 hours. There are many land travel minibus services to cater for individuals or groups travel from Dili to Kupang (West Timor) and return. Timor Travel, Paradise Travel, Leste Oeste Travel are few of the minibus companies that provide travel services to several different destinations along the Dili-Kupang route at a very affordable prices.
From Dili, catch a bus to the border (US$3, three hours). Once you get off the bus, go through East Timorese customs and immigration, walk across the border into Indonesia, go through Indonesian immigration and catch another bus for your onward journey to Atambua or Kupang.
From Atambua, regular mikrolets (vans) or ojeks (motorcycle taxis) run to the border at Mota'ain.
There are no regular international passenger ferries servicing East Timor.
There are regular barge services from Darwin - Australia, Surabaya and Bali for vehicles and goods.
Recreational vessels often stop into Dili harbour.
Buses, mostly of the small variety found on remote Indonesian islands, run to most parts of the country and main cities like Dili, Baucau, Maliana, Los Palos and Suai are quite well linked. Indonesian-style bemos (vans) and mikrolets (minibuses) - legacies from its 24-year rule - run from these cities to nearby villages.
In Dili, you can hail a ride on a mikrolet for 25c to get around. The mikrolets are numbered, and each number goes on a set route. To get off, simply tap your coin on the metal handrail and the driver will stop for you. You pay the driver when you get off.
Mikrolets, buses and "angunna" (truck with open-air back for passengers) are your main means for getting from one district to another one. Most of these departures take place very early in the morning and drivers have a tendency of doing keliling (Indonesian for "going round") where they spend considerable time combing the streets and scouting for passengers before actually departing.
From Dili to other Districts.
Fares range from US$3 - US$10 depending on distance.
Taxis are one of the best means of transport in and around Dili. Fares are not very steep ($1-3) and there are lots of them! However, you do need to negotiate the price with the driver first before hopping on. There are few taxis in the evening so do expect an extra $1-$3 more on your trip, especially if it's really late and your destination is far.
You can hire a vehicle (Saloon or 4WD) in Dili for around $85-$120 a day from Rentlo or other companies . However, do be prepared for adventure - besides the tricky roads there is the lack of road signs to contend with. It is possible that you will get so caught up with driving that you miss out the great scenery around you.
While in Dili you will need to confine yourself to a speed limit of 40 kph. On open roads you may rev up and touch 50-60 kph. Tourists from the west might find the going slow but that is the maximum speed that can be achieved on Dili roads.
Ensure that you are carrying a valid driving license or permit with you. This can be either from your country or you can have it issued in East Timor. Your license should specify the kind of vehicle you are allowed to drive. Do drive carefully and remember that there is no provision here for third-party motor insurance.
The Oekusi (Oecussi) Enclave, Ataúru (Ataúro) Island and Dili are well connected by ferry. A boat ride to Jaku (Jaco) Island will prove to be a memorable experience. An added attraction here is that the fishermen also cook fish for you on request!
Although there are airports in Baucau, Suai and Oecussi, there is not a regular domestic air service yet within East Timor. There are small MAF planes that can be chartered to fly to these destinations, which are normally utilised for medical evacuations.
Tiger Fuel in Dili, rents motorcycles for $25-35 per day. Motorcycles/scooters are a great way to see the country: you'll be afforded the freedom of traveling wherever you want at any time, and will have a rather small responsibility in terms of a bike to park over night. Bungee cords may be purchased from Star Moto in Baucau to fasten your luggage to the bike.
Tetum and Portuguese are the official languages, but Indonesian which is widely spoken, and English which is very limited, are working languages according to the constitution. There are also about 37 indigenous languages, of which Tetum, Galole, Mambae, and Kemak are spoken by significant numbers of people.
A person who is proficient in Indonesian and Portuguese can get around quite easily. Don't expect to understand locals' conversations though.
Carnival de Timor is the annual festival held in Dili in middle of April (sometimes in May, depending on rain season). Initiated by the Ministry of Tourism  in 2010, Carnival de Timor is all about fun, music and multiculturalism. Both modern and traditional costumes, East Timorese and foreign minorities, even embassies also participate in this annual festival. The parade start in a landmark and end in Palacio do Governo, greeted by bands and award for best dressed group. The crowd continued to dance into the night with live music and other carnival attractions.
Tourists in East Timor are a rare breed. Simply traveling from village to village, you're likely to hear choruses of "malae" (the East Timorese word for foreigner) and folks will want to engage you in conversation. One could spend several days just enjoying the feeling of being a very welcome stranger.
East Timor is located at the end of the Indonesian archipelago, north of Darwin, Australia and at the base of the Coral Triangle, which hosts the highest diversity of coral and reef fish species on earth.
East Timor offers a rich cultural heritage spun from tens of thousands of years of human habitation, the Portuguese and Indonesian colonial periods, and from the depths of a society which has cultural traditions as the fabric of that bonds society together.
East Timor is well positioned for community-based ecotourism, which has been written into the nation’s tourism strategic plan. The Nino Konis National Park (situated in the eastern part of the country) is a well protected area and considered as some of the last surviving zones of tropical lowland rainforest in the world with rich coastal environment. The national park accommodates bird-watching, diving, trekking and pre-historic archeological sites.
Atauro Island and Jaco Island in Tutuala attract divers, snorkelers and green tourism enthusiasts. Both destinations provide eco-lodge facilities with some support from local NGOs in the region. A must-see attraction is the local divers and fishermen in Atauro, who fish using only traditionally made goggles and spear guns. Atauro is also well known for its distinctive wooden sculptures and is an excellent place to buy variety handicrafts.
For more adventurous tourists, East Timor offers what is simply world class trekking, which can be experienced near places such as Mount Ramelau (± 3000 above sea level), Ainaro, Mt. Matebian (Baucau) and Mt. Kablaki (in Same district), to name a few.
While trekking East Timor, you can keep busy by looking for some of the 260 species of birds on offer (the entire continent of Australia has some 650 resident species), 32 of which are endemic and 8 of which are exclusive to the island of Timor and found nowhere else in the world.
For example, the Timor Bush Warbler was recognized as a distinct species as recently as 2001 and it is likely that the elusive montane species can be found in the hills of East Timor. The Bush Warbler is one of the many endemic birds that will be the focus for intrepid birdwatchers coming to TL.
Portuguese fortresses, churches and other monuments are scattered throughout the nation. For history enthusiasts, East Timor's resistance tourism which worth exploring are the Xanana Gusmao’s (current Prime Minister of East Timor) hiding place, Balibo (known for the killing of 5 journalists by the Indonesian soldiers), Santa Cruz (known for a massacre in 1991), Japanese caves in Baucau and many more.
Coffee had been the main export commodity for East Timor since the colonial period. To visit East Timor is to taste its coffee grown in several regions such as Ermera, Maubisse, Manufahi and Liquisa. Travel to the coffee plantations takes you through winding mountainous roads, until over 1,000m above sea level altitude, cool climate (as low as 15C), and greeted by smiling farmers who are more than willing to welcome you to their homes. Other alternative is to contact one of the organizations dealing with coffee for a field visit to their cooperative farmer member's coffee plantation. They are: CCT/NCBA, ELSAA Cafe, Timor Global, Timor Corp, Peace Winds, PARC-IC and Alter Trade Timor.
Timor's coffee is now well known across the world and amongst organic coffee drinkers. It is now even sold in Starbucks Seattle as 'Arabia Timor' brand. Several organizations are promoting East Timorese coffee as Fair Trade Coffee in U.S., Japan and South Korea. One Japanese coffee expert praised about Timor's coffee as, 'one of the remaining original species in the world today.' (Horiguchi-san, 2005).
East Timor has some of the best scuba diving in the world, and this is a major draw for tourists with East Timor shore diving becoming known worldwide amongst the diving community. Pristine beaches and coral reefs stand in stark contrast to one of the poorest populations on Earth.
General Diving Information
Dili offers the diver some great close dives. Only 5 min from the center of town is Pertamina Pier. One of East Timors best dives for critters, octopus and schooling Barracudas.
10 min west of Dili is Dili Rock (east & west). This is one of Timor's most dived sites as it acts as the main training dive site. Known for it's easy access and great conditions Dili East also offers great opportunities to see Leaf Scorpion fish, Angler fish and Ghost pipe fish.
As you head further West towards Liquica you come to such dive sites as Bubble beach (known for its amazing bubble fields and spectacular deep dive) the gravel pit and devil ray point.
East of Dili divers can experience shore diving at its best. Easy access along the coast allows divers safe entry to great wall dives. Secret garden, K41, Bob's Rock and Lone Tree are some of the amazing dives that can be done within an hour of Dili. Approximately 40 min East of Dili the diving starts and continues as far as Com some 200km away.
The variety of dives along this stretch of road is endless yet K41 and shark point are among the favourites of the local divers.
Without a doubt, Atauro Island is East Timor's most pristine diving area. Around the island is a large variaty of dives suitable for every level! Visibility is always excellent, and the abundancy of fish life and coral is simply overwhelming. Our dive masters will be more than happy to show you the hidden secrets of Atauro's underwater world.
Detailed Dive Site Information
Dive Sites of Timor-Leste contains detailed descriptions of most popular dive sites, with links to maps and scuba resources, provided by long-time divers in the country.
Marine Life of East Timor
The US Dollar is the legal tender currency in East Timor and all transactions are in dollars. Banks and a few ATMs can be found in Dili. East Timor issued coins denominated in centavos and are not the same size as U.S coins, although U.S. coins are widely accepted.
What to buy
Aromatic coffee beans and colourful hand-woven cloth called Tais are the two items that should be on your must-buy list when shopping in East Timor. All convenience stores and even some roadside stalls sell excellent coffee. Just as Scottish clans have specific patterns for their tartans, families in East Timor have Tais in specific patterns and colours.
Roasted coffee beans will be a great gift item. Note, some countries are strict rules about importing any food item.
East Timorese coffee is grown organically and tastes fabulous. Coffee was introduced in East Timor by the Portuguese. The local way of making coffee is to roast the coffee beans till they turn black and let out a great aroma. Low acidity levels ensure the excellent taste of East Timorese coffee.
A few of the coffee varieties like robusta have very high levels of caffeine. A late night cuppa might keep you up for hours, which might put you in a fix, as East Timor doesn't have nightlife options outside of Dili.
Be sure to buy your coffee in a traditional market rather than Dili's grocery stores, where the product will often be pre-ground and very stale.
Tais come in different designs and colours, depending on the region they are from, and they represent a distinct family. In Dili you should visit the Tais market to buy Tais and local silver jewellery. Tais can also be bought from street vendors. Local Handicrafts
The other items that will interest you are ethnic woodcarvings, batik cloth and embroidered fabrics sporting regional patterns. The ethnic woodcarvings available here are somewhat like the ones you might get in Africa.
A market can be found in every main town on the island. You may not find the huge array of shops in East Timor that you are accustomed to. These markets, however, cater amply to local needs. The marketplaces give the locals a chance to meet and interact with others on a daily basis. A walk through an East Timorese market will help you learn about the local produce of the region. Tourists attract a lot of attention so be prepared to be stared at. Also expect to be overcharged as many tourists before you have paid exorbitant prices willingly.
Along the waterfront, you will find many fruit stalls. These stalls are mostly run by women and are stocked with delicious local fruits. The papayas, mangoes and bananas are really tempting; make it a point to try out any unfamiliar local variety.
The East Timorese, like the Indonesians, have a staple diet of rice and spices. The East Timorese palate includes a taste for several international cuisines in addition to the traditional East Timorese cuisine. Portuguese, Indonesian, Chinese, Italian, Western, Japanese and Thai cuisine have made their presence felt in East Timor. Significant numbers of foreigners living and working in East Timor ensure a loyal clientele for these restaurants.
The staple food in East Timor is rice. Commonly grown food crops include taro, cassava, sweet potatoes and maize. Beans, cabbage, cowpeas, onions, tomatoes and spinach are well-liked vegetables. People also rear poultry, goats and pigs. Fish forms an important part of the diet and acts as a supplement to any meal. Most traditional East Timorese recipes use a generous dose of spices. Mangoes, watermelons, papayas, bananas and coconuts are the most commonly cultivated fruits here. Carbohydrates like sago or other grains form the main dish for many a East Timorese meal.
Fried fish is a very popular dish, with prawns being considered a delicacy. Curries are a standard dish, with chicken curry topping the list as a favourite. Several authentic Indonesian, Japanese, Portuguese and Chinese dishes find favour with many East Timorese.
Coffee is grown organically in East Timor and the level of caffeine in this variety is very high. Those looking for something other than coffee can have beer, which is widely available in both pubs and restaurants in East Timor.
Bills presented in East Timorese restaurants do not have a service charge added to them and tipping is not mandatory. If you feel like tipping, you can tip 10% as a guide.
Restaurants in East Timor and local food joints around this new nation offer the traditional Asian curries with their fragrant spice pastes and fried accompaniments. The East Timorese local restaurants specialise in fresh grilled fish and excellent curries, and also provide a chance to fully experience local cuisine and hospitality. Local food also lends itself to Papuan influences, so you will find yam and sweet potato on the menu when you stop at rural food stalls.
Numerous beachfront bars and nightclubs provide the nightlife in Dili. Both food and drinks are served and the bars/nightclubs are kept open till late. Some very nice inner city restaurants include Nautilaus, Diya, Ocean View Hotel and Gion Japanese Restaurant. In the Meti Aut area is the newly renovated Atlantic Bar and Grill which is arguably amongst the best service and quality in Timor. Another is the Caz Bar where kayaks can be hired late in the night and a barbeque serves fried fish and all the beach side meals such as sizzling garlic prawns, hamburgers and a large range of cold beer.
Dili has a wide range of hotels at every price level.
Outside of Dili, there are really only two other bona fide hotels in the country, at Baucau and at Com. However, there are plenty of creative options if you don't insist on luxury, and these range from guesthouses to convents to camping.
East Timor continues to face sporadic internal ethnic & political tension and related violence may occur. This may not be targeted at foreigners or tourists, but follow the guidelines below. During periods where this is not an issue, remember you are travelling in a very poor country, and crimes such as assault and theft do occur: There is still a considerable international presence in East Timor, including a United Nations mission and international police and military (mostly conducting capacity building and training for national security forces).
The Canadian Foreign Affairs department warned on June 22, 2010: "Violence or demonstrations may affect transportation routes and land border crossings as well as flights in and out of Dili’s airport. Disturbances have occurred in the vicinity of Dili’s Comoro airport, areas surrounding internally displaced persons camps, and at food storage warehouses. There has been continuing gang-related violence, arson, robbery, and vandalism. Gangs in Dili have attacked cars with stones and darts fired from slingshots, particularly during the early evening and at night. Local taxis should not be used. Travellers should avoid armed irregular groups, including martial arts groups that may be resident throughout the country. Travellers are advised to avoid unnecessary local travel and exercise extreme caution."
Foreigners or tourists have been the target for violence in East Timor, travelers should be responsible and adhere to standard precautions as in any developing country. Remember you are traveling in a poor country, and crimes such as assault and theft do occur. The key to avoid such crime is to apply common sense and reduce your exposure to possible opportunity crime such as:
East Timor Travel advisories
Hospitals and Doctors
There are hospitals in main centers, and clinics in many sub-districts elsewhere but medical care is not up to dealing with sustained or complex medical emergencies. Medical evacuation is often the only option in the case of complex surgery, trauma, or major illness. Travellers are strongly advised not to enter East Timor without some form of medical insurance which will cover medivac by air ambulance, be this travellers insurance from your travel agent or an employer if you are entering for professional reasons.
Dili - Dili National Hospital, located in Bidau Santana.
Pante Makassar, Oecussi - located in town near the port
East Timor was devastated by the Indonesian occupation that may have killed up to 200,000 East Timorese (or 1/5th of the population). Many East Timorese were forced to abandon their traditional animist beliefs for Roman Catholicism to integrate as part of Indonesia, as Indonesia does not recognize traditional beliefs. Remember this sad fact when dealing with the East Timorese as the occupation will probably not be a distant memory for those who hold it. Speaking well of Suharto's Orde Baru or of the idea of East Timor becoming part of Indonesia may not be well received by the East Timorese people. Many East Timorese are sympathetic or even outright nostalgic about the period of Portuguese rule over East Timor, where they were generally left to their own devices by the Portuguese colonial government. As with discussing politics abroad in all places, if you aren't sure a discussion about sensitive topics will go over well, don't bring it up.
Timor Telecom  has a monopoly on landline and mobile phone services in East Timor, and charges accordingly; expect to pay up to US$3/minute for international calls into East Timor. Calls out of the country are far cheaper with on average 40cents/minute to Australia, Indonesia, Portugal and USA.
It is recommended that you buy a local prepaid sim card for US$3 on arrival from any Timor-Telecom store (there is one in Timor Plaza  on way into town from the airport). Local prepaid SIM cards can also be purchased from street peddlers but at a higher price. Once the prepaid sim card is activated, you can top up the credit by purchasing "Pulsa" top-up strips from street peddlers. Please remember that whilst international phones work in East Timor, the global roaming fees are very hefty, hence the recommendation to purchase a cheap phone package, even for a short visit.
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.
Emergency Contact Numbers
UNPOL Emergency (Police Emergency): ☎ 112 or 7723 0635 SOS Emergency Medivac: ☎ +61 2 93722468 Dili National Hospital: ☎ 3311008 Bombeiros Fire Rescue: ☎ 3312210 ext 203 / 3324019 Timor Ambulance:☎ 7723 6662, 3311044 Dili National Ambulance, Emergency: ☎ 3310541
UNMIT Telephone Switchboard Nos:
From East Timor: ☎ +670 330 4100 From New York: ☎ +1 212 963 0099
Internet in East Timor is slow and limited. Timor Telecom holds the monopoly for this as well, and tries to block voice-over-IP services like Skype.
Internet cafes are available throughout Dili, Baucau, and some other smaller cities: look for Timor Telecom outlets.