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Portuguese flavoured East Timor became the newest country in the world when it was finally granted its official independence in 2002. Due to that face and the political turmoil its found itself in, this country is almost untouched by tourism so if you’ve been in South East Asia a while and you’ve had your fill of full-moon parties, tubing and Buddhist temples then East Timor will certainly offer you something completely different…

Jesus Statue East Timor,   dili

I spent a couple of weeks in East Timor and, aside from the odd group demonstration and presidential assassination attempt (:P), it’s completely safe to visit. That’s a bit tongue-in-cheek to be honest, it’s true that there still lies a level of tension in East Timor due to political and ethnic clashes but nothing to be overly concerned about. Tourists aren’t a target so as long as you keep away from gathering crowds and political demonstrations you’ll be safe as houses. Locals are used to seeing foreigners (read: white people) thanks to the huge UN and other NGOs presence so although the place rarely gets visited by tourists as such, the Timorese won’t be shocked by you being there.

Due to the massive UN and NGO presence East Timor is an (unfortunately) perfect example of a false economy, artificially inflated thanks to foreign salaries pouring into the ex-pat population so East Timor is not dirt cheap to travel in. That being said, it’s still not London or Tokyo but you’ll need to budget at least $25 a day during your stay.

Things to see and do in East Timor? There are a few things of note, if you have a week or two to spend here, here are the things I’d say are absolute musts:

Dili Waterfront: Dili, the capital city of East Timor, is a charming city with a definite twist of Portuguese. The city centre boasts a nice waterfront where you can wander along, as you get to the end you’ll be facing the new East Timor Government building.

The Jesus Statue, Cape Fatacuma: ‘Cristo Rei’, as it’s locally known, was built by the Indonesians in a bid to appease the Timorese, but its height – 27 metres – was a spiked reference to East Timor’s status (until 1999) as Indonesia’s 27th province. Don’t let that detract from the awesome sight to behold though – it’s said to be the second largest Christ statue in the world (second to Christ the Redeemer in Rion, Brazil) and offers a very cool hike to the summit of the hill that it’s on. You can jump in a cab from the city centre to get here for around $2 and then start climbing! The views from the top are beautiful and there’s a great beach behind the hill so reward yourself with a dip in the azure blue waters when you get back down

The view from the Jesus statue

jesus statue dili,   east timor

Atauro Island: The island is about 30km from Dili’s shore and is accessible through the Berlin Nakroma ferry (only runs once a week on a Saturday for $5 so try to charter a boat from a local fisherman, about $10). The lure of island are the dolphins and pilot that you are almost guaranteed to see, and the diving which are said to be amongst the best in asia if not the world.

atauro island,   east timor

The Santa Cruz Cemetery, Rua Santa Cruz , Santa Cruz: A poignant remembrance to the recent tragedies they have had to endure. The cemetery marks the spot of one of the massacres carried out by the Indonesians, but this one was captured by a British journalist, and effectively marked the beginning of the end of the Indonesian occupation. A truly key spot in Timor’s recent history.

The Santa Cruz Cemetary east timor

Beaches: The best local beach is Areia Branca (‘White Sands’), where the Purple Cow bar/restaurant attracts a crowd in the evening. You can to the Jesus statue from here with any problem. Another great beach is Pasir Putih (‘white sand’ in Indonesian) – a real hidden gem,   it’s situated very close to Dili . Also, there is a beautiful hidden beach in Com which you can ask about and finally the beaches on Atauro are breathtaking too.

beaches in East tIMOR

beaches in East Timor


Scuba: East Timor is seriously on the scuba map these days with some of the best diving in the world so if you’re a scuba aficionado, you’re going to love this place! There are so many dive spots here and a couple of great dive companies, it’s all very easy to sort out  Dili.


Trekking: There are a handful of mountains reaching over 3000 feet and the trekking is great fun. Again ask at Dili backpackers and they will help you arrange everything.

trekking in east timor

East Timor:

Budget: $25 per day

Food: On the street you can eat for around $2 for light meals. If you visit a restaurant of pub, you’ll be looking at prices of $5+ for anything substantial.

Accommodation: In Dili, East Timor backpackers ($12 for a dorm) is the best budget option. Expensive hotels are available and horribly overpriced.

Transport: Buses are frequent, if a little dangerous! Roads are run down and the buses are dilapidated. One hour is a bus is around $2 so it’s a fair bit more expensive than Indonesia.

People: Very friendly indeed, I stayed with a family there when I was in a spot of transport bother and they took me under their wing like one of their own.

Language: Portuguese and Tatum, English is not widespread but the international language of charades works fine

Weather: Tropical, averaging around 30 degrees. November to May iswet season and some roads become impassable.

Religion: One of only 2 Roman Catholic countries in Asia (the other being the Philippines)

Currency: US dollars are the legal tender here. There are ATMS that accept international cards so no stress there

Visa: As normal depends on your mode of transport. If you arrive by air or sea, then VOA (visa on arrival) is possible, $30 payment and your down. If, like me, you arrive by land through West Timor then since the recent regulation changes you need to arrange your visa before you arrive. This is pretty easy to arrange in Jakarta when your there if you plan to island hop all the way from there (great, great trip!).

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34 thoughts on “A Backpackers Guide to East Timor

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  4. I discovered your blog by looking info on east timor, super cool, useful info; very nice place to travel to; Some europeans countries get free visa on arrival at dili airport since 2015. cheers

  5. May i use your photo of the Jesus statue on Atauro Island? it will be for a not-for-profit Methodist Church in Saint Louis, MO. i need to advertise for a sermon series called “Who Is This Guy? The Unexpected Work of an Expected Savior.” I would include “photo credit:” on the graphic.

  6. Thanks everyone for visiting our country. Timorese people always welcome you guys to feel, see and enjoy your time here.The situation here is now calm and uder control. If you guys wish to spend don’t worry, I will guide you, show u where u hafta go, who u will go with and other thing..For those who have plan to visit Timor Leste (East Timor) I recommend you to visit, Cristo Rei (Jesus Christ Statue, Liquica Beach, Mountain Matebian and Ramelau, Com Beach Specially Jaco Island that Most tourist who has been spent their time in Jaco, Jaco is most beautiful, the cleanest sea and white sand ever in East Timor). Welcome everybody….if you need any further information please send me email to

  7. Hi! Myself and a group of friends are hoping to head over to Timor for 2-3 weeks. I was just wondering roughly how much your overall trip cost, including flights and any extra you spent on souvenirs, site-seeing and what not? Thanks!

  8. Hi, in a couple of weeks, I’ll be heading to East Timor. I’ll only have a week or so. Do you think that’s enough time to see Dili, climb Mt. Ramelau, and take the coastal road to Baucau? I live on a sailboat that’s based in Bali, and I’ve seen some really beautiful islands. Is Atauro Island super amazing or could I give it a miss? I’m enjoying your website!! Thanks for all the info!!

    1. Hey megan, wow cool trip you have planned! 7 days? you’ll be pushed but if you have a car it’s possible i think, u might be knackered at the end of it but that’s fine 🙂 Atauro is cool but Bali may be better (Aside from all the tourists!). What do u do in Bali?

      1. Hi Johnny, my boyfriend has been sailing around the world for almost 6 years. I joined him in Nov 09, and we’ve been in Bali and sailing around Indo since then. His blog is East Timor is just a quick trip/break for me before we head off to the Maluku Islands w/ the boat. I think I’ll skip Atuaro since I’ll probably be sick of seeing the ocean by the time our next trip is finished lol. We’re looking for crew for our fall trip if you know someone who might be interested. Happy Travels!

        1. 6 years non-stop?? wow! that’s AWESOME! How does he fund it? U need crew for fall, when exactly? Do they need experience? I’d love to get involved if you’re accepting complete novices?! If not, no worries – i wish u all the best, sounds like a great lifestyle 🙂

          1. Novices are prefered crew! I’m still really new to boats too. Shoot me an email at megagirl24 at yahoo, and I’ll give you the scoop.

    2. AHHH! Megan, too bad I read this a year late! I am a novice person looking for a boat to learn to crew in the waters of Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea! Maybe next time.

      Also, thanks for the great tips Johnny. I plan to spend some time in East Timor and I cannot stand relying on guide books. I am traveling alone and it’s been difficult to find any good info on ET. Your information seems pretty useful!

        1. i’m heading to et in just over a week and amoungst the millions of questions i have, i am wondering, what’s the dress code at beaches???? can i finally pull off the bikini since it won’t be in muslim territory or will it still be an uncomfortable white person faux pass?

          1. If you’re careful, you should be fine with a bikini on the beach because you’re most likely to be the only person there!

          2. Hi Chris!!!
            I’m heading to east timor next sept and i’ll be traveling alone too so can you tell about your experience? Do you have any good tips for me? 🙂 (hope you see this….)

  9. Hey Johnny. Nice to see East Timor featuring … The place has my heart as I lived there, traveling in every province from 2000 -2002, working in the field independently, for the UN. So, I’ll add a few more options:

    Los Palos district and further west, for tradition stilt houses. Also few old Portuguese forts in the Lautem / Com area.

    Baucau for colonial architecture, caves, and setting.

    Ainaro for just getting there, amid the mountains. And likewise the road from Suai to Maliana. Or up to Sa’me.

    Some nice beaches, include Ouecssi, Liquica, Tutalla …

    Regards – Michael Robert Powell | the candy trail … a nomad across the planet, since 1988

    1. hey michael,

      thanks for that mate – i only had a week or 2 here so unfortunately i couldn’t explore the whole country. Really interesting country- how long were u based there?

      1. Hi Johnny.

        I was in ET for two years, 2000- 2002 (I arrived by accident – another bizarre travel story, at the tail-end of the violent split from Indonesia) to then find work with the UN.

        Working and living directly with the locals, traveling every 6 weeks to a different province/town, then back to Dili for a week, then out again to another province for 6 weeks, then back to Dili for a week … And amid this, paid overseas breaks within Asia. It was an exciting, relaxed, well-paid travel job … I LOVED MY TIME AMID THE EAST TIMORESE and the experience changed my life.

        Viva Timor Leste !

        1. wow Michael, sounds like an awesome gig u had there! If any more similar jobs come your way, send them my email address 😛

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