North coast of Timor Leste was my goal while visiting this mysterious country. I went all the way from the west starting in Maubara until Jaco Island including Atauro Island, for which I dedicated a separate article. North coast of Timor Leste will be an interesting destination for those who like snorkeling or diving as Timor is famous for one of the most rich underwater life in the world. In this post I will recommend places worth to stop and mention those which are not so interesting.
What to visit on the North Coast of Timor Leste?
Timor Leste is the less visited destination in South East Asia. This new country still struggles with many problems including economy, politics and environmental issues. Talking about the environment Timor Leste is country with unique culture, which belive to be ancestors of the crocodiles. Dangers of facing the 6m long crocodile scares tourists and doesn’t help Timor in rebuilding the tourism industry.
Along the North coast of Timor Leste, I have seen lots of beautiful beaches and gorgeous views. However, not all of them are worth heading, especially taking into consideration horrible Timorese roads. I hope this article and photos will help you deciding where to go and where not.
I started trip from the very west of the north coast of Timor Leste. I went to see the Maubara fort which was built by Dutch in the 17th century. When I arrived there I saw the big wall made out of the limestone. The gate was closed and locals told me it will open soon so I decided to wait in the only cafe in the village, near the beach. After over an hour of waiting I finally entered the gate and got to meet a huge disappointment. There was nothing inside but little wooden house which is a restaurant and souvenirs shop. The wall is the only remain after the old fort and there is nothing much to see accept the old canon facing the sea. Next to the fort, or rather next to the wall, there are few stands with local hand-crafts if you are interested in shopping and a little church. Overall, I would recommend skipping Maubara as there is nothing much to see and better places for the beach lovers.
Heading east towards Dili I stopped in Liquiçá which is popular for the nice and long beach. Plenty of Timorese come here during the weekend as it’s not far from the capital.
Dili – capital of Timor Leste
Dili is a small city but as lots of people come here for visa run from Bali, it’s quite popular to visit. Walking along the promenade in the center will give you first impressions about the country. Portugeese buildings, Government Palace, port and very few shops. Lots of buildings were destroyed during the Indonesian aggression in 1999. You can easily visit Dili in one day, walk around the center, try local grilled fish and take a bus to the Cristo Rei. The statue of Jesus stands on the hill from where you can admire view at the whole Dili and swim in the beach near by. There is a local bus nr 10 going there from the center and ticket will cost around 50 centavos.
If you came to Timor Leste for snorkeling or diving, you will be more than satisfied about your experience. You can book a tour in Dili for around 100$ per dive or come for few days to Atauro Island, north from Dili, which is a paradise for divers.
If you are looking for more of a local experience, come to the street market where locals come to sell vegetables and fruits. When I travel, I love to go to places like that, on the market there is the real life, life of simple people. You will see the poverty and simplicity which Timorese live.
Just next to it, on the right you can have a glimpse at the Timorese national sport – cockfights. There is a little square on the right of the market, where locals come with their pupils to practise fighting and if you are lucky you will see the real fight for real money. Even though I am totally against using animals for any reason, I was curious to see the real cockfight for the first time in my life. It’s shocking to see that something cruel like that can be a source of entertainment and big money.
Heading east from Dili you will most likely have break in Baucau – the second biggest city in Timor Leste. There are few Portugese buildings, from which the most popular and beautiful is Pousada de Baucau – currently used as a hotel. There is also local market with simple stands, church, swimming pool and Portugeese school. If you are renting a car, you can go down to the beach in the village Osolata (be aware of the crocodiles) with stunning rock formations. If you go little bit towards the east you will see beautiful view at the coastline from the top of the hill.
Heading towards the Jaco Island you have two ways: a bit better road turns right in Lautem in the direction to Lospalos and the worse one goes through Com. This way will provide you with breathtaking views but you will suffer taking the road south towards the Jaco Island as it’s in really poor condition.
Finally, the Jaco Island is the most beautiful place in Timor Leste. It’s a mystic island and has very important place in Timorese culture. Jaco Island is untouched paradise where no one lives as Timorese prefer not to step on this sacred place. Timorese belive that the country has a shape of the crocodile, same with the mountains visible from the Jaco Island.
The island is very tiny and there is nothing on there. It’s forbidden to camp there or build anything so the island stays virgin with it’s stunning turquoise water. Even animals from Jaco Island cannot be killed. As country struggles with poverty most of the wildlife of Timor Leste is basically eaten, but on the Jaco Island you can still find monkeys and rare birds.
There is accommodation on the nearest beach, and fishermen will help you to get to the island by boat. Thinking about the conditions they provide, they make a lot of money there! The boat will cost you 10$ for a 5 min ride by a fisherman boat. There are only 2 options for accommodation. First one are bungalows with very simple conditions, standing on the wooden stilts. Toilet is shared. You will pay around 20$ per night. The second one is more expensive and with better conditions. You can get room for around 45$.
How to travel around Timor Leste?
Timor Leste isn’t easy to travel. Roads are in very bad condition, and every destination will take you much more time and energy than you expect. Nowadays Chinese company working on construction of the roads, so it’s a big mess but going in a good direction.
The easiest, but the most expensive way to travel in Timor Leste would be renting a car. There are public buses which are cheap but for instant, they won’t go to Tutuala (next to the Jaco Island) until you pay around 45$ extra… Traveling between the bigger towns such as Dili, Baucau or Lospalos is easy.
Hitch-hiking is also a good option, as you can try to get to any place where there is no public transportation. However, I was not feeling safe hitch-hiking there. Timor Leste is a new country, and bloody war still carries the remains and sometimes I had the feeling people don’t want me there. Some of them smile, some give me angry look but it’s absolutely not recommended for the woman to walk alone at night. Besides I heard storied about a Korean girl raped in the public bus during the day. I wouldn’t advice hitch-hiking there, but if you decide or you are left without choice, be very careful.
Is it worth to travel along the north coast of Timor Leste?
Timor Leste is a very interesting country, full of mystery and legends. If you travel along the north coast of Timor Leste, you will see lots of traditional houses made out of wood and straw. You will notice sacred houses standing on the high stilts. They are called uma lulik. I saw many of those on the north coast of Tomor Leste. These holy huts symbolize a link between the past and present, the dead and the living. It’s the place where people can connect with their dead relatives.
To be honest, I didn’t see as beautiful places in Timor Leste as I saw in their neighbour country Indonesia or any other from couth east Asia. No wonder why, it’s one of the least visited countries in the world. However, this unique culture is a great tourist drive as I have never been in such a mysterious land. In conclusion, traveling along Timor is the best way to discover their culture and learn about traditions. The good thing about the growing tourism industry in Timor Leste, is the introduction of responsible tourism. More and more places in Asia which care about the environment and Timor is becoming one of them. You can find more eco-friendly lodges or resorts and discover the nature of the country.
As always I highly recommend using couch surfing as the best way to discover the country and its culture. Because of recent dramatic history Timorese people don’t trust and open for strangers easily. Entering Timorese family house with a couch surfer would be the greatest way to get to know about them.