Ten things to do in Timor-Leste
Climb every mountain
Well okay, you don’t have to climb every peak, but it is well worth trekking to the top of Mount Ramelau, the highest mountain in all of Timor-Leste at 2,963 metres. You need to be fit and adventurous, but for those that put in the effort, the stunning sunrise views from the top are worth it.
Comprising a stunning reef and a dramatic wall, this dive site off Atauro – which as part of an initiative of the island community has been marked as a locally managed marine protected area since late-2017 – has to be on your diving hit list. As well as a stunning array of table corals and terraced staghorn coral, the wall itself is simply mind-blowing, and the chance of encounters with various shark species, mola mola, turtles, eagle rays and, if you are really lucky, a dugong, are the icing on the cake.
To get a taste of the real Timor-Leste, and experience some authentic culture and lifestyle, you have to get out and about. You can do single day-trips to Maubara and Aileu, or get more-adventurous and head off for overnight stays in the likes of Same, Balibo, Baucau, Com, and Jaco Island.
The Lembeh Strait in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, may be renowned for its muck diving, but this site close to Dili can hold its own when it comes to critters. Get your macro lens on and go hunting for seahorses, pygmy pipefish, shrimps, leaf scorpionfish, octopus and much more. It is not all small stuff, though – this is a popular feeding ground for turtles and dugongs, so keep an eye out for these occasional visitors.
Have a coffee break
The coffee produced in Timor-Leste is a very high quality and is exported all over the world. It has been grown organically in the steep highlands for over 200 years, and the ‘coffee forests’ now cover an estimated 52,000 ha. During the main harvest between June and August, you’ll see red coffee cherries drying in the sunshine on the roadside. You can taste this charming drink in many of the various cafes in Dili.
The very name of this Atauro dive site gives you a keen indication of what you are likely to encounter! Big Fish is a thrilling, high-speed drift dive with sometimes very strong currents – meaning it is only suitable for experienced divers – and this water movement can attract all manner of pelagic species, including giant trevally, sharks and barracuda. Topside, it is worth keeping an eye out for large pods of pilot whales and dolphins during your surface intervals.
Take to the trails
The stunning scenery and network of tracks criss-crossing the entire country means you can experience everything from a coastal stroll to more-strenuous multi-day mountain hikes. Hire a local guide and head off to explore – particular hotspots include Lautem, Oecusse, Maliana and Atauro, and on the Horta Loop hike, you can visit the iconic statue of Cristo Rei atop Cape Fatucama – Timor-Leste’s version of Christ the Redeemer.
A boat dive off the east coast, Black Rock is famed for its unique topography – a wall accessible from the beach drops off to well over 100m, and can often be swept by strong currents, especially in the shallows. However, this does mean that experienced divers are treated to a gorgeous display of a diverse range of coral, various species of schooling fish, and the chance of pelagic encounters, including thresher sharks.
Have a whale of a time
The nutrient-rich waters around Timor-Leste attract a wide variety of large mammals, and if you venture out on a whale-watching expedition, especially during migration season from October to December, you can see anything from dolphins and pilot whales to orca, sperm and even blue whales.
On your bike!
The mountainous nature of Timor-Leste means that the territory is perfect for some high-octane mountain biking, and in fact it is host to one of the world’s toughest mountain bike races every year – the Tour de Timor. Stick to the flatter coastal areas if you want to take it easy, but for a real challenge head into the hills.