Top Dive Sites
Most of the diving operations and dive sites are located around Dili itself and Atauro Island, and as you can imagine, there are a multitude to choose from, but we have selected some of the top sites that you absolutely have to explore.
This reef has been described as one of the most-biodiverse reef systems on the planet, and it has to be said that the coral architecture – comprising stunning hard coral tables and terracing staghorn gardens – is simply stunning. As well as the vibrant soft and hard corals and sponges, myriad varieties of reef fish can be seen, along with all manner of macro life, not to mention turtles, banded sea kraits, eagle rays and even, if you are lucky, the elusive dugong.
Located alongside the reef, is a deep wall smothered in coral growth, in particular vast table coral formations in the mid-section along with seafans, sponges and sea whips. As well as the colourful and impressive coral growth on an immense wall that leaves even veteran divers open-mouthed, expect to encounter schools of snapper, sweetlips and jacks, as well as the occasional hammerhead, blacktip, silvertip or grey reef shark, or other pelagic species, such as mola mola.
This thrilling drift dive is only for experienced divers, but those with the necessary skills and abilities will be blown away by this ripper off the southwest end of Atauro. Thanks to the swift water movement, you have much higher chances of seeing big fish – hence the name! The list is endless – Napoleon wrasse, barracuda, giant trevally and sharks all put in an appearance, while on the surface you can see superpods of pilot whales, Risso’s dolphins and melon-headed whales.
Often touted as one of the prettiest dive sites on the whole of Atauro, Iliana promises a wide variety of coral and fish species. The dramatic wall is home to schooling sweetlips, snapper and unicornfish, while the occasional pelagic can also put in an appearance.
This extensive reef system of hard and soft corals features both a sloping terrace and an impressive drop-off. Along the sheer wall are many overhangs, caverns and swim-throughs which attract vast numbers of shoaling fish, from red bass, midnight and twin-spot snapper to grouper. In the shallows, endless streams of neon fusiliers are preyed upon by blue-fin trevally, and black-and-redtooth triggerfish fill the water column in constant movement. Keep an eye out for the smaller stuff, too – the macro life is equally stunning. Expect invertebrates such as skeleton shrimp, crinoid shrimp, mantis shrimp and hairy squat lobster, as well as winged pipefish, leaf scorpionfish, frogfish and an array of nudibranchs.
Atauro dive sites tend to be characterised by sheer walls, but Coral Garden – again, the name kind of gives it away! – offers different topography, and the very large and old but still healthy corals that dominate are the undoubted highlights on this reef.
Like Big Fish, this dive site is reserved for more-experienced divers, as it is often exposed to strong currents. The reef system comprises of extensive ancient hard coral bommies peppered across a wide field of white sand that leads to an abrupt corner and drop-off. You can see swirling tornadoes of schooling barracuda, roaming groups of large bumphead parrotfish, not to mention hammerhead sharks. In the shallows towards the end of the dive, you can find garden eels and several species of ray on the sand. Pods of melon-headed whales, spinner and bottlenose dolphins can often be encountered enroute to the dive site. An added bonus – the village of Akrema, with its pristine white-sand beach, is the perfect setting for a surface interval – and some of the best fresh coconuts ever!
This is a classic muck dive located close to Dili. It is excellent for smaller critters such as seahorses, pygmy pipefish, shrimps, octopus, leaf scorpionfish and so on. It is also known as a feeding ground for dugongs, so while you might be concentrating on searching for the small stuff, keep an eye out underwater or on the surface for a dugong sighting. It is also a prime night dive spot, when you can find bobtail squid and coconut octopus.
This boat dive just five minutes from Dili makes for an exciting, adrenaline-fuelled dive for experienced divers. As you explore around the pinnacle, which starts in around 12m-14m and drops to over 40m, you can see turtles, whitetip reef sharks, jacks and schooling barracuda, but remember to scour the wall too, as you can find all manner of nudibranchs and other little critters. On a lucky day you might even see dolphins, eagle rays or a sailfish.
Lone Tree (also known as Anemone City)
A one-and-a-half hour drive out of Dili, this shore dive can be done as a day trip. It offers gorgeous corals and unusual topography, and as well as the usual selection of reef dwellers, and a massive anemone garden in the shallow sections, you can also see the occasional big trevally or tuna off the deep wall a short distance from the sloping reef.
Just one hour out of Dili – or 41km, hence the name! – this is another easily accessible shore dive, and it is also popular with snorkellers as well as divers. Unusually for a shore dive, this actually becomes a true drop-off within a short distance, and as well as beautiful soft corals in the shallows, there is the chance of whitetip reef sharks deeper down on the wall itself, not to mention a great muck dive with frogfish, leaf scorpionfish and nudibranchs.
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.
Maubara is located on the west coast of Dili about a one and a half hour drive away. As you enter the water, expect great visibility, and marvel as the white pebbles transform into a colourful reef full of life.
This dive site can be a challenge with some current, but it can be rewarding too! It is a real ‘fishy’ dive site, where there is the potential to see giant trevallies, Spanish mackerel and turtles. Like many sites there is also a great chance to see nudibranchs, shrimps and stunning coral.
The corals are big and bold structures – look out for lobster hiding within – and in the shallows vast swathes of soft coral look like a flower garden, yet as you descend it quickly changes to a bed of barrel sponges, whip coral and sand that seems to go on for miles. This continuous change of scenery highlights the diversity of the reefs here in Timor-Leste, and this place in particular will continue to surprise you.