Timor-Leste: Emerging tourist hotspot

The white sand beach of Areia Branca near Dili

After decades of political strife, the East Timor Republic has refreshed efforts to welcome eco-tourists and adventure seekers – you should visit this new frontier

The white sand beach of Areia Branca near Dili
The white sand beach of Areia Branca near Dili
Keep your eyes peeled for Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor. Timor-Leste’s capital city and port, Dili, is undergoing transformation in a bid to attract more visitors.

The rich cultural heritage of the Timorese culminates in a melting pot of cuisines – Chinese, Mediterranean and Thai, on top of the Portuguese and Indonesian dishes. This results in an interesting mix, and curry is a hot favourite!

About 85 per cent of the population relies on subsistence farming. Timor-Leste’s colonial past is reflected in the imposing government buildings in the city of Dili. Still a frontier in many ways, many streets here are unnamed.

You might wonder how mail is delivered.

Via rented post boxes at the Post Office, of course!

Busy Dili

Taxis are plentiful in Dili during the day, charging US$5 for a 6-km trip to the airport. Most villagers, however, hop on the mikrolet (mini-buses) which shuttles between cities and villages.

Around mid-April or early May, the streets of Dili come alive with music, songs and dance of the Carnival de Timor – a multicultural parade sanctioned by the tourism ministry. The all-day merry-making peters out into the night and every participant goes home happy.

You can buy tropical fruits from stalls manned by women at Dili’s waterfront. Nightspots keep the area busy until late.

The city jewel is the air-conditioned Timor Plaza shopping complex, housing a food court and a hotel with free Wi-Fi and even airport shuttle.

A padi field right next to a lush rainforest
A padi field right next to a lush rainforest

Adventure Seekers

Endowed with a tropical climate, Timor-Leste will also appeal to adventure seekers. Divers can check out cool diving sites off Ataúro Island and the Ombai Strait; hikers can take on challenging trails up the highlands, where a mountain belt dominates the forest landscape.

Another tourist draw is the white-sand beaches which hug the shoreline near Dili. This is a unique paradise.

Eye on Ecotourism

The land’s rich biodiversity in its eastern region opens up fresh opportunities for ecotourism. The protected Nino Konis Santana National Park covers 124,000ha of tropical rainforest and pre-historic archaeological sites. It is also a bird sanctuary for rare and endemic species.

A plethora of marine life, including coral reefs, thrives beneath the waters of Ombai Strait. This beauty can only be described in so many words. You have to see and experience this frontier for yourself.

Air Timor (under Silkair) flies thrice weekly from Singapore to Dili. On arrival at Dili Airport, you have to fill in and submit a tourist visa application form with US$30 (cash). An airport departure tax of US$10 (cash) is payable upon exit.

By Harry Tan