Visa: $30 USD for 30 day visa on arrival when entering via the airport. Citizens from a Schengen country can enter Timor-Leste with visa-free access.
Car Documents Required: Vehicle registration papers and Carnet de Passage
Currency: USD - $1 USD = $1.43 AUD
Diesel: We only used one fuel station when filling up in Dili at Tiger Fuel (-8.553996, 125.565821). At the time (2017) the diesel was approx. $1 USD/litre ($1.43 AUD) and could only be paid with cash.
Best time to visit: May - September
This is where we leave our comfort zone of Australia and put the Troopy into a metal box en route for Timor-Leste!
You may not have heard of Timor-Leste as it’s quite a small country which shares an island with Indonesian West Timor. The country itself has had a pretty rough history which is evident through the quality of infrastructure and even its basic cuisine. Thankfully though the East Timorese are very fortunate to have a homeland that is extremely rich in natural beauty, both above and below the water; making it bound to send this beautiful place to become a popular South East Asian tourist destination in the near future.
Arriving in Dili we had planned to spend just a few short days here whilst waiting for the Troopy to arrive. This would not be the case though because as soon as we arrived I received an email saying that the shipping had been delayed by a whole week! Time to reassess our plans as sitting in Dili for a week was not an option…
We decide to jump on the slow ferry to Atauro Island, a small tropical island that sits just to the north of Dili. The ferry does a return trip to the island only on Saturdays and the ticket will set you back $4 each and can be purchased the day before. We were told to get to the dock early as a big line forms. Well it wasn’t so much of a line and more a mass of locals flocking to the tropical island for a day trip. Getting onto the ferry everyone seems to just push and shove until finally you emerge onto the roof deck where you need to quickly find a spot on the ground to sit. A few hours later and you arrive on the eastern side of the island in a village called Beloi. From Beloi we hiked 9km over to the western side of the island to a small village called Adara, where we stayed at Mario’s Place for the next week.
We spent our time here with some new friends, playing cards, reading and most importantly exploring the amazing reef just metres in front of where we slept. There’s no phone signal or electricity here so it was a great opportunity to disconnect and enjoy this piece of paradise with no distractions.
The reef here has recently been changed to a protected zone following the Adara community bringing awareness to the damages of local fishing practices. This means that here you’ll find an abundance of fish and healthy coral. As part of this project divers are charge US $1.50 per day, which is then put towards local projects such as the school.
Following a very relaxing week on Atauro Island, we caught the Saturday ferry back to Dili hoping that the Troopy would be ready to be picked up! Haha well weren’t we in for a surprise! It still hadn’t been unloaded from the ship which then sat anchored in front of our hostel for the next 3 days. For those 3 days we went back and forth to the shipping office to pay some fees as well as organising the Carnet de Passage to be stamped at the customs office. Once we’d got the news that it’d finally been unloaded we went straight to the port to try and get our house back! Of course it wouldn’t be that easy and the crane drivers had put our container 4 rows deep and on the bottom of the pile. With a lot of gentle persuasion we finally got our Troopy back at the end of a very long day!
The checks coming into Timor-Leste were basically non-existent. The customs officer was there when the container was opened though that’s about the extent of their search. I was kicking myself that I didn’t think to bring a few bottles of wine with me from Australia!
We spent the night packing everything back on the roof at Da Terra Hostel and hit the road the next morning, destination Mount Ramalau.
The drive from Dili to Mount Ramalau is only about 90km though it was very slow going as the road is in pretty bad condition. We followed the road as long as we could which included some 4x4. This lead us to a flat parking area at the beginning of the hike a few kilometres past Hato Builico. Here we camped the night for free and woke up at about 3:45 the next morning ready to start our hike to the peak to watch the sunrise.
The trail is mostly pretty straight forward except for one section that it goes off in two directions. We followed maps.me and made it to the top within about an hour. We were really lucky and had perfect weather (albeit extremely windy) and were treated to be a beautiful sunrise over the Timorese mountains.
From Mt Ramelau we drove to the south coast, which to our surprise the road was in pretty good condition compared to the north! There’s not a great deal to see there though the locals are extremely friendly and an eye-opening experience seeing their homes and how basic they are. As Timor-Leste is only a small country we seemed to cover a lot of ground in one day, driving almost the length of the south cost and then heading back north and setting up camp on our way to Baucau where we’d planned to meet up with one of our friends we met on Atauro the following day.
To the north of Baucau is a beautiful stretch of coastline with countless places to set up camp. Here Luca joined us with his tent and after one night in Baucau we kept driving east to the most eastern point of Timor, Tutuala Beach. We had planned to get a boat across to Jaco Island which is just a couple of hundred metres offshore, though the local guys wanted to charge $10 USD each, not per boat. We questioned them and they said we could take 3 boats, 1 person in each, for the same price. This just didn’t make sense to us and we decided it wasn’t worth it. We found a spot on the beach to set up camp a few hundred metres from these local fishermen; here we spent 4 nights having the most relaxing time and we had an amazing coral reef right in front of us with multiple pods of dolphin’s swimming by AND I even seen my first shark!
After a few days here we’d ran out of food which meant we had to head back to Dili which we broke the drive up over two days. If you’re planning on driving out to this part of Timor-Leste make sure you come well stocked as there’s next to nothing here that you can buy!
In Dili we parted ways with Luca and started making our way towards the Indonesian border with a stop at Balibo which is just 10km before the border. We spend a couple of nights here camped next to the 400-year-old fort as we met a lovely Australian woman, Michelle, who has been volunteering in the community for the past few years. I was able to go to a primary school with her and hand out books and pencils which was an exciting and overwhelming experience.
There’s actually a movie about about the fight with the Indonesians here. It’s slightly bias towards the Australian journalist’s which were killed here after they were advised not to go, and doesn’t pay too much attention to the huge number of innocent East Timorese people that were murdered by the Indonesians.
Next stop, the Indonesian border!
Watch the Youtube video!