Timor Leste is very much off the beaten track. It is South East Asia’s newest country, with Timor Leste only gaining it’s full independence in 2002 after the Indonesian Invasion in 1975. After two weeks in the country, I only met two other tourists. TWO! I met a lot of Malay’s (foreigners) working in Dili and surrounding districts, in fact I’ve never had such a good social life whilst travelling and met some of the most interesting people I’ve ever come across all bringing their skills to help develop Timor Leste. So, it’s quite clear that if you choose to come here as a tourist at the moment you will be in the minority. It’s an exciting time but a frustrating time also, tourism is still very much in it’s infancy. Come with an open mind, time and a little understanding of the political history of the country so you can understand why the country is how it is. I still miss the wide smiles, waves and constant “bon dia’s”.
Here’s my practical guide to visiting the capital Dili.
At time of writing there are currently only three direct flights into Dili. You can fly from Darwin, Kupang or Denpasar. The direct flight from Singapore has ceased operating. There is talk about a new direct route between Dili and Hong Kong but there isn’t a date of when that may start yet. Since the beginning of 2019, flights from Denpasar have tripled in price which now makes the country quite an expensive visa run for those wanting to stay on in Indonesia.
You can travel overland between Kupang in West Timor and Dili. Paradise Travel runs a bus service. It takes approximately 12 hours and costs $23. If you’re travelling Kupang to Dili you need to have arranged your Timor Leste visa in advance. If you’re travelling Dili to Kupang check with your local embassy whether you can obtain a visa free on arrival or ask Paradise Travel. I flew in and out of the country. Contact Paradise by phone: Tel (+670) 7728 6673 (Dili), (+62) 3944 71543 (Kupang).
The local currency is US dollars and is purely a cash country. Get your cash before you arrive, make sure it’s in five dollar bills upwards (keep your bills small and new). You will get change in centavos coins. 100 centavos = 1 dollar. There is a cash point at the airport and I’ve seen several in Dili but they are all VISA. Mastercard isn’t accepted (at the moment, apparently it is coming, but unknown when), of course both of my cards are Mastercard.
Always check with your local Embassy for up to date advice on your visa regulations for your country. At the moment, all European Union countries are visa free for up to 90 days, EXCEPT for the UK or Ireland. A taste of many things to come I suppose. Visa is $30 and if you’re flying into Dili then you can apply on arrival, if you’re coming overland from West Timor then you need to apply in advance. On arrival you complete a landing card which asks how long you are intending to stay. If you say 7 days, your visa will only be for 7 days. So if you’re unsure how long you will be, say 30 days so your visa will cover you for the whole time. I wrote down 2 weeks and immigration said “no”. I thought I was going to be on the next flight back to Darwin when in fact she kindly said that it wouldn’t be long enough and wrote 30 days on my visa instead.
TRANSPORT FROM AIRPORT
A taxi from the airport is $10 USD. You can get a microlet (local minivans) from outside the airport, but I personally would advise any first time visitor to get a taxi. Airport taxi’s are fixed rates, check at the counter when you get to the arrivals hall, after customs.
I was going to try and go dark and not be connected but who am I kidding? I love being connected. How else can I update my Instagram stories?! WiFi is a rare thing and having a local number to text people to arrange accommodation is very useful. I got my local SIM from Timor Telecom on the side of Hotel Timor (quite a central point), or you can get one from Timor Plaza on your way in from the airport (but check opening times). You pay $1 for the SIM and then pick your package. More details can be found here.
There are two types of taxi’s – a blue metered taxi – said to be safer, metered so there’s no arguments but there are fewer of these types of taxis (I didn’t notice any the whole time I was in Dili). Then there are the yellow ones. Un-metered, often look un-road worthy, but there is an abundant of them. Make sure you agree a rate up front before getting in. This can be tricky in itself if you don’t know how much rides normally are. My hotel security guard hailed a yellow taxi for me and agreed a price of $3 to get me to Hotel Timor which would have been a half hour walk. $3 isn’t a lot compared to home so that was ok. $3 seems to be pretty standard across Dili. But then I learnt how to use the microlets…
These are the brightly painted mini vans that cruise round the city pumping out very loud music. They serve specific routes like buses, they have the number of the route on the front. Just hail them wherever you are on the street, climb in the back. When you want to get off, use your coin to tap on the over head or side bar and the driver will stop immediately and let you off. Then pay the driver through the passenger window. Each ride is a bargain 0.25c. There is a very useful map online (about the only online local resource I’ve found). Be prepared for very loud music and the drivers to look as if they are not old enough to drive legally.
Dili has a reputation of sexual harassment and assault towards females, both local and tourists. I’ve read about this a lot, my Mother for the first time googled a country I was going to and read about it also. Of course this has worried me, I have an underlying anxiety about it, stay vigilant, dress appropriately, don’t go out after dark (although there have been reports about daylight cases) and adopt a “don’t f**k with me” face, especially on the microlets. I spent a week in Dili and didn’t experience anything but I have heard a lot of personal stories from both local and Malay’s (foreigner’s). I wrote more about my own personal frustrations with the situation here.