A new nation of untouched beauty

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LOCATION

Timor-Leste is located in Southeast Asia, northwest of Australia on the southernmost edge of of the Indonesian archipelago. The country includes the eastern half of the island of Timor as well as the enclave of Oekussi in the northwest portion of Indonesian West Timor and the islands of Atauro and Jako. Timor-Leste has a tropical monsoon climate and the landscape is a patchwork of rugged mountains in the interior, surrounded by low lying coastal lagoons, waterfalls, dry grasslands and areas of dense rainforests.

It was the vast stands of Sandalwood and other hard woods that brought traders from China to Timor well before European colonialists arrived, as documented in 1260 by merchants from mainland China who also noted Timor as a source of honey and beeswax. The proximity of Timor to major trade routes and its abundance of sandalwood led to the Dutch and the Portuguse splitting the island (although this was only legally formalized in the early 1900s) and begin colonizing it. The missionaries soon arrived after the traders, spreading the Protestant and Catholic faith throughout the island. The colonists were mostly concerned with trading and for the most part concentrated their presence around the coastal areas. As a result even after the first high schools were established in the 18th century in Oekussi and Manatuto, the lifestyle, traditional animist beliefs and heritage of the numerous ethnic groups in Timor Leste were left relatively unchanged well into the 20th century.

Portuguese Influence

Portuguese influences, which have lasted more than 400 years, resulted in a substantial majority of the population identifying itself as Roman Catholic and the Old Portuguese style forts and buildings, which are dotted around the nation. One of the biggest remnants of the colonial period is the coffee industry: Timor-Leste produces some of the finest organic arabica coffee in the world.

The other black gold that Timor-Leste is famous for is the oil and natural gas, which is found on and off shore. Tremendous reserves are present on the southern coastline: crude oil bubbles out of seepages and in certain places you can make your own barbeque right over natural gas vents in rock fissures.

Without a doubt the abundance of oil played a role in the more recent history of Timor-Leste and was a factor for the nations occupation by the Indonesian army following the collapse of Portuguese colonial rule.

A young nation

A young country in age and population Timor-Lestes doors are well and truly open for visitors to explore. Since independence in 2002 Timor-Leste has developed at a rapid pace and the intrepid adventurer will be drawn by what makes Timor-Leste particularily interesting: the utter lack of other tourists in the districts or rural areas, the welcoming nature of the Timorese people  and the real sense of being among the first to explore this nation.

A visitors paradise

Timor-Leste has two main draw cards for visitors, its beautiful seas and the majestic mountain regions. Snorkellers and scuba divers will be amazed by the diversity of marine life here. The northern coastline is a 300 km stretch of fringing reef which offers everything imaginable – accessible shore diving which will delight with its density of rare marine critters, huge schools of pelagics that gather as you drift by stunning walls of soft and hard coral and the highest density of marine mammals – thats whales, dolphins and dugong to the curious- recorded in the world. Sailing and fishing enthusiasts will also revel in the opportunities to be amongst the first visitors to really explore the nation.

Interior

The interior of the island offers a huge range of different ecosystems: primary rainforests, rice paddies, coffee plantations and hill top savannas that boast views of both northern and southern coastlines. Hiking, cycling and 4WD adventures beckon to those who want a chance to really step back in time, and who would miss out a chance to stop and enjoy a fresh coffee as you watch the clouds gently roll up and over the surrounding mountains over you. The districts of Timor-Leste gives visitors the chance to totally disengage from the rigors of modern stress and simply enjoy life, nature and the excitement of being in the moment.

Visiting Timor-Leste

So how then does one actually access any of these opportunities? Visitors can get to Timor-Leste via air, land or sea. Direct daily flights from Darwin, Australia and Denpasar, Bali and direct flights from Singapore are the three air routes currently available. You can visit Timor-Leste by crossing the land border with Indonesia, the typical way to do this is to go via bus from the capital of West Timor, Kupang – tourist visas are available at the border in Mota-Ain. Boat owners also regularly visit (sometimes even staying on and making the island their base!) Timor-Leste. Customs and immigration facilities are found in Timor-Lestes capital, Dili,Mota-Ain and at the port of Com in the eastern part of the island. All visitors have to pay a 30 USD$ visa fee which is available upon arrival and a 10 USD$ airport departure tax for those leaving by plane.

More information

The dry season which goes from April to November is the typical time to visit, but Timor-Leste is a great place to visit any time of year – there is good diving throughout the year (water temperature is a constant 29 degrees) and great options for overland travel whatever the weather. Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, has many hotels, restaurants and bars – all of which seem busy all the time. You can explore the country with local public transport, rental motorbikes or vehicles. There is basic accommodation in all of the rural areas throughout the country and you can find mobile coverage and internet facilities in all major population centers.