East Timor

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Introduction to East Timor

Welcome to East Timor, South-East Asia's newest nation. Independence has brought mixed fortunes to this recovering war zone, and it remains a country in transition. But it has fine beaches, colonial towns, rugged mountains and a lush interior, with Dili a taste of Portugal in the tropics.

East Timor is a brand new destination, a place where you can still be a pioneer. Apart from that fine feeling of being first on the scene, visitors can also enjoy the country's Portuguese colonial flavour and the pristine underwater scenery without worrying about crowds.

After the long and sorry story of the 24-year Indonesian occupation from 1975 and the horrific violence that wracked the independence referendum in late 1999, East Timor is a country still finding its place in the world. Independence came only in 2002, and there is still a great deal of damage to be repaired.


The security situation in East Timor is largely stable and most visits are hassle-free. That said, travellers intending to visit the country - particularly the border region with West Timor - should seek to remain up-to-date regarding potential changes in security. Foreigners may be the target of anti-Western sentiment in West Timor.

Dili and areas further east are rarely troubled by violence, though the capital does have problems with petty crime and gang disturbances. Stay alert and secure your valuables. Any necessary warnings are broadcast on Radio UNTAET.

Full country name: Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste

Area: 15,007 sq km

Population: 998,000

Capital City: Dili

People: Malay and Papuan, including 33% Tetum, 12% Mambai, 8% Kemak, 10% Makasai, 8% Galoli, 8% Tokodede.

Language: Portuguese, Tetum, Indonesian, English

Religion: 91.4% Roman Catholic, 2.6% Protestant, 1.7% Muslim, 0.3% Hindu, 0.1% Buddhist

Government: republic

Head of State: President Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão

Head of Government: Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri

GDP: US$440 million

GDP per capita: US$500

Major Industries: Coffee, rice, maize, oil and natural gas, logging, fisheries, spices, coconuts, cacao

Major Trading Partners: Australia, Portugal

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Traveler Facts

Visas: 90-day visa on entry

Health risks: malaria, dengue fever, tuberculosis, rabies, Japanese B encephalitis

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +9

Dialling Code: 670

Electricity: 220V ,50 Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

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Like everything in East Timor, public holidays are under revision. Christian dates and Catholic festivals form the basis of the calendar, with new public holidays commemorating such landmark dates as the referendum of 30 August 1999 and the UN liberation. Holidays include New Year's Day (1 January), Good Friday (late March/early April), Assumption Day (15 August), Consultation Day (30 August), Liberation Day (20 September), Santa Cruz Day (12 November, commemorating the cemetery massacre at the Santa Cruz church) and Christmas Day (25 December). It's a good bet that 20 May - the date of independence in 2002 - will be a national holiday too.

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Best time to Visit

Go when the weather is best. East Timor doesn't yet have a tourist season, so there’s no time of year when you’re going to be overrun by crowds. So go during the May to November dry season when there's little rainfall and you’re assured of good weather. By the end of the dry season, it can be rather dry and dusty. The December to April wet season can be very wet indeed, making travel difficult, particularly if you get off the main routes where unsealed roads can become impassable and unbridged rivers uncrossable. The end of the wet season, however, is the time for festivals.

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: US Dollar


Budget: US$1-3

Mid-range: US$3-15

High: US$15-20

Deluxe: US$20+


Budget: US$8-15

Mid-range: US$15-35

High: US$35-70

Deluxe: US$70+

The huge influx of UN and other foreign workers, combined with shortages of facilities and supplies, has pushed prices skywards. Hotels and restaurants that cater to foreigners have some of the highest prices in the region, but even basic foodstuffs and everyday goods have jumped dramatically in price.

Many of the new hotels use shipping containers as bedrooms, so charm and character are not words that apply to most accommodation options. A government tax of 10% is added to all room rates. In recent times, a couple of budget accommodation options have appeared.

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The capital of East Timor is a pleasant, lazy city centred on a sweeping harbour, with parkland edging the waterfront on either side. There has always been a markedly different pace of life in Dili compared to Kupang, the major city on the western, Indonesian, end of the island.

Until the Indonesian takeover in 1975, Dili was the capital of the former colony of Portuguese Timor, and it still has the feel of a tropical Portuguese outpost. Badly damaged during the Indonesian mayhem in 1999, transitional elevated prices have gradually spiralled back to more sensible levels.


Baucau, the second-largest town in East Timor, is still charming, despite the ravages of 1999. The two-hour drive east along the coast from Dili via Manatuto is gorgeous, with clear water and beaches along the way


The isolated former Portuguese coastal enclave of Oecussi, also known as Ambeno, is politically part of East Timor, but is geographically and culturally part of West Timor. It was about 95% destroyed in 1999 and the small population is scattered throughout the province in hamlets.

Pantemakassar, more commonly called Oecussi town, is significant to the East Timorese as the first permanent Portuguese settlement in Timor. It is a sleepy coastal town sandwiched between the hills and the coast. The reef about ten metres off-shore in the clear water offers spectacular snorkelling.


The forests in the region of Saui were important sources of sandalwood, teak and vanilla during Portuguese times, but unsustainable logging practices during Indonesian rule have whittled away this valuable resource.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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