Timor-Leste is an endlessly fascinating blend of diverse environments, from the coastal strip with its sparkling blue waters and spectacular beaches, to the lush forests of the interior and the rugged mountain ranges that dominate every panorama; a paradise for trekkers. This natural beauty serves as a backdrop for a journey through the cultural, historical and built heritage of Timor-Leste, to savour the Portuguese, Chinese and Indonesian accents that permeate the local cuisine, music and architecture. Timor-Leste offers so much to travellers seeking adventure in the midst of unspoilt nature.
Dili is an ideal place for a short break or as a base for adventures further afield in Timor-Leste’s districts. The island of Atauro, which is clearly visible from the city, is well worth the short boat journey for a day trip or a longer visit. There is a weekly ferry, but it is also possible to take a water taxi over to the island (approximately one and a half hours), or choose a day-long sailing, fishing or diving charter. Atauro’s spectacular coral walls are ideal for snorkelling or diving and it’s likely that you will see huge schools of dolphins (year-round) or migrating whales (Oct-Nov) during the journey. Once ashore, you can stay at one of the two eco-lodges and enjoy trekking on Mount Maucoco (995mt) or simply kick back and relax. Atauro is also famous as the home of the Boneka Atauro, charming dolls hand-made by the local women, as well as a range of other beautiful and unusual handicrafts.
Dili boasts a number of beautiful beaches very close to the city centre, the most popular of which is the sheltered cove at Areia Branca (White Sands). There are a number of beachfront restaurants and hotels, as well as some charming small local eateries that have opened up in a newly-built food court on the beach. This is also a good spot for the daily ritual of watching spectacular sunsets of the Indonesian island of Alor, in the distance.
After a morning on one of Dili’s beaches, the best way to cool off is to head for the hills. The village of Dare is only half an hour away from the capital, yet you will find yourself driving through the clouds into another world. The vegetation is lush, with massive trees and stands of giant bamboo and you will feel the temperature drop as you make your way up the winding road to this hillside gem, enjoying magnificent panoramic views of Dili on the way. You will also pass the official residence of the President, which is reminiscent of a fairytale castle perched on the hillside. Dare is also worth a visit for the World War II memorial.
The city itself nestles at the base of the surrounding hills, which are lush and green in the rainy season, revealing terracotta-coloured earth in the dry. To the north, Dili looks out to sea and the whole city is linked by a beachfront road that runs very close to the surf line. At the heart of the city's waterfront is the imposing Government House (Palacio do Governo) building, with the country's parliament at the rear. This part of Dili is a centre of activity from dawn till dusk. There are pedestrian walkways along the central harbour shaded by gigantic banyan trees offering an excellent place to cool down in the shade whilst enjoying fresh coconut juice. Fishermen unload their catch of delicious seafood on the beach and peddlers sell cold drinks, snacks and satay. You can often watch a game of football or beach volleyball and perhaps join in – an excellent way of meeting local people.
Photos Courtesy of UNWTO, Daniel Groshong, Ann Turner and Hummingfish. To see more photos and purchase of images visit http://hummingfish.org