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It was in 2002 that East Timor (officially Timor-Leste) became an independent country, after a violent rule and conflict with Indonesia. The wounds are fresh and the damage to the East Timorese has only been lessened slightly through time.
Unlike Indonesia, the eastern half of Timor was never occupied by the Dutch during colonial times: Portugal held firm to this little slice of Southeast Asian jungle. The result is a fine glimmer of Portuguese influence breaking through (then) Portugal Timor's capital, Dili, and other towns. This colonial heritage mingled with local culture, as well as the nation's perfect beaches and spectacular mountain range, resemble the basic tourist attractions of most Southeast Asian countries. But do not come to East Timor without being prepared to be confronted and saddened by the war and the extreme poverty, because its scars are everywhere.
The first inhabitants are thought to be descendants of Australoid and Melanesian peoples. The Portuguese began to trade with the island of Timor in the early 16th century and colonized it in the mid-century. Skirmishes with the Dutch in the region eventually resulted in the invasion by the Dutch of the western half of Timor in the early 17th century, and in 1859 a treaty with the Netherlands and Portugal finalized the border of the island. Imperial Japan occupied East Timor from 1942 to 1945, but Portugal resumed colonial authority after the Japanese defeat in World War II.
The country declared itself independent from Portugal on 28 November 1975 and was invaded and occupied by Indonesian forces nine days later. It was incorporated into Indonesia in July 1976 as the province of East Timor. During the subsequent 24-year occupation a campaign of pacification ensued. Between 1974 and 1999, there were an estimated 102,800 conflict-related deaths (approximately 18,600 killings and 84,200 'excess' deaths from hunger and illness), the majority of which occurred during the Indonesian occupation.
On 30 August 1999, in a UN-sponsored referendum, an overwhelming majority of East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia. Immediately following the referendum, anti-independence East Timorese militias - organised and supported by the Indonesian military - commenced a punitive scorched-earth campaign. The militias killed approximately 1,400 East Timorese and forcibly pushed 300,000 people into West Timor as refugees. The majority of the country's infrastructure was destroyed. On 20 September 1999 the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) was deployed to the country and brought the violence to an end. Following a United Nations-administered transition period, East Timor was internationally recognised as an independent state in 2002.
East Timor occupies the eastern half of the island of Timor, the largest of the Lesser Sunda Islands in the Malay archipelago. South of the island, the Timor Sea separates the country from Australia. North of the island are the Wetar Strait and Ombai Strait. To the west lies the Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara. Much of the country is mountainous, and its highest is Tatamailau (also known as Mount Ramelau) at 2,963 meters. The easternmost area of East Timor consists of the Paitchau (de) Range and the Iralalaro (de) area, which contains the county’s first conservation area, the Nino Konis Santana National Park. It contains the last remaining tropical dry forested area within the country. It hosts a number of unique plant and animal species and is sparsely populated. The northern coast is characterised by a number of coral reef systems that have been determined to be at risk.
Nino Konis Santana National Park is East Timor's first national park, designated in August 2007. It is located at the eastern most tip of the island and covers 123,600 hectares. 25 endemic bird species call the park home, including the endangered Timor Green-pigeon and the critically endangered Yellow-crested Cockatoo. The park also incorporates 55,600 of the ‘Coral Triangle’, a marine area with incredible biodiversity.
Atauro Island and Jaco Island in Tutuala attract divers, snorkelers and green tourism enthusiasts. Both destinations provide eco-lodge facilities with some support from local NGOs in the region. A must-see attraction is the local divers and fishermen in Atauro, who fish using only traditionally made goggles and spear guns. Atauro is also well known for its distinctive wooden sculptures and is an excellent place to buy variety handicrafts.
Crowned by a Rio de Janeiro'esque statue of Christ, Cape Fatucama is a beautiful area of coast dotted with restaurants and bars.
Portuguese fortresses, churches and other monuments are scattered throughout the nation. For history enthusiasts, East Timor's resistance tourism which worth exploring are the Xanana Gusmao’s (current Prime Minister of East Timor) hiding place, Balibo (known for the killing of 5 journalists by the Indonesian soldiers), Santa Cruz (known for a massacre in 1991), Japanese caves in Baucau and many more.
Carnival de Timor is the annual festival held in Dili in middle of April (sometimes in May, depending on rain season). Initiated by the Ministry of Tourism  in 2010, Carnival de Timor is all about fun, music and multiculturalism. Both modern and traditional costumes, East Timorese and foreign minorities, even embassies also participate in this annual festival. The parade start in a landmark and end in Palacio do Governo, greeted by bands and award for best dressed group. The crowd continued to dance into the night with live music and other carnival attractions.
Held early in the year (March), the annual Festival of Culture and Food of Timor-Leste aims to share the Timorese culture with the world. Expect traditional dances, music, and many other forms of entertainment, enhanced by good eats.
Observed May 20 as a public holiday, this day in 2002 marked the UN’s transfer of sovereignty to the newly elected East Timor government. Festivities take place nationwide with Mass at church and tributes paid to those who fought for freedom.
Held in June, the Festival for Peace is a series of shows and exhibits performed and organized by the youth who attend intensive art, multimedia, dancing, and music lessons at Ba Futuru. It aims to promote personal growth and improve the life of those living in conflict-prone areas of Dili, as well as those who are impacted directly or indirectly by violence.
Named after the country’s highest peak, the Ramelau Cultural Festival is the biggest cultural event held outside of the capital in East Timor. It is based in the Ainaro district and held late in the year usually in October. The three-day event of cultural pride honors Mount Ramelau, a symbol of Timorese pride and unity.
November 12 marks the anniversary of the massacre of Santa Cruz, which occurred in Dili in 1991. A public holiday, this tragic day saw peaceful, pro-independence protesters massacred by Indonesian military forces.
Observed on December 7, this public holiday pays tribute to the country’s many heroes in the fight for independence while also remembering the day of the 1975 invasion of East Timor by Indonesia.
The climate in East Timor is tropical, which generally means hot and humid, although the mountainous areas are a lot cooler. The western monsoon brings rains from December to March, while July to November are hot and dry. The average maximum temperature for the year is 25 °C.
Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport (DIL) in Dili is the country's only airport with regular public passenger services. However the runway cannot acommodate large passenger airplanes.
Flights from Darwin in Australia are operated by Airnorth. Flights from Denpasar in Bali, Indonesia, are provided by Garuda and Sriwijaya. Flights from Singapore are provided by Silk Air. Air Timor markets the Garuda and Silk Air flights at lower prices. Flights can be booked out weeks in advance, particularly around holidays, so plans need to be made accordingly. There is a $10 departure tax to be paid in cash before flying out of Dili airport.
The main border crossing with Indonesia is at Mota'ain, 115 kilometres west of Dili. The nearest East Timorese town is Batugade, 3 to 4 kilometres away. The nearest Indonesian town of is the West Timorese town of Atambua. You need an international driving permit and all the right documentation and insurance regarding the car.
There is a direct bus daily between Dili and Kupang in West Timor, Indonesia and the journey takes 12 hours. You can also do the trip in stages by taking minibuses to the border, cross on foot and go to the nearest town on the other side of the border.
There are no regular passenger services to and from Dili anymore though you might be lucky to get a ride on a cargoship or yacht.
There are no domestic flights within East Timor at the moment. Baucau has an airport (with a longer strip than the one in Dili in fact) and was used as the main territory under Indonesian occupation, but it is presently unattended. Suai Airport is also unattended.
Car hire options are available in Dili. Thrifty has a large fleet of cars. You can hire a vehicle (4WD) in Dili for around $85 a day. However, do be prepared for adventure - besides the tricky roads there is the lack of road signs to contend with. It is possible that you will get so caught up with driving that you miss out the great scenery around you. Most reputable car rental companies offer 24/7 roadside assistance anywhere in the country. But be mindful that if you are out in a remote district, your help, dispatched from Dili, will take a while to arrive.
While in Dili you will need to confine yourself to a speed limit of 40 kph. On open roads you may rev up and touch 50-60 kph. Tourists from the west might find the going slow but that is the maximum speed that can be achieved on Dili roads.
Ensure that you are carrying a valid driving license or permit with you. This can be either from your country or you can have it issued in East Timor. Your licence should specify the kind of vehicle you are allowed to drive. Do drive carefully and remember that there is no provision here for third-party motor insurance.
Taxi services are available in the major towns. Standard fares are US$1, maybe US$2 for longer distances. The cars used are often recycled from other countries and could just look like regular cars.
Buses, mikrolets and vans run to many parts of the country, and at US$2-3 per trip are an economical means of getting around. The main cities of Dili, Baucau, Maliana, Los Palos and Suai are quite well linked by this infrastructure. Departures are generally early in the morning. Starting looking after 8:30am or so might leave you without luck.
Tiger Fuel in Dili, rents motorcycles for $25-35 per day. Motorcycles/scooters are a good way to see the country: you'll be able to travel wherever you want at any time, and will have a rather small responsibility in terms of a bike to park over night. Bungee cords may be purchased from Star Moto in Baucau to fasten your luggage to the bike.
There is a ferry connection from Dili to Ataúru Island and the Oekusi Enclave. You can arrange with a ride with local fishermen to visit Jako islet.
Portuguese passport holders do not need a visa for short stay entry (max 90 days).
Generally visitors from any country can easily obtain a 30 day tourist and business visa on arrival to East Timor at Dili Airport or Dili Seaport by filling in a simple form and paying US$30 in cash. Note however that "visa on arrival" is not available at the land border, where most travellers apart from Indonesian and Portuguese nationals must have obtained a visa or "visa application authorisation" in advance.
Check out the Immigration Department of East Timor, and specifically the link to the Tourist Visa for details on visa requirements, and for details on how to apply for a "visa application authorisation" (which may be obtained via email before you travel), or how to apply for a visa at an Embassy or Consulate should you want to enter at a land border crossing.
All foreigners seeking to enter East Timor on a temporary visa are required to have a valid national passport with an expiry date not less than 6 months from the date of entry into East Timor and must have at least one blank page available for Visa stamp.
Where applied for on arrival, the visa will be granted for the duration of stay up to 30 days, and is only valid for single entry. Extension after arrival -US$35 for each extension of 30 days, or US$70 for extension of 60 days. Extension of a tourist visa beyond 30 days requires a sponsor, East Timorese citizen or work-permit holder, to complete a Termo de Responsabilidade, guaranteeing your conduct and compliance with East Timorese laws for the duration of your stay.
Those who apply in advance for a tourist visa at an Embassy or Consulate, or who apply by email direct to the Immigration Department for a "visa application authorisation" may request a visa allowing up to 90 days stay, with single or multiple entry.
Visitors are advised to hold the necessary amount for the payment of visa fees in US Dollars cash upon arrival at the border.
See also: Money Matters
The US Dollar, or "greenback", is the national currency of East Timor. One dollar consists of 100 cents. Frequently used coins are the penny (1¢), nickel (5¢), dime (10¢) and quarter (25¢). 50¢ and $1 coins also exist, but are rarely used. Frequently used banknotes are the $1, $5, $10 and $20 notes. $2, $50 and $100 notes can also be found, but are rarely used.
Portuguese and Tetum are the official languages of East Timor. Indonesian is also widely spoken but English is spoken by few. There are several dozen indigenous languages, including Tetum, Galole, Mambae and Kemak.
The East Timorese, like the Indonesians, have a staple diet of rice and spices. Even though there is trouble in obtaining supplies from outside due to political unrest, many restaurants in Dili serve Western cuisine. Significant numbers of foreigners living and working in East Timor ensure a loyal clientele for these restaurants.
The East Timorese palate includes a taste for several international cuisines in addition to the traditional East Timorese cuisine. Portuguese, Indonesian, Chinese, Italian, Western, Japanese and Thai cuisine have made their presence felt in East Timor.
The staple food in East Timor is rice. Commonly grown food crops include taro, cassava, sweet potatoes and maize. Beans, cabbage, cowpeas, onions and spinach are well-liked vegetables. People also rear poultry, goats and pigs. Fish forms an important part of the diet and acts as a supplement to any meal. Most traditional East Timorese recipes use a generous dose of spices. Mangoes, watermelons, papayas, bananas and coconuts are the most commonly cultivated fruits here. Carbohydrates like sago or other grains form the main dish for many an East Timorese meal.
Fried fish is a very popular dish, with prawns being considered a delicacy. Curries are a standard dish, with chicken curry topping the list as a favourite. Several authentic Indonesian, Japanese, Portuguese and Chinese dishes find favour with many East Timorese.
Most accommodation options in East Timor are in the capital Dili. There are some small options out of the capital, but generally the choice is fairly minimal.
Coffee is grown organically in East Timor and the level of caffeine in this variety is very high. Those looking for something other than coffee can have beer, which is widely available in both pubs and restaurants in East Timor.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to East Timor. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering East Timor) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to East Timor. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Malaria is prevalent in the country. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Dengue and Chikungunya sometimes occur as well.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also: Travel Safety
East Timor continues to face sporadic internal ethnic & political tension and related violence may occur. This may not be targeted at foreigners or tourists, but follow the guidelines below. During periods where this is not an issue, remember you are travelling in a very poor country, and crimes such as assault and theft do occur: There is still a considerable international presence in East Timor, including a United Nations mission and international police and military (mostly conducting capacity building and training for national security forces).
Foreigners or tourists have been the target for violence in East Timor, visitors should be responsible and adhere to standard precautions as in any developing country. Remember you are traveling in a poor country, and crimes such as assault and theft do occur. The key to avoid such crime is to apply common sense and reduce your exposure to possible opportunity crime.
Internet in East Timor is slow and limited. Timor Telecom holds the monopoly for this as well, and tries to block voice-over-IP services like Skype.
Internet cafes are available throughout Dili, Baucau, and some other smaller cities: look for Timor Telecom outlets.
See also: International Telephone Calls
East Timor's international phone code is 670.
Timor Telecom has a monopoly on landline and mobile phone services in East Timor, and charges accordingly; expect to pay up to US$3/minute for international calls into East Timor. Calls out of the country are far cheaper with on average 40cents/minute to Australia, Indonesia, Portugal and USA.
It is recommended that you buy a local pre-paid phone for US$10 (which includes phone, charger, sim card and US$3 credit) on arrival from any Timor-Telecom store (there is one in Landmark Plaza on way into town from the airport). Local prepaid SIM cards can be picked up for around US$3. Please remember that whilst international phones work in East Timor, the global roaming fees are very hefty, hence the recommendation to purchase a cheap phone package, even for a short visit.
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Ask JasonET a question about East Timor
Hi, I am a expat living in East Timor. I came here in 2009 to volunteer for 12 months and I am still here! Happy to help with any questions you may have.
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i can easily add another country and that is nepal.the language there is not a problem for me
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