Watabo’o beach, the quiet corner of East Timor

Watabo'o Beach, Timor Leste
As visitors to Baucau will no doubt attest, Watabo’o beach is a prime getaway in East Timor. Miles upon miles of golden beaches are ripe for exploration, while the rolling hills and groves of palm trees offer a peaceful shield to those looking for a touch of solitude or a quiet few beers at the beach’s tiki bar.
Travellers should prepare to soak up the perfect sunrise. Watabo’o allows for some of Asia’s most gloriously pure daybreaks. Try schlepping along the beach from Baucau Beach Bungalows and head up the slight incline. You won’t be disappointed.

Things to know


How to get there: Several buses to and from Dili, Los Palos, Viqueque and other small villages around Baucau leave from the market. A bus to Dili costs about $3 and takes three hours. Watabo’o is at the base of a winding dirt road about 7km away. It’s best to charter some transport at the bus station but watch out for aggressive haggling.
Where to stay: Baucau Beach Bungalows, a stone’s throw from the beach. $20 a night, with either a small bungalow or cottage to choose from.
What to speak: You could try speaking some Tetun. Have a look at our guide here.
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Tasi Tolu: A touch of chaos at Dili’s western bus terminal

Tasi Tolu bus terminak, Dili

Tasi Tolu bus terminak, Dili

Less of a terminal and more of a congregation, Tasi Tolu is the transport gateway to all points west in Timor Leste.

In theory it’s simple: Indonesian-style bemos and mikrolets wait for passengers before heading to Liquiçá, Gleno, Ermera, Balibo, Maliana and beyond. A simple, straight-forward transaction.

The reality can be slightly different. Visitors can be forgiven if they find the terminal, on the outskirts of Dili, a touch overwhelming. It is, after all, controlled chaos; with transport whizzing around as touts jostle for passengers the whole experience can be unnerving.

It can be noisy, too. Indeed, it’s possible to feel a vehicle’s presence, such are the bassy vibrations emanating from their huge sound systems.

Getting in an empty vehicle can be a double-edged sword. There may be space to stretch out but then the drivers will demonstrate the art of keliling as they scour for custom. An hour or so of this can be a trying experience for even the most patient of passengers. Factor in the heavy humidity compounded by a lack of air conditioning and it’s no wonder tempers can fray.

However, this is not to say the process is a negative one. Far from it. As visitors learn a few hacks – be it tapping a coin on a mikrolet’s handrail when their stop appears or getting a feel for when transport is genuinely about to leave – they’ll feel the country opening up to them.

Our advice: enjoy the ride.

Some good(ish) things to remember about Tasi Tolu:

  • Journeys from Tasi Tolu should cost $3-$10 depending on location. Make sure to check prices before departing.
  • On a related topic, it’d be a wise move to know some basic Tetun, especially numbers. While there’s not much bargaining going on the terminal is a frenetic place and minor details like prices can get lost in the malestrom.








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Atauro island: A charming and eco-friendly take on serenity

Atauro Island
For those looking to escape the frenetic hustle and bustle of Dili, Atauro is the perfect getaway in Timor Leste. The rugged island, located to the north of the capital city, is of volcanic origin and fulfils the main criteria of the archetypal beach paradise: Golden beaches, bucolic pace of life, beach bungalows, traditional villages and excellent tropical hiking.
Of most interest, however, is the island’s standing as a world-leading snorkelling and diving location. Thanks to its deep water (up to 3,000m in places) and stunning visibility, scuba enthusiasts can expect to encounter all kinds of underwater critters, including giant blue whales, as they explore numerous sites as yet left off the region’s main diving trails. See divetimor.com for more information.

Things to know

Getting there and away: A ferry costing $11 return regularly heads to the island from Dili. Alternatively, a water taxi – $45 one way for adults – departs for Atauro at 7.30am daily with the return journey at 9.30am (Monday to Friday) or 3.00pm (Saturday and Sunday). The journey is about an hour. Contact Compass for more details.
Where to stay: Barry’s Eco-Lodge. Cabin accommodation is $45 a night. One of the greener options on Atauro, Barry’s offers a friendly welcome, communal atmosphere, beautiful gardens, thatched bungalows and shared bathrooms. Meals included. Activities, tours, snorkelling, bikes, fishing and kayaking can all be organised. Call (+670) 7723 6084 / 7744 1101.
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Language Primer: Tetun

Tetun, Timor Leste

Watabo beach

Whilst Tetun is not renowned as a major player in the international language stakes, it is symbolic of its mother country, Timor Leste. As one of two official languages in the former Indonesian province – along with Portuguese – it can represent something of a culture shock. It bristles with a kinetic rhythm and can be totally bewildering to any new arrivals; a packed bemo ride around Dili, for instance, with three or four loud conversations happening at once will prove to be a trying experience.

However, once visitors have settled down and locked into the country’s rhythm, the language itself is easy enough to pick up. Certainly those familiar with Portuguese should have no problems. Timor was a colony of Portugal and while the physical remnants of that time are obvious – in terms of architecture, food and street names, for example –  so too is Tetun a cultural vestige of the former occupiers. (Streber Editor: Is that clunky? Let us know in the comments below.)

Since East Timor is not a widely travelled country, with the majority of foreigners living there in NGO, charity or teaching guises, it can be presumed a lot of visitors will be familiar with next-door Indonesia and, by extension, Bahasa. The Indonesian language is also spoken in Dili and should be understood by a lot of people, although this is not applicable everywhere; there are many dialects spread around the country. Heading further away from the capital will increase the need to use even the most basic Tetun.

It could be said that Tetun reflects the youth of Timor, which gained independence from Indonesia in 1999 and became a sovereign state in 2002. The country is still finding its feet after the chaotic and violent parting from its neighbour and there is some confusion about the status of the official language. Some are calling for Portuguese, others want to keep Tetun. It is somehow fitting that a country still in flux should have a language with such a disparate etymology.

This list is by no means definitive but it hopefully gives a flavour of Tetun. It was gleaned from conversations around the country and offers an enlightening glimpse into this most intriguing of nations.

Useful Tetun words and phrases

Hello – Elo

Good morning – Bondia

Good afternoon – Botarde

Goodbye – Adeus/Hau ba lai

Please – Favor ida

Thank you (very much) – Obrigadu (barak)

No, thank you – Diak, obrigado

Excuse me – Kolisensa

I’m sorry – Deskulpa

How are you? – Diak ka lai

I’m fine, thank you – Diak, obrigadu

What is your name? – Ita nia naran saida?

My name is… – Han nia saida…

What is this? – Nee saida?

How far is it? – Dook ka lae?

Where is…? – Iha nebee?

How much does it cost? – Nee folin hira?

Where are you going? – Bá neʼebé

I’m going (home) – Haʼu bá (uma)

Home – Uma

Market – Mercado

Hotel – Otél

Airport – Aeroportu

I like your nose – Hau gosta o ita nia inus *

Beard – Hasrahun

Bald – Botak

Bald Englishman – orang ingris botak/gundul

I like to (laugh) – Hau gosta (hamnasa)

Laugh – Hamnasa

Play – Halimar

With you – O ita

I like to watch stars with you again – Hau gosta hare fitun o ita fila fali

Happy to meet you – Contenté hasoru ita

See the way (sign of respect when people are leaving) – Haré daran

I’ve spent one week in Timor Leste – Semana ida ona iha Timor Leste

How long have you been in Timor Leste? – Cleorona iha Timor Leste?

Day – Loron

Week – Semana

Month – Fulan

Year – Tinan

Die (death) – Maté

*We defy you to find any better icebreaker in any language on the planet. From Dili to Gleno to Dare to Maubisse to Aelieu and beyond, any time we used this phrase we were met with uncomprehending silence, then a chuckle followed by a lightbulb above the head and finally mighty laughs and broad smiles as people worked out what we said. It was a fantastic way to meet new people and conversations really flowed after that.

(Tenuous Link Editor: Although an interesting language to learn and simple enough to speak, Tetun is not widely spoken. You will, for example, find it spoken on Watabo’o Beach (presuming you actually come across anyone there) but may struggle to use it in England, Sri Lanka or Morocco. However, those last three destinations are plenty pretty to look at nevertheless.) 

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Dili: The Gateway to Timor Leste

As East Timor’s capital, Dili is usually the first port of call for those venturing to this oft-forgotten corner of Southeast Asia.
It is the archetypal city on the rise; after suffering extensive damage in the post-1999-referendum violence Dili has since gathered serious momentum as the country looks to put its troubled past behind it.
For any adventurous visitors the appeal is obvious. Its colonial past has left it with a distinctly Portuguese feel – expect a friendly ‘bon dia’ or ‘boa tarde’ as you go about your business – and thanks to its off-the-beaten-track nature the clean beaches can feel pleasantly remote and isolated.
Travellers can really earn their stripes as they traipse around the streets and soak up the welcoming, if slightly hectic, atmosphere.
A 27-metre tall statue of Jesus brings a divine air to proceedings – and fantastic views across the bay – as Dili welcomes all with open arms.

Visitors will most likely arrive in by air at Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport with the most popular route being from Denpasar (Bali). Return flights with Nam Air/Sriwijaya Air cost around $200. Air North fly daily from Darwin, Australia and there are also twice weekly flights from Singapore.

A taxi ride into Dili from the airport costs between $5 and $10.

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