"A nation under construction" Top 5 Page for this destination East Timor by theo1006

East Timor Travel Guide: 193 reviews and 480 photos

Whereas West-Timor was part of the Dutch East Indies and later became part of Indonesia, the eastern half of Timor island was a Portguese colony until 1975. When the Portuguese had withdrawn and East Timor was on the verge of obtaining a leftist government, the Indonesian Army invaded it. Only after a prolonged struggle Timor-Leste obtained its independence through a UN-backed plebiscite in 1999.
In the following years the new state suffered from internal strife, giving it a reputation of not being safe for tourists. However, things have settled down by now, and we found no reason to feel unsafe in the capital Dili or elsewhere, even at night. As the country badly needs to boost its economy, Timor Leste is now preparing to receive its share of tourism. Still we saw more expats from international organizations than tourists.

Destruction and reconstruction

After the plebiscite militias - probably spurred on and certainly not kept in check by the Indonesian Army - destroyed almost everything built by the Indonesians. Only road surfacing and bridges they could not destroy: "They did not obtain explosives in time before the UN troops arrived" said our guide.
Reconstruction and development have been centered mainly in Dili. Elsewhere ruins of torched buildings abound, sometimes adjacent to a new building.

Relations with Indonesia are now good, although human rights abuses remain unresolved. During the invasion in 1975 Theo lived in Java. The mood was: we will develop East-Timor like we have developed Java. Indeed Indonesia poured a lot of money in the development of East-Timor, building roads, bridges, schools, clinics, and bringing electricity to the countryside. But development went hand in hand with military suppression. Still many Indonesians do not understand the choice of the East-Timorese: "Why did they choose independence, we did so much for them...... They can only fight, they will go on fighting among themselves and never get anywhere." Such opinions are much like those of the majority of the Dutch when Indonesia gained independence: "Something great was achieved.... They are not ready to govern themselves."

East Timor tourism

Main reasons for visiting Timor Leste are diving and cultural-historical tourism. We were in for the latter. It is not easy to get around with public transport and outside Dili accommodation is scarce. We rented a car with driver/guide for sightseeing. Cars without driver can also be had, neither are cheap. For those who prefer more adventurous travel: a friend of us - a researcher - trekked on foot from Dili across the island to the south coast.

A 30-day tourist visa can be obtained on arrival in the country for USD 30,-.
Timor-Leste still has no national currency. Bring US dollars, or get them at one of three ATM's in Dili.

See also our pages on the capital Dili and the enclave Oecusse.

And read more on these websites:
Timor-Leste government
Friends of Timor
Discover East Timor.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Spectacular scenery, impressive history
  • Cons:Out of town facilities are scarce
  • In a nutshell:A young country now open to the world
  • Last visit to East Timor: Jul 2009
  • Intro Updated Jul 16, 2012
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Comments (1)

  • hunterV's Profile Photo
    May 11, 2012 at 8:05 AM

    I hope there will be more good development in this new country... I keep my finger crossed....

theo1006

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