East Timor Discovery

East Timor Discovery

Style: PioneerGroundbreaking tours to unique destinations
Duration: 14 days
Type: PrivateExclusive departures for you, your friends and family



Your passport must be valid for 6 months beyond the date you intend to depart. A 30-day visa is issued on arrival for a charge of US $30, payable in cash. The process is simple and fairly quick.


It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, valid for at least six months after the date of return to the UK. We strongly advise that your passport contains a minimum of two blank pages, as this may be a requirement of the local immigration authorities. In addition certain countries will stipulate that the two blank pages are opposite each other. If you are unable to meet these requirements you may be refused boarding by your airline or denied entry by the immigration authorities.

For specific information about the requirements for your destination please check with the country’s embassy or consulate. Alternatively UK citizens can visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

Airport Tax
Departure tax is US$10, payable in cash at the airport.

Health and Immunisations
As with travel to most parts of Asia, we strongly recommend that you contact your doctor’s surgery or a specialist travel clinic for up-to-date information, advice and the necessary vaccinations. For a visit of less than one month, almost certainly you will be advised to have immunisations against the following: Diphtheria and Tetanus, Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Meningitis. Anti-malaria medication is also required and the use of a DEET-containing insect repellent is highly recommended.


  • What should my travel insurance policy cover?
  • medical and health cover for an injury or sudden illness abroad
  • 24 hour emergency service and assistance
  • personal liability cover in case you’re sued for causing injury or damaging property
  • lost and stolen possessions cover
  • cancellation and curtailment (cutting short your trip) cover
  • Extra cover for activities that are commonly excluded from standard policies, such as certain sports

The policy should cover the whole time that you are away.

Your policy may also have:

  • personal accident cover
  • personal accident cover

Common travel insurance policy exclusions

Always check the conditions and exclusions of your policy:

  • most policies will not cover drink or drug-related incidents

You must take reasonable care of your possessions or your policy will not cover you.

Practical information

Local Currency
Since independence from Indonesia in 2002 the official currency in East Timor has been the US Dollar. Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) may be accepted in border areas, but this should not be relied on. In addition some establishments may accept Australia Dollars but again this cannot be relied upon. For current exchange rates visit www.xe.com. Our advice is to travel with US Dollars. You should also avoid taking large denomination notes such as $100 bills as these may be difficult to exchange.

Where currency can be exchanged
Our advice is to exchange sufficient funds in Dili, as banks and foreign exchange bureaus are limited outside of the capital. However given that US dollars are readily obtainable in your home country, it’s better to obtain them there. Further information will be given by your local guide.

Credit cards and travellers cheques
As a general rule we advise against taking travellers’ cheques as they are difficult to exchange, but it is possible to exchange them in Dili. The capital also contains a number of ATM machines although these are not always functioning and we would not recommend relying upon them.

Best time to go
You might say that to date East Timor does not have a clearly defined peak tourist season. To avoid significant rainfall a good time to visit is May to November, when the weather is at its best. December to April is wet season and due to the poor state of many of the roads, unbridged rivers can hamper travelling at this time.

Main Language
Tetun is the most widely spoken language, with Portuguese still spoken by many. In addition to the country’s proximity to Australia, English will be spoken by many you are likely to come into contact with.

Main Religion
East Timor’s population is overwhelmingly Christian, albeit with a strong animist overlay, there are also small Chinese-Buddhist and Muslim minorities.

Food and drink
Geographical proximity and colonial heritage play a large part in influencing East Timor’s cuisine, which borrows heavily from Portuguese, Indonesian and Chinese food. Stir fries, noodles and rice are very common as well as various soups and curries, and most food contains a reasonable amount of spices. Chicken is fairly prevalent, as is of course seafood. Portuguese influences remain in the shape of bean stews, grilled chicken and fish stews.

If you have any special dietary requirements you must notify us at the time of booking. While we will make every effort to cater for you, we cannot guarantee that this will be possible.

Generally travellers will find East Timor more expensive than other countries in South East Asia. Many items are imported and there are a large number of high earning foreign nationals based in the country. A 1L of bottled water will cost $1 or $2 and a beer upwards from $2 to $3. A good quality meal will cost from $20, but cheaper local food can be found, from just a few dollars for a simple lunch.

Our tour in East Timor uses 4wd vehicles to get around the island. Trips out to outlying islands such as Atauro are made using local ferries and fishermen’s boats.

Local conditions
Travelling in the destinations that we visit requires a good deal of understanding that often standards simply won’t be as they are at home. While we aim to make your trip as comfortable as possible, please be aware that we are often visiting remote or less developed regions that may have little infrastructure. While we aim to make your trip run as smoothly as possible there may be times when we need to ask for your patience while we rectify any problems.

What to take with you

First Aid Kit
The first thing on your list should be a first aid kit. Whilst there is no undue cause for alarm, travellers are best advised to travel well-prepared: adequately immunized, with sufficient supplies of prescription drugs, along with a medical kit.

When it comes to clothing it is usually recommended that lighter clothes are worn through the day, and warmer ones at night as it can get very cold in the mountains. A hat is also advised to be worn through the day to protect from the sun, along with at least one piece of waterproof clothing for any days that the weather may be wet or windy.

Footwear is a main priority on this tour. Comfortable walking shoes/boots are recommended.

Your luggage should not exceed 20kgs (44lbs). One large suitcase/rucksack, and one small hand luggage rucksack is acceptable.

Suncream/sunblock is a must. Insect repellent, including a bite spray will also be useful to have. As our tour in East Timor involves camping, a torch (flashlight) is essential.

If you will be using a camera which needs film, it is recommended that a supply is taken with you, as it is not always available in East Timor. For those with digital cameras, we would advise you to take a spare battery.

Our trip in East Timor involves a trek up Mt Ramelau. This can be described as a moderate trek and you should have reasonable fitness in order to enjoy this.

Cultural and environmental guidelines
You may come across beggars while on tour. Every traveller has different perspectives on this and ultimately the choice is up to you. Many sources recommend that you watch to see if local people give, and then follow their lead with genuine beggars. We do not recommend giving money, sweets, pens etc to children as this can encourage a begging mentality and can lead to children choosing to beg rather than go to school.

Haggling is a way of life in Asia when making many purchases, especially with tourist souvenirs. Usually, but not always, the vendor will start with a price that is higher than they are prepared to accept, and the buyer is expected to haggle. There are no hard and fast rules with this – some vendors may initially quote a vastly overinflated price, others may start with a price close to the true value, while others may just present you with one price and not be prepared to discuss it. Although many tourists may feel uncomfortable with this, it’s important to remember that this is best entered into in a relaxed manner. Once you have agreed upon a price, it is extremely bad form to then not pay this. Please also bear in mind that a small amount of money to you can be a relatively large amount for the vendor, and that it is not necessarily best practice to ‘beat the vendor down’ to the lowest possible price. Remember that they also have a living to make.

Please make sure that you take any rubbish back to the hotels with you where it can be properly disposed of – this includes cigarette butts as well.

Please do not buy any products made from endangered species – this is not sustainable and hastens the species’ decline

You should always ask permission before taking anyone's photograph and respect their decision if they say no. In more remote areas women and older people often do not want to be photographed. Some people may also ask for some money – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot - in return for a photo. Taking photos of military installations, state buildings, and airports can lead to problems with local authorities. If you are unsure about whether it is acceptable to take a photo, please ask your tour leader or guide.

Tipping is not that common in East Timor but is very much appreciated. If your local guide has been helpful then you could think about tipping. This amount can obviously be left to you. When tipping a driver, a guide or hotel staff a few dollars will always be gratefully received.

Foreign Office Advice
We constantly monitor the advice posted by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). In particular we will always advise clients of any travel warnings. At the time of writing (August 2009) the British and other governments do advise against ‘non-essential’ travel to East Timor. We believe that given the country remains relatively stable, this is very much a precautionary measure. We acknowledge that East Timor has suffered from ongoing political tensions since independence from Indonesia in 2002. However, we understand that at no stage have foreign visitors been targeted. On the whole the Timorese are a proud people, keen to warmly welcome visitors. For most tourism is a novelty and you will be treated with overwhelming kindness and a genuine desire to make you feel safe and secure, and welcome.

Please feel free to contact us should you have any specific concerns or would like to know in detail what measures are being taken to ensure visits remain trouble free and without incident.

It should be noted that this information applies to British citizens. Other nationals are asked to check the current position of their respective government.

Further Information

Public Holidays in East Timor:

1 Jan New Year's Day
10 Apr  Good Friday
20 May Independence Day
15 Aug Assumption 
30 Aug Consultation Day
20 Sep Liberation Day
1 Nov All Saints' Day
12 Nov Santa Cruz Day
28 Nov Independence Day
8 Dec Immaculate Conception
25 Dec Christmas Day

Dates are for guidance only and may vary year to year

Electrical Supply
Electrical supply is 230V/50 Hz and plugs have three large pins, like the UK or sometimes three round pins.

Recommended Reading

East Timor – Lonely Planet Guide
Tony Wheeler

Distant Voices
John Pilger

In the Time of Madness
Richard Lloyd Parry

Bitter Dawn
Irena Cristalis


Please note that the information provided is correct at the time of writing but may change. It is intended as a guide only. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health visit www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk or contact your local healthcare provider.

In addition we strongly advise you to check the information and any travel advice provided by your government. For British citizens you should visit the Foreign Office website www.fco.gov.uk.

Furthermore, you should be aware that any travel warnings or advisories may affect the validity of your travel insurance. Therefore, at the time of booking your tour it is essential you check any restrictions on cover with your insurance provider.

Issue Date – 17/08/09

For possible changes to this dossier please visit www.undiscovered-destinations.com or call +44 (0)191 296 2674

Historical background

Asia’s newest nation, tiny East Timor has suffered for decades under a brutal military occupation by Indonesia but in 2002 finally established itself as an independent country. Lying in the Timor Sea, between Australia and Indonesia, East Timor is a nation that exemplifies the resilience of the human spirit, and is overcoming its tragic past to become the most fascinating place that no-one has heard of. Boasting alluring colonial architecture dating back from its days as a far flung Portuguese colony, the capital Dili is an enchanting place to walk around and lose yourself in for a while, while its beaches and tropical islands are the stuff dreams are made of. With a vibrant and proud local culture, imposing mountain scenery, great seafood and a laid back tropical vibe mixed with Portuguese ambience, East Timor deserves more visitors than it receives. For now though, get there and be one of the first travellers to connect with and explore this engaging island nation.

As is so often the case, it was the Portuguese that first made contact with East Timor, and it is from them that we learn that the island of Timor was divided into a number of different kingdoms and tribal groupings. Landing at the coast sometime in the early 16th century they began to trade with the Timorese, and within a few decades had established mission stations, intent on spreading Catholicism and preventing the Dutch, who were by now also exploring the area, from obtaining a foothold. Initially the Portuguese had little influence over the people of the interior, their activities being largely restricted to the coastal areas, but in the mid 17th century an expedition was made into the centre with the intention of wresting power away from its kings, and a few years later in 1656 the Portuguese established a formal settlement at Lifau. The Portuguese found themselves in competition however with mixed race Topasses, brought over from other Portuguese colonies to help subdue the kingdoms of the centre, but soon becoming a formidable power themselves. The Portuguese were unable to assert any real control over the island, and by the mid 18th century were also in confrontation with Dutch forces who had occupied the west of the island. In addition to this Chinese traders were arriving in significant numbers, soon to outnumber the Portuguese. East Timor was very much a forgotten colony of Portugal’s, with no real attempts made at colonization and rule from Macau rather than Lisbon. Its only real purpose was as a trading post, its principal commodity sandalwood, to be replaced by coffee.

Portugal gradually increased its involvement in East Timor, battling against rival Topasses and local chiefs to raise taxes and introduce a forced labour system to work the plantations. But its tiny colony was never much of a concern for Portugal, which largely neglected it. In the Second World War, Australian and Dutch troops occupied the whole island in anticipation of attacks from Japanese forces. With the help of the Timorese, they launched a guerrilla campaign against the Japanese, who occupied the island with 20,000 troops. The results for the local population were devastating, as Japanese troops destroyed villages and massacred their inhabitants to deprive the Australians and Dutch of any support, with the loss of anywhere between 40,000 to 70,000 lives.

Following the war, and despite the fact that other European powers were quickly shedding their overseas colonies, Portugal held on to its outposts far longer than anyone else. It continued to neglect East Timor, with very little investment in infrastructure or education, but as one of Europe’s poorest nations at the time, even the meagre money spent on the colony was a drain on Portugal’s resources. In 1974 the Portuguese dictatorship was overthrown, and it was only then that Portugal began to grant its colonies independence.

The prospect of an independent East Timor was not something that was looked on particularly favourably by other world powers. Australia was concerned that the tiny nation would become financially dependent on its larger neighbour, and both it and Indonesia worried that it could become a hotbed of political instability, perhaps used by the Chinese to gain a communist foothold in the region. America was also concerned – it needed the seas around East Timor to belong to friendly nations to ensure free passage of its nuclear submarines. Prior to independence, East Timor suffered a brief civil war between competing factions, resulting in the ascendance to power of the political party Fretilin, seen by Indonesia as potentially left leaning and therefore a threat. Fretilin declared independence for the country, which was accepted by Portugal, now disinterested in its colonies and preoccupied with domestic matters.

In December 1975, Indonesia launched an invasion into East Timor – although denied it is now largely accepted that other powers such as Australia and the US were aware of Indonesian intentions and were more than happy for the nation to be absorbed into pro-western Indonesia, rather than fall into the communist camp. The Indonesian occupation of East Timor was characterized by brutal repression. Much of the population was relocated from their homelands in the ostensible interests of security, and Fretilin’s military wing, Falantil, waged a guerrilla campaign against the occupying forces, drawing support from the East Timorese. Although scoring some successes they were never much of a match against the better equipped and more numerous Indonesian forces, which consolidated their power on East Timor, now claimed as an integral part of Indonesia. Numerous atrocities were committed against the East Timorese during the occupation, a fact which governments such as Australia and the US either ignored or tried to cover up, keen not draw any attention to the occupation for fear of offending their regional ally Indonesia. As well as the Timorese, the Australian journalist Roger East was killed by Indonesian troops to avoid reports of their actions filtering out to the outside world. In 1991, a protest rally demanding independence was dealt with swiftly and viciously when Indonesian troops fired into the crowds, killing hundreds and drawing international attention.

Many nations, including Portugal, had never recognized Indonesia’s claims to East Timor, and the massacre led to lobbying efforts aimed at getting Indonesia to grant independence. These were to have little effect – Indonesia was determined to maintain a strong hold over East Timor – until the Asian financial crisis of the late ‘90s and the fall from power of Indonesia’s leader, Suharto. Weakened by a fall in its currency, and with widescale riots to contend with back at home, Indonesia bowed to international pressure and allowed the East Timorese to hold a referendum in 1999. The result was never going to be in question – the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence. Instead of freedom however, what the East Timorese experienced was a rampage by pro-Indonesian militias, given support by Indonesian troops on the island. In the following month, whole villages were rounded up and shot, the capital Dili was ransacked and thousands upon thousands of East Timorese fled into the relative safety of the mountains. Mounting political pressure from nations such as the US, now taking an active interest in the country, forced Indonesia to relinquish all claims to the territory. The situation stabilised somewhat with the arrival of Australian led UN peacekeeping forces, who maintained order within the country until East Timor finally gained independence in 2002 under the presidency of Xanana Gusmao, a Fretilin leader who had long been imprisoned by Indonesia.

East Timor is now a nation emerging from a brutal occupation to find its place in the world. Still largely a subsistence economy and largely dependent on foreign aid, the beauty of travelling to East Timor is that it doesn’t have a well established tourist trail - in fact it has very few tourists indeed. For those who take the time and effort to visit, East Timor offers a sense of breaking new ground, of discovering a nation and its people that genuinely welcome visitors and are proud of their culture and heritage. With Australia so close, it can’t be too long before East Timor starts to see larger numbers of visitors – but for now, be one of the first and enjoy the charms of this delightful country while you can have it all to yourself.