Visit a coffee plantation
Coffee has been a major export crop of East Timor since the mid-19th century, when the country was still under Portuguese rule. Coffee from East Timor was famous for its low acidity, wonderful aroma, and high caffeine content.
Today, East Timor’s coffee is still famous all over the world, and not just for its taste, kick, and aroma, but also for the East Timor farmers’ organic method for cultivating the beans.
The popularity of East Timor’s coffee is such that all the convenience stores in the country, and even some of the roadside stalls, sell East Timor coffee or coffee beans.
When you come to visit the country, it will be worthwhile to see where all these wonderful beans come from, and how they are grown. Coffee plantations in regions such as Ermera are found in high altitudes, so you’ll find some respite from East Timor’s usual heat there too.
The farmers in the fields, like all other East Timorese, will be happy to receive visitors and will be glad to welcome you not just to their fields but even to their homes.
One thing’s for sure – after this trip, you’ll never look at coffee the same way again.
Dive in clear azure waters
If you’re looking for a pristine place to dive, one that’s been seen by very few other people, you’re far likelier to find it in East Timor than anywhere else. Why? Because very few tourists come to East Timor, and the locals have more important things to do than go scuba diving.
Off the coast of Tibar, you can encounter barracudas, mackerel, turtles, tuna, even sharks – all in a 40-minute dive.
Atauro Island is another well-praised dive spot. You don’t even have to go underwater there to begin your marine life encounter. Even as you make your way to the site, you could be seeing dolphins, sperm whales, and humpbacks on the surface of the water.
And that’s just the short list. Not far from the capital, to the east and the west, you will find many pristine reefs just waiting for you to come and see them – in some instances, you will be the first person in the world to ever do so.
Ride a bike
If you want to get around in East Timor, it’s not a wise idea to rent a car. At $70 per day, you probably have better things to spend your travel money on.
A better option would be to rent a bike instead. This will allow you to get more up-close-and-personal with the countryside.
You’ll need to be a strong biker, though; cycling in Timor is not exactly for amateurs. The climbs can be steep, and the heat doesn’t help.
In fact, the Tour de Timor has taken on the reputation of being one of the most challenging bike races in the world.
If your legs can’t handle pedaling in East Timor, you could try another kind of biking – the East Timor Backpackers hostel rents out ex-Australian post office motorcycles at around $20 a day. You do need a license to drive these, though, and an International License will not do.
It’s no trouble to get a license, however. Just present your driver’s license from your own country to the traffic department in Dili, pay a small fee, and you’re good to go.
Hike in the mountains and go birdwatching
If your legs are not strong enough to bike in East Timor, then consider hiking. This should let you take an even closer and more leisurely look around the place. The country is full of lush green mountains teeming with life. You’re sure to see something interesting on the way.
One prime hiking spot is Mount Ramelau, East Timor’s highest point.
The mount is found around 70 kilometers (43 miles) away from Dili, and can be climbed from two popular routes, one from the town of Hato Bulico and the other from the village of Aimeta. With its height of 2,963 meters (9,721 feet) above sea level, it takes a fit hiker about four or six hours, respectively, to reach the summit.
If you’re looking for something lower, you can try Mt. Kablaki (2,459 meters, or 8,68 feet), Mr. Matebian (2,373 meters, or 7,785 feet).
As you hike, keep a close watch for the 260 species of bird found in the island. There are 32 species of birds that are endemic to Timor. These include the Timor Bush Warbler, an elusive species that is found in East Timor’s hills; the Yellow-throated Whistler; the Yellow-crested Cockatoo; the Marigold Lorikeet;and the Zebra Finch.
Buy tais to take home
If there is one souvenir that you absolutely must bring home from East Timor, it is the tais, the traditionally patterned cotton cloth woven by the East Timorese women.
For the East Timorese, the tais is more than just a strip of cloth. In olden days, it was used as currency, to buy food, livestock, and other necessities.
Draped around the neck or body, the tais can be used as a scarf or dress. It can be used to make pillow covers, bags, baskets, and purses.
The tais is also used by the locals for self-expression. The weavers sometimes include messages in their tais, written in the language of the intended receiver.
Originally, tais messages were written in Tetun. As the textile started becoming a popular export, there gradually appeared tais weavings with Portuguese and English messages.
In commemoration of the Santa Cruz Massacre in 1991, a black tais was made with all of the 271 victims’ names woven in red.
Although geometric patterns and imagery are characteristic of all tais, the patterns vary from region to region.