East Timor’s capital is surrounded by rugged mountains and set on the sea, and deserves to be seen as more than a launch pad to the increasingly popular islands nearby, such as Jaco and Atauro. Stay for a few days and you’ll discover lovely beaches, invigorating hikes, tasty restaurants and vibrant markets. The country’s painful past shouldn’t be ignored, and Dili provides plenty of opportunities for visitors to learn more about this, too. See timorleste.tl
In 1975, just nine days after East Timor declared independence following 400 years of Portuguese colonial rule, Indonesia invaded. As many as 183,000 East Timorese lost their lives before the country finally achieved independence in 2002. Dili’s Resistance Museum commemorates this 24-year struggle, in a simple space where you can peruse photos, videos, timelines and weapon displays. Afterwards, visit the Santa Cruz cemetery filled with ornate, pastel-painted gravestones, and learn about the harrowing but important 1991 massacre that occurred here, when Indonesian soldiers fired on a peaceful memorial procession and killed more than 250 civilians. See amrtimor.org
Tucked down a laneway on top of an English language school, Agora Food Studio is a trendy, bohemian space that offers two fresh, seasonal dishes (one vegetarian, one meat) each day. About 90 per cent of ingredients are sourced locally from farmers and markets, and there’s fantastic coffee, fresh juices and smoothies on offer, too. It’s not the cheapest food in Dili, but rest assured your tourism dollar is going to a good cause. The owners mentor 16 Timorese youth to manage the restaurant, and you’re supporting native food production. See timorlestefoodlab.com
You won’t have been on East Timorese soil for five minutes before seeing a tais, or traditional woven cloth. They’re used by locals for adornment and ceremonial purposes, but you can take yours home to use as a scarf, table cloth or blanket. Each region has its own distinct style of the cloth, and at the small Dili Tais Market you’ll be able to compare the different qualities and patterns from across the country. Prices are flexible, so haggle gently.
Wake before sunrise when the air is still cool, and hike up 500 steps to the 27-metre Cristo Rei statue, the world’s second largest Jesus statue after Rio’s Christ the Redeemer. Set at the end of the peninsula just five minutes’ drive from town, it’s a fantastic sunrise spot with panoramic views of the ocean. Afterwards, take a dip at the white-sand Jesus Backside Beach below.See timorleste.tl
Rooms at Hotel Esplanada are simple and comfortable, but you won’t be inside them very much. You’ll be lazing under the banana palms by the pool, walking along the seafront promenade across the road, or eating seafood and drinking cold beer at the upstairs open-air restaurant while taking in the ocean views.See hotelesplanada.com
If you’re up for a four-hour drive into Timor-Leste’s mountainous interior, the three-hour hike up Mount Ramelau is a special experience. At 2986 metres, this is East Timor’s highest peak and a place steeped in religious and cultural significance. The views from the peak, where you’ll find a statue of the Virgin Mary, are particularly striking at sunrise and sunset. Hiring a local guide is recommended.
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