In 2013 I had the unique opportunity to work in East Timor, at Dive Timor Lorosae, the oldest existing dive shop in East Timor. At that time, I had no information about how was the dive, the country or the dive center, so I didn’t want to commit to be there for too long. It was December, end of high season in Komodo, Indonesia, so I thought it would be a good option to the see a new place while waiting for the next season. What I found there surprised me and I ended up staying there for one year and still go back often for holidays!
Just before heading to Timor for my new adventure, I was working on a Liveaboard in Komodo, Indonesia, and when I told my former boss about my plans, she said: “be careful, it’s very dangerous, at the airport you are going to be welcomed by people pointing guns at your face”. As usual, I never listen to advices and at that point, I didn’t know what that meant.
What I didn’t know is that East Timor and Indonesia has a past in common, unfortunately, not a peaceful one. Geographically, these two countries share the same Island – Pulau Timor.
East Timor was a Portuguese colony for almost 3 centuries and declared itself independent in 1975. Only nine days later, the Indonesian forces invaded and occupied the country, turning it into Province of Timor Timur.
It wasn’t a peaceful occupation and the timorense people fought for their independence for over two decades. An estimated 250.000 people lost their lives during the Indonesian “Pacification” campaign.
In 1999 the United Nations supervised a popular referendum, when the people from East Timor massively voted for their independence. The UN announced the result and asked the Indinesian forces to leave the country. They did, but left a trail of destruction behind, terrorised the population and destroyed much of the country’s Infrastructure. The UN peacekeeping force was sent to re-establish peace and reconstruct the country.
In 2002, East Timor was finally recognized as a new country under the name of Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste and the UN remained there for another 10 years, with the reconstruction plan.
When visiting East Timor I highly recommended a visit to The Timorese Resistance Archive & Museum.
That was also my first experience in a country with UN interference, but that’s a subject for another website. Let’s talk about diving!
It’s a world class dive destination, easy for any level of experience and away from the crowd! Still not overexplored by turism, it’s really rare to see more than 4 other divers underwater.
Not too many places in the world you can dive a huge wall 70m deep just few meters from the main land, most of them accessible by the shore. In between the north coast of East Timor and Atauro Island, in only 15NM distance, the sea bed gets down to 2000m depths. It’s a route of big whales several months of the year.
The underwater topography is not limited to steep walls. Sea mounts, shallow reefs, sand slopes and piers compose the scenery.
Most of the dive sites are located in the north coast of the main island and it’s possible to reach from the shore. There are just few dive centers in the country and most of them based in Dili, the capital. From the dive center to the dive sites can take from 5 minutes to 1,5 hours drive. It’s also a perfect location for those who loves diving but can’t stand more than 5 minutes in a boat without getting sick!
Atauro Island has several dive sites and definitely is a “must go” place to dive! It’s just 1 hour boat trip with huge walls, covered with corals, full of reef fish and some pelagic life. The visibility is always very good, but sometimes can get to incredible 100m. It’s just fantastic! Dolphins and Pilot Whales are often seen in the boat trip to Atauro.
Jaco Island is in the far east end of the main island. It’s a National Park. The dive operators were not organizing trips until not too long ago. When I was living in East Timor, in 2013, I did it by myself, arranging my accommodation, renting a car, tanks and diving from fisherman’s boats. If you are interested, check if there’s a dive center organizing this trip. If there’s no, don’t worry. I can tell you how to get there and dive! It was an adventure!
WHEN TO GO
Timor Leste has a tropical climate – hot and humid with a distinct wet and dry season.
The wet season is from December to April with temperatures between 30ºC – 35ºC during the day, dropping to the low 20’s overnight.The dry season is from May to November. Average temperature in the dry season is 20ºC – 33°C.
The temperature in the water is in between 26ºC – 29ºC. Sometimes can get lower as 24ºC with thermoclines during the dive. I haven’t seen termoclines like in Timor anywhere else. In the same dive, clystal clear water at 29ºC and 2m dark cold at 24ºC.
Diving is conducted year round. However visibility may be affected after heavy downpours in the wet season.
WHAT TO SEE UNDERWATER
Majestic walls that drop off into the deep blue sea, acres of untouched healthy corals, and an abundance of prolific marine life.
Diving in Timor Leste gives you a chance to see everything from endangered Dugongs to interesting critters like Frogfish, Pygmy Sea Horses and many types of Pipefish. For nudibranch lovers, it’s very good. Not often, but some lucky ones had seen Manta Rays, Hammerhead Sharks, Thresher Sharks and Whale Sharks there. Everything is possible in Timor waters!
If you are keen on night dives, don’t miss the opportunity to dive Tasi Tolu. On that dive site I had the best night dives of my life.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST
The shore dives can cost from 40 to 60 USD, depends on how far you want to go and if you have your own gear. A boat trip to Atauro Island will cost around 165 USD for 2 dives.
Accommodation can cost from 30 USD (guest house) to 100 USD (apartment).
Dive Timor Lorosae also provides accommodation and it’s just perfect for divers.
HOW TO GET THERE
You can fly from Bali, Darwin (Australia) or Singapure. There are many daily flights from Bali and it takes about 2,5h only.
Most of nationalities can get the visa on arrival and it costs about 30USD for 30 days.
The country has no hyperbaric chamber and the nearest ones will be in Bali, Indonesia or Darwin, Australia. Better to keep yourself within the limits and very well hydrated.
Dengue and Malaria can be an issue, so make sure you always use mosquito repellent. I was living there for one year and never had a problem but I was always using repellent.
The local currency is USD and you can withdraw from ATM machines. If you bring USD, make sure it’s not older than 2006. Most of the places won’t accept it.