East Timor

James Articles, Features

East Timor

New Horizons

East Timor is certainly a new horizon. Barely four years old, it is the world’s youngest country. And as the easternmost island in the Indonesian archipelago (Timor is derived from the Malay word for ‘east’), it’s on the horizon in more ways than one. Yet only now is it beginning to reveal its hidden charms.

Dili is the new nation’s capital, as it was in colonial times. This little bit of Portugal in the tropics has maintained its beauty, with much of its early architecture – including a Portuguese castle dating from 1627 – still in place. Pleasingly, its traditional slow pace of life lingers on too, with everything closing down for the afternoon siesta.

The sweeping harbour and surrounding green waterfront, which form the focus of Dili, offer spectacular views at sunset – not least of a massive statue of Christ on the hilltop headland at Cape Fatucama, reminiscent of Rio’s statue of Christ the Redeemer.

Fine colonial architecture is scattered throughout the country, though much was destroyed during the 24-year occupation by its formidable neighbour Indonesia, which only ended in 2002 after much strife.

For traditional life, head out east – to east ‘East’, if you will. Some residents of those sleepy fishing villages still live in houses on stilts, but tours here reveal relics from much farther back, including ancient cave paintings.

The marine park on Jaco Island, home to turtles and sharks, is worth a look. But for world-class diving and snorkelling, visit Atauro Island, just off the north coast. Here unspoilt coral reef supports a vast biodiversity, including hundreds of different fish. Deep-sea fishing is also popular in this area.

The island’s interior holds a wealth of delights. Treks wind from rice paddies to lush jungle, from dry ochre-coloured hills to mountains with views over both coastlines to north and south.

Wherever you go, though, you’ll be sure to return to the breathtaking white beaches.

First published: Traveller magazine, Summer 2006
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