Beloi from the ferry, Atauro, East Timor

How To Visit Atauro Island, East Timor

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After Dili, Pulau Atauro is the second most visited region of East Timor. The island sits just off the coast of Dili and offers prime diving plus off the grid hiking.

Diving on Atauro

The main reason why people visit East Timor is the incredibly rich diving off the country’s coasts.

Now, full disclaimer: I am not a diver. In fact, I don’t even snorkel.

However, I did spend 4 days of my 2 months traveling in East Timor on Atauro. And during my visit, I talked to several divers. They were, without exception, blown away by what they saw underwater — from the coral reefs just off the beach to volcano remains to walls going down into mile-deep canyons, the sea boasts not just clear waters but also a wealth of maritime fauna that you won’t find in many other places.

If you want to get your dive on or join the dive boats for a snorkel, you can choose between four PADI dive shops in East Timor, two are Dili-based and run day trips to Atauro and two offer the chance to spend a few nights on Atauro:

Ataúro Dive Resort

The owners of Ataúro Dive Resort, Saphi from Kenya and Volker from Germany, are dive masters and offer dive classes as well as excursions to several dive spots around the island.

You can book dives at Atauro Dive Resort even if you decide to stay at any of the other Atauro accommodations.

Compass Charters & Ocean Adventures

Compass Charters & Ocean Adventures has their headquarters in Dili but operates two Eco Camps on Atauro, one in the East in Beloi and one on the West coast in Adara. 

Dive Timor Lorasae

Dive Timor Lorasae is the oldest dive shop in East Timor. They started way back in 2000. While their headquarters and accommodation are in Dili, they offer day trips to the Atauro dive spots, usually on Saturday. 

Aquatica Dive Resort

Aquatica Dive Resort is located in West Dili. You can stay in their swish accommodation and go on dive trips with them, including to Atauro. 

Equipment is available for rent at all dive shops.

Prices for dives start at around USD50/dive and are determined by the distance from the dive shop.

If you just want to snorkel there are several spots on Atauro where you don’t need a boat because you can reach the reefs from the beach.

Snorkel gear can be hired from as little as USD5/day.

Other things to do on Atauro

While most people come to the island for the waters surrounding Atauro and moving around is admittedly difficult, there are a few other things you can pass your time with:

Hiking/Trekking

In the dry season, if you just have a few hours, simply find one of the waterlines leading away from the coast and follow them inland.

If you are up for a bigger adventure, strap on your walking shoes, pack some supplies and walk from Beloi to Adara on the West coast. But be sure to leave early to avoid the worst heat.

Finally, you can book multi-day trekking trips on Atauro via your accommodation or by contacting trekkingeasttimor.org, Roman Luan NGO or Barry’s Place to destinations such as Manukoko peak or the hot springs in Bikeli and Makili.

Shopping

Just across the street from Barry’s Place is the Sentro Atauro Di’ak, an NGO that offers training for locals and sells local products to tourists.

For a special souvenir or two head over to Vila and visit the doll factory Boneca de Ataúro. Here, local women sell hand-made rag dolls and anything else you can create with a sewing machine. I bought a book cover with an intricate maritime pattern. 

Also in Vila is the jewelry shop Biojoias. Hearing-impaired women sell jewelry crafted from shells and corals by Atauro women.

On the outskirts of Vila, a family is selling traditional East Timorese palm leave weaves from an informal small stall. That’s a great place to check out if you need a hat to protect you from the searing island sun.

Every Saturday, there’s a big market in Beloi offering food, local produce as well as clothes and household goods. Many visitors from the mainland come here to stock up on fresh seaweed sold in large red plastic bags and used for expensive salads.

Photo gallery

Atauro Boats

First of all, let me note once again that travel information in East Timor is constantly changing. So use the following info as a guideline and verify the current status with your accommodation or once you’re on the ground.

While Atauro does have a small airfield and you can charter a plane service, there are currently no regular flights to the island. To visit you have to get on a boat.

Boats operate daily between Dili and Beloi, however at vastly different prices. These are your options from cheap to expensive:

Berlin Nakroma Ferry

The Nakroma goes to Beloi, Atauro, once a week on Saturday.

It leaves Dili at 7 in the morning, arriving around noon and starts the return journey to the mainland at 3 pm.

Tickets are USD4 (one-way) and are available at the port.

While many locals use the ship every week either for a day trip or to transport goods to or from the island there is usually enough space that you do not have to worry about booking ahead.

Laju Laju Ferry

The Laju Laju goes to Beloi, Atauro every Thursday. Departure/Arrival times are similar to the Nakroma.

Tickets are USD5 one-way.

Dragonboat

The Malaysian company that owns the Laju Laju ship, Dragon Star Shipping, also operates what is known as the Dragonboat. This is a fast boat doing the crossing in 1 hour (instead of 4 to 5) and offering space for about 25 people.

It leaves Dili port every Saturday/Sunday (sometimes more often) at 8am and returns from Beloi at 3pm.

A one-way ticket costs USD14. Tickets are available at the port on the day of or from the Dragon Star Shipping office next to the Burger King by Hotel Timor.

Private boats

The by far most expensive option to get from Dili to Atauro are the motorboats operated, among others, by Beloi Hotel and Compass Diving.

They do the crossing daily (cancellations at short notice are possible) and in about 45 minutes but at a whopping USD45 one-way per person.

Also note, that the boats might not moor at a pier and you could — like I was when I took the Beloi Hotel shuttle — be required to wade into the water while balancing your bags.

Fishing boats

As you noticed: all boats leave Dili in the early morning. If you miss them you can pay for a private charter or – if you are seriously adventurous – you can chat to the fishermen East of the port as they sometimes head over to Atauro in their fishing boats to drop off family and supplies during the week.

Expect to pay USD20+ for a ride in a small, slow wooden boat not made for heavy seas.

I met backpackers who did it and said — as much fun as it was when there was singing and when they were invited to join the family for a drink after the journey — among the praying mothers clutching their children and the men scooping water out of the boat they would not want to have to get on the fishing boat again.

Moving around Atauro

Atauro has no tarred roads and the few cars either belong to expats running businesses on the island or the state. You might be lucky and catch a ride on a truck picking up/dropping off goods and passengers from the ferry.

The good news is that as long as you stay in Beloi you can walk anywhere.

However, if you want to stay in Villa or even on the other side of the island in Adara, you need to talk to your accommodation about pick-up and drop-off or be prepared to walk.

BTW: According to the Atauro.com website, there are tuk-tuks between Beloi and Villa. However, in four days I didn’t see a single tuk-tuk on Atauro.

Atauro Accommodation

The choice of accommodation on Atauro is limited and even more limited if you are looking for amenities such as air conditioning or a pool. Most of the options offer neither.

However, Atauro is now electrified; so you get to enjoy electricity for more hours per day than ever before.

Regardless of your budget, I recommend that you pre-book your Atauro hotel/guest house. Where available I have added booking links or links to the properties’ websites.

Note that there is no WiFi Internet on Atauro. If you need to be connected during your stay you’ll have to buy a local SIM card, either in Dili or at the two “Chinese Shops” in Beloi.

Beloi (East coast, with the harbor for boats from/to Dili, Saturday market)

When I visited Atauro I stayed at Ataúro Dive Resort.

They offer accommodation in a 6-bed dorm (USD18+) and in four simple huts (USD35+) with shared, external bathrooms, mosquito nets, fans (though, electricity is turned off for part of the night) and inviting common areas about 1km South of Beloi and the harbor.

Breakfast is included in the rate and lunch/dinner are available on request. They also make amazing ice cream.

Breakfast is included in the rate and lunch/dinner are available on request. They also make amazing ice cream.

Barry’s Place, just North of Beloi, is the oldest Atauro beach guest house, aiming to operate in a self-sufficient and sustainable fashion.

While the Atauro Dive Resort is specialized in diving, Barry’s Place has in-depth knowledge of the hiking paths on Atauro.

You can stay in a dozen or so simple thatched huts/bungalows and rates include three meals a day.

Rates start at USD35/per person including three meals a day. 

Compass Eco Camp is located right next to Atauro Dive Resort as Atauro Beach House Tents. Accommodation is offered in permanently set up tents.

Note, however, that the camp is not open year round. You must contact Compass before you arrive.

Beloi Beach Hotel makes up the fault of being the only Beloi property that’s actually a fair bit from the beach (you have to cross the village and climb a steep stair to get there or get a car to take you the long way around) with being the only property offering not just air conditioning but also a splash pool.

The raised location also makes for stunning (sunrise) views.

Beloi Beach Hotel specializes in get-away packages including stay, food, and pick-up/drop-off in Dili with their speedboat.

To come: backpacker budget dorms

Linissa’s right by Beloi harbor/Beloi market is currently the only local restaurant open all day. But they have plans to build budget accommodation in the near future.

Vila (East coast, ca. 8 km North of Beloi)

Trisan House is located between Beloi and Vila and offers bamboo bungalows by the sea.

Iti Muran House is a holiday home for rent, right on the beach.

Manukoko Rek is run by a local cooperative. The guest house also comprises the island’s only pizzeria.

Vila Gracia is a local guest house in Vila.

Adara (West coast):

Adara Eco-Resort (aka Mario’s) is a little beach paradise. Most people walk there from Beloi to spend a night or two away from all civilization.

Adara Eco-Safari Camp is Compass Diving’s West Coast accommodation with permanent tents by the beach.

Camping & Homestays

If you have a tent or would like to get an even more local experience, you can contact Roman Luan NGO or Barry’s Place for homestays where you can either set up your own tent or stay with a family.

Where to eat on Atauro

On Atauro you’ll never be overwhelmed by dining options.

The easiest thing to do is to eat in your accommodation. Most guesthouses/hotels offer set meals, sometimes they are even included in the room rate. Since there is no menu to choose from you’ll need to let them know about any dietary requirement you might have.

At Atauro Dive Resort, I paid USD6 for a lunch and USD10 for a dinner

For cheaper, local fare in Beloi head over to Linissa, just a few steps away from the harbor and market. Here, you’ll get fried rice and fried noodles along with fish dishes.

Each Saturday, Beloi hosts a large market with numerous stalls selling rice and fish as well as sweets.

On Saturdays, you’ll also find a larger selection of fruit and vegetables on the market than on other days.

BTW, a smaller section all the way at the end of the market is open throughout the week; here you’ll always find bananas, potatoes, and dry goods.

The two “Chinese Shops” in Beloi have a large selection of packaged goods as well as phone credit, household items, and even clothes.

Vila boasts a “Pizzeria.” However, you’ll have to call ahead and place your order and – between us – I was not impressed by the pizzas, which have a thick, bready, sweet crust and no fresh toppings.

Atauro island is the second most visited region of East Timor offering prime diving plus off the beaten path hiking just off the Dili coast. This post gives you all the info you need to plan your visit: Atauro dive shops, Atauro boats, Atauro accommodation and more. #offthebeatentrack #southeastasia #backpacking
Atauro island is the second most visited region of East Timor offering prime diving plus off the beaten path hiking just off the Dili coast. This post gives you all the info you need to plan your visit: Atauro dive shops, Atauro boats, Atauro accommodation and more.
#offthebeatentrack #southeastasia #backpacking

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