Goats chilling by the main road, Com, East Timor

The Northeast Timor Leste Coast – Baucau, Lautem & Com

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Explore East Timor‘s Northeastern coast along a stunning coastal road that runs right along uncrowded beaches, rice fields, and bushland. Visit the country’s second city, Baucau, and beach resort Com with a quick stop at the Lautem Fort.

Baucau

Baucau is East Timor’s second-largest city. It consists of two very distinct parts, the new town a few kilometers from the sea and the old town on the edge of the plateau with sea views.

The old town has a few Portuguese buildings like the church, the school, and the pousada. Baucau also boasts an outdoor pool. It was built by the Portuguese guest house in the 1950s when — as I was told — Australian honeymooners would fly into the local airport to spend a few days at the pousada.

My favorite part of Baucau was the beach.

The walk down from the old town along a curvy dirt road takes about one hour if you are like me and stop for random Portuguese ruins on a hill, photos, and chats with the local kids about where I’m from, where I’m going, and what my name is.

One of the two Baucau microlet routes runs along this road. However, the drivers don’t always go all the way to the bottom, sometimes they’ll stop in Racolo village about 2 km from the beach.

There are few houses down by the seafront: a guest house with simple beach bungalows, an abandoned larger (guest?) house, and a small shop selling water, coconuts, and Mie Pop noodle cups.

During the week, you’ll share Uatabo beach only with the occasional fisherman. On the weekend locals might drop by for a picnic and walk in the sand. But if this beach gets too crowded, simply walk on along the dirt road and go to the next stretch of sand.

Along the way, you’ll discover the abandoned Portuguese toll house, cliffs and a landscape that in parts reminded me of the French Dordogne – with goats and thorny bushes want of nourishment in the arid soil – and in other parts consists of typical rice and vegetable fields lined with bananas and papayas.

On maps.me, I discovered a spot that looked like a man-made, rectangular tide pool and was marked as “water.” But once I was standing on the coordinates it was clear that here, 20m above the waterline, there couldn’t possibly be a tide pool. Instead of water, I found an exciting rock bridge, which I considered for a moment the East Timorese Trollunga just waiting to become instafamous.

Lautem

Learn how to visit Baucau and Timor Leste's Northeast along a stunning coastal road that runs right along uncrowded beaches, rice fields, and bushland. #backpacking #southeastasia #offthebeatentrack

Lautem is a convenient spot to get out of the bus from Dili/Baucau to Lospalos for an hour or so to explore the remains of the Portuguese fort to the left and right of the road along with a few tradisional stilted buildings above the collection of houses that make up this administrative post.

Note: Baucau is the place where the only foreigner who told me they’d seen a crocodile on East Timor’s shores had their reptilian encounter. So keep an eye out when you’re swimming.

A warung restaurant offers local staples like fried rice and fried pastries.

Com

In the naivete of my first week in East Timor, I had believed the photos and fully expected to find a buzzing resort village in Com, certainly on the weekend.

I arrived on a Friday afternoon via angguna from Lautem fresh off having been bitten by fleas in Baucau and during the longer-than-needed journey along the dusty road tried to convince myself not to book the more expensive stay at the Com Beach Resort. Turned out that wasn’t necessary as the beach resort had clearly been abandoned months if not years ago.

So I opted for the Kati Guesthouse just a step, well a three-step ladder, off the beach.

My hopes for traveler company that would allow for a deeper conversation than where I’m from, where I’m going, and what my name was slowly withered away as Friday night and Saturday passed without a single visitor arriving.

Apart from the pristine, empty beaches, Com offers a traditional stilted ancestors’ house at the village entrance, a massive, crumbling pier, a Portuguese mansion in ruin in perfect location on a cliff above the sea, and the sad outdoor restaurant of the Com Beach Resort where you can see pinboards with photos from better days when Australian UN soldiers and NGO staff would flock to the village for fishing and beer.

If you are looking for a trekking route, consider the back road toward Lospalos. After 16 km, in Bauro, it hits the main road from Baucau and the turn-off toward Tutuala and Jaco Island.

Photo gallery

Getting there

Buses to the East of Timor-Leste leave from Dili’s Bekora bus station.

Buses to Baucau leave frequently from Bekora throughout the day. Buses to Lospalos (passing through Baucau and Lautem) leave primarily in the early morning and the afternoon.

Bekora bus station is less stressful if you get out of your taxi/minibus 100m outside the bus station and walk to a bus of your choice. Otherwise, bus helper boys will grab your bags and run to the bus they are trying to fill up. However, no reason for panic: it is more a nuisance than a worry about losing any of your stuff.

How to go to Com by bus

The easier road to Com leads via Lautem. Get off the Dili-Lospalos bus at the roundabout and wait by the market for the next vehicle.

Transport between Lautem and Com is extremely infrequent with only a few (private) cars making the journey. During the week, angguna trucks travel along the dirt road. But they are few and far in-between. So plan enough time.

Transport along the shorter road between Com and Lospalos is even rarer and seems to only happen on Saturday (market day) with minibusses leaving Com at 3 in the morning. Ask (and ask again) about when cars or buses leave Com in any direction.

Where to stay

Baucau

Baucau has a good selection of accommodation options:

Down by Baucau beach is Baucau Beach Bungalows, which offers simple rooms for USD25/night with meals on request.

The upscale option is the Pousada Baucau. Initially built by the Portuguese and recently renovated, the hotel sits right in the center of the old town, across the street from the market and right by the informal bus stop for Lospalos/Dili buses.

Other (more budget) accommodation options in Baucau old town are:

  • Blue Ribbon Guesthouse with a fantastic view of the old town down to the sea at USD10/night but with a chance of fleas. I stayed here and experienced it as quite clean until I noticed the fleas.
  • Melita Guest House
  • Tao-Toti right next to the pousada
  • Vitoria Cafe

There are also a few guest houses in the new town, like the Benfica Motel near the ministry of economy.

Lautem

There is no guesthouse in Lautem.

If you are stuck here ask at the SOLS school (about 500m from the roundabout toward Com on the right side) whether they have space in their student dorms.

Com

Even with the Com Beach Resort shut down, Com still has a surprising number of guesthouses. They are all community-run and offer about the same service with rooms around USD20/night for a simple room with fan and external bucket shower plus USD3/breakfast and USD7/lunch or dinner.

I stayed at Kati Guesthouse, which couldn’t possibly have been any closer to the beach – pretty awesome when you can watch locals explore the rock pools offshore in low tide and pretty noisy when the water is almost lapping onto the porch during high tide.

Where to eat

Baucau has a small selection of eateries in the old town: the Pousada Baucau offers more expensive Western fare. Restaurants along the main road serve local staples. Across the street from the pousada, you can buy fruit, vegetables, eggs, and fresh fish in a small market.

Lautem has a warung restaurant where you can get simple Timorese food. The market offers a limited fresh produce selection.

In Com, you’ll have to order your meals at your accommodation. There is no produce market and no one – other than after repeatedly asking one of the staff at the Kati Guesthouse – wanted to sell me any papayas or bananas. The only other food available is mie cups and biscuits at the two small shops in town (both on the left side, between the Kati and the Beach Resort).

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