The coast West of the capital offers East Timor favorite must-sees: uncrowded beaches, cliffs, colonial history. Thanks to solid minibus coverage, the stretch between Tasi Tolu,
Tasi Tolu is the bus station for all travel to the regions West of Dili. But the district itself is worth a visit.
Dili Rock, about 8 km West of downtown Dili is the official entrance to the city.
Off the coast is a favorite dive spot. A few meters inland above the rock towers a 6m statue of Pope John Paul II commemorating the pontiff’s visit to East Timor in 1989.
Another Tasi Tolu sight
In some years, the water turns red. While science tells us that that’s most likely due to algae growth, the locals believe it’s the blood of the Timorese buried here after the Indonesian invasion.
And it doesn’t help that the most recent colorations occurred in years that saw big massacres (1975 when the Indonesians invaded, 1999 when the country was burned down by Indonesian militia after the Independence referendum, and 2006 when a military coup threatened to throw the young nation into chaos)
Tibar port, I was told, is where the Berlin Nakroma goes when it’s due for maintenance.
The coastal stretch offers more beaches and with the Tibar Beach Retreat a romantic escape from the capital.
Liquica is a treasure trove for anyone interested in East Timor’s history.
About 3 km East of the small town is the old Portuguese prison Prisao Do Ai Pelo where the colonial powers imprisoned Timorese kings and political prisoners from Portugal and other colonies.
The prison was decommissioned after WWII and partially restored as a monument by the Indonesians.
Nowadays, the info charts have faded and you’ll probably be the only visitor (other than the goats that love to climb in the ruins).
The 2004 Lonely Planet on Timor-Leste I picked up somewhere along the way claimed there was a beach with a hot spring by the prison; but I was not able to find it.
Liquica new town is your standard East Timor town with a market and plenty of shops selling household items and dry goods.
Leave the new town behind, and you’ll get to
A monument near the football field commemorates the 1999 Liquica Church massacre.
Liquica has one of the nicest and widest stretches of beach along the North coast.
Lauhata Beach Escape’s black sand beach lies on the Eastern end and the beach continues well after the pebble beach of Caimeo Beach Resort 3 km to the West.
The highlands off the Liquica coast are part of East Timor’s coffee growing region.
About 5 km outside Maubara village, you’ll find another saline lake – similar to the ones in Tasi Tolu. This one, however, is a nature reserve completely surrounded by a fence and there is no way to get close to the shore in hopes of seeing pelicans or crocodiles.
Maubara town itself is barely more than the fort, a few shops and the church but the fort has been developed as a tourist destination and thus Maubara is on every tour guide’s map.
While I loved the fresh juice served in the small restaurant inside the fort and bought handmade earrings for a dollar from the cooperative next door, I was not overly impressed with the site as such.
Granted, the atmosphere under giant trees in the small square of the thick fort walls is lovely (and refreshingly cool) but other than the walls not much remains of the structure.
Loes Bridge about half-way between Maubara and Batugade is one of East Timor’s largest bridges spanning massive Rio de Loes, one of East Timor’s water ways that swell to 100m in width during heavy rainy season and lie dry most of the year.
If you come early, you might be able to buy fresh shrimps collected at the mouth of the river just behind the bridge.
Atabae is one of the few places along the Northwestern coast where you’ll find a guest house. It’s near the market, right by the road in Atsabae town; so you can’t miss it.
A few kilometers behind Atsabe town, in Biacou, I found another tourist development in the making. This one is helmed by the Dili University and targets local visitors rather than foreigners.
I happened to catch a ride from Maubara with one of the professors in charge of the project and got a preview of what’s to come.
Biacou has mangrove forests between its beach (Bae Cloe Beach) and the sea. The students have built beach huts that visitors can rent for a picnic and a day by the sea.
One of the buildings the students currently live in will be turned into a guest house.
Furthermore, the Inur 7 are built up as a tourism site. These are seven caves along the coast, which are only accessible via a strenuous climb along the cliffs or by boat.
Visitors can hire local fishermen to take them to the caves for USD5 to USD50 (depending on the number of caves visited and time spent).
Batugade is the last town before the Northern border to West Timor.
The focal point is a Portuguese Fort on the fork in the road, leading to the left into the mountains to Balibo and Maliana and to the right to the border. The fort is now a police/army post and cannot be visited.
Batugade also has a long stretch of sandy beach, which, in combination with the handful of
Dili – Maubara
Getting from Dili to Liquica and Maubara is fairly simple: microlet minibuses leave Dili’s Tasi Tolu bus station throughout the day. Even though they all say “Dili – Liquica” most of them will go all the way to Maubara. If you happen to catch one that doesn’t just get to the main road in Liquica and wait for the next microlet to pass westward.
Note: In Tasi Tolu, many microlets don’t simply remain parked until full. Nope, in an attempt to attract more passengers, the drivers will frequently go about 1 kilometer toward Dili Rock and then turn back. It’s frustrating and when I sat on a microlet that was doing that for half an hour we gained 0 additional passengers between Tasi Tolu and Dili Rock.
Dili to Maliana bus
If you want to go beyond Maubara, you’ll have to catch the early-morning buses to Maliana and hitchhike back to Maubara (or wait for the buses to return the next day).
Note that while you will see buses on that main road from Dili to Batugate throughout the day, these private rentals or tour buses do usually not stop to pick up additional passengers. Instead, focus on the few cars passing by.
I hitched a ride with a university professor from Maubara to Baicou and then another ride all the way to Balibo with the state secretary of higher education for Timor-Leste from Baicou.
Where to stay
Accommodation along the Northwestern coast of East Timor is few and far in-between and varies from luxe, modern beach resorts to bare-minimum huts:
Tibar Beach Retreat dates back to the golden years of the early 2000s when UN and NGO staff was burning Western salaries on their days off. The eight bungalows sit on a hill with view of Tibar Bay.
In Liquica you have the choice between two beach resorts charging USD100/night.
Lauhata Beach Escape has, if online reviews are to be believed, lost its punch and their beach bungalows are starting to wither away.
The bungalows of Caimeo Beach Resort are new (as they have only recently replaced clamping tents of the original resort) and come with all amenities (bar WiFi, which simply doesn’t exist outside Dili): lots of space, king size beds, sea views, large TV screens (bring your own films or watch one from the resort’s library), and a choice of breakfast from the menu.
The Laloran Guesthouse outside Maubara was started as a community guesthouse and is currently all but abandoned. If you are lucky the neighbor who has the keys to the handful of bamboo huts without electricity, a simple mattress to sleep on (no bed frame) and external bathroom is there and will happily collect your USD25/night plus USD5 for dinner and USD2.50 for breakfast.
But honestly, if you aren’t in dire need to find a bed, I’d move on.
If you have a tent, I’d rather ask the Maubara Fort restaurant or the nuns at Maubara church for a camping spot. Otherwise, try and make it to Atabae.
I did not see the interiors of the S.M Guesthouse in Atabae but from the outside the motel-style guest house looked like a well-maintained place. USD25 will buy you an en-suite room here.
Baicou (Western Atabae)
The guest house was not officially finished, yet, when I was there. But you should still try and chat to the owners of the building if you want to spend the night here.
Here’s how you’ll find it: Where the main road makes a sharp turn left inland in Baicou, turn right onto the dirt road instead. After about 50 m you’ll see a school on the left and a light blue two-story building on the right. That building is your guest house. If you continue straight, you’ll get to the beach; the mangroves and the 7 caves are to the left along the coastline.
Along the road to the border, you’ll find a handful local guest houses. I only saw them from the bus, so can’t say anything about quality or prices.
And that’s to the best of my knowledge the complete list of accommodations between Tibar and Batugade.
Where to eat
If you stay at any of the resorts listed in the Where To Stay section you’d be best off eating there as any restaurant is 20 minutes (or more) on foot.
All accommodation listed can organize food, even if they don’t have a restaurant.
Maubara Fort has a lovely small restaurant that serves local classics like fried rice along with fresh juices and pancakes.
There are a few local restaurants near Liquica market as well as near Batugade Fort.
About 2 km after East of Loes bridge is a typical East Timorese row of about a dozen roadside restaurants.
They all serve the same: packages of steamed rice, fried fish, and steamed corn.
This is a favorite stop of the buses coming from West Timor or Maliana.