Are you planning a trip to Dili in Timor-Leste and wondering how to spend a low-cost day or two exploring the capital?
After one year living, working and exploring everything the Capital of Dili has to offer, these are my 10 EASY AND CHEAP THINGS TO DO IN DILI TIMOR-LESTE.
MICROLET AROUND THE CITY
The microlets are an experience all to themselves! A network of colourful, music-pumping vans that drive a set route around the city for only 25 cents per trip.
The colour of the van, and large numbers on the front, indicate which route the microlet takes around the city. Head to www.dilimicrolets.com to see all the route maps.
To catch a microlet, simply flag it down as it approaches by casually waving a hand in their general direction.
If there’s room, hop aboard and settle in for the ride, or if it’s looking a bit packed, wait for the next one – it’ll be along in just a minute or two.
While each number/colour van drives a set route, there are no set stops. You can get off at any point you like. Simply tap your 25 cent coin on the ceiling railing or any other part of the van, and they’ll pull over. Hop out and pay the driver through the passengers’ window. It’s really that simple.
My favourite microlet is the blue number 12. It follows the coast out to through Metiaut towards Cristo Rei, before turning around and heading back into the city.
WALK, RUN OR CYCLE TO AREIA BRANCA BEACH
One of my favourite areas of Dili if you want to escape the masses of traffic, enjoy a sea view and maybe even a cooling breeze. Areia Branca is definitely the spot to head for.
The road from the new (as of Aug 2019) Habibie Bridge out through Metiaut follows the ocean. It passes plenty of restaurants and cafes which are prime locations for brunch or a cracking sunset.
It will take you approximately 1 hour of swift walking, 30 minutes running, or a 10 minute cycle, from the Habibie bridge and park to the white sandy beach of Areia Branca. There you can stop to eat, drink and relax on the beach at either the popular Beachside Hotel or Caz Bar.
During the dry season keep an eye out for the Friday and Saturday night free cinema sessions at Beachside Hotel, starting at sunset around 6.45pm-7pm.
CLIMB CRISTO REI
The most recognisable landmark in Dili, Cristo Rei. It’s a great, active and somewhat sweaty way to mingle with groups of chatting Timorese youth, families on a day out, and sports hoodie-clad runners – and it’s free to make the climb.
You can take the blue number 12 microlet to Cristo Rei, which takes about 10 – 15 minutes from the city centre.
It’s approximately 600 steps to the top where you can look at the 27-metre-tall statue up close and personal. You can also admire the views of the ocean, Back Beach and Atauro Island.
How long does it take to climb up 600 steps? 10 to 25 minutes depending how often you stop to rest… I mean, stop to admire the view along the way.
If you would like to explore Back Beach a little closer, a set of steps leads off from the halfway point of the climb up Cristo Rei. It only takes another 5-10 minutes of walking, so is well worth the scenic detour.
Be sure to take water and sun protection for this short but sweaty climb.
Check out this video of my climb up Cristo Rei.
BROWSE THE 2ND HAND CLOTHES MARKETS
Dili has a lot of places to explore selling second-hand clothes. They are shipped to Timor-Leste from the likes of Australia, Singapore and Indonesia.
One of the best places to hunt for a bargain is Manleuena market near the Dili Institute of Technology.
You’ll need to catch the green microlet, number 3, costing 25 cents. If you prefer a taxi, it’ll cost approximately $3+ USD one-way. It’s about a 10-minute trip from Timor Plaza shopping mall.
There’s something for everyone at the market. It’s just a question of whether you can find it or not – clothes galore, shoes, bags. Plus, there’s also flowers, plants, and a fruit and vegetable market too.
Most clothing items will cost from $1 – $4 USD. Prices are usually quoted in Indonesian Bahasa. This might help… Satu is Bahasa for $1, dua is $2, tiga is $3. Lima puluh sen is 50 cents, and satu lima, dua lima, etc. is $1.50, $2.50, etc.
If in doubt, try using fingers. Haggling is accepted.
Be prepared for a hot, sweaty shopping experience!
VISIT THE TIMORESE RESISTANCE ARCHIVE AND MUSEUM
The Resistance Museum is open 5 days a week from Tuesday to Saturday (0900 – 1630). They are closed Sunday and Monday.
It costs $1 USD per person and is a must if you’re visiting Dili, Timor-Leste. It’s the perfect place to learn more about the fight for independence from Indonesian from 1975 to 2000.
There is A LOT of information to digest; timelines, photos, video clips, interactive displays, as well as artefacts. It can be hard to take it all in on one visit, so maybe plan a couple of visits, if time permits.
Plan to spend between 1-3 hours at the Resistance Museum.
DRINK COFFEE, CHAT AND PEOPLE WATCH
A quarter of all households in Timor-Leste grow coffee, and therefore you’ll meet plenty of people who know a lot about coffee and will happily educate you.
Head to one of the small coffee shops throughout the city to try a cup for yourself, while chatting about where the coffee came from, how it’s grown, processed and prepared, how to identify flavours and so much more.
My favourite places to visit are Letefoho on the Esplanada waterfront near Compass Diving, Fatima’s on Bairro Formosa next to the excellent Boneca de Atauro shop, and Agora, located on the top floor of the Lorosa’e English Language Institute (LELI).
A coffee will cost you approximately $1 USD for an espresso, $2 for a macchiato and $3.50 for a flat-white. Prices vary from place to place.
WANDER THE LARGO DE LECIDERE AND SIP A COCONUT
As you explore Dili you will spot market stalls everywhere, selling second-hand clothes, food, drinks, fruit and vegetables.
One of the more pleasant, cooler areas to stroll around is along the Largo De Lecidere. It starts near the port and following the waterfront under the shade of trees heading west towards Habibie bridge and park.
En-route expect to see a lot of people relaxing in the shade, offering a bondia or botarde as you pass, scooters whizzing around, microlets and taxis beeping, and people selling fruit, vegetables, fish, bags of peanuts and coconuts ripe for drinking.
The coconut will be skilfully opened with a machete and cost $1 USD. After you’ve finished the coconut water, take the coconut back and ask for it to be cracked open to eat the fleshy coconut meat.
Expect the walk to take anywhere from 1 – 2 hours at a leisurely pace from the dock to Habibie bridge and park. Along the way passing the fruit market, fatin fa’an ai-fuan natural, where you can pick up seasonal fruits like pineapples, mangoes and bananas for a few US dollars. Also handy, right opposite the fruit market are Lita and Dili Mart supermarkets.
VISIT CHEGA! EXHIBITION
The Chega! Exhibition (chega means ‘stop’ or ‘no more’ in Portuguese) is home to the results of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) process.
There is a lot of information, timelines and photographs of the atrocities Timor-Leste suffered, as well as the dark rooms, cells where resistance fighters were held and tortured.
It’s a chilling, sobering experience.
I recommend visiting in the morning or afternoon (avoid lunchtime as the staff won’t be available). Ask the staff if someone is available to show you around.
There is no cost to visit Chega! Exhibition, however you are free to leave a donation if you like.
WANDER THE TAIBESI MARKET
For a total Timorese market immersion experience, head to the Taibesi market, known as Marcado Taibesi locally.
It’s large and somewhat chaotic, as this sprawling market has fresh fruit and vegetables, dried produce, meat, clothes and loja’s (stores) selling a range of items including drinks, snacks and household items.
I tend to think of Taibesi as somewhere to go if you want something in particular, maybe in bulk, like dried beans or sweetcorn. However, it’s equally as good for a stroll and simply to experience a real Timorese market.
It’s a short trip from central Dili either via microlet or taxi, and will take 10-15 minutes, depending on your starting location. Expect to pay approximately $3+ USD for a taxi one-way.
Plan to spend approximately 1-hour at the Taibesi market.
BOOK A DILI MASSAGE
There are plenty of places around Dili to soothe those aches and pains with an excellent massage.
Prices vary from place to place, but I can recommend Venture Hotel at $20 for an hour or $25 for 90 minutes, and Lorosae Concept at $29 for 90 minutes.
That’s a whole lot of relaxation time and surely money well spent!
These places come highly recommended by my partner, as well as friends that are regular visitors.
Venture Hotel Call +670 7723 3344 to book
Lorosae Concept Call +670 7742 4449 / +670 7764 7241 to book
I hope you found my 10 EASY AND CHEAP THINGS TO DO IN DILI, TIMOR-LESTE useful, and discovered some interesting, low-cost things to do during your visit to Dili, Timor-Leste.
Feel free to leave a comment with any questions about visiting Dili or if I’ve missed your favourite cheap and easy thing to do from my list!
Hi, I’m Adam Constanza, freelance travel content creator living, working and supporting tourism in Timor Leste, South East Asia.
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