Dili's architecture suffered heavily during the days of Independence conflicts. There are a few isolated buildings that predate the period, however most were lost. What does remain are some of the city's parks and plaza's.
Cost is free, and they offer some nice views. In my humble opinion, walking between the two major plazas of the city gives you a bit of orientation when you arrive to Dili and familiarizes you with the streets.
The smallest of the three major plazas is the "Clock Tower" round about is about 500m west of the port. It is where Ave Amerirante Americo Tomas and Rua Abilio Motelro (to Catherdral) meet.
The largest is immediately opposite the port and the Hotel Timor, again on Ave Amerirante Americo Tomas. There are a few tall monuments as well as some tended gardens.
From there, walk straight east, along the waterfront. After walking in front of the Parliament Building and Casa Europa, you will have to walk a couple more blocks before finally arriving at the Fatima Statue and Fountain. At this point, you have walked the length of Dili.
Whether you want to actually buy so you can prepare a fresh dinner meal, or you just wish to have a look as to what inhabits the local waters, the local's fish market can offer both.
There are no set hours, but Sunday afternoons are probably best. All the fish is fresh and displayed on what ever table they can find. Ice may not be available or will melt quickly, so its best to get it early and not wait too long.
Small fish may go for a dollar or two. Large fish may start about $5.
If a completely detached, quiet, relaxed weekend sounds like peace to you, then Atauro Island is the place to go. (sorry, lost all my photos)
Many expats in Dili escape to the island to get away from it all on the weekends. The Nakroma Ferry will take you to the island every Saturday morning (see my Nakroma Ferry tip). If you wish to spend the weekend, there are a few local fishermen that capitalize on the weekend visitors to Atauro and offer rides back to Dili "early" Monday morning. Typical departure is about 5am on Monday for $10/pp. Once you get to Atauro, ask around and most people will point you in the right way.
A good place to say on the island is about 200m north of the boat pier. It is "Barry's Beloi Lodge" (phone number below). For $30/night per person, you can have an eco-lodge accommodation and meals included. Alcohol is extra. Barry will assist with return transit if you need help.
The island is very rustic and has little population. There are lots of local fishermen working the shore lines and selling their catch in the small markets.
Snorkeling and wasting time on the beach are the key activities here. Snorkeling gear and mountain bikes are available for rent if you do not bring your own.
Backside Beach gets its name from the expats since its on the "Backside" of the Cristo Rei statue. There are no facilities there, so you must bring everything.
It is more secluded than the main beaches between Dili and the statue. So if you want people and cafes, drink and food vendors, then stay to the front.
If you want quiet beach, with only a few people, no hassles and pristine water, then this is your place.
Bring a towel, some food & drink, some sunscreen and what ever else you need to be self sufficient and happy. Fins and snorkels are optional, but recommended...
To get there you have two options:
1) walk up the stairs to Cristo Rei. Along the stairs, there are graphic enclaves depicting stages in Christ's life. At the enclave numbered "XIV", take the foot path over the side to the left. The beach is ~5 minutes walk down the path.
2) if you have a car, you can drive towards Cristo Rei, and take the turnoff to Hera. Go up and over the mountain pass. On the bottom of the downhill, take a hard left and backtrack to the beach along the dirt road.
Located in the ex-Balide Comarca, the CAVR Chega Exhibition chronicals the history leading up to, during and after the Indonesian-Timorese conflict.
The ex-Balide Comarca is the refurbished colonial prison which actually housed many Timorese captives by the Indonesians during the occupation. The facility was ultimately run down, but was rebuilt and became a perfect monument and home to the CAVR national office.
CAVR - Comissao de Acolhimento, Verdade e Reconciliacao de Timor-Leste
or in English - "Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor"
Chega - Portuguese for "no more, stop, enough"
The Commission authored the Chega! Report which is a compilation of interviews, accounts and testimonials about the human rights violations and crimes suffered in Timor.
The commission was charged with finding the truth in the chaos, in an manner to help re-integrate the populace amicably and foster reconciliation.
Cost is Free
Hours are posted as 9am ~ 5pm (closed for lunch 12n ~ 2pm) Monday through Friday.
However, the curator personally told me that if you show up during lunch or during the weekend, the security guards will allow you in if there is any staff on the facility.
There is a small gift shop and coffee shop inside. Its a good place to pick up a copy of the movie, Balibo.
We happened to see the signboard for this museum dedicated to the Timorese resistance. It is rather modest considering the impact of recent history. Also taking pictures inside was not allowed.
Yet we advise not to pass by the museum. Given sufficient visitors a bigger museum might be established, like the war museums in Vietnam which are a main tourist attraction.
The Santa Cruz cemetery has become symbolic for the human rights violations by the Indonesian occupying forces.
When on November 12, 1991, the burial procession for resistance member Sebastião Gomes reached the cemetery, Indonesian military started shooting at the mourners, who in vain tried to hide behind the grave stones. Estimates of the number killed range between 250 and 400.
The massacre was filmed by foreign journalists and caused outrage around the world.
One can visit the cemetery, but as yet there is no memorial of the massacre.
Motael church was built by the Portuguese. The building played a role in the events leading up to the Cementerio de Santa Cruz massacre. On 28 October 1991 a confrontation had taken place between resistance members in the church and pro-integration activists, during which two Timorese were killed.
Later, on 12 November, thousands attended the memorial service for resistance member Sebastiao Gomes and walked from Motael church to the Santa Cruz cemetery. During the march a brief confrontation with Indonesian troops took place. When the procession entered the cemetery a fresh group of Indonesian military appeared and started shooting. The massacre took the lives of at least 250 Timorese and the ensuing worldwide outrage started the erosion of international support for the Indonesian occupation.
When we visited Dili in July 2009 restoration work on Motael church was in progress.
Asking around for a tourist information office, we were referred to Eco Discovery Timor-Leste. As far as we could ascertain, they are at present the most active tour operator in Timor-Leste. And wanting to get the most out of our short stay we took two days of touring with them, although this was not cheap.
The first day our driver took us west until Balibo and Maliana. There and back with many sightseeing stops on the way made a full 12-hour day, from 8 am to 8 pm. As we returned in the dark the prospect of an afternoon swim at one of the beaches could not be fulfilled. Our advice to the manager was to drop the leg to Maliana, in order to save time for this.
Our next day tour was south to Aileu and the mountain resort Maubisse. This day we were back at 6 pm.
The price of both days was USD 200,- irrespective of the number of passengers in the car - up to four. There were only the two of us; of course it is cheaper per person if one can share. The driver/guide was knowledgeable and patient, allowing time for everything we wanted to see close. Drinking water was available, but snacks and lunch additional.
For the highlights of the tours see our East Timor Things to Do tips.
Address: 2/20 - 1st floor Landmark Plaza, Rua dos Mártires da Pária, Fatuhada, Dili.
Since its inauguration on 15 June 2008, a statue of Pope John Paul II west of Dili mirrors the Cristo Rei statue on the other side. It represents a homage to the pope who visited the occupied country in November 1989 and thereby gave new hope to the struggle for freedom.
The statue overlooks the plain where the pope celebrated mass in the open air.
The statue of Cristo Rei (Christ the King) has become Dili's most famous landmark, although it was erected by the Indonesian army and inaugurated in 1995 by president Suharto. The statue is located on a promontory east of the city. The figure of Christ is 27 m high and He is standing on a globe, looking out over the sea.
We could not approach the statue because they were painting the stairs. They will be red as the stairs to landmarks elsewhere. Work was going on for an enormous parking lot. We wonder whether all the people having parked there when the parking is full can be accommodated around the statue above. Anyhow, they will have to negotiate the long flight of stairs along the Stations of the Cross. The reliefs depicting the stations seem recently to have been renovated, but why the missing characters?
Given its Portugese historical baggage, there is a smaller statue of Christ (like the one in Brazil) standing on a cliff in the eastern end of Dili. To go to visit the statue, you need to climb up a long flight of stairs (only for the fit and abled). From that point, besides the statue, you can have a scenic view of the bay, Dili and the ridge itself. At the entrance of the parking lot, is a beach, which is a nice place to hangout, which the locals actually do... but its generally not very clean. However its a good place to snorkel and see the bay's marine's life.
The Embassy of the Vatican at Dili should have been finished by January 2009. But when we saw it in July construction had come to a halt.