East Timor, also called Timor-Leste, may not pop to mind when you think of diving, but perhaps it should. Occupying the eastern half of Timor Island, the now-independent country is well-known for political strife beginning in the 1970s, when colonizer Portugal pulled out of the country. Within days, Indonesia invaded, and practiced a brutal military campaign of suppression until Timor-Leste finally gained independence in 2002. Despite some political unrest since then, the country is safe for travelers who exercise common-sense precautions.
When it comes to scuba diving in East Timor, visitors will be rewarded with warm waters, good visibility and muck diving. There’s also surprisingly spectacular shore diving — there really is something for everyone in this largely unknown dive haven. The atmosphere is safe and relaxed while also feeling quite different from back home. The dive resort was comfortable yet rustic.
Getting to East Timor
The small country of East Timor, now commonly called Timor-Leste, is situated on the eastern side of a shared island with Indonesia, 435 miles (700 km) off the north coast of Australia. Portuguese influences still strongly affect the one-million-plus locals, and various Christian religious landmarks are common, with over 96 percent of the population identifying as Catholic. The easiest way to reach the capital, Dili, is via a one-hour flight from Darwin, Australia. A visa is granted upon arrival for $20 US, but be sure to exchange your currency in Australia before leaving, as there are no facilities before immigration. The costs associated with in-country travel and diving are quite affordable and a welcome break from more-expensive dive destinations.
Meals typically cost less than $8 at local, waterfront restaurants. You can usually hire a local taxi for a similar price. Visit remote areas in small groups or on tours. You’ll struggle to find public transportation. If your main desire on your visit to Timor-Leste is to go diving, the easiest option is to stay at one of the dive shops/resorts. These will be able to take you to the best shore-diving and boat diving sites around, while also providing a comfortable, safe spot to recharge at the end of an amazing day of diving.
Scuba Diving in East Timor
Atauro Island is about two hours from the Timorese capital of Dili and is a must for any visitor. The waters around the island offer some beautiful boat-diving opportunities. Vast coral gardens abound in the shallows and slope off into a huge drop that plummets thousands of feet into the ocean’s abyss. Plentiful angelfish and butterflyfish swim around the soft corals and sizeable hard table corals. You may even run into the odd humphead parrotfish or two. You can organize your transportation to Atauro through Dive Timor Lorosae in Dili. They will assist you in getting to, and diving with Barry’s Place. Get ready for a technology-free experience, however, as power is limited and outside contact is almost impossible. Make sure to charge those camera batteries before you go.
The shore diving around Dili is top quality. A surprise awaits as you wade into the water across rocky beaches on your first shore dive, not knowing what to expect. At a depth of only seven feet (two meters), hard corals and schools of fish begin to appear, spread out before you as far as the great visibility allows. As you make your way deeper, a vast reef opens up right off the beach. The depth can plummet very sharply, but the top of the reef wall stays shallow, starting at 33 feet (10 m) and sloping down into the depths.
Another highlight of Timorese waters is the muck diving, wherein you’ll poke around in the sandy, murky depths looking for nature’s more unusual creatures. Anglerfish, with their strange feet and deadly lures, stalk through the coral; mantis shrimp get ready to release dangerous punches on unsuspecting prey; and ghost pipefish hide eerily among the sea grass. One particular site, Tosi Tulu, holds examples of most of Timor’s great macro/muck diving. With scattered pieces of artificial reef running down the incline, you bounce between them, encountering various strange, but beautiful, ocean creatures along the way.
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-track dive destination, you won’t do better than Timor-Leste. Boasting not only great diving, but also friendly, welcoming people, now is the time to visit — before the rest of the dive-world catches on.