Here is a table to help those of you interested in the bottom line, from the data we collected in April 2017:
(Timor-Leste use US Dollar notes but their own 'centavos' coins for smaller denominations. Nickels, dimes and quarters are not legal tender.)
|Basic double shared bathroom.
||$10-15 per person
||Hop on hop off mikrolet, Dili.
|3 hour public ferry (Dili-Atauro).
||Overnight public ferry (Dili-Oecussi).
||Bike rental 24 hours.
|Ojek (motorbike taxi) 5-8km.
||Visa on arrival Dili airport.
|Supermarket Bintang (330ml).
||Expat cafe Bintang (330ml).
||Main meal in local restaurant.
|Bunch of bananas.
||Local black coffee.
Timor-Leste had a tough and very recent road to independence. The UN were around until not that long ago and the vast majority of foreign faces that you see here and there are in Timor-Leste for work and work alone. As such, hotels have not yet had time to get cheap. During our 10 days in the country we met no other 'pure' tourists; the first question we were asked by many locals was not 'Where are you from?', it was 'Who are you working with?'. It is fair to say that hotels are not accustomed to a couple simply dropping by for a room - they are more used to bookings made months in advance by, for example, 50 Oxfam employees. Our advice would be to call in advance, despite the chances of someone answering being slim.
It is worth keeping in mind that the hospitality business is still in its infancy in Timor-Leste, but things are changing. On Atauro Island we stayed at the community run Manukoko-Rek Guesthouse where US Peace Corp worker Vincent and his team of local woman are building a budget bamboo hut resort ($20 double, shared bathroom). You can read more about our stay and our time on Atauro here.
If you make the trip to the remote Oecussi exclave, your accommodation options are limited. We stayed at Hotel Rao where the rooms are basic, rustic, but clean ($20 single, private bathroom). Be prepared for them to be shocked at your arrival. However, the amiable staff coped with our surprise arrival well and allowed the two of us to stay in one single room, even throwing in a complementary second breakfast.
One final note is that Airbnb does exist in Timor-Leste. In Dili we stayed with the lovely Elfy and her family who offer a twin room with shared bathroom for $12. An absolute steal in the capital! Find them at 'The Cove' on Airbnb or listed in the Timor-Leste chapter of Lonely Planet's 'South-East Asia On A Shoestring'. The reviews on AirBnB paint a much better up-to-date picture of 'The Cove'; take the Lonely Planet description with a pince of salt.
In general, we found the public transport to be incredibly reasonable. The ferries
require patience as they are fairly infrequent. There is one government run ferry called the 'Nakroma,'
making a return trip from Dili to Atauro on Saturday plus Monday (return Tuesday) and Thursday (return Friday) trips to Oecussi. Tickets for Atauro (3 hours) go on sale from the port (see picture) 24hours before departure whereas tickets for Oecussi (12 hours) are released 3 days before. These tickets are also bought from the port but at a slightly different location. Any local will be able to point you in the right direction. Atauro tickets officially are sold from 8.30am the day before deprture but, as ever in Asia, locals are buying from 7am leaving the ferry sold out by 9am. We had our tickets by 7.30am and would strongly advise you do the same. If you don't fancy spending a week on Atauro, there are two more expensive 'official' options that we don't know much about. The company Dragonstar
operates a couple of times a week or there is a private fast boat
for $45 one way leaving everyday. However, due to their current 'no locals allowed' policy, even if they can afford the extortionate pricetag, we would encourage this as a last resort.
Around town, mikrolets (shared Transit vans), buzz during daylight hours. They operate fixed routes at $0.25 per ride and are hop on hop off. Flag them down anywhere on the street. Important routes to remember are the number 10 which passes the airport on the main road and the number 12 which goes all the way to the famous Christo Rei statue.
One final thing worth noting is that renting a motorbike is far more expensive than in many areas of Asia. Expect to pay $25 per 24 hours plus fuel. People are extremely considerate drivers in Timor-Leste, so renting a bike is highly recommended and a great way to venture inland to the mountains.
Most of what you need to know about food is contained within the table at the top of the page. As a general summary for the average traveller to Timor-Leste, prices are neither super cheap nor super expensive. Dili has many Indonesian style warung serving Nasi Campur (plate of the day), usually consisting of rice topped with vegetables and fish or meat. At the top end of these local places, you can eat well for $5 each.
Alcohol is readily available in the supermarkets. Lita Supermarket, an expat favourite, is particularly good. For fruit and veg it is best to go to the street markets; a large one can be found opposite the front door of Lita.
A FEW FINAL TIPS
If you have an unlocked phone, you can pick up a $1 package for 24 hours of unlimited data.
There are literal wifi parks scattered around Dili (e.g. Placa de Licidre).
A few words in Tetun go a long way (a lot further than Portuguese).
If you are looking to cross the border overland to Indonesia then you will need a visa obtained from an embassy or consulate.
Ours were issued in Melbourne but have heard you can get them fairly painlessly in Dili. We crossed the border from the Oecussi exclave, a border we are
not sure receives too many foreigners. The staff were however very efficient. It is possible to get from Oecussi town to Oisilu (the border
village) by frequent mikrolet, changing once. The locals will direct you. This takes around 3 hours. From the border village to the frontier
it is a 5-10 minute ojek (mototaxi) or you can walk. It is then a short walk between Timorese and Indonesian passport control. On the Indonesian side there is a 40 minute mikrolet (don't let anyone tell you otherwise) to the nearest town of Kefa where you can board onward transport to Kupang.
As a traveller to this little trodden part of the world, you will be rewarded with wonderful scenery and incredibly warm people. Despite its land border with Indonesia and proximity to Australia, Timor-Leste feels entirely distinct and, in our opinion, is well worth setting aside some time for.