Baucau (123 kilometers east of Dili) is a Portuguese-era port town with whitewashed buildings sloping down toward the sea. Located in Baucau municipality lies in the eastern part of Timor-Leste, it is the second largest city in Timor-Leste. Set on a breezy plateau overlooking the sea, the Baucau town has a bustling sprawling market. The older centre is much quieter and retains Portuguese influences, including the Pousada de Baucau and other colonial buildings, some of which have been restored, and the beautiful old market square. This area is backed by steep limestone outcrops and shaded by large banyan tree and rustling palms. A clear freshwater spring feeds the large municipal swimming pool – a great place to enjoy a refreshing dip.
Like Dili, Baucau suffered from the post-referendum violence in 1999. Many of the main administrative buildings were burnt down. Departing Indonesian troops and the mobs they sponsored ripped out all infrastructure and utilities, leaving it without electricity and telephones. Baucau has since recovered, although you can still see many gutted buildings. The town proper is home to 16,000 people while the municipality has about 120,000 residents.
Baucau is Timor-Leste’s second biggest centre and has a range of accommodation and restaurants available. The administrative centre is located at the foot of the cliffs that overlook the town. There is a large colonial hall surrounding a small fountain that was used for public addresses in colonial times. Nowadays you are more likely to see a goat wandering through than any colonial administrators. The real action now happens up on the cliffline - an area called Kota Baru (Indonesian for "New Town") which was developed during the Indonesian era - where the UN and now the East Timorese government have set up shop.
Baucau has Timor-Leste’s only major airport outside of the capital. During the political events of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the city found itself accommodating an influx of overseas jets and airplanes shipping people and supplies into the country. But Baucau has always been an important administrative and agricultural centre.
Sights in Baucau Area
Baucau has an old town with a charmingly decayed air due to its colonial buildings and huge banyan trees. Take a walk around the colonial centre of town ("Old Town"). The abandoned and often scorched buildings are eerie reminders of a bygone era. Many of the buildings still have architectural value. Children play in the buildings and in the fountains and spring overflow. Walk down the road following the beautiful spring down to the beach. Watch out for mangy dogs and goats roaming the streets!
The flamboyant pink Pousada de Baucau overlooks the town centre. Baucau has a large spring fed public swimming pool – Piscina de Baucau which is perfect for a refreshing dip. Its attractive garden setting also includes tennis courts. It is just down the hill from the Pousada, on the road heading east out of Baucau. Down at the sea a short drive from Baucau you’ll find a small fishing village and a spectacular coastline of white sand beaches and rocky coves. Coconut Beach (Watabo'o) (7 kilometers from Baucau along a dirt road). Beautiful and popular white sand beach with bungalows and camping.
Inland from Baucau, Loi Hunu lies in lush countryside. The drive there is quite beautiful with impressive views of Mt Matebian and other ranges along the way. At Loi Hunu it is very relaxing and there is refreshing swimming in the nearby river. It is also a great location for organising a guided hike of Mundo Perdido, a mountain range with dense rainforest and rich bird life.
Down the winding road from Baucau, there is the small village of Osolata and an absolutely breathtakingly beautiful coastline of white sand coves and beaches, stretching both west and east. From the Baucau plateau impressive mountain ranges including Mt Matebian (2315m) dominate the skyline. This ‘Mountain of Spirits’ is protected and considered sacred by the Timorese people. Climbing towering Mt Matebian with a guide from Baguia, or one of the other small villages on its flanks, is a strenuous undertaking. Towards the summit stunted alpine vegetation gives way to wind sculptured fluted rock pinnacles and hikers are rewarded with stunning views of the eastern part of Timor-Leste and also back towards Mt Ramelau across Mundo Perdido.
Caves used by the Japanese are found in the Baucau area. Guesthouse owners are also happy to arrange hikes to limestone caves and other locations of importance during the Timorese resistance, plus cooking lessons in the nearby village. Climbing Mt Matebian (2315m) can be organised from Baguia and other villages on its flanks.
Driving through the rolling Baucau plateau some areas seem almost untouched while others are used for cattle grazing and growing crops such as rice and corn. Wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables are available from roadside stalls.
The Portuguese-era mountain retreat of Venilale lying further to the south has impressive colonial architecture and offers good views, especially of Mt Matebian to the east. Nearby there also are located both the Vaicana natural hot springs and old excavated tunnels, a remnant of Japan’s occupation during WWII.
By plane: The airport has not seen scheduled commercial flights since before the Indonesian invasion. Instead, it is largely a military-style operation reserved for the delivery of goods and personnel.
By car: The drive from Dili is 123 kilometers (3-4 hours) along a windy but fairly safe road that follows the northern coastline. Many of the turns provide stunning views across pristine beaches to the ocean. The hillsides rise dramatically on the otherside of the road. Cars can be hired from Rentlo and Thrifty in Dili, and possibly left at Baucau.
By busL All long distance buses departing Baucau leave from Kota Baru (New Town), just beside the roundabout near the market. There are buses to Dili, Los Palos, Viqueque on the south coast, as well as many of the small villages around Baucau. To/from Dili: Several buses daily, most leave early in the morning. US$4 (you pay towards the end of the trip). Journey takes about 3 hours. Buses depart when they're nearly full, so prepare to wait. Buses from Dili to Baucau leave from Becora (on the eastern side of Dili), take microlet 1 or 2 to get there.
Getting Around: Some taxis shuttle passengers around the city for US$1 (although locals pay less). Further journeys, such as to Manatuto will cost more. Microlets (vans converted to take passengers) may also be flagged down. Most foreigners who are in Baucau for any length of time will hire or buy a scooter or motorbike. There is a large demand for second hand motos, so ask around town for any deals. You can usually resell quite easily when you move on.
Accommodation and Restaurants in Baucau
The local food, kulu, is well known in the country and has become the identity of the district. The handmade liquor, "tua sabu", is also worth trying. Amalia, down a sort of bridge near the bus stop and market. Good Indonesian restaurant with a large treed terrace. US$4.
Vitoria Cafe: in the "Old Town" (Rua Vila Antigua Bacau), US$10 / night for a simple room with fan. Victoria Cafe, Rua Vila Antigua Bacau. Decent restaurant in a nice colonial building with views over the old town. Portuguese and Indonesian. US$6. Bus from Dili can drop you there. PhoneTel: (+670) 726 3569, Tel: (+670) 729 7970
Loro-Sae Guesthouse: in the Old Town, US$10 / night
Pousada de Baucau. The fanciest hotel in town and quite good by Timor standards. There are a few terraces for sitting and most rooms have balconies overlooking the old town. US$70+. The restaurant at the Pousada aims for a fancy Portuguese and European menu but is very unreliable. US$8-$20.
Baucau Beach Bungalows. Basic bungalows on the beautiful beach. US$15. Baucau Beach Bungalows. also has a restaurant on the beach.
Costa Guesthouse has with beautiful ocean views and large veranda. Air-conditioned rooms have private bathrooms. Breakfast included. Tel: (+670) 7724 8423 / 7764 4508
Tato Toti Guesthouse is a colourful place with air-conditioned accommodation with restaurant/bar. Rooms have private bathrooms. Breakfast included and other meals by arrangement. Tel: (+670) 7848 4478 / 7739 9967
Eastern Timor-Leste and the Caves of the World’s First Deep Sea Fishermen
Far Eastern Coast is riddled with caves. Ancient people at least passed through here at last 30,000 years ago. Shells found in cave have been radio-carbon dated to that time. Pleistocene fishermen and Netheolithic farmer took shelter in caves. In the jungles nearby are some ancient cave paintings. Stark limestone cliffs, jagged terrain characterize the area. Fishermen who use outrigger canies stay in the caves. Off the coast are some dazzling coral reefs.
The World's oldest fish hooks were found in Jerimalai Cave on the east end of Timor-Leste. A team led by archaeologist Sue O’Connor from the Australian National University team unearthed a small piece of fishing hook made from a shell, which dates to between 23,000 and 16,000 years ago. Nikhil Swaminathan wrote in Archaeology magazine: “Two 11-square-foot pits dug in Jerimalai Cave on the east end of East Timor have provided some of the earliest evidence of fishing technology. Though there is little evidence of fishing activity beyond 10,000 years ago, fragments of fish hooks found in the cave date to between 16,000 and 23,000 years ago, making them the oldest ever recovered. A more complete hook dating to 11,000 years ago was also found at the site. [Source: Nikhil Swaminathan, Archaeology, Volume 65 Number 2, March/April 2012 ]
“The inch-long hooks, all of which were made of shells from sea snails, would have been used to catch shallow-water fish, such as grouper and snapper, says Sue O'Connor, an archaeologist at Australian National University, who coauthored a study on the finds in Science. "They would have had a fiber line attached to the shank, and bait put on the hook," she explains. "Then, they would be cast or lowered into the water and left stationary."
“Fish bones were also found in the deposits. Offshore species, such as tuna, account for nearly 50 percent of the remains dating to earlier than 7000 B.C. After that, shallow-water and reef species start to dominate, likely due to warmer climate and the proliferation of reef habitat. The variety of the bones depicts the humans of the time as skilled seafarers capable of fishing many species in both shallow and deep water."
O’Conner's team discovered fish bones from 2,843 individual fish of 23 different taxa, including tuna and parrotfish. Sandra Bowdler at the University of Western Australia in Perth, who was not involved in the study, is convinced that those colonising East Timor 42,000 years ago had “fully formed” fishing skills. “By this time, modern humans are assumed to have the same mental capacities as today," she says. “There is nothing like this anywhere else in the world," says Ian McNiven of Monash University in Melbourne, who was not a member of O’Connor's team. “Maybe this is the crucible for fishing." [Source: Wendy Zukerman, Newscientist, November 24, 2011]
East Timor hosts few large land animals, so early occupants would have needed highly developed fishing skills to survive. “Necessity is the mother of invention," says O’Connor. “Apart from bats and rats, there's nothing to eat here." But that doesn't necessarily mean that fishing began in the region. At the time, sea-levels were around 60 to 70 metres lower than today. Any sites of former human occupation that were located on the Pleistocene shore – rather than in coastal cliffs like the Jerimalai shelter – are now submerged.
Lautem (east of Baucau) is the most eastern municipality of Timor-Leste. It includes the sprawling main centre of Lospalos and has a wealth of natural and cultural locations of interest to travellers. Tutuala is another main town. From Tutuala’s high cliff setting, views there are views of forested ranges and the blue sea shimmering far below. On clear days you can see the Indonesian island of Kisar. From the local pousada’s ramparts, rich birdlife can be observed. There are monkeys in the forest.
The 1,230-square-kilometer eastern end of Lautem has been designated as part of the Nino Konis Santana National Park. This includes rugged forested ranges, the large salt water Lake Ira Lalaro, coastal beaches and offshore reefs, plus exquisite Jaco Island. The small fishing village of Com adjoins the park’s western boundary and has beautiful deserted creamy white sand beaches. Com is a great place to go fishing or to relax and watch the sunset from your accommodation.
The limestone caves and buttresses within the national park have some of Timor-Leste’s most important archeological treasures – ancient fossils and cave drawings. To access the caves, guides can be arranged. The park’s landscape is wild, unspoilt and rugged offering great terrain for these cave visits and other guided hiking.
At the very tip of Lautem lies the small island gem of Jaco across a shallow channel from beautiful Valu beach. It is easy to reach with the local fishermen in their colourful craft. Jaco Island is sacred to the Timorese people and no development or overnight stays are allowed. As a result it is a totally natural setting where the whitest sand is lapped by the clearest and most azure ocean. In addition to sublime swimming, snorkelling and diving, the Jaco experience is also about enjoying the solitude of this special place.
Pousada Tutuala is a guesthouse with a stunning location: within stone walls of an old Portuguese fortress atop a coastal headland. Air-conditioned rooms have ensuite and share bathrooms. Breakfast included and other meals by arrangement. Tel: (+670) 7746 3880
Lospalos is home to the Fataluku people who speak Fataluku (a Papuan language). They also are known for producing high quality tais, wood carvings and woven basket ware. Set on an undulated plain surrounded by forested hills the countryside around Lospalos is used for rice cultivation and other crops. Raising livestock, especially extensive herds of cattle and water buffalo is a main activity. Further towards the mountains and the south coast the municipality becomes wilder and more scarcely populated. If you happen upon a festival featuring traditional dance and music while visiting Lautem, as in many other parts of Timor-Leste, you are in for a real treat.
In Lospalos town Portuguese architectural influences and remnants of colonial fortifications can be seen. The most interesting feature are the tall elongated traditional Fataluku spirit houses which are constructed with a high tapering thatched roof a top stilts. These traditional spirit houses, like many of the local graves, are often adorned with animist symbols.
Buses for Lospalos leave daily from Dili. Last known times (June 2013) were 2:00am and 2:00pm. More may leave but you will need to travel to the bus station/terminal and ask. Costs US$7. Journey time is approximately 7 to 9 hours depending on conditions. There are at least two 20 minute breaks where you can buy food and use the toilet. Buses from Baucau leave erratically depending on when the Dili buses departed (they must drive through Baucau). Simply wait at the roundabout outside the Posada Hotel and wave down a bus when it arrives. Costs US$4, journey times approximately 3 to 5 hours depending on conditions. By car or motorbike: Road conditions remained stable as of June 2013, and the drive was easy, as it is the main road heading east out of Dili and Baucau. [Source: Wikivoyage]
Hotel Roberto Carlos is the best hotel in the area and good place to stay when visiting Tutuala and Jaco Island. There is a restaurant and bar onsite. Rooms have private bathrooms. Breakfast included. From US$$35 per night Location: Los Palos - District Tel: (+670) 7724 0627 / 7723 0826
Jaco Island (on the Eastern tip of East Timor) is an uninhabited patch of land in the ocean that has stunning white sand beaches, impossibly tall coconut trees, and flocks of rare, colorful birds. The only way to get to the island is to hire a local to take you in a dugout canoe. Jaco Island lies just across from Valu, a lovely beach area backed by forested limestone escarpments, at the far eastern tip of Timor-Leste. Sacred Jaco Island is a tropical paradise. Its transparent waters teem with underwater life and offer fantastic diving, snorkelling and swimming. Day access to the Island is by small fishing boat. Accommodation at Valu ranges from eco-camping to guest houses. Guided trips through the forest to the local caves within the Nino Konis Santana National Park are another highlight.
The drive down to Valu from Tutuala is very steep in places and requires a four wheel drive vehicle. At the top of the Tutuala escarpment from the local pousada the views out to sea and across the forested ranges of the national park are stunning. From to Baucau you drive past sensational scenery and lots of rice paddies to reach Tutuala. Ask directions there – you go down a road that is very overgrown after about 1km. The beach is white and the water is clear! Take plenty of food and water because there aren’t any local eateries but you can buy fresh produce very cheaply on the way there (about 10 percent of what you pay in Dili), but you are just buying them from tables outside people’s houses so it is just a matter of what they have then. Often there are fishermen on the beach and you can purchase fish from them, which they will cook up for you. It is quite expensive, about US$10 per fish and US$5 to cook but two fish plus some paw paws feeds 10. The fishermen will paddle you over to Jaco but its again expensive –about US$5 each. Still, it is amazing, a truly unspoilt beach.
Lakumorre Guesthouse is set amidst shady trees besides a beautiful beach. Choice of rooms with private bathrooms or share rooms/bathrooms. Camping sites available. Breakfast and other meals by arrangement. Boat transport to Jaco Island, hiking guides and caves visits can be organised. Tel: (+670) 7724 5620
Valusere Eco-accommodation is situated among shady trees besides a beautiful beach. Small thatched huts, simple rooms and camping sites with share bathrooms. Meals available. Boat transport to Jaco Island, hiking guides and caves visits can be organised. Tel: (+670) 7703 9838
Nino Konis Santana National Park
Nino Konis Santana National Park (eastern Timor-Leste) is Timor-Leste first national park. It was declared such by the government of Timor-Leste in 2007. The park embraces the entire eastern tip of Timor-Leste and the waters off shore. It was named after the commander of the Falantil who was born locally in Tutuala and died in 1998.
Covering 123,600ha from forested mountain ranges to a marine area with magnificent coral reefs, the park also includes Lake Ira Lalaro and Jaco Island. The adjoining reef system is part of the globally significant ‘Coral Triangle’ having extremely high diversity of reef fish and coral species. The dense forest within the park includes both tropical lowland vine forest thick with orchids and ferns, as well as monsoon forest with banyan, rosewood and fig trees. Rusa deer, cuscus, monkeys, over 200 species of birds and five species of sea turtles are resident wildlife. Sacred and prehistoric sites have beem located within the park boundary. Limestone caves, some with ancient rock art are good examples.
While the Nino Konis Santana National Park is still in the process of being established in terms of facilities and enforced protections its designation is an important step in the on-going conservation of this beautiful and environmentally important area. The park contains some of the last surviving zones of tropical lowland rainforest in the world with rich coastal environment. It is a good place for bird-watching, diving, trekking and investigating pre-historic archeological sites. The marine life here is incredibly diverse. Some people make the eight hour bus trip from Dili just to see Jaco Island
Com (on the western edge of the Nino Konis Santana National Park in Lautem) is a small fishing village It has beautiful creamy white beaches stretching in both directions. A small resort and guest houses line the beachfront. Activities such as fishing can be arranged. It has a relaxing, serene air and is the perfect place to enjoy Timor-Leste’s magnificent tropical sunsets. It is a jumping off place and accommodation site for Nino Konis
Sina Guest House next to beach has sea breeze and views. Rooms have fans/mosquito nets and shared bathroom. Breakfast included and other meals by arrangement. Beautiful sunsets. Tel: (+670) 7737 8613 / 7652 6178
Kati Guest House next to beach with sea breeze and views. Rooms have fans/mosquito nets and shared bathroom. Breakfast included and other meals by arrangement. Beautiful sunsets. Tel: (+670) 7542 1650
Viqueque municipality (south of Baucau, 5 hours southeast from Dili) lies on the higher rainfall south coast of Timor-Leste and with its steep terrain, dense forest and rushing rivers offers a beautiful natural setting in which to explore. The main road into Viqueque from Baucau itself is very scenic, crossing a high point with nearby rugged rock formations and providing great views of Mt Matebian to the east and Mundo Perdido to the west. The majority of local people speak either Macasae or Tetun Terik. They are well-known for their distinctive woven tais, coloured with dyes from local plants and berries.
Mundo Perdido (1,775m), the ‘Lost World’ has Timor-Leste’s largest tract of rainforest and is a protected area due to its rich plant, bird and animal life. Mundo Perdido also is a wonderful place for guided hiking. Fantastic views of the surrounding countryside can be seen from the ridges and it is interesting finding out how local people utilise the forest for food and materials. Such guided hiking and other activities including visiting nearby limestone caves and cooking lessons in a local village can all be easily organised when staying in accommodation at Loi Hunu located further to the south. The Loi Hunu River has rapids excellent for swimming and lovely big boulders to laze on.
Viqueque town is is the administrative centre and is a largish regional town with guest houses and ‘warungs’ and has a nearby hot water spring. There is plenty of evidence of the Portuguese era architecture in Viqueque’s schools and churches. Its surrounding farmland is used for growing rice, peanuts and other crops, plus livestock grazing.
Hotel Comunitaria Wailakurini guesthouse in Loi Hunu, Viqueque is in the countryside on the banks of the Loi Hunu River. Breakfast included and other meals by arrangement. Rooms have ensuite bathrooms. Activities nearby include guided trekking on Mundo Perdido, caves exploring, cooking lessons in local village and learning about resistance history. Tel: (+670) 7656 0577/7783 2287/7757 6871
Timor Village Hotel hotel has a relaxed setting, hemmed in by spectacular limestone cliffs, with a river suitable for swimming (depending on rainfall) within walking distance of the hotel. There is a waterfall in the nearby community, along with limestone caves which the hotel can organise tours too. We are also developing links to regional attractions such as the hot springs in Venilale, and visits to Ira Bele and Mundo Perdido for tourists that are staying for more than one night and want to get out and explore. From US$$30 per night
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Timor-Leste tourism websites,Timor-Leste government websites, Wikitravel, Wiki Voyage, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020