Destination Alert: Visiting Dili, East Timor (Timor Leste) from India

I was scouring for potential new destinations to visit and Dili, East Timor (aka Timor Leste) came to my attention. Did some basic research on the potential of visiting this country and this post shares my findings.

Where is Dili, East Timor?
On the world map, East Timor (aka Timor Leste) is located somewhere above Australia and below Indonesia. It is a small sovereign country sharing land border with Indonesia on one side and ocean on remaining sides.
Dili is the capital city of East Timor. East Timor is one of the 11 countries that constitute ‘South East Asia’. They got their freedom from Portugese only in 2002.

Flying to Dili from India.
Major airport in East Timor is President Nicolao Lobato International Airport. There’re 7 other airports in the country but they are either not open for civilian flights or there’re no scheduled commercial flights to these airports from outside the country. Thus for all practical purposes, Dili airport is the sole airport to check/plan your flights to/from.

Obviously there’s no direct flight. There is only one one-stop flight to Dili- via Singapore on Silkair- again this seems irregular. On Silkair’s website it was not even accepting DIL or Dili or East Timor as a destination. But Skyscanner shows Silkair has once a week direct flight between Singapore and Dili (Airport code DIL), going for about 30k-40k INR round trip. There's absolutely no competition on this route, so airlines have no motive to keep prices low.
But one stop from Chennai takes return ticket price to almost 1 lakh rupees, which doesn’t make sense- you can go to US/Canada for much less. Trying to book India Singapore + Singaproe Dili separate tickets is an option- for this you will need multiple entry Singapore visa.

A more practical way to reach Dili seems to be from Bali. Visit Bali- you can get return ticket for 15-20k easily during airline sales. Plus Bali gives free visa on arrival, so no extra cost or hassles for visa. From Bali, Dili is about 1 hour away- few regional airlines fly between Bali and Dili daily, so you can go and return on any day of your choice. Last checked, round trip is costing about 30k for the short 2 hour flight. Is it worth it? I don’t know yet. Indonesia’s Sirvijaya Air operates direct flight to Dili from Bali, one stop via Bali from various other destinations.  Citilink air is another airline operating Bali-Dili flights.
If you’re in Australia Qantas/AirNorth seem to have direct flight from Darwin to Dili for less, but Darwin is not well connected to Indian Subcontinent (compared to say Melbourne, Sydney or Gold Coast) so unless you happen to live/visit Darwin, via Bali option stated above seems more practical.

At the best, it will still cost 50k for a return ticket (India-Bali return for 20k during sale+ Bali-Dili 30k)- For this amount you can visit Japan, Australia, Europe or Africa and explore more attractive destinations than Dili. But then, what’s fun going to same place everyone else goes? If you’re looking to somewhere less popular, less visited, then by all means consider and plan your trip to Dili, East Timor.

East Timor Visa for Indians
Looks like visa is not a concern. Information available on internet suggests East Timor gives visa on arrival for almost entire world!, India included. So you can fly in, pay some 30 USD and get visa on arrival. So that is one less headache to worry about.

East Timor Visa on Arrival Notes:
  • Validity (Duration of visit)= 30 days max
  • Requirements: 6 months+ validity on passport + minimum 2 blank pages
  • Purpose: Holiday/Business only
  • Payment in USD only
  • Additional inputs like hotel confirmation/itinerary might be asked
What to see/do in East Timor?
Fine- you’ve reached Dili (or have started seriously planning to visit)- what is there? Why should we visit? What would be an ideal duration?

From what I have checked, Timor Leste offers lots of pristine beaches unspoiled by tourist crowd. There is a 27 meter tall statue of Jesus Christ, which may remind you of Rio De Generio (of Chirst the Redeemer). Besides this, East Timor offers lots of islands, national parks, hot springs, lakes, mountains and forests. Didn’t look like they are exceptionally unique, but can certainly keep visitors busy for a few days. Given that East Timor is not as popular as Thailand or Bali, we can expect less crowd and a better holiday experience.

Trip budget: With flight tickets costing 50k, you will need at least another 30k for a week’s accommodation in Dili, local transport, food and visa expenses. Assuming you’ll spend 5-7 days in Bali and 4-5 days in Dili, you should be able to explore both destinations within about 1 lakh rupee per person, everything included if managed in budget.

Another thing you can do is when you visit Bali with family, you can leave them there for a day or two and do a quick trip to Dili and come back.

I hope Air Asia launches direct flight to Dili from Kuala Lumpur at least say 2-3 days a week- then we can all visit Timor Leste for half the current ticket cost. This would make AirAsia's coverage and dominance in South East Asia complete. Even a one stop flight (say via Brunei or Bali) also would do. I don't think filling the plane (like A320) will be a problem:
  • Residents, Corporate employees and Government officials who have to travel anyway will readily shift to Air Asia from their current expensive options (via Bali, SIN etc)
  • With right publicity and reasonable fare, more and more tourists will be willing to explore Dili
At this moment I am not in a hurry to book, as the price is prohibitive- but will keep an eye on this destination- if I ever find a tempting fare, I will mostly book.

What do you think? Does this country excite you? Would you fly there if there's a reasonably priced ticket?

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