I recently returned from 8 days in Timor Leste, visiting Dili & Atauro & thought I'd share some of the things I learned along the way & found out by chance. Finding up-to-date info for this newest of countries was not easy when I was planning what to do there, so I hope this helps out fellow travellers make the most of their time there.
1. All Saints Day & All Souls Day public holidays (Nov 1 & 2, 2017)
I arrived on the first of these days & the capital Dili was like a ghost town. I knew that I was arriving on a public holiday but I couldn't find any info on what that would mean in terms of what would be open or closed & what would be happening in town. This is one of the most important holidays for Timorese Catholics & everyone is expected to return to their home village. So that explained why I saw no one around for 2 days! The only place that was busy was the Santa Cruz cemetery on All Souls Day with hundreds of locals coming with offerings for their dearly departed. Also as these two holidays fell on a Wed & Thu, the locals naturally also decided that Friday should be a holiday too. So Dili was truly incredibly quiet for a good 3-4 days & even on the Monday, many businesses still remained closed. I walked many streets that were empty of people & cars, & my options for activities & eats was somewhat limited. Even the ubiquitous Gloria Jeans & Burger King were closed on one of the days! So check for any public holidays before you go & check what days of the week they fall on, as you may find its an extended holiday.
2. Solo female travellers
I had read before arriving that it was not safe to walk alone after dark around Dili & that was certainly my experience. Combined with above effect of the public holidays, I even felt uneasy walking around during the day. Whole areas of town were either empty or only populated with the ill-at-ease. I have travelled extensively alone previously, lived in several developing countries & as a professional tour guide, I'm used to being in challenging environments or in new places but I have never felt as uneasy as I did in Dili. I took the advice of previous posters on TA & made every effort not to be on the streets after dark alone. Unfortunately one night I made the error of not arranging a taxi to bring me home after dinner & was followed on the street while I looked for one. Thankfully I found a helpful security guard who assisted me while one of my two followers thought it would be fun to play with himself in full view of where I was standing. To top off the feeling of intimidation, the taxi driver then charged me quadruple the price for the short drive to my hotel. More about which taxis to take further on in this post. So solo female travellers to Timor Leste, please still visit this interesting place but please heed the advice of not walking alone after dark, choosing where you stay & eat carefully, & listening to your gut instinct. Seek advice at the hotel you stay at for any areas to avoid & recommendations for restaurants nearby. I would also suggest dressing conservatively & avoiding any overt displays of wealth or covetable items (flashy phones, watches, etc) to minimise any issues.
As you've probably already read from other TA posts, transport/drivers are quite expensive for any trips out of the capital area. Rates seem to be in the vicinity of $100 - $130 per day for a car & driver. I stuck to the city area. I deliberately booked a hotel that offered airport transfers (The Plaza hotel), so that I didn't have to take my chances with the usual array of driver rorts on arrival in any city. Plus I like the comfort of seeing my name on a piece of paper when I'm arriving into an unknown destination. The only taxis I saw operating in the first few days in Dili were the yellow taxis. These generally operate without meters, are an interesting assortment of decorations with dozens of little mirrors adorning the windscreen or a huge black sticker that covers half of the windscreen. Each short hop around town was a starting price upwards of $2-$3. Check out this blog for more descriptions of these taxis:http://www.bettylovesblogging.com/a-guide-to-catching-taxis-in-dili-in-the-day-time/
I took the yellow taxis for the first couple of days until a Dili expat told me that I should be wary of taking the yellow taxis if I was alone. She recommended the blue taxi company, as they have meters that are very reasonable, the cars are newer & you can actually see out of the windscreen, and the drivers are professional. I didn't see many of these on the street, so you would need to ask your hotel to call one & maybe then make a plan with him for all the sightseeing you'd like to do.
4. Atauro island
I thoroughly recommend getting out of Dili for at least two nights to this idyllic spot. Incredible & pristine coral gardens, great snorkelling & diving options, rustic & relaxed accommodation options, local handicrafts & the possibility of dolphin & whale watching on the journey there & back. After my somewhat uneasy time in Dili, I was nervous about travelling somewhere even less populated but it was perfectly safe & charming, & a very different vibe from the city. I stayed in Beloi, where the boats from Dili drop off. I choose to go with Compass Diving https://www.compassdiving.com/. They are expensive if you are just wanting transport there & back but they give you the chance to do dolphin & whale watching if you encounter them on the way. They also offer diving trips & have their own accommodation on the island. Cheaper options include the Dragon Star fastboat that departs Dili Sat & Sun at 8am & returns from Beloi, Atauro at 3pm for USD$10 pp. I wanted to stay at the well recommended Barry's Eco lodge http://www.barrysplaceatauro.com/ but as it was a long weekend, he was fully booked. I visited there for meals that were huge buffet feasts for very reasonable prices & to book a boat to take me snorkelling (USD$10 for one hour). I also recommend Barry's if you are interested to learn more about eco-tourism in the area & some of the local challenges. Barry is generous with his time in chatting with visitors & educating them. I stayed at Atauro Dive Resort http://ataurodiveresort.com/about/ which was just a little further along the beach from Barry's & had great snorkelling right in front. It was safe to walk along the beach at night between the two places or you could take a local tuktuk for USD$2. Both places to stay at Beloi have shared bathrooms with bucket showers, power only in the evenings & cottages with mosquito nets. They might have limited resources but they are big on charm & the joy of the simple life. I loved my time on Atauro & will definitely go back there when I'm in need of a little R & R & a reprieve from the rat race.