I’ve been to some truly magical islands on my travels. I love the disconnected tranquility of it all. In the past I’ve been to Sark, Bruny Island, Cuverville Island, Yi Li Dao Island and Lido Island. I also shared a top 5 remote islands, but when my travels took me to East Timor recently, I headed out to Atauro Island, which is a tranquil island off the coast north of Dili, the capital city of East Timor. My main idea for going there was actually to RELAX. It is rare for me to completely relax in life and I felt Atauro would be a great spot to do that for a day. In the end, I ended up seeing quite a bit of the island in the short time I had, but believe me I also found time to relax in the late afternoon. Most tourists will spend a few nights here, I was there over Easter so had to make the most of my day trip.
What is Atauro Island?
Atauro Island is an island owned by East Timor. It’s situated about 36 kilometres (or 22 nautical miles) north of Dili. The island is 25 kilometres long and 9 kilometres wide.
Atauro Island has a mountainous spine, narrow coastal plains and quiet sandy beaches. It has some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world.
The population of Atauro Island is 65% Protestant and 35% Catholic. There are 8,000 people living there, split into 5 parts/regions. The Highest mountain is 995 metres.
Getting to Atauro Island
As of April 2014, you have three main options. There is no airport on Atauro Island so you’ll enjoy a trip on the waves!
1. Nakroma Ferry
The cheapest way to get to Atauro Island is to take the Nakroma Ferry. The Nakroma Ferry leaves from Dili on mainland East Timor and arrives into Beloi, Atauro Island. The ferry has one sailing per week only and is priced at $5 each way. This is actually known as “Business Class” for foreigners. The disadvantage of doing it the cheap way is that to come back you will need to wait a full week, as there is only one sailing a week. Either that or you only get a few hours on the island. So you’ll end up on the island for a week, but that’s OK if you plan to chill out and relax – there are lots of activities – snorkelling, diving, cycling, hiking, drinking, eating! However as I work online these days, spending a week on the island wasn’t an option for me. I needed to be online again and also as my girlfriend wasn’t with me on this trip, I didn’t think a week there was a good idea.
2. Compass Divers Speedboats
So I found out about a day trip which starts at 7am and brings you back before 7pm. This was the perfect option for me. The timings and exact options vary, but it is booked through Compass Divers, which is based just a few doors down from East Timor Backpackers. East Timor however is generally not a discount backpacker destination, so get ready for the price – $45 US each way. Yes – this means a round day trip there will cost you $90 US but this is Atauro Island. A magical place that you might never have the chance to go back to – it’s worth it. I was the only “backpacker” doing the day trip that day, but I was joined by an older guy who was out on a diving tour.
3. Fishing Boats
If you’re lucky you can search around for a fishing boat that takes you over there. The cost is normally around $10 US each way but this could probably also be bargained down.
So take your pick from those three and off you go. You leave Dili behind, cross the Wetar Strait and arrive on Atauro at Beloi!
The Journey Across to Atauro Island
While the sea looks calm and easy, the trip across is actually very rocky. The speedboat was swerving from side to side a lot, it only started to calm down on the approach to the landing point at Beloi. The journey across took around 1 hour 40 minutes. I was joined by an Australian couple called Rik and Louise.
Arrival on Atauro Island
I arrived onto Atauro Island at the beach in Beloi. Beloi is a local village here, full of Timorese. Luckily thanks to tourism, you will be welcomed onto the island and directed straight away to Barry’s Place!
Barry and Lina’s Place
Everyone that has been to Atauro Island should know about Barry and Lina. Barry is an Australian guy, from Queensland, who along with his wife Lina run the awesome eco resort here. The best thing about it is – that Barry is a proper cool guy. He is a people person. He is here for the lifestyle and the experience. He isn’t in it for the money. This eco resort serves the place well. It’s the first port of call when you arrive.
You can check out the info online, but you can only book on the phone when you arrive in Dili – Barry’s Place, Atauro.
I was greeted by a friendly smile and down to earth attitude of Barry who showed myself and the Australian couple (Rik and Louise) on my speedboat around the resort.
A stay in Barry’s place will cost $30 US per night. Well worth it for a night on a tropical island paradise miles away from busy offices! The food is well priced and cans of ice cold Bintang will cost you $3.50. Well worth it.
Food at Barry’s Place
Barry’s Place serves meals three times a day. Fresh drinking water is constantly available, the fridge is always filled up with beer and soft drinks and East Timorese coffee is on a constant supply in flasks. The set up is second to none. You wouldn’t even realise you were on a remote island. Loved the fresh fruit. By the way, Timorese coffee is amongst the best in the world.
Getting Around Atauro Island
1. Hire a Bicycle
I totally recommend hiring a bicycle. It costs $4 US for the day and is well worth it. You can get around a fair bit. It’s a hot country so although walking is an option, you will sweat a lot and there isn’t much shade.
2. Tuk Tuks
I was really surprised when I saw the tuk tuks cruising around on Atauro – I didn’t expect it. I didn’t use them but you can hop on for $2 US per journey.
There are some awesome hikes, including up to the peak of the island, which is 995metres high – the summit of the sacred Mt. Manucoco on route you will pass through grasslands and forests, and a few mountain villages and traditional gardens.
Again you can hire motorbikes in Beloi and cruise round the island.
Backpacking and Sightseeing on Atauro Island
While backpacking on Atauro Island, there are 5 main districts (villages or settlements) to check out and here’s a brief overview of each:
This small village is famous for its handicrafts. Get a visit to the handicrafts centre and if you feel like you should, buy something and help the cause of the island. You can learn basket weaving and meet the locals.
I also spoke to quite a few locals in Vila and stopped by the Church, which is a pretty Catholic Church. Worth checking out.
This is where you start your journey most likely. In Beloi I visited a School, met a load of locals, relaxed on the beach and visited the Protestant Church. Barry’s Place is also in Beloi.
The northern village district has more cool beaches and a Primary School.
I didn’t make it to Macadade – this is the island’s highest town. The central part of the island rises up and forest and greenery is in front of it.
Aside from that, I just chilled out – which was the idea of my trip to Atauro – you can get a decent amount done in a day on bicycle, but early afternoon I just decided to go for a swim, read a book and have a few beers and it was perfect! Here are a few more photos from my day on Atauro Island. As you can see I met a load of locals and also found a football pitch.
Afternoon Beers and a Swim
In the late afternoon I found time to relax, have a swim and a few afternoon beers! It is a really relaxing paradise!
Leaving Atauro Island
Alas I was only there on a day trip and so I headed back to Dili. It had been a very worthwhile venture across there to see Atauro and although a day is “rushing it”, I was satisfied that I had toured some of the island, met the locals and most of all relaxed. I went to Atauro to relax in fact, and ended up doing a lot more than that!
As the sun was beginning to set, Anthony from Compass Divers arrived in the speedboat and took us back to Dili and that was it. The sunset was epic and I knew it was a good moment in life.
So there you have it – I did manage a trip to Atauro Island while backpacking in East Timor and I loved it, I thoroughly recommend getting out there to see it, if not just stick to the Jesus Statue at Cape Fatucama and the sights of Dili and you’ll be fine!
Here are my videos from the Atauro Island tour:
6 thoughts on “Backpacking in East Timor: Touring Atauro Island”
Looks awesome Jonny! I decided to add three weeks to my (inaugural) SE Asia backpacking trip, and wanted to go somewhere super off-the-beaten path from Bali. It looks like Dili/Atauro fits the bill!
Hi Tim, thanks for the comment. Yes, this is a cool place. Sadly the only backpackers in Dili has now closed but I’m sure you’ll find a new cheap spot to hang out in. Safe travels! Jonny
Thanks for your useful blog Jonny. My husband and I are currently in Indonesia and planning a week or so in East Timor while we renew our Indonesian visas.
I’ve heard great things about Barry’s Place but their website is no longer working. Do you know if it’s still open or did you have a contact email for them?
Hi Naman, thanks for the comment. They never had a phone number or website as far as I knew. I simply got on the boat and met them there. It’s an Eco Resort, but once you get to Dili, ask around and someone will know the answer. I was there in 2014 so things will surely have changed. Best wishes and safe travels. Jonny