In light of the global coronavirus pandemic and border closures, Timor-Leste is unexpectedly experiencing a bump in people sharing and searching for fresh local destinations under the Ha’u-Nia Timor-Leste domestic tourism promotion campaign. As people are becoming frustrated and bored, they’re looking through social media to see places that can reignite the spirit of travel, and for some – ignite it.

Through a question and answer format, Agora Food Studio takes a look at how the next generation of young tourism champions are unlocking each other’s potential. Agora Food Studio who has been working with a range of partners throughout 2020 using two interesting pedagogical practices: peer-to-peer coaching, and building connections and relationships through a “community of practice”.

Why is domestic tourism important?

Domestic tourism accounted for 73% of total Travel and Tourism spending globally in 2018, according to research by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). Domestic tourists cannot be ignored; clearly they are an important driver of the overall tourism sector. The activities of domestic tourists create economic importance as the money spent on domestic tourism feeds back into the country’s economy; creating a multiplier effect that can grow a more viable and prosperous economy.

COVID19 has been the single greatest disruption to the global tourism industry. All countries are facing the same threat to the survival of its tourism sector. With no international tourists, governments are pivoting towards boosting domestic tourism. Australia and New Zealand provide excellent examples of this.

Timor-Leste can also do this, but the potential of domestic tourism is too often ignored. Yet it exists and continues to grow quietly, organically. We’re also seeing increased posts of domestic travel adventure by a younger generation who are: camping enthusiasts, climbing Mount Ramelau to celebrate Loron Nain Feto Ramelau in October, hardcore motorbike explorers traveling the island, new yoga fans meditating on Atauro or Jaco island or among coffee forests in Letefoho, smartphone photographers partying on the remote beaches of Atekru, day-travelers to Laletek Nanis Domin for selfies over Dili, or to Atauro’s Beloi Saturday markets for beach ‘street-food’ lunch ending with a bag or two of fresh harvested seaweed to bring back for the family.

Since COVID hit, we had a lockdown in Timor-Leste from March 2020. Since then the government has instated States of Emergency on a month-by-month basis. How has it been for tourism and hospitality businesses? What changes did we have to make to survive?

It has been a tough year. People can see that more than a few businesses have closed their doors completely, some of whom have been institutions with an incredible legacy in Timor-Leste’s tourism sector.

We have had to change our own direction completely. When the economy almost stopped, we had to stop too. We had no income for three months, like a lot of other businesses of course. We were all scared about what would happen to the business and to our team. We were lucky to have an incredibly supportive landlord. We took the time to breathe, take stock and find ways to remain creative and motivated. Most of our team travelled back to their childhood homes. They took some inspiring photos and videos about their traditional food and stories. We shared with each other what meals we were cooking and eating at home and used this as the basis for solving our immediate business problem. We had to move swiftly to depend less on our a-la-carte service and more towards healthy catering and selling Timorese food and drink products through supermarkets, reflecting the community’s preference to eat more at home.

For all businesses, cashflow is everything. No cashflow equals no business. Without bridging income you can’t pay your bills and salaries. Tourism businesses can’t wait for international tourists to arrive in (we don’t know) how many years’ time. We have to focus on domestic tourism for now. We were able (with the support and understanding of USAID’s Tourism For All Project) to change our initial 2020 business plan They allowed us to see how we could support and up-skill our team and other small tourism businesses and entrepreneurs. We wanted to strengthen the relationships within our community. To work with the community of practice around us on becoming a COVID-resilient business.

The early period allowed us time to see opportunities; the latent energy in the young generation. Also, we saw that the world was moving online even more than before and this meant we could participate in digital coaching courses with people from different countries. Despite the internet challenges in Dili, three of our team took an international coaching course at first. We learnt how to learn, how to listen deeply, and how to coach the best out of others. The impact for them, and for the rest of the Agora team was immediate with one of our young leaders Paula Torres transition from coachee to coach in the area of digital marketing. (you can listen to her experience of learning about coaching here We wanted to share coaching methods with others so they could benefit too.

We started looking ahead towards peer-to-peer coaching. We focused on emerging leaders within the tourism sector who are capable of self-reflecting, keen to learn more, and most importantly open to sharing their professional experiences and knowledge. In addition to Paula, we started working with Turizmu Ba Ema Hotu Tourism Champions award winners  Elfan Dacosva (Timor Fixer) and Anas Madeira (Timor Motorbike Rentals and Tours, Timor Unearthed).

 What is a coaching approach and why is it important in the tourism sector?

 Coaching is all about listening. We have to learn first what other people want, what worries them and how they want to achieve their goals. As coaches we can only ask questions that guide a person to better understand who they are, to develop their ability to sense and respond to changing circumstances, in order to achieve what they want. So we asked many questions.

One of the most important questions we asked each other was “if you were a tourist in Timor-Leste, what would you want to experience?”

What did you learn about domestic tourism through the coaching?

1) Domestic tourism exists and it has been growing organically over the last few years. It is being made more visible and stronger through the #hauniatimorleste campaign.

2) A dynamic digitally-savvy younger generation of Timorese are more keen than ever to visit different destinations within their own country. Through coaching we have realised many young Timorese are in the early stages of being a tourist. Let us harness this energy, bring them together through the ‘community of practice’ that already exists to share what they love about their favorite tourism destinations and why, and how to promote it to their friends and friends. An example of how to build a community of practice is to normalize exchanges between different tourism businesses, for example bringing guesthouse cooks to Dili to understand what it is like to be a tourist, and transfer this experience to providing for tourist needs back in home villages.

“This really one of important learning for young generation like us for our future business. Because though sharing story and used social media the world will know our business. If it possible keep continue with this activity to help to promote Timorese Tourism” – Paula Torres.

3) Framing is key. The most profound realization was that all of us can be tourists. “Everybody was shocked to hear that we can be tourists. We thought that tourists are only foreigners. But we now know about domestic tourism. That as young generation, we need to know our own country and promote what we love – this is the best starting point for growing tourism” – Paula Torres.

Because of language, the framing has been that tourists = foreigner. Agora is working hard with these tourism champions to change this. We can all be tourists and contribute to building a key element of the local economy.

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land;
it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”

― G.K. Chesterton

What did we learn about ourselves through the coaching?

“I have learned about how to be more organised and how to prepare (making plan A and plan B for example); how to be active, to listen, have fun and consider one another and co-ordinate with team and participants, take note of interesting ideas and questions from participants” — Paula Torres

“I learned that each coaching interaction cannot be replicated – every coaching session must be curated and created from scratch – duplication does not work and therefore I am learning the art of bringing uniqueness to each session” — Maeve O’Brien

What are some novel techniques we are using to build a tourism “community of practice” and why?

A community of practice is a “group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” This definition reflects the fundamentally social nature of human learning.

Sparking Joythe process of learning needs to spark creative joy because this is when genuine knowledge transmission takes place. The connections between the learners and the different ideas become cemented. This is why we feel the “community of practice” approach works. It is about learning together with other people passionate about doing tourism. During a Digital Marketing Exchange held in September while the content was focused on participants telling their own stories of purveyors of quality tourism products and services, the focus of the Exchange was having fun, being curious and acknowledging that only by making mistakes can you take better photographs or do better Facebook posts for example. For these realisations to occur, we cannot have teachers teaching and students sitting down passively all day pretending to listen. Rather we have as many facilitators as possible creating spaces for people to share their stories, both as tourism workers and also as tourists (as mentioned above, some participants only just realized that they were also tourists). After just one day of the digital marketing exchange, tourism industry participants were able to take more compelling smart-phone photos for social media.

Choreographing collaboration – we look for opportunities to bring people together and learn about each others’ businesses. These interactions can be a window from which potential future collaborations may (or may not) can be seen. For example, during the process of developing video content for tourism and hospitality businesses to be COVID-safe, we brought together young Timorese from four organisations – Timor Lodge, Linivon Restaurant, Timor Fixer and Agora Food Studio, together with the filmmakers Pixelasia. They not only starred in the videos themselves but they contributed to the videos’ scripts and got to know each other and their businesses better over the course of a day’s filming.

On the set of one of the videos produced to share information about food hygiene and measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (Photo: Ann Turner/USAID’s Tourism For All Project)

Eating and drinking coffee together – sitting down over a good shared meal with a Timorese flavour, also helps to bind this community. As we have all experienced, eating together can be a pleasurable diversion from the serious learning and business issues of the day. It is important here to make sure that the food is presented on shared plates and that people are seated together facing each other and not hiding on the side of the room talking to the people they already know. We make small changes to the atmosphere like upbeat music, colourful décor and cheery service staff to lighten the mood and make the guests feel fully welcome. Then you have a safe space for people to share their life stories with each other. If the food and coffee we serve during ‘trainings’ and ‘workshops’ are not good, then we can’t expect the conversation to be much better.

What has given you the most joy from these activities and why?

“I meet different people from different places like Centro Sover-Botir Matak, Timor Lodge Resort, Hato-Builiko Guesthouse and Timor Adventures. I can practice more listening and learn from them as well. They really want to learn and it’s a really new thing for some of them, but we got feedback from them most of them are excited to be part of this. I feel thankful to have coaching with Mana Maeve about being a facilitator, because she really understands, is open minded, professional and she guides me as a facilitator; to people have to be step-by-step and make sure they understand. She has many techniques to use I think really help me. I really feel comfortable coaching with her and I also learnt a lot about Facebook posting with her.” — Paula Torres, Agora Food Studio

 “My interaction with Paula has been the best part of the coaching and has given me the most joy. Paula is a natural coach and teacher. It was a pleasure to work with her and witness her appetite for learning and her ability to apply tips and techniques she acquired during our sessions. Not only did she pick up these tips easily she cleverly adapted them to bring out the best in her coaching classes with her students” — Coach Maeve O’Brien, Mascontour

What have you learnt about others during the coaching?

“They like to work in groups, they need to have fun, they don’t want only one person to talk until the class is finished, and they also want to contribute themselves to the knowledge in the room” — Paula Torres, Agora Food Studio.

“Not to force them into the coaching sessions and to let go if they really do not see the benefit. They enjoy the level playing field and need to be reminded often that I am not a teacher” — Coach Maeve O’Brien, Mascontour.

“Normally people want somebody else to fix their problems but they don’t realise that it is better for them to seek a coach with experience, who can help them to resolve the problem for themselves. During the coaching course I learned that it is not always good just to help people, without given them the opportunity for them to help themselves first.” – Elfan Dacosta, Timor Fixer

Source: Questions and answers were provided by Agora Food Studio’s Mark Peter Notaras and Paula Torres, Mascontour’s Maeve O’Brien and Timor Fixer’s Elfan Dacosva.

40 marine science students from the National University of Timor-Leste had the opportunity to study the renowned coral reefs and marine biodiversity of Atauro island in a training program conducted by Compass Diving. The program, which was supported by a grant from USAID’s Tourism For All Project, aimed to develop the students’ understanding of the underwater environment and sustainable marine tourism, through field experience.

The 6-day program was divided into two sections: in-water activities and learning sessions. For many of the young scientists, it was their first experience of snorkeling in the ocean and to see the creatures they had been studying in their natural habitat.  Each student was also given the opportunity to take part in a closely-supervised scuba dive – an experience described by one participant as “a dream come true” – and a whale-spotting excursion.

The theory presentations covered a wide range of topics related to marine tourism from  fish and coral identification and conservation to the potential and challenges facing the whale-watching and dive tourism industries.

Students from the Departamento de Pescas e Ciencias Marinhas of the Universidade Nacional Timor Lorasa’e visiting Boneka de Ataúro, a community-developed business created to serve as a source of alternative income for women from the island of Ataúro – Photo taken by Dircia da Costa (Compass)

The connections between marine tourism and conservation were examined, focusing on possible collaborative links between marine tourism activities and marine conservation efforts. The presentations encompassed topics such as the development of marine protected areas partially-funded by tourism activities and how tourism can contribute to offset any commercial practices that might pressure fragile marine ecosystem. Participants also had the opportunity to visit tourism businesses and the communities that depend on local fisheries for their livelihoods.  When visiting Beloi market, the students took note of how many vulnerable species were part of the catch and developed an awareness of the importance of sharing information with the local fishermen about the need to protect the reef, which is important both to maintain fish stocks and also for the tourism industry.

They also paid a visit to Vila-Maumeta village and three establishments that were developed as community projects. Participants engaged in a discussion on the importance of embracing the local community when trying to develop tourism in any location. The concept that community interactions could, sometimes, leave memories just as lasting and fond as the tourist activities themselves was brought up for reflection.

One of the other subjects covered by the program was ocean pollution. The students participated in a beach clean-up activity on the village of Beloi, and discussed the negative impacts pollution has on the marine environment, such algae blooms and decreasing quality of seafood, among other factors. As part of the workshop, students identified the components of the rubbish that was collected on the beach and considered simple individual actions to avoid contributing to marine pollution.

Program leader Cassio Schumacher said: “The participants’ energy, determination, focus, dedication and sheer awe with the in-water activities has been a great, great pleasure to witness and allows us to share the hope of these very same students to possibly pursue a career in the infant marine tourism industry of Timor-Leste or in activities related to conservation of the incredibly biodiverse marine life of the Ombai-Wetar Strait”.


Timor-Leste is one of the world’s hot spots for migrating cetaceans, which pass through every year in October and November, and its waters are also home to resident populations of dolphins, pilot whales and other marine mammals. Schumacher said that one of the highlights of the program was spotting a whale after a snorkeling session: “The joyful moments, the expression of astonishment upon seeing a whale surfacing close to the boat. It was a great opportunity to further strengthen the bond between them and the ocean surrounding their country.”

Nelvia Ana Maria Freitas Guterres (DPCM-UNTL student) on her first-ever whale-spotting trip – Photo taken by Amir Haron Syakib (Compass)

The program will have an enduring legacy in the continuing commitment of the students to sharing their experiences and passion for conservation with the public.

Remigio D. Boavida Freitas, a student originally from the district of Baucau –  a place where reports of illegal shark and turtle fishing are common – commented: “It was great to learn more about the importance of sharks to our ecosystem and even how important they can be for tourism as visitors would be happy to see more sharks in our waters. When coming back to my district, I will try to talk with the community leaders in order to bring this information to the people from my village.”


On the final night of the field trip, Deonisio Barreto Viana Rangel summed up his experience: “Having the chance to participate in this program and learn more about tourism, our oceans and also to feel part of this environment is something we appreciate so much. Knowing that such opportunities don’t come around all the time, we hope to continue spreading the messages about the importance of tourism and conservation to our friends and family.”

Source: Compass Diving









#ExploreTheUndiscovered #TimorLeste


O Festival da Bua, a colheita da noz de areca, que marca a paz na ilha timorense de Ataúro (C/FOTOS)

*** António Sampaio, da Agência Lusa ***

Abaktedi, Timor-Leste, 22 jul 2020 (Lusa) – Os lian-nain, contadores de histórias dos tempos dos “avós antigos” em Timor-Leste, explicam que a festa anual da colheita da noz de areca, ou betel, representa a paz entre três irmãos que durante muito tempo viveram em conflito.

Uma vez por ano, e só por um dia, a população da zona central da ilha reúne-se e assim que os chefes locais e tradicionais permitem, os mais destemidos trepam acelerados até ao topo das palmeiras de areca (bua ou pua nas línguas locais) – algumas com 20 metros – e retiram cachos de nozes.

Jovens e velhos, com uma pequena corda feita muitas vezes de folhas de palmeira atadas, trepam aceleradamente ao longo do esguio tronco da palmeira, cortam os pesados cachos e trazem-nos ao solo.

Quem sabe podar, usa cordas e, lá no alto, une duas árvores próximas, para assim cortar mais cachos, mais rapidamente. No solo, crianças e mulheres vão apanhando os frutos que caem.

A cerimónia decorre no meio de uma floresta de palmeiras de areca próximo da povoação de Abaktedi, suco de Makadade, na zona centro sul da ilha de Ataúro.

Para lá chegar, é necessário suportar uma estrada esburacada e cheia de pedras, a viagem dura uns solavancados 90 minutos, para fazer os cerca de 20 quilómetros de Beloi, junto à costa, até à povoação de Abaktedi, a 700 metros de altitude, à sombra da montanha mais alta da ilha, Manucoco.

No centro da floresta de palmeiras, altas e esguias, uma zona foi preparada para os convidados de honra e numa das esquinas o resto de uma palmeira serve para o tarabando, uma cerimónia tradicional timorense que, neste caso, permite pendurar ofertas aos organizadores.

Peixe seco, tua mutin (o vinho tradicional de palmeira) e areca são pendurados no tronca da palmeira para serem distribuídos depois.

Em todo o lado, em todas as direções, nasceu um mercado improvisado que vende desde artesanato a comida, desde roupa a frutas e verduras locais, incluindo laranjas, abacates e gigantescos kumbili, uma raiz “parecida à batata”.

Entre tétum, português e alguns dialetos locais, alguns jovens, mas particularmente os mais velhos vão contando a história dos três irmãos e do importante “Festival da Sa’e Bua”, que se vai prolongar durante toda a noite.

“Esta história é muito antiga mesmo”, explica Armando Soares, 67 anos, que viajou mais de duas horas a pé, a subir e a descer montes, desde Makili, a vila dos pescadores da ilha.

“Antigamente nos tempos dos avós mais antigos havia três irmãos: Komateu, Leki-Toko e Kutu-Kia que andavam sempre nas lutas”, explica.

Tomé Gomes, mais jovem, junta-se à conversa e vai ajudando a explicar e a traduzir.

Os três irmãos estavam sempre em conflito e isso estava a causar sempre grandes problemas aos habitantes, levando até a que as terras ficassem secas e que os cestos de apanha de peixe (bubur) viessem vazios.

“Decidiram fazer as pazes e esta floresta apareceu assim, de repente”, explica Abilio Araújo, 67 anos, lian-ain de Makadade e o anfitrião tradicional da zona que acolhe a cerimónia.

Para cimentar a paz usaram a bua, mas também dividiram o território, lançando flechas que marcavam o que ficaria seu: Komateu lançou a sua em direção a Manroni, Leki-Toko em direção a Makili e Kutu-Kia em direção a Makadade.

Komateu fica com o mar ao norte, Leki-Toko com o mar do oeste e o Kutu-Kia com o mar a sul.

Hoje, os três sucos continuam a simbolizar a paz da ilha, sendo anfitriões do “Festival Sa’e Bua”, um dos principais eventos de Ataúro, desconhecido porventura da maioria dos próprios timorenses.

A noz de areca, conhecida como betel, é comida fresca ou seca, misturada com folhas de malus – que eram usadas como ‘proteção’ dos jovens nos combates aos ocupantes indonésios – e com cal viva.

A mistura produz um suco vermelho que, entre dentes, vão cuspindo para o chão, rindo-se com a dentadura, os lábios e a boca de cor vermelho forte.

A nível químico, a areca tem como princípios ativos a arecaina e arecolina, alcaloides com efeitos comparáveis aos da nicotina.

“Para quem não experimentou fica assim meio bêbado. Mas para nós ajuda a dar força. Para trabalhar”, explica um velhote, sentado, enquanto vai metendo cal na palma da mão para misturar nos dois outros ingredientes que já tem na boca.

Os irmãos fizeram a paz e agora, para a assinalar, todos os anos e só por um dia, pode-se colher toda a noz de areca que conseguirem. A que ficar nas árvores fica à guarda de ‘seguranças’ que garantem que só é aproveita para mais plantações, “lá para janeiro”.

“A pua e a malus são a fonte da vida para Ataúro”, conta o velho lian-nain, num discurso em que mistura referências ao criacionismo com recomendações aos jovens para se portarem bem, e referências às mais antigas lendas da ilha.

“Isto é muito, muito antigo. Dos avós antigos. E vai continuar sempre”, explica.

*** A Lusa viajou para Ataúro a convite do programa Tourism for All da USAID, no âmbito da ação de promoção de turismo doméstico #HauNiaTimorLeste ***



Now is a good time to show your support for the tourism industry in Timor-Leste. In partnership with local businesses, USAID’s Tourism For All Project has launched a campaign to promote domestic tourism under the banner “Ha’u-nia Timor-Leste” (My Timor-Leste). The campaign, which will run until December 31st, 2020, aims to inspire the public to support local businesses by becoming tourists in their own country. Everyone is encouraged to enjoy the adventures and attractions that are on offer, whether it’s eating at a favourite restaurant, taking a road trip, going diving or just enjoying a cup of local coffee made by an expert barista. People can show their support by taking photos of their experiences, beauty spots, cultural and historical places and wildlife, using the hashtag #HauNiaTimorLeste when they share them on social media, to help get the word out to family and friends.  By the end of the year, we aim to count 1,318,445 #HauNiaTimorLeste tags on social media – one for every person in the country.

The Tourism For All Project will host a series of events to celebrate World Tourism Day. A Domestic Tourism Expo will be held at Timor Plaza Centre Court from September 22-26th, with informative presentations from tourism associations and industry professionals to inspire the public to venture out and explore the country. There will be films, special promotions, entertainment, give-aways and quizzes. It will be an opportunity to learn more about Timor-Leste’s wildlife, the underwater world on our doorstep, and activities and attractions throughout the 13 municipalities.

The Ha’u-nia Timor-Leste Tourism Fair will take place on September 27 (World Tourism Day) in the parking area of the Timor Plaza, from 15.00hrs to 22.00 hours. Tourism businesses will be there to offer special packages as part of the campaign and book them on the spot, whilst the public will be entertained with cultural performances, a prize draw and give-aways.

These events are open to all! If you have a tourism business or association, and would like to participate in the events, or offer sponsorship, please email [email protected] for further information.

USAID’s Tourism For All Project is also organizing the Turizmu Ba Ema Hotu Tourism Champions awards to recognize people who have made an outstanding contribution to tourism in Timor-Leste. Members of the public can nominate any individual, company or organization who has gone the extra mile to welcome visitors, made an exceptional effort to support tourism development, or helped to create innovative experiences for tourists. Nominations can be registered by clicking on this link: Poll closes on September 14th.

The Ha’u-nia Timor-Leste campaign was launched to support tourism businesses that are struggling in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Timor-Leste’s overall destination marketing campaign continues under the brand “Explore The Undiscovered” and we are looking forward to welcoming international visitors once more once the situation improves. Please visit the ”Explore The Undiscovered” website at to find out more about tourism attractions in Timor-Leste.

Nominate your Tourism Champion!

USAID’s Tourism For All Project is organizing an awards ceremony to recognize people who have made an outstanding contribution to tourism in Timor-Leste. You can nominate any individual, company or organization who has gone the extra mile to make you feel welcome as a visitor, or who has helped to create exceptional experiences for tourists. You could also propose an individual who has worked for many years to develop or promote the tourism industry in this country. Your nominee does not necessarily have to be directly employed by a tour operator, hotel or restaurant. We are looking for Champions who have shown the spirit of hospitality in their actions, by offering a warm welcome to guests, and by creating superlative tourism experiences.

You can make your nomination by clicking on this link.

It only takes a couple of minutes! Please share the link with your friends.

Please note:
Closing date for nominations is Friday, September 14th, 2020. You may NOT nominate yourself, family members or staff or owners of companies where you are employed.

  • Winners will be selected by a panel according to a scoring system based on the following criteria:
  • Sustained effort in supporting the development of tourism in Timor-Leste and in promoting the country’s tourism assets and products (especially on a voluntary basis)
  • Exemplary customer service by individuals working in the tourism industry
  • Response to tourists in difficulty or with special needs
  • Actions that demonstrate a strong spirit of hospitality and community welcome
  • Application of the principles of sustainable tourism

The guides with tourists from Rotary at the top of Gruta Morutau. Photo by Dave Carlos.

Visitors to Balibó can now add hiking and cycling to their itinerary, thanks to the local tour cooperative, Balibo Trails. The manager, Egidio “Gido” Da Purificacao Soares, and his guides are all Balibó locals, who offer fully guided walking, hiking and cycling tours in and around Balibó. Mountain bikes are also available for hire for self-guided tours.

Balibo Trails is the first formal tour office to be opened outside of Dili.  Gido –  who is President of the Timor-Leste Tourism Operators Association – explains: ‘When the tourists come and they stay at Balibó, the local guides will show them where they can go and what they can see.’

A 75 minute guided walk of Balibó village introduces visitors to its history and culture as well as the present way of life. Many visitors may be familiar with Balibó’s history, in particular the events of 1975 in which five Australian journalists were killed by invading Indonesian forces. The Flag House, on the wall of which the journalists painted an Australian flag in the hope that it would offer them protection, has for some years operated as both a memorial to the Balibó Five and a community centre for local East Timorese.

Further afield, the Gruta Morutau walk takes visitors into the mountains north of Balibó, passing the Stations of the Cross as they climb, and ending with magnificent views into Atambua in Indonesia. Just a bike ride away is the village of Leohitu, with some amazing seasonal waterfalls and a fish hatchery; and, for those looking for a longer hike, the 13km walk to Batugade, on the ocean, is downhill all the way. The best time to walk to Batugade is the early morning, and Balibo Trails can arrange a picnic breakfast to help you on your way.

Mountain bikes are also available to hire for self-guided touring, or guides can be engaged to lead cycle tours of the area and point out cultural, natural and historic highlights. The district is home to many limestone caves, some of which provided refuge during the Indonesian occupation, and the mountains around Balibó provide wonderful vistas and beautiful viewing points for sunrise and sunset.

Balibo Trails started out as Balibo Walking Trails, with the help of a ‘Friendship Grant’ from DFAT, secured by the Balibó House Trust in 2019. Balibo Walking Trails partnered with Dili-based tour company Timor Adventures to train the guides. Now, thanks to a grant from the Victorian Government, the walking and hiking venture has been extended to include mountain bikes.

The Balibó Fort Hotel, stunningly set in the converted 300-year-old Portuguese Fort, is the perfect place to stay when visiting Balibó. It offers superior accommodation and dining, while also supporting economic opportunity for the people of Balibó. The hotel directly employs and trains 20 local people, and its proceeds support local initiatives such as the Balibó Community Learning Centre and a dental clinic.

The opening of Balibo Trails brings further opportunities for the people of Balibó. ‘Having a hotel is good, but you can generate more work by having activities for people to do,’ says Timor Adventures owner and director Dave Carlos. The 10 tour guides are locally trained in all aspects of tourism and first aid and attend English classes. With the addition of mountain bikes to the venture, the guides have been trained in bike maintenance and repair by a Dili bike mechanic.

Development of the Balibó Fort Hotel and Balibo Trails was supported by NGO, the Balibó House Trust. The Trust works to honour the memories of the Balibó Five journalists by enriching the lives and livelihoods of the Balibó community. Chair of the Trust, Rob Hudson, sees advantages for both tourists and locals.  ‘Balibo Trails is a welcome addition for visitors to Balibó. At the same time, it will support employment, training and economic opportunity for the people of Balibó,’ he says.

During this difficult time of COVID-19, there has never been a better time for Dili locals and expats to visit Balibó. The Hotel remains open, seven days a week, and the Balibo Trails guides, and their local community, will benefit greatly from your visit.

For bookings and more information:

Balibo Trails:
Phone: (+670) 7670 9201
WhatsApp: (+670) 7802 0717
Email: [email protected]
Or Gido: [email protected]

Balibo Trails is located next door to the Balibó Community Learning Centre

Balibó Fort Hotel:
Phone: (+670) 7709 1555

Balibó House Trust:
Email:  [email protected]

Luis “Melky” Berhuno: The first Timorese Dive Instructor. Photo: Elvis Guterres/USAID’s Tourism For All Project

When Luis “Melky” Berhuno landed his first job with a scuba diving centre, his task was to keep shore watch alone on the beach, as the divers walked into the sea for their underwater adventure. He would help them with their equipment when they surfaced, chattering with excitement about an experience he could only imagine.  Now, with support from USAID’s Tourism For All project, he has become Timor-Leste’s first professional dive instructor.

Melky’s instructor course with Scuba Diving International was made possible through a USAID-funded grant to Dreamers Dive Academy Timor. Since he qualified, Melky has taught 20 young Timorese men and women to dive and they have all gained their open water certification through the program. The grant also enabled the Dreamers Dive Academy staff to increase their professional credentials: now they are one of a handful of dive centres in the Asia region designated as 5-star Instructor Development facilities.

“When I started working at the dive center I only knew a few fish and mostly just that you could eat them!” Melky said, “There’s a big difference in my life now. I feel I have learned a lot about dive theory, how to find animals, give briefings and be a dive leader. Also, I can use my monthly salary to help my parents and buy my own dive equipment”.

Timor-Leste is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the world’s top scuba-diving destinations: it’s a global hotspot for marine biodiversity and has some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world. Tourists and expats have been diving there since the country gained its independence in 2002, but local people have been missing out on the opportunity to explore this stunning underwater world for themselves.

Melky now has more than 400 dives under his belt and has been guiding tourists around the world-class dive sites along Timor-Leste’s north coast and Atauro Island, which are becoming popular with marine naturalists and photographers. “They come for the coral reef, crystal water, pristine beach, the whales and dolphins, and the diverse marine eco-system,” he said, “I’ve met many people from many different countries, from Europe, USA and Asian countries.  These relationships are very important in building community with other divers, practicing skills and simply getting out to explore the underwater world. Everyone can continue their lifelong journey to becoming a more competent and confident diver,” he added.

The dive industry will play a vital role in steering the Timorese economy away from its dependence on oil and gas and tourism is one of the sectors identified by the Government that can generate income and employment for its people. Now, through the USAID grant, the opportunity has opened up for more young Timorese to enjoy recreational diving and to step up as professionals, playing an active role in their own dive industry.

Dreamers Dive Academy Managing Director Kate Barker explained that Timorese divers are also getting involved in marine conservation and awareness-raising, one of the goals of the National Tourism Policy: “We have been surprised by the reaction,” she said, “We’ve had huge responses from the community, interested  not only in doing diving but in general looking at the sea, snorkeling, swimming, and engaging with their marine ecosystem. We’ve gained hundreds of new followers on our social media platforms, with constant interactions from youth looking to join or create a club where Timorese can gather to enjoy their sea. This shows that the USAID program is changing how people think and that they are recognising diving as one of the potential industries in Timor-Leste,” she added. This increased interest in the sport among local people has now created a new market for domestic dive tourism and Melky hopes to encourage more and more Timorese people to try scuba diving.

Professional scuba diving courses are challenging. To make the grade, Melky had to study the complex technical aspects of diving and develop a deep understanding of safety and emergency management procedures.  Apart from gaining expert diving skills, instructors also have to learn to teach and motivate their students to stick with the course. In Timor-Leste, that’s not always easy: many people are poor swimmers and lack the scientific education and the language skills needed to understand the dive theory course materials. As the first Timorese instructor, Melky was able to help new divers overcome this difficulty by explaining the course to them in the local language, Tetun.

“It was so rewarding to see so many of the candidates who were struggling with various aspects still maintain their excitement and determination and then gain their certification,” Kate explained, “Melky worked extremely hard to achieve this and Dreamers Dive Academy is super proud of him. One step at a time, learning different specialties, mastering his English and working daily in the industry. He’s a hard-working man with big dreams”.


Dreamers Dive Academy co-owner Ivan S. Loria Shelley said that support from USAID had helped the company to achieve its goal in bringing dive education to Timorese people: “This journey has been incredibly touching. With unexpected challenges and the need for full dedication from all our team, taking all of our experience and motivation to push through. This though, brought the greatest rewards, from professional growth to unexpected marketing for the company, as well as a profound and deep experience that goes beyond words. To share time with these young souls, full of dreams, full of potential… motivated and accelerated when surrounded by minds alike. In my heart, I know this is the beginning of a larger adventure.”

Lian Tetun iha kraik

The Ministry of Tourism, Commerce and Industry and Dili Diocese held a joint news conference on July 1st to announce that the shrine of Our Lady of Mount Ramelau has been re-opened to visitors. The site had been closed to the public since March 23rd,  as a precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Director-General of Tourism Jose Quintas said that visitors to Mt. Ramelau should still observe COVID-19 prevention procedures, such as wearing masks, social distancing and regular hand-washing. He also asked that the public refrain from vandalism, littering, lighting fires and rowdy behaviour at the site, and respect it as a sacred place and a protected area.

Ministério do Turismo, Comércio e Indústria (MTCI) no Diocese Díli, oficialmente aviso ba público katak Sítio “NA’I FETO RAMELAU” loke ona bá público iha loron 27 Junho 2020.
Hato’o mos ba público sira nebe ba visita, atu continua disiplina nafatin hodi implementa protocolo prevensaun bá COVID-19, hanesan usa Máscara, halo distanciamento sosial, fase-liman, etc.

Husu mós ba público atu guarda salva ambiente hanesan hadok-an hosi vandalismo ou estragos, soe lixu arbiru, sunu-rai, respeito no hatudu comportamento etica no moral diak, etc.

Hamutuk ita protege no tau-matan nafatin ba fatin Turismo Religiosa Sítio “NA’I FETO RAMELAU” núdar hanesan fatin sagrada no area protegida. Mai ita continua harohan ba “NA’I FETO RAMELAU” hodi tulun hado’ok Timor-Leste hosi COVID-19.

Hamotuk Ita Bele!

Timorese youngsters Micky and Mardy have been doing their bit to protect the marine environment on the island of Atauro . They have set up a group, Ekipa Tasi Mos (Clean Ocean Team), which organizes regular beach clean-ups, and they record their findings in an international marine debris database, allowing the community to trace the pollution back to its original source. After collection and recording, the plastics are then recycled and transformed into beautiful products that can be sold as local handicrafts.
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Photo courtesy World Bank