Manatuto municipality is located to the east of Dili and stretches across the entire country from a beautiful north coast of idyllic white sandy beaches, steep cliffs and mangroves bordering the Wetar Strait, to the wilder Timor Sea in the south. It is one of the country’s least populated and most rugged municipalities with large braided rivers and a very mountainous hinterland. Much of the landscape and its villages have remained virtually unchanged for centuries. The majority of local people speak Galoli.
This area is known as the birthplace of Xanana Gusmao, the resistance leader elected as the nation’s president in 2001 and who later became Timor-Leste’s prime minister.
The large regional town of Manatuto, lying beside the Laclo River on the north coast, is regarded for its bustling Sunday market and also for terracotta pottery produced in local kilns. Further to the east, the small town of Laleia has a pretty pastel pink twin towered church, considered one of the most beautiful In Timor-Leste.
Along the north coast closer to Dili are well-known sites for diving and snorkelling and Dollar Beach is a popular swimming and picnicking location. Grilled fish and rice can be purchased from roadside stalls and at Manleo there is a good range of woven basketwork for sale.
Local farmers cultivate rice and other crops and graze livestock such as sheep and goats. Inland at higher elevation near Laclubar tree crops such as coffee and avocado are also grown.
The forests and coastal swamps near the isolated south coast have been proposed for designation as part of a wilder wildlife sanctuary that stretches west into neighbouring Manufahi municipality. Flooded each wet season this area known as Sungai Clere is rich with birdlife, including rare cockatoos and pigeons.