Heritage & Culture

As a newly independent country and still largely off the beaten path, Timor-Leste is a fascinating place to visit both in terms of heritage and culture, and its general way of life.

Timor-Leste culture is strong, unique and reflects many different influences: traditional animist beliefs; a former Portuguese colony; the impact of WWII; the more recent Indonesian invasion and spirited Timorese resistance; the role of the Catholic Church and the effects of other minority groups such as Chinese traders.

Do visit the excellent Timorese Resistance Archive and Museum in Dili if you are interested in learning more about the struggle independence.

Timor-Leste’s traditional music, dance and story-telling is a fundamental part of its cultural heritage and very engaging to watch. So definitely make the most of any opportunities, whether a small local occasion or a national fiesta.

There is much of interest for travelers in Timor-Leste. In addition to main attractions and learning about significant historical events, it is fun to wander around a local market or back street and experience everyday life. Timorese are extremely hospitable and proud of their country and if you express an interest and openness, they are happy to share information and on occasion their personal stories.

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Ai Pelo Prison was built during the Portuguese colonial era to house exiled political prisoners and features stone prison ruins and information displays. Open daily.
Balibo House commemorates the many Timorese and “ Balibo Five” (2 Australians, 1 New Zealander and 2 British) and Roger East who were murdered in Balibo during the Indonesian invasion. It also operates as a community centre. Across the road is the Balibo Fort Hotel and Museum built within the stone walls of a 17th century fort. The small museum in the stone ramparts displays a photographic collection.
The Chega Exhibition, set in an old Portuguese-era prison, gives a glimpse of the harsh realities when hundreds of Timorese resistance individuals were incarcerated by the Indonesian military during the occupation. Hours: Tuesday 10AM–12PM, 2–5PM Wednesday 10AM–12PM, 2–5PM Thursday 10AM–12PM, 2–5PM Friday 10AM–12PM, 2–5PM Saturday Closed Sunday Closed Monday 10AM–12PM, 2–5PM
The 27m high statue of Christ standing on a world globe a top Cap Fatucama is a striking Dili landmark. Fourteen ‘Stations of the Cross’ line the steep walk up to the statue’s base. From the top enjoy wonderful views - looking back to Dili, out to Atauro Island in the distance and down to beautiful Back Beach.
The Dare Memorial Museum and Café is in the hills above Dili and overlooks the city. It commemorates the Australian soldiers and the Timorese kriados who fought against the Japanese during WWII. Open from 8:30 am to 18:00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
Gembel cooperative is a community arts initiative. Local artist members display and sell their artwork including paintings, screen prints and curvy decorated mango roots at their workshop on the Dili waterfront. It is also a popular weekend afternoon location for musician jam sessions.
Natural geo-thermal hot water springs which have been developed into a series of bathing pools in a beautiful valley below Marobo village. They were originally developed during the Portuguese colonial era and have recently been rebuilt. Open daily.
Constructed by the Dutch during the 17th century, the old fort still has its original stone walls and canons. Within the fort grounds is a restaurant and small gift shop selling local handi-crafts.
Baucau has a large spring fed public swimming pool – Piscina de Baucau which is perfect for a refreshing dip. Its attractive garden setting also includes tennis courts.
Santa Cruz Cemetery is an important commemoration site for the Timorese due to the massacre that happened there during the Indonesian occupation. The atrocities were caught on camera and aired to the world bringing international attention to the Timorese struggle for independence.
The Timorese Resistance Archive and Museum provides an overview of the resistance struggle of the Timorese people during the Indonesian occupation. It has interesting audio-visual exhibitions evoking key moments and figures. Opening hours 9.30am-4.30pm Tuesday to Saturday.
This small museum and gallery housed in an old Portuguese building displays art, photos and information about Xanana Gusmao, the former resistance leader and president of Timor-Leste. Opening hours are Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm and Saturday, 9am-3pm. The complex also includes a small library.

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