DFAT Travel advice, East Timor and tourism – you decide

DFAT Travel advice, East Timor and tourism – you decide

Current Travel Warnings.

It is difficult for people considering travel to East Timor to find first hand, up to date accounts about East Timor to inform their travel plans.

We know this because of our work in promoting motorcycle tourism in East Timor. Our experience is Australians often have impressions of East Timor that are based on the events of the past.  Unfortunately the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) current travel advice for East Timor reinforces this negative perception.  DFAT’s current advice for travellers to East Timor is to “Exercise a High Degree of Caution” due to the “uncertain security situation and the possibility of civil unrest”


To put this into perspective DFAT offers the same level of warning for various reasons to the following common tourist destinations that many travellers don’t think twice about visiting.


  • · Thailand
  • · India
  • · Mexico
  • · Morocco
  • · Nepal
  • · Peru
  • · Philippines
  • · Russia
  • · Turkey
  • · United Arab Emirates
  • · Qatar
  • · North Korea
  • · Suva
  • · Brunei
  • · Costa Rica

Additionally many of these tourist destinations have the additional warning of the threat of terrorism, a situation that has never existed for East Timor

It is worth noting that Indonesia (Including Bali) has the next highest level of advice this being “Reconsider your need to travel” yet around 600,000 Australians travel there each year! (Source http://www.smh.com.au/travel/blogs/travellers-check/bali-too-much-of-a-good-thing-20110214-1asrh.html)

We understand why DFAT err s on the side of caution, however this warning added to the  weight of bad press East Timor has received over the years and  makes the job of this building this fledgling nation through tourism so much more difficult that it needs to be.

It is worth noting that neither the UK nor the USA have travel warnings for East Timor. The UK Travel advice can be seen at:


The USA travel advice can be seen at


Other perspectives about traveling to East Timor.

As tourism operators we are particularly heartened when we see articles in the mainstream media that highlight the beauty and magic of East Timor.

Here are two links to recent articles.


Jock Cheetham is a journalist with a long association with Timor.



Patrick O’Neil, Sydney Morning Herald, May 2011

Here are some links we have found useful when researching East Timor for our motorbike tours to get the “warts and all” day to day picture of the country. Timor is like any nation, including Australia, there are a diversity of views and ideas but the overall sense of development and optimism about the future abounds through these news forums




To further the aim of providing  balanced and current accounts of what to expect in East Timor today  we invite individuals and organisations with recent and if possible firsthand experience of life in East Timor to add their observations and comments. We would especially love to hear from East Timorese people.

Some observations people have already shared with us:

“I completely agree with you on how negatively  East Timor is portrayed through media and Foreign Offices travel advice. My job over the last 3 years has been exactly to change that negative interpretation.”

David Palazón, Project Coordinator, Designer / Filmmaker / Researcher  TATOLI BA KULTURA (Website to be launched in July 2011)

Your comments about the Australian government’s travel advisory are well appreciated. Even though I am a US citizen, I subscribed to the Australian travel advisories when first planning a trip to Timor-Leste, and at this point I might as well unsubscribe. When traveling abroad, I have made it a point to look at a diversity of government sites, since in some cases there are political considerations that may influence the information.

When bringing students from the US, I usually look at the website of the US Department of State (state.gov) where there are currently neither travel alerts or travel warnings posted for Timor-Leste. Being of German extraction, I also check the website of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs (whose travel information is, unfortunately, not available in English), where there are no warnings.”

Hinrich Kaiser PhD FLS:  Associate Professor, Department of Biology, Victor Valley College
Research Collaborator, National Museum of Natural History, Member, International Advisory Board, Foundation for Post-Conflict Development

I agree, the information on Smart Traveller is misleading – it implies that violence is potentially around every corner and that Timor is a volatile place, day in, day out. Those of us who have been there and spent time there know that it is not.

Some of the things that are challenging are no more challenging than the simple life, and unpredictable elements, and occasional discomfort,  that you have when you are camping. Gillian Howell

And finally a couple of our own observations

For the third year in a row In September over 300 mountain bike riders from Australia, the US and Canada are set to pit themselves against the gruelling roads of East Timor – They  must feel safe enough to make the journey.

A number of secondary colleges have friendship relationships with schools in East Timor and have organised study tours to East Timor. Further some elite private schools are opting to organise tours to East Timor for their year 12 students as an alternative to Schoolies week.  These school communities must feel their children will be safe.

A sure sign of a peaceful civilisation is that the Arts and a proud national culture are beginning to be showcased in East Timor, a few examples:

Please feel free to add you’re first hand and current observations.

Thankyou Shirley and David Carlos

Timor Adventures, Motorcycle tours in East Timor


  1. Ralph says:

    I was in Timor in 2011, there is indeed much danger there.
    First you need to run the gauntlet of kids (5-10) who want to hi five you, then once they realise you are not part of the UN police force, you are besieged by their younger siblings as the parents send them out for their own hi five. It is very scary being confronted by a hoard of kids. They then all call out ‘water mister’, which occurs all over the world in places like it. If you have any spare bottles of water toss them around and continue with the hi fives.
    The main difference between Dili and Sydney is, in Dili you will not be king hit if you are out after dark in an unfamiliar area and Sydney has a better garbage service.
    It also costs much less to travel there via Bali, than direct from Aust.
    I have visited a few places in Asia, but would only take the wife to Timor.

  2. Denis Tolkach says:

    I have to say I had such a wonderful time in Timor-Leste, that it really upsets me some people will miss their opportunity to experience the unique nature and cultures of Timor, because of the negative image portrayed in media and by DFAT. I’m pretty sure DFAT just wants to keep the beauty of Timor only for its diplomats over there, who visit many touristy sites across the country on weekends 🙂

  3. Florencio Sanches says:

    To world travellers, we Timor Leste here is welcome you most to visit, relax and enjoy your time beyond the teritory. The first word will come up with HI whilst you reach TL’ soil which means safe for everyone to travel. Timor’s beaches are unspoilled and lovely to enjoy with. Unforgetable. Government level have a right to issues advises, we Timorese also have a rigth to say safe and secure for every one to visit TL. Once again, we welcome you the world travellers to visit lovely Timor Leste. Bemvindu, hakat mai.

  4. Jim Richards says:

    Thanks for letting me know about his. We have the same issue with guests we book for package tours from Both Darwin & Singapore the guest generally think they are coming to a place where people still get shot all the time. What happens mostly is that the guest are discappointed that they can not change their tickets to stay long. They just love it. Easy, Simple life.

  5. Edward Rees says:

    I first arrived in Timor-Leste in February 2000, and have lived here on again off again for about 6 of the last 10-11 years.

    Timor-Leste is categorically a safe tourist destination.

    I have also spent considerable time in Indonesia, New York, Kenya, and Kosovo in that time. Additionally I have visited Liberia, South Sudan, Haiti, and Afghanistan in the last year.

    1) Timor-Leste does not have organised crime in the way that threatens tourists.

    2) There are almost zero illicit arms in the country that might threaten tourists – in fact I saw more guns in the hands of civilians in all the other places that I have visited as compared to Timor-Leste.

    3) The vast majority of Timorese are exceedingly open and welcoming to foreigners. This is especially so in the mountains and rural coastal areas.

    4) The Timorese police, while a young organisation with considerable challenges, are very helpful to foreigners and prospective tourists.

    5) The last time there was a violent protest in Timor-Leste was in 2007, prior to that in 2006 and again prior to that in 2002. Some cities in the West can hardly boast that.

    6) Yes there was a serious problem in 2006/7. Its over. Will there be unexpected problems in the future, yes. But people will deal with it. The Bali bombing was unexpected, people have dealt with it and the beaches of Bali are full of people – as are indeed the beaches in an around Dili every weekend.

    Come and see for yourself.

    Edward Rees