Timor-Leste, or East Timor, is a lesser-known country in Southeast Asia. Most people don't know about this nation mainly because it’s overshadowed by its neighbor Indonesia. This small nation is among the poorest in Asia, and its economy is just slowly picking up.

Tourism is yet to boom, with the country only visited by little more than 74,000 in 2019. The low tourism output makes some of East Timor’s landscapes unspoiled, preparing for when travelers are ready to experience their wonders. Tourists who are curious enough to visit Timor-Leste will be welcomed by amazing diving spots, pristine rural attractions, and the warm smiles of the Timorese.

10 It’s One Of The Youngest Republics

In May 2002, Timor-Leste became the 21st century’s first new country after gaining independence from Indonesia. Also known as East Timor, it has had a troubled past since its former colonial master Portugal withdrew from the region, only to be replaced by the Indonesians. It took almost three decades before it achieved independence and is now slowly recovering from the effects of war. With the help of erstwhile foe Indonesia and other Southeast Asian nations, Timor-Leste is boosting its development efforts as it aims to urbanize.

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9 Timor-Leste Is Mainly Catholic And Portuguese-Speaking

The Portuguese and Spaniards arrived in what is now Timor-Leste in 1520 and 1522, respectively. That started its long colonial history, shaping the country’s culture and traditions. East Timor is the only Portuguese-speaking country in Asia and one of two predominantly Catholic Asian nations (the other one is the Philippines). Its culture is also influenced by the subsequent Japanese invasion during World War II and the Indonesian occupation. Add the Chinese and Catholic influence into the mix, and Timor-Leste is a melting pot of traditions.

8 Sun-Worshippers Will Love Its Beaches

Unmatched tropical memories are always possible in Timor-Leste, thanks to its pristine beaches. Near the capital Dili, there’s the Back Beach and the Areia Branca Beach, both popular recreational spots for locals and tourists. White-sand beaches, meanwhile, are ready to be explored in Baucau, Com, Valu, and Jaco Island. Beachcombers will also have a fun time exploring the island of Atauro, which birdwatchers can visit, too. From sunup to sundown, tourists will have nothing but sun-kissed memories in Timor-Leste.

7 The Diving Spots Are Incredible

Diving spots are great in Timor-Leste, thanks to its location within the Coral Triangle — an area teeming with marine species. The country has an estimated 1,200 species of reef fish and 400 coral species, making any diving journey here worthwhile. Manta rays, whale sharks, turtles, and even dugongs frequent Timorese waters, adding to the already colorful view of the reefs. From the shores near the capital to the welcoming islands, beginners and professional divers will enjoy playing in Timor-Leste’s underwater world.

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6 It’s Home To The World’s Toughest Mountain Bike Race

Timor-Leste is home to the Tour de Timor, considered the world’s toughest mountain bike race. Bikers who want to challenge their cycling skills visit the country to conquer its unique terrain. It has rugged hills and steep tracks, making it the ideal place for competitive biking. However, even casual cyclists can enjoy biking around East Timor, thanks to the country’s compact size and light traffic. Whether tourists are traversing gravel roads or mountain trails, they will be enveloped by stunning views.

5 It’s A Place For Coffee Lovers

East Timor has a thriving coffee industry, and those who love sipping this aromatic drink need not worry if they always want a caffeine fix. Anywhere in the country, they can easily grab a hot — or cold — coffee offering. The country has its coffee variety, the Timor hybrid, which will satisfy even casual drinkers. From Dili to the highlands where beans are produced, tourists will have a field day tasting Timorese coffee every morning — or until midnight, if they must.

4 It’s A Hotspot For Whales And Dolphins

Timor-Leste is one of the best places to observe whales and dolphins since it’s located in the Coral Triangle. Thanks to its waters teeming with species, the country is frequented by said marine mammals. From October to December, Wetar Strait serves as a migration highway between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, so tourists are certain to spot massive whales or playful dolphins. They might even get lucky to spot whale sharks. Since East Timor is a global hotspot for said marine animals, it’s the perfect destination for lovers of the underwater world.

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3 There’s A Humble National Park

Unlike the United States, which has national parks in every state, Timor-Leste only has one such protected area. Though Nino Konis Santana is the country’s lone national park, it has lots of wonders that will satisfy every visitor. Its shore offers a wonderful coral reef show, and inland, tourists can check out orchids, rosewoods, ferns, banyans, and fig trees. Wildlife watchers, meanwhile, should keep their eyes peeled for deer, possums, monkeys, turtles, and lots of birds. The park also has limestone caves with ancient rock art. Nino Konis Santana National Park might be small, but it’s big on surprises.

2 It Is Teeming With Pristine Landscapes

Exploring the capital city of Dili is always a fine choice, but if tourists want to be in the presence of pristine landscapes, they must visit Timor-Leste’s rural spots. The island of Atauro is a diver or paddler's ideal hangout spot, while fishers can practice angling on Jaco Island and in Com. The hill town of Balibo, meanwhile, can be explored by cavers, and a natural spring can be visited in Baucau. Those who want to dig deep into the country’s colonial past can visit Maubara and Liquica, while Mount Ramelau is waiting for the eager hikers. Wherever in East Timor, tourists can always busy themselves enjoying its sights and sounds.

1 It Has A Big Christ Statue

The Cristo Rei of Dili has an interesting history as it was gifted by Indonesia to the then province of East Timor to dissuade it from pushing for independence. Of course, the said goal never materialized, and the giant Christ statue is now a popular attraction in the country. A 590-step staircase will lead tourists to the 89-foot Cristo Rei, and atop, visitors can drink in the calming sight of Cape Fatucama. The trek up the statue might be tiring, but it’s worth it, thanks to the picturesque waterscape.