Ever heard of Timor Leste? It is a small country just next to Indonesia with a difficult history and amazingly diverse underwater life.
Never heard of this place before
Timor Leste or East Timor was a Portuguese colony from the 16th century till 1975. During World War II the region was invaded by the Japanese. Only days after the independence in 1975 the country was invaded again, this time by Indonesia with support of the US government. After many years of struggle when the people had to endure illness, hunger and torture the country finally became independent in 2002.
To be honest I did not know any of this before I got to Timor Leste. I was lucky to dive with an expat history teacher from Portugal one day and learned all about the history during the surface interval.
When I told people I was going to visit East Timor many did not even know that it existed. Find out more in the guide to Timor Leste.
The diving however is absolutely amazing. Only three dive shops offer diving, therefore the reefs are pristine and you won’t ever encounter another dive group at the same sites. The shops are located in the capital Dili.
Diving is possible along the shore to the east up to the site K57, (which stands for 57 Km from Dili) to the west and also around Dili. It takes up to 1 ½ hours to get to the sites by car. Two or three dives are organized back to back with food provided during surface intervals. All these sites are shore diving. In addition the island Atauro in the north of Timor can be reached by boat.
East dive sites
The dive sites vary from pristine coral reefs, walls and slopes to muck areas. Accordingly diverse marine life can be found at the sites ranging from reef sharks, rays and dugongs to critters like nudibranchs, seahorses, crabs, shrimp, pipefish, frogfish and many more.
During the scenic rides to and from the dive site an amazing view over the ocean and the mountains can be enjoyed. With some luck crocodiles or exotic birds might be spotted on the way.
The area around Dili offers a paradise for macro photographers. At the muck dive site Tasi Tolu a wide range of critters can be encountered. We even found a Rhinopia which hasn’t been seen in the area for 4 years.
Besides this rare scorpionfish, all kinds of shrimp, crab, squat lobster, ghostpipefish, frogfish and nudibranchs (including “Shaun the sheep”) will be encountered.
The Island Atauro lies around 1 to 1 ½ hours from Dili by boat. The ride over can be tricky if the winds push the waves. When you make it to the island you might already be rewarded at arrival as, with a bit of luck, pods of dolphins and pilot whales may be encountered.
It is possible to see bigger whales on the way as the owners of the shop I dove with recently saw a blue whale. I was also told that a very rare phenomenon can be observed in the waters of Timor which is called superpod where different species of whales and dolphins form a huge group together.
The diving at Atauro is mainly famous for schooling fish like barracudas, trevallis and tuna, as well as different types of sharks and dolphins.
Why you should go there
The variety of wildlife to be encountered is incredible, there is something for everyone no matter if you like big or small stuff or whether you are experienced or not. In addition the area is dived so little that the reefs are untouched and pristine. The only downside is the price compared to the neighbour Indonesia.