Dili (deelee), spelled Díli in Portuguese, is the capital and largest city of East Timor. It lies on the northern coast of Timor island, the easternmost of the Lesser Sunda Islands. Dili is the chief port and commercial centre for East Timor, and has approximately 150,000 inhabitants. There is also an airport in Comoro, Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport, renamed after independence leader Nicolau Lobato, which is used for commercial and military flights. Dili is located at . It is also the capital of the district of Dili, which includes the surrounding area.
Dili was settled about 1520 by the Portuguese, who made it the capital of Portuguese Timor in 1769. During World War II, Dili was occupied by the Japanese. East Timor unilaterally declared independence from Portugal on November 28, 1975. However, nine days later, on December 7, Indonesian forces invaded Dili. On July 17, 1976, Indonesia annexed East Timor, which it designated the 27th province of Indonesia, Timor Timur (Indonesian for East Timor), with Dili as its capital.
However, a guerrilla war ensued from 1975 to 1999 between Indonesian and pro-independence forces, during which tens of thousands of East Timor's and some foreign civilians were killed. Media coverage of the 1991 Dili Massacre helped revitalise international support for the East Timorese independence movement. In 1999, East Timor was placed under UN supervision and on May 20, 2002, Dili became the capital of the newly independent Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. In May 2006, fighting and rioting sparked by conflict between elements of the military caused significant damage to the city and led to foreign military intervention to restore order.
Most buildings were destroyed in the violence of 1999, orchestrated by the Indonesian military and local pro-Indonesia militias (see Operation Scorched Earth). However, the city still has many buildings from the Portuguese era. The former Portuguese Governor's office is now the office of the Prime Minister. It was previously also used by the Indonesian-appointed Governor, and by the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).
Even under Indonesian rule, during which the Portuguese language was banned, Portuguese street names like Avenida Marechal Carmona remained unchanged, although they were prefixed with the Indonesian word Jalan or 'road'. The Roman Catholic Church at Motael became a focus for resistance to Indonesian occupation.
Legacies of Jakarta's occupation are the Church of the Immaculate Conception, seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Díli, purportedly the largest cathedral in Southeast Asia, and the 'Integration Monument', commemorating the Indonesian annexation of the territory in 1976. Featuring a statue of a Timorese in traditional dress, breaking the chains round his wrists, the monument has not been demolished.
Schools in Dili include St. Joseph’s High School (Colégio de São José). There are three International schools in Dili, an Australian managed school by the name of Dili International School, an American government sponsored school, called Quality International School and the Dili Education & Development Center, a Philippine International School. East Timor's major higher education institution, the Universidade Nacional de Timor-Leste, is based in Dili.
Dili is serviced by Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport, the only international airport in East Timor. Dili has the only functioning international airport, though there are airstrips in Baucau, Suai and Oecusse used for domestic flights. Until recently, Dili's airport runway has been unable to accommodate aircraft larger than the Boeing 737 or C-130 Hercules, but in January 2008, the Portuguese charter airline EuroAtlantic Airways operated a direct flight from Lisbon using a Boeing 757, carrying 140 members of the Guarda Nacional Republicana. Under Portuguese rule, Baucau airport, which has a much longer runway, was used for international flights, but following the Indonesian invasion this was taken over by the Indonesian military and closed to civilian traffic.
Fisher boat in Dili
View looking across to Atauro
This charming, lazy little seaside city suddenly found itself taking the role of national capital when East Timor became the world's newest independent country in May 2002.
The city lies on the northern coast of East Timor, squeezed along the narrow plains between the central mountains which run the length of the Timor and the Ombai Strait.
Dili is also capital of a district with the same name. The district includes the surrounding areas as well as Atauro Island.
Dili was the classic backwater during colonial times, being the main city of a remote colony in a remote part of the world. However, this heritage left Dili with a distinct Portuguese flavour and together with Macau, is probably the furthest east where you can savour genuine Portuguese food and architecture. Dili has since recovered remarkably, although one can still see many gutted buildings.
Dili has sort of a colonial core, with its waterfront and a square bordered on the south side by the impressive Government Buildings. The commercial areas of Lecidere lies to the east, Colmera is to the west and the former Mercado Municipal (Central Market) is to the south. Further west is the affluent If you are on the road directly in front of the East Timor Government Building, Palacio Do Governo, face away from the airport (towards the Jesus Statue) you will see a large white building and the Post Office is at the end of that building. Stamps for letters/postcards to Australia are US$1. As many of the streets are unnamed (making mail delivery impossible) you may want to get a post box. It’s fine to share them with others. Next to the post office is one of 2 Timor Telecom offices which sell sim cards for $20.00 this includes $10.00 worth of calls.
Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport (formerly Comoro Airport) (DIL) is located 6km west of Dili. Indonesian carrier Merpati  has daily flights from Denpasar, Bali but cannot be booked on the internet. Australian regional carrier Air North  operates at least one flight a day from Darwin, Australia. There are also direct planes to Singapore with AustAsia Airlines  on Silkair aircraft. As there is hardly any competition, fares are high. There are no domestic flights.
Getting there/away: Taxi drivers ask for at least US$5 for the trip into Dili. You could try bargaining. You can also walk out to the main road - which is the main road linking Dili with Batugade on the Indonesian border - to catch a mikrolet.
Dili is well linked by road from the Indonesian border at Mota'ain, near Batugade, which lies about 115km west.
A reasonably good road also links Dili with Baucau, East Timor's second largest city 123km west. The road continues east to Los Palos and Tutuala.
Southwards, a road climbs up the mountains which run the length of the island of Timor, passing the hill town of Maubisse, on the way to the southern coast.
Cars can be hired from Rentlo but not Thrifty, as that company left in early 2006, shortly before the troubles began.
Buses fan out from Dili to various parts of the country. Most leave very early in the morning, and would do the "keliling" (going around town to scout for more passengers) before actually leaving Dili.
Buses leave for Batugade and the Indonesian border at Mota'ain. US$3. The journey is about 3 hours.
Buses also go to Maliana and Ermera.
Several buses leave for Baucau early in the morning from Rua Quinze de Outubro just south of the stadium near the Mercado Municipal roundabout. US$2, 3 hours. These buses can also be caught at Becora, the suburb to the east of Dili.
Dili is no longer a port of call for Indonesia's Pelni ships. There are also no regular boats to Australia.
Plenty of taxis shuttle passengers around the city for US$1 (although locals pay less). Further journeys, such as to Areia Branca beach and Cape Fatucama will cost more.
Mikrolets (vans converted to take passengers) also run from near the Mercado Municipal to Comoro, Becora and other suburbs of Dili and even further. They cost 20 cents per ride.
If you are on the road directly in front of the East Timor Government Building, Palacio Do Governo, face away from the airport (towards the Jesus Statue).
If you walk up the left hand road, about half way up on your right is Dili Cold Store supermarket, then you will find the Xanana reading room – a great place to know. There is a café at the back and inside is a small library (with English books), a video collection and documentaries about ET (with comfy chairs and a video so you can watch them there, and drink tea etc from the café!) and a book exchange. The book exchange is great – an eclectic mix to choose from with the policy “bring a book and $1 and take away a book, or any book for $2”. They also sell lovely postcards and have internet access.
Official working hours are generally 8.30 to 5.30, with a break for lunch from 12.00 to 1.30. Because most people go home for lunch, the actual lunch break is often 12.00 to 2.00! Some organizations work on Saturday mornings, but generally the weekends are free.
East Timor National holidays Law signed 19/07/05
New Year’s Day – 1 Jan
International Labour Day - 1 May
Restoration of Independence - 20 May
Popular Consultation Day - 30 August
All Saints Day - 1 November
All Souls day - 2 November
National Day of Youth Santa Cruz Massacre - 12 November
Independence Proclomation Day - 28 November
National Heroes day - 7 December
Day of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception - 8 December
Christmas Day - 25 December
Moveable Holidays 2006 2007
Good Friday - 14 April 6 April
60 days After Easter, Feast of Corpus Christi 15 June 7 June
End of Ramadan, Idul Fitri - 24 October 13 October
Muslim Calendar, Idul Adha - 31 December 20 December
Tolerance Days ( national commemorative days )
International Childrens Day - 1 June
Falintil day - 20 August
Mothers day - 3 November
International Human Rights day - 10 November
Ash Wednesday – (46 days before easter) 1 March 21 February
Holy Thursday – (thursday before easter) 13 April 5 April
Ascension Day – (40 days after easter) 25 May 17 May
There is an ANZ Bank branch in Dili, and there are two ANZ automatic teller machines – one at the bank, and one in Leader supermarket on the road to the airport. The one in Leader doesn’t usually work. You don’t need an account with ANZ (in fact, there doesn’t seem to be any advantage to having one) but you do need a bank card which will allow you to use the ATM (eg Visa). The use of these machines can be expensive however – ANZ charges USD$5 per withdrawal.
In addition you cannot transfer money from an ANZ overseas account to an account with the ANZ in Dili without incurring a USD$25 fee. It is best to contact your bank in your home country and seek advice about the cheapest and most efficient way to transfer money between accounts.
Bank Mandiri, one of the major banks in Indonesia, has a branch in Dili. The bank is located close to the Government Building in Dili.
Caixa Geral de Depositos, a Portuguese bank, also has a branch in Dili, and branches at several other locations within East Timor. The claimed branch at Dili airport consists of an empty desk & window, it is never staffed.
There are plenty of restaurants in Dili, from local, Italian, Portuguese to Australian. Most popular in the evenings are the seafood BBQ places east of Dili on the beach.
Start at the East Timor Government Building, Palacio Do Governo. Head east, away from the airport. If you walk up the left hand road, about half way up on your right is Dili Cold Store supermarket.
If you head out on the road towards the airport you will find the Comoro market (one of the two big markets in Dili). It is a little bit hard to find as it is set back from the road. If you are travelling from the UN building it is about a 20 minute walk – if you reach the Leader supermarket on the right you have gone too far! The markets are amazing. When you first arrive they look grimy and the place is covered in dust in the dry season and very muddy in the wet, but if you go inside you will find fruit, vegies, coffee etc all piled in little piles (this is the measurement for purchases – around 10c for leafy vegies and 50c for everything else). If you live with a Timorese family it is wonderful to go there and bring home little treats like eggs and condensed milk, bananas and potatoes as they are usually beyond the everyday budget (rice and green vegetables are the staple diet of East Timorese).
The Leader supermarket has lots of western treats including chocolate and toilet paper!
There are plenty of hotels in Dili, ranging from cheap and basic (living in a container, with a window and a fan if you’re lucky, probably about US$5 per night) to less cheap and less basic (air-con and cable TV, probably about US$40 per night).
Some cafes around town have ads for accommodation available, but generally the only way to find out where there are places available is to ask around. There are furniture stores around, but if you can find somewhere that is furnished it will save you a lot of hassle. If you get friendly with someone who works for the government they may be able to help you find some furniture. There is one Real Estate Agent in Dili at Central Hotel near the post office which has a number of accommodation options.
There are quite a few foreigners in Dili who live in hotels or guest houses permanently. Other alternatives include:
A cleaner visiting twice a week costs about US$25 per month. As well as getting your house and clothes cleaned, this also represents an opportunity for making friends with locals. Also, having someone around the house during the day when you are not there keeps the place a little more secure. If you can live with a Timorese family it would be ideal for learning more about the local language and culture but if not, get to know your neighbours – walking around your area and talking to people can go a long way.
Many prices in Dili now somewhat higher due to the artificial stimulation of the economy by the massive UN presence. There is a Hostel Backpackers next to the Tiger gas station with offers double room for $US 25 and doom for around 15.
There are a number of commercial places where you can access the internet such as the business centre at many of the hotels. Globel Net has Internet $4.00 per hour they also have skype so bring your own head sets.
There are virtually no landlines in East Timor. It’s a very good idea to bring a mobile phone handset, make sure you have it unlocked in your home country first otherwise it can cost up to $30.00 to have it unlocked here, and then buy a new sim-card from Timor Telecom (US$20.00 including about $10 worth of calls). Local calls are pretty cheap, and an SMS within East Timor costs $0.20. Calls to Australia are about 50 cents US per minute, or 40 cents off peak (between 8pm and 8am and all day Sunday). Calls from Australia are quite expensive – about $3.50 per minute.
There are no street addresses in Dili (most streets don’t have a name) and there is no delivery of mail to houses. If you want to receive mail, you need to use a post office box at the central post office. Packages from Australia generally take about 2 weeks. It’s important that people write ‘via Darwin, Australia’ on the address, otherwise letters tend to go via Jakarta, Singapore or even Lisbon. Letters/packages have been known to take up to one and a half years to arrive, and occasionally disappear altogether, although this is the exception rather than the rule.
The biggest risk in Dili is probably that of being involved in a traffic accident. It’s a good idea to bring a quality helmet in case you get a bike, or to use when riding on the back of other peoples’ bikes.
Basic precautions will ensure personal safety in East Timor. It’s generally considered not safe for a ‘malai’ (foreigner) woman (and probably a malai man, too) to walk around alone after dark. There have been a few reported incidents of people riding in taxis after dark being robbed. There have been a few malai houses broken into overnight. Generally, though, it feels very safe to walk around Dili during the day – there are always lots of people around.
You can generally get everything you need in Dili, with only a couple of exceptions, although some items are more expensive. Some of the things you might want to bring are:
With regard to dress rules there are no hard and fast rules. Dili is more liberal than the districts, where people will expect women to wear clothes which cover their shoulders (ie not sleeveless) and trousers or a skirt below the knee. Men never go shirtless, and East Timorese men never wear shorts (although quite a lot of foreigners do). Generally, it’s better to err on the conservative side. The most respectable clothing for young males are jeans with a buttoned through, short-sleeved, collared shirt. There are a number of clothing shops in Dili but they are made for Timorese sizes so it is generally hard to find anything in a size bigger than an Australian 10.
Dili is really hot all year round, but it can get very cold overnight in the central districts – so make sure you bring something warm. It’s a good idea to bring a solid pair of sandals, as well as some thongs and runners.
Dinner can sometimes be a bit dressier and most people in offices come to work dressed smart casual.
Recommended Beach: Pasir Putih ("white sand"), about 3 km east of Dili (under the Christ Statue).
Dive Timor Lorosae  offers diving and snorkeling trips to Atauro island for diving and snorkeling.
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