East of Dili
With your own wheels (or on painfully slow public transport) you’ll stumble across lime-green rice paddies, mangroves and idyllic beaches where buffalos (and the occasional crocodile) roam. Some of the best diving in the country is just offshore. About 19km east of Manatuto, look out for Laleia's pink 1933 church, arguably Timor-Leste's loveliest.
Perched on a steep hillside 123km east of Dili, Baucau is a tale of two cities (or, rather, large towns): the Old Town with its sea views and Portuguese-era relics, and the bland, Indonesian-built New Town (Kota Baru), 2km uphill. A road leads downhill from the pousada thorough a lush ravine to the palm-fringed seaside village of Osolata.
After busy Dili, Atauro Island seems positively deserted. Located 30km from Dili over a section of sea 3km deep in parts, it was used as a jail by both the Portuguese and Indonesian governments. Atauro's sandy beaches are gateways to broad fringing reefs and there’s great snorkelling all around the island.
Tutuala & Jaco Island
The 50km of road from Lautem to Tutuala ventures past the shimmering waters of Lake Ira Lalaro, a few stilted Fataluku houses and through Nino Konis Santana National Park. The road ends on a bluff in Tutuala village, where there are sweeping views out to sea from a renovated Portuguese pousada.
Same & Betano
Same (Sar-may), 43km south of Maubisse, is a lush town at the base of a picturesque valley. There’s a great little handicrafts market in the centre and a couple of good places to stay. If you’ve made it this far, it is worth making the simple 45-minute mikrolet journey to the quiet black-sand beach at Betano (27km).
South of Baucau
South of Baucau are the lush hills where Fretilin members hid during the Indonesian occupation. After 28km of rugged road you come to the crumbling colonial buildings of Venilale, a town wedged between Mt Matebian in the east and Mt Mundo Perdido (Lost World; 1775m) in the west. Almost halfway, look for the caves tunneled out of the hillside by Japanese forces in WWII.