Ferry transport is available between Dili and Atauro Island, and Dili and the Oecussi enclave on the new German-built ferry Nakroma. It features three classes of service: economy, business and VIP. The seats in all the classes are the same, but those in VIP are in a small and unpleasant room. In practice business class tickets are for foreigners and economy tickets are for locals, but people freely mix across the ship. Secure space on the small top deck to avoid the many passengers who find eruptive discomfort in even the calmest of seas.
It’s not uncommon for locals walking 5km or so into town to ask for a ride. A traveller doing the same would be expected to pay a small sum – usually the price of a mikrolet ride. However, hitchhiking is never entirely safe, so it’s not recommended.
Cramped mikrolet (small minibuses) operate at least daily between most towns, and generally depart early in the morning. Outlying villages are serviced less frequently by angguna (tray trucks where passengers, including the odd buffalo or goat, all pile into the back). Ask locally for departure points. Large but still crowded buses run frequently on important routes such as Dili–Baucau.
Driving in East Timor is optimistically termed an adventure. Except for streets in Dili and the main road running along the north coast, most roads are deeply potholed and rutted. You’ll be lucky to average 30km/h, and even then you’ll need to be on the lookout for children, goats, dogs etc. Bridges and entire segments of road flood or wash away during the rainy season. Check conditions with the UN (331 2210 ext 5454, 723 0635).
Conventional cars can handle Dili and the road along the north coast east to Com and west to Batugade, as well as the road inland to Maubisse. Otherwise you will need a 4WD; bring along extra supplies, especially water, in case you get stranded.
Rentlo (723 5089; www.rentlocarhire.com; Avenida dos Martires de Patria, Comoro, Dili) is the main source of rental vehicles; it’s 3km from the airport on the main road. A compact car costs from US$40 per day, a small 4WD from US$70. Rentals include 100km free per day. Limited liability coverage is available from $15 per day (with a whopping US$6000 deductible); it’s probably useful given the toll the roads take on cars.
Motorcycles are quite handy in East Timor, breezing over bumps at a respectable pace. East Timor Backpackers (723 8121; Avenida Almirante Americo Tomas, Dili) charges US$15 to US$25 per day.
Alternatively you could make arrangements with a driver so that you can enjoy the scenery while he tackles the potholes (and uses his local knowledge). Ask around and expect to negotiate; prices start from US$40 per day.
The myriad of hazards make driving at night foolish.
Petrol (gasoline) in Portuguese is besin, diesel fuel is solar; expect to pay around US$1 per litre.
New bikes can be purchased in Dili for around US$200. Road conditions away from the north coast can be brutal, which may appeal to mountain bikers.