Ask the long-term expats working in Timor-Leste (East Timor) what they do on the weekends and you'll be amazed by the answer. It usually involves packing the basic necessities and heading out on what are usually exciting once-in-a-lifetime experiences, yet they do it every weekend. They know the secret: week in, week out, Timor-Leste is full of adventures.
Dili, the national’s capital, itself is not bereft of attractions. As the evening cools, join the throng of sporty types on their 'Jesus Run'. It's a simple affair: a run or walk along the scenic coast then up the hundred or so steps to a massive Jesus statue, a glance out over Dili and its coast, then returning to a sandy beach for a rehydrating coconut juice (or beer, or cocktail) as the sun goes down. Top it off with grilled fish by the beach.
Days demand a visit to Dili's Resistance Museum and, on the outskirts of town, Santa Cruz Cemetery, where hundreds of mourners were killed by Indonesian troops twenty years ago - and Indonesia's occupation of the country became news worldwide.
The eventual vote for independence in 1999 - and destruction by withdrawing Indonesians and militia - resulted in an influx of international aid organisations. A polyglot international presence remains, and the city's cuisine reflects its diversity, offering everything from Thai to Indian, as well as edible reminders of Timor's Portuguese history (coffee and a pastel de nata at the fancy Hotel Timor, for instance).
Heading out of town, the food options simplify somewhat, but the adventure scale ramps right up. Here are our top five choices.
Outstanding dive sites abound around Timor-Leste's coast, and dive companies have been open and operating for over a decade. One, Dive Timor Lorosae, recently opened up backpackers' accommodation (US$30 per night) with its own pool. You don't need to move far; it's also home to Castaways, a very popular restaurant and bar.
Seven hours east of Dili is a tiny tropical island called Jaco. Its neighbouring (and just as pretty) mainland counterpart is Walu, which is accessible by a long descending dirt road from Tutuala. If you're lucky (and hungry), local fishermen will grill freshly caught fish on Walu's beach for you. If you didn't bring your camping gear, you might get a spot in one of the thatched cabins of community-run eco-village Walu Sere.
Maubisse is known internationally for its coffee, but it's also home to a startling hilltop Pousada (Portuguese hotel). Stay a couple of nights here and be tempted by the heights of Mt Ramelau (the highest mountain in Timor-Leste) just a few hours away. If you plan to do the climb, set off well before dawn (or camp at the summit) for sunrise views.
Get a seat on the regular ferry or a charter boat (or, for the brave, an outrigger) and head to the island of Atauro, just off Dili's coast. Relax at the island's down-to-earth eco-village Tua Koin. It's the ideal place to unwind, as the busiest you can get is snorkelling out to explore the reef.
5. Roughing it
Hire a motorbike and venture out into the rugged countryside. Trip across the entire island to tiny Betano on the south coast, or west to Balibo House in Balibo, where five Australia-based journalists were killed during Indonesia's invasion (a story told in the movie Balibo). Ride slowly (dogs, pigs and chooks abound), and take time say hi to the smiling kids, who will no doubt out-wave you.