How to Travel to Jaco Island In East Timor!
Soft, white sand. Crystal clear water. Pristine coral reefs. And not a soul in sight.
Does that sound tempting? Well, that’s what you get if you make the epic journey across East Timor from Dili to the remote, isolated, beautiful and completely deserted Jaco Island.
East Timor might not be the first country that comes to mind if you are planning a beach getaway, but trust me, Jaco Island is the most beautiful island I’ve ever seen.
And if you want to see somewhere new, if you want to have an adventure on the way and then relax in paradise, Jaco Island might be for you.
Jaco Island Travel Guide
I visited Jaco Island earlier in the year, and I documented that trip in a separate blog post because I was so utterly astounded by the scenes I saw there. That article was primarily a picture focused blog post simply showing you all the insane beauty of the island, the white sand beaches, absolutely crystal clear water and remote, tropical location.
Unfortunately for you guys though, I didn’t include too much practical travel information. Since then I’ve had several messages a day asking me exactly how I travelled to Jaco Island, so I’ve decided it’s just a lot easier for everyone if I actually write this all down for you.
Jaco Island is one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen, and the fact that it’s in East Timor, a country that’s rarely visited by tourists and a place known more conflict and poverty than for tropical beaches, makes it that much more incredible in my opinion.
There was very little information about travelling here available when I was in Dili, looking to travel across East Timor to the island, and all of the information below was gained purely through struggle, strife, luck and perseverance.
Travel in East Timor isn’t easy. It’s a poor country, infrastructure is lacking and tourism is almost unheard of. But travel in East Timor is infinitely rewarding in other ways. It’s an adventure, one of the last left in Southeast Asia, and with this guide, you’ll hopefully get to Jaco Island a little easier than I did.
Where Is Jaco Island in East Timor?
Jaco Island is the furthest easterly point in East Timor. Geographically, it’s not that far from Dili but of the few tourists who make it to East Timor, few actually leave the capital because the roads and infrastructure outside the city are severely lacking. It’s just not easy.
It’s only around 250 kilometres between Dili and East Timor, but that journey could take you days. If you’ve got the time and the tenacity, it’s totally worth it though.
Location of Jaco Island in East Timor
How To Travel From Dili To Jaco Island By Public Transport
I’ll start by saying that Jaco Island is not easy to get to. If you have your own vehicle or if you can hire a driver then go for it, it will make your life a lot of easier and the journey a lot more convenient.
Taking public transport to the island is definitely possible, but it will take a long time. Overall transport costs would amount to around $25 there and back if going by public buses.
The nearest village to Jaco Island is Tutuala. This is just a small village, as far east as you can get really on the mainland. It’s on top of a cliff overlooking the ocean. There’s no direct public transport from Dili, all the way to Tutuala though. The closest you can get in one go – if you’re lucky – is Los Palos.
Travel From Dili To Los Palos
From Dili to Los Palos there are regular local buses. However, there are no timetables as such. Generally, they leave early in the morning and will take anywhere from 8 hours to 12 hours. It’s unpredictable. It depends how many stops they make, if they cruise around for hours picking up more passengers or if they break down or the roads are impassable. You will get there eventually though, just not fast. These local buses will leave from the eastern Becora bus station.
Travel From Los Palos To Tutuala
From Los Palos, if you arrive by local transport, the next mission is to find a way on to Tutuala. It’s just 30 kilometres or so, but your best bet may be to hitchhike. If you are patient, you can find a pickup truck leaving each morning from the centre. If you have cash, you could try and pay for a driver for the last leg.
You may end up having to spend the night in Los Palos if you arrive by bus, if so, then the only real hotel in town is the Hotel Roberto Carlos. They might be able to help you get to Tutuala as well.
From Tutuala To Jaco Island
Once you are in Tutuala, there are just 8 kilometres left to go before you reach the beach and will be able to see Jaco Island. You are so close!
Tutuala is on top of a cliff overlooking the beaches, however, the road down is rough, rocky and steep. There’s no public transport, so you either have to walk down – an option if you have just a small backpack – or find a local to take you down. It’s fairly easy to hitchhike, as locals will be surprised to see a traveller and may offer you a lift, or failing that a few dollars will do the trick.
At the beach, you need to turn right while facing the island if you are looking to go straight to the Jaco. Follow the beach down for a kilometre or so and you will find a small grouping of sun shades and some fishing boats.
These are the local fishermen and they will take you across to Jaco Island for $10 per person. There’s no negotiation and it doesn’t matter if you want to spend 10 minutes or 10 hours on the island. Agree the time you want to be picked up and then jump in for the short ride across. It’s not far, literally just a 5 minute crossing. I spent 3 hours on the beach, but you can spend as long as you want, just take supplies as there is nothing available there.
Road Trip Itinerary To Jaco Island
If you would rather break up the journey, then that’s perfectly possible too. It will take you long enough anyway, so why not see a few spots along the way?
I personally travelled by rented motorcycle. I rented a motorcycle from Hostel da Terra in Dili – they charged $17 per day and I spent 7 days travelling from Dili to Jaco Island and back again, with a few stops on the way. On the return, I drove back from Tutuala in one long day, with about 9 hours of straight driving.
If you’re interested in driving yourself or hiring a driver to see a few sights along the way, here’s my recommended itinerary to get you started.
- Baucau – This is East Timor’s second city, 125 kilometres away. This is a good place to spend your first night. You can reach Baucau by public transport from Dili and carry on to Los Palos if you have no vehicle. Check out the swimming pool, the beautiful beaches and the old Portuguese colonial buildings.
- Venilale – There are some fine examples of colonial architecture and some interesting caves and tunnels from the Japanese occupation during World War II. This quaint little hilltop village is near Baucau, but you’ll find it difficult to reach without your own transport, although not impossible.
- Mundo Perdido – This is the ‘Lost World’, an area of mountains and hills near Venilale, that are waiting to be explored. The landscapes here are spectacular and great for hiking!
- Los Palos – There’s not a huge amount to do in Los Palos itself, but the surrounding countryside is beautiful, with many traditional villages nearby. On the way to Tutuala, you can also take a look at Lake Ira Lalora, but be careful here as the lake has the highest concentration of crocodiles in the country.
Where To Stay
East Timor is hardly set up for tourism. There are a few hotels in the major cities, but don’t expect value for money or amenities such as hot water and wifi. Both are a luxury in East Timor.
Jaco Island is a sacred place in local culture and it’s not actually allowed to stay overnight on the island. That’s what makes it so pristine. No one lives there, no one stays there. There are a few accommodation options though in Tutuala and on the beach opposite Jaco Island. Most of these can’t for the moment be booked in advance, so just rock up and hope for the best.
- Valu Sere Beach Bungalows – These are right on the beach. When you get to the bottom of the road from Tutuala, then head left and you will find them. The bungalows are basic and are owned by a co-operative of local villagers. They are run by some lovely old ladies who will cook you up a meal of instant noodles and fried eggs if you desire. These bungalows cost $20 per room, and only doubles are available. Facilities are basic and shared. The beach setting is incredible.
- Lakumorre Guesthouse – There are more bungalows and a few ensuite rooms here. It’s literally next door to Valu Sere Beach Bungalows, but privately owned. Facilities might be a bit nicer, but the cost is $25 per person per night.
- Homestays in Tutuala – These won’t necessarily be advertised and you will have to get lucky or ask around, but in Tutuala several locals will be willing to rent out their spare rooms and cook up dinner. I stayed one night in a lovely family’s spare room, directly opposite the turnoff to the road which leads down to the beach. this was $10 per person including dinner and breakfast. She said it’s okay to just knock or ask in the shop under her house. You can see the building on the photo below.
Where To Eat
There are very limited eating options in Tutuala. It’s best to be prepared and take some provision with you from Baucau or Dili. The ladies at the beach bungalows can cook very basic meals for a few dollars each, or the fishermen might be able to cook you fresh fish if they have caught anything and deliver it to Jaco Island if you plan to spend the day there.
When To Visit
East Timor experiences very extreme wet and dry seasons. The wet season can see roads rendered impassable and the water is never as clear because of runoff from the land into the ocean. The best time to visit is the end of the dry season when temperatures are cooler and the water is clearest and.
The wet season runs approximately from December to April and the dry season from May to November. I visited in February and experienced rain every day, but for the most part early in the morning things were dry and sunny still.
Things To Do On Jaco Island
Jaco Island is really all about the relaxation and isolation. It’s a tropical, white sand island. After the adventure, stress and time taken to get here, all you will want to do is kick back and do nothing. Luckily it’s the perfect place for that.
Be sure to take a mask and snorkel with you as you can’t rent any here. The water is absolutely spectacular and the coral and marine life are abundant.
A journey to Jaco Island is a real adventure, but trust me, it’s worth every moment of anguish and uncertainty spent getting there.
All Photos and Words by Richard Collett