Timor Leste is one of the newest countries in the world, and lack of infrastructure makes traveling there a bit challenging. But if you’re up for a good adventure, you’ll be rewarded with amazing experiences. Timor’s eastern tip is part of the Nino Konis Santana National Park, a protected area that is home to many wonders such as the famous Jaco Island, near Tutuala.
It took me 3 days to reach Tutuala from Dili, only 230 km away (143 miles). The worst part was the last 8 km to reach Valu, a nightmare. There’s literally no road, it’s going up and down, you’ll see the traces made by previous mudslides, you’ll cross small rivers… I wasn’t the one driving but I was feeling really tense. But believe me, when you arrive and see the amazing beach, you’ll know that it was worth all the trouble to get there.
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The place is just stunning, it’s so remote and so hard to access that the place has been incredibly well preserved. Only a couple of fishermen live here on a nomadic basis, and there are only two small hotels there, both offering bungalows.
Across from Valu beach is the magnificent Ilha de Jaco, or Jaco Island. A sacred island where development and overnight stays are forbidden. This small island is only inhabited by a couple of monkeys. The water is crystal clear and the sand super white. The best part is you’ll probably have the place all to yourself. The fact that almost no one comes in this area really gives it something special, a different vibe from any other places.
Technically you can snorkel and swim there, but in reality, first, there’s a really strong current passing between Ilha de Jaco and the main island. And second, the current is full of sharks and crocodiles. The locals will tell you that it’s really safe to swim here because the animals only stay inside the current and don’t come near the beaches. Don’t trust them, all over Timor, locals regularly get eaten by crocodiles, so they don’t know what they’re saying.
However, if I haven’t terrified you yet, you still can get inside the water, I did. Just stay near the shore (like really near) and keep your eyes open. There’s a season for sharks, the chances of spotting some are higher around November. As for the crocodiles, if there were no heavy rain for the last few days, there shouldn’t be any in the sea. Anyway, even without swimming, the beach is just incredible and worth going.
Most tourists don’t know about this and go snorkeling, the reef and the marine life there is beautiful. No accident has ever happened, just use good judgment and you’ll be fine.
Reaching Jaco Island is pretty easy, just go to the fishermen association and, for 10 USD, you’ll get a round trip. The trip only takes around 5 minutes, good swimmers could easily reach it if it wasn’t for the strong current. Just tell the boatman what time you want to be picked up and they’ll be there. If they think the weather will turn they’ll just come to pick you up earlier.
Think of bringing plenty of water and food as you cannot find anything there. Don’t forget about the monkeys and their love of mischief. Once you’re on the island you can walk along the beach, relax and just enjoy the view.
Where to stay in Valu // Jaco Island accommodations
Overnight stays on Jaco Island are forbidden.
In Valu beach, there are two accommodation options: the community-run hotel, Valu Sere, with pure water in the showers, and the privately run hotel, Lakumorre Guesthouse, with seawater showers. In both you can arrange for camping, they normally rent tents in Valu Sere, but check first for availability.
Prices start at 25 USD at Lakumorre Guesthouse, camping 10 USD + 5 per person.
Both hotels can arrange for your meals, it’s pretty expensive, and the only other option is to bring your own food. You can also buy fresh fish directly from the fishermen and ask the hotel to cook it for you. There are no shops there, so take everything you need in Tutuala.
Contact information: Lakumorre GH – +670 7724 5620 // Valu Sere – +670 7703 9838
How to get to Valu and Jaco Island
So you might have understood that getting to Valu is not easy. From Dili, take a bus to Lospalos, you’ll have to spend the night there or hire private transportation. The truck going to Tutuala is supposed to leave at 7:30 am, the day I was there, it left at 3 pm. No one really knows the schedule as it depends on the mood of the driver and on how many people want to make the trip.
Once in Tutuala, there’s no public transportation to Valu. If you’re staying in Lakumorre GH, the owner can come to pick you up for 10 USD. He often goes to Lospalos, so you can arrange with him to be picked up there. Chances of finding someone in Tutuala with a 4-wheeler are scarce. Before going, I had read you can ask a local to drive you on his motorbike, do not. The road is too bad for a motorbike, I’m usually the fierce type, but unless you have a death wish, do not go by bike.
A third option is to walk there, it’s totally doable, and on the way, there are two caves you can visit. In the caves, you’ll see artworks painted more than 4000 thousand ago. You can arrange to leave your backpack at one of the “hotels” in Tutuala and set on foot with a smaller one. The caves are easy to find, you’ll see signs along the main road, just follow the path. You can also ask someone in the village to guide you. The trek takes about 3 hours, and as I said earlier, the path is bad, bring plenty of water, and maybe consider another option if you’re in a bad physical condition.
In Tutuala, you can stay at the pousada, the view from up there is amazing. A cheaper option is to stay at the guesthouse at the junction of the main road and the road to Valu. There’s no sign, but it’s just at the crossroad. The lady owning the guesthouse is really nice and will probably find you first. She charges around 10 USD a night.
Note that there’s no cell service and no internet there.
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