Guide to Thrilling Times in West Timor

Primitive straw huts surrounded by jungle and a rooster in the middle of the pathway

West Timor is an underrated destination for thrill seekers and provides plenty of budget-friendly unique natural and cultural experiences. It is located in Indonesia, has a climate similar to Australia, and is inhabited by unique tribes that can’t really be compared to any other culture. While there is no shortage of thrilling spots to check out in West Timor, any itinerary needs to be well-planned as the infrastructure is severely limited. This guide is here to help!

Key Facts about West Timor

  • West Timor (Timor Barat) is part of the province, East Nusa Tenggara. This province contains many other islands that are just as spectacular. Kupang is the capital of West Timor and the entire East Nusa Tenggara Province. (NTT)
  • There are many unique languages spoken in West Timor, the main ones are Marae, Tetun, and Dawan.
  • Due to West Timor’s arid climate and isolated location, it boasts unique flora and fauna.
  • Its close neighbor, Rote Island, is the southernmost Island of Indonesia.
  • Road trips through West Timor can be tons of fun. However, you should plan your trip carefully. While many routes here can be done by scooter independently, some attractions, like the Boti tribe, require a local guide and a 4WD vehicle to access. 
  • Wherever you go, please make sure to bring enough cash, as ATMs can be a rare sight in some more rural areas. 
  • Don’t drive out into the remote hills after 3 pm, so you won’t risk getting stuck in the dark if you get a flat tire. 

Background info about Kupang

Kupang is the capital of West Timor and Nusa Tenggara Timur. Even though this city will be very different from your home, you will quickly feel like you belong here. Kupang has a mixed atmosphere of a calm beach vibe, combined with the chaotic and impulsive vibes of a student town. 

For many visitors, Kupang is a logistical transit point to go to remote dive or surf locations at first. However, they soon recognize the unique charm and kindness that can be experienced in Kupang. 

Have you looked at a map and wondered where Kupang’s city center is? It doesn’t really have one! The entire city is pretty evenly spaced out, so there’s no congested touristy area or central marketplace. There is slightly more traffic near the waterfront, which boasts some bigger hotels and restaurants. Part of what adds to the chaotic charming vibe of this city is the local’s choice of transport. The Bemo. These comically pimped minibuses roam the streets day and night. Offering a ride to anyone who needs to commute in the same direction. Even though the city doesn’t boast many tourist attractions, there are numerous unique attractions in the surrounding areas.

Gojek and Grab are not available in Kupang, as mentioned, the Bemo will be your best option. 

If you want to read more about Kupang, please visit the wikitravel page, which has lots of additional info.

Flights to Kupang

Kupang is surprisingly well-connected by air travel, it is a transit point for many smaller islands like Rote, Alor, etc. The most frequent connections are:

  • Denpasar
  • Jakarta
  • Surabaya
  • Makassar

Kupang’s El Tari airport (KOE) will be a welcoming change, after coming from a major airport: Short waiting times for luggage, organized taxi stands, and no traffic jams from the airport to the city. Taxi to the city center should cost 70-80k IDR.

Direct flights to Kupang are available from the following airports:

Departure airportMain Island
Alor (ARD)Alor
Denpasar (DPS)Bali
Atambua (ABU)West Timor
Bajawa (BJW)Flores
Ende (ENE)Flores
Jakarta (CGK)Java (West)
Larantuka (LKA)Flores
Lewoleba (LWE)Lembata
Makassar (UPG)Sulawesi (South)
Maumere (MOF)Flores
Rote Island (RTI)West Timor
Ruteng (RTG)Flores
Surabaya (SUB)Java (East)
Tambolaka (TMC)Sumbawa
Waingapu Airport (WGP)Sumbawa

Ferries to Kupang

Kupang can be reached by boat from many major port towns of the NTT-region. Please keep in mind, that ferry schedules are highly subject to change and also weather-dependent. Please reconfirm the departure times with the associated ferry company.

Departure Details for Ferries to Kupang

Departure LocationDeparture Time:
Aimere (Flores)Saturday 09:00
Larantuka (Flores)Monday & Friday 12:00
Kalabahi (Alor)Wednesday & Sunday 12:00
Lewoleba (Lembata)Monday & Wednesday 16:00
SavuThursday 11:00
Waingapu (Sumba)Saturday 16:00

Naturally thrilling activities

Just like the rest of Indonesia, Kupang is an incredibly diverse place, both geographically and biologically. It has many points of interest for nature lovers and sports enthusiasts, including hidden caves, fierce canyons, off-grid beaches home to crocodiles, and world-class surfing destinations. 

1. Exploring West Timor’s Remote Beaches on Motorbike

There are a handful of must-see beaches with unique features, that are great to explore on a motorbike. While the roads there are rough, they are manageable if it isn’t your first time on a scooter. Here are some beaches you should definitely into on Google Maps:

Tablolong Beach

This beach is only around 1 hour from Kupang and has pristine white sands. It also offers comfortable seating spaces, small venues to have lunch, and a patch of mangrove trees to climb on. The beach itself is very long and spaced out, so there are many options for you to find that one perfect spot to relax.

The coastal road next to the beach is a bit bumpy after getting through the entrance, but makes for a unique fun drive. From the entrance to the end of the coastal road, it’s about 10 minutes by scooter. There are many parking options for your bike. If you drive till the end and park at the homestay, you will find a small venue to have lunch (don’t expect too much though, the menu mainly consists of Indomie varieties). 

The beach itself is stunning and a straight picture of paradise. Fine, white sand combined with calm turquoise water. When swimming here, please be aware that there is a slight current. The beach is excellent for swimming. However, the visibility at this end of the beach isn’t the best for snorkeling. There are also sea lice.

If you like snorkeling, it is much more convenient to go to the patch of mangrove trees, which are about 500 m to the right, past an abandoned building. The visibility of the water is sufficient for some casual snorkeling. There are no coral reefs per se. However, there are some lonely corals tucked away behind those mangrove roots, which are an attraction all by themselves.

The entrance fee to the beach is 5000 IDR which includes parking.

Beaches East of Kupang

These beaches are reachable within 20 minutes from downtown Kupang. They are not suitable for any type of water activities due to murky water and crocodiles. If you want to go swimming, and snorkelling your best bet are the more remote beaches on the southern coast of Timor. All of the beaches dotted along this coastline have unique aesthetics, some have old shipyards offering shade, others have lonely mangrove trees, and another has a flourishing night market. 

Some of them have nice coastal roads to drive along by scooter. All of the beaches offer enough space to allow for relaxation and are popular with sunset chasers.

Oetune Beach

Getting to Oetune Beach takes around 2 to 3 hours. That’s about as remote as it gets on Timor but definitely worth the long drive. The sand dunes on Oetune Beach are mesmerizing, and you can also savor the palm fruit, a unique local delicacy.

Kolbano Beach

Kolbano Beach also takes 3 hours of travel time from the capital of Kupang. This beach is famous for its colorful pebbles that range from red, green and beige to completely black. It is also one of the few beaches, where you can see the sunset and sunrise from the same place. You may want to spend a night or two here to really take in the rejuvenating atmosphere this spot features.

2. Hop on a Ferry to Rote Island and Surf Indonesia’s best breaks!

Rote Island is the southwestern neighbor of West Timor. It’s the southernmost island of Indonesia. This island mainly attracts surfers; however, it has a unique culture and unspoiled nature, just like its bigger brother Timor. This island is also home to the novel, string instrument Sasando and its traditional hat called Tiilangga, which is made of Palm leaves. As with most surfer and divers paradises, accommodation and food on Rote is generally more expensive than in West Timor.

Getting to Rote Island

  • Ferry: There’s a daily ferry between Kupang and Ba’a. However, its departure times are unreliable and often canceled due to high waves. It’s relatively cheap at 80,000 IDR per person and is scheduled to leave at 8:30 am every day, returning to Kupang at 11 am.
  • Flights: Wings Air operates daily flights from Kupang. Please be aware, that there is a length limit in case you want to bring a surfboard. Surfboards usually require a 150,000 IDR surcharge.

Cultural thrills on West Timor

While you will find caves and decent surf breaks in other destinations closer to home, we guarantee you, that the cultural points of interest in West Timor are truly unparalleled. Especially if you’re into music, exotic foods, and interested in anthropology, you are in for a treat!

1. Visiting traditional tribes

Visiting Timor’s isolated tribes is one of the main attractions drawing tourists to the island. Unlike some of the tribes in Bali, there is no large tourism industry centered around them. It is an authentic and insightful experience, that you will remember for the rest of your life.

The Boti tribe

There are a handful of isolated tribes in West Timor, and while they are likely all worth visiting, we only had the chance to interact with the Boti and None tribes. Here is our first-hand account on our adventure to the Boti people.

The drive to Boti felt like a poorly designed roller coaster ride. The gravel road was covered in muddy, red clay. Our guide, Jemri, had his fun, steering swiftly through glossy puddles. As we looked to our sides to embrace the lush-green, hillsides, we recognized smiling faces peeking out between the foliage. 

The smiles of the waving children, hunting and playing in the bushes, became wider and wider as we drove into this remote, hilly terrain. It took a good 20 minutes from the main road to the entrance of the inner village. The access to the village boasted a big sign that read: “Selamat Datang di Boti.” Welcome to Boti Village. We opened the bamboo gate and parked our car inside. Our guide yelled “Selamat Ahoit!” at the straw houses. The tribal villagers replied, seemingly out of nowhere, they screamed back at us.

We entered the village, through a romantic stone pathway and headed for the King’s porch, where we sat down and were greeted by his family members. Including his nephew, son (the crown prince), and wife. The king himself was busy feeding the livestock, but introduced himself 5 minutes later with a big grin similar to the one of his nephews. We gave the king our offering in the shape of a betel nut and the ingredients required to chew it. These goods we purchased earlier this morning at the authentic and incredibly diverse Niki Niki market, which was very welcomed. 

The people in Boti speak very softly and have a very relaxed attitude. Combined with their long curly hair, I can’t help but make connections to the stereotype of laid-back Jamaican Rastafarians.

Our guide and the king talked briefly about the upcoming elections for governor (the tribes favorite being a guy named Victor). While sharing some betel nut with his fellow tribesmen, our guide Jemry casually told the king where we came from and what we were gonna do today. Then we were offered some coffee, banana chips, and popcorn, all locally grown and processed. It was simple snack food, but it had a quality to it. The food was as tasty as the soil and flora around us were fertile. 

The king spontaneously jumped out of his modest throne, went into his house, and came back with a photo album.  We were shown photos, which the villagers were able to take themselves after being given 20 cameras by an enthusiastic western organization. We also saw pictures of the King’s parents, who apparently died at ages 110 and 107. We were also shown another book written by an anthropologist about the Boti people, which featured a lot of details about the vast array of plants the Boti tribesmen use for medicine and food. 

After some selfies with the King and his family, we went on to take a look around the village. We saw a praying hut, a fruit and vegetable garden, some more huts, livestock, the tools used to process coconut oil and carry water, and more.  Then we were shown to the shops, where the tribe sells their crafts. We bought some bracelets and necklaces, then went back to the king, said goodbye, and left a donation. As we left, we went to use the toilet, which to our surprise, were western toilets. They were in better condition than the ones we had in our hotel in Soe.

As we left, we realized it had been raining for about 20 minutes already. I was embracing the spicy and refreshing air that came with the abundant rain until I realized the road conditions ahead of us. As we started to struggle our way up the first couple of meters, a tribesman jumped in the car, who apparently serves as a living good luck charm to the Botis. He brings good luck to anyone in his vicinity. But his good luck was only enough for the first couple of hills. We needed serious manpower. As we struggled, the tribesman, and we attempted to push the car up the mountain, which only worked for another hill. Then as we kept failing, more and more people came to help, seemingly out of nowhere. Someone brought a rope, and we attempted to pull the car. Even though many of them speak only one language and don’t have a formal primary education (which according to the Botis is the beginning of the end if one wants to lead a joyful life), their ingenuity in a situation like this was impressive. They started mining dry rock from the embankment off the side of the road and throwing the dry gravel onto the wet, muddy road. It took quite a lot of effort, but with more than 20 helping hands 

and some universally understandable jokes, it was a more than bearable process. 

Hill after hill, we made our way up the rugged, misty terrain. Until finally, we didn’t need any more help. One after the other, our generous helpers walked back down to their homes. 

Before they left, we thanked them and shared some betel nuts. Another couple was making a trip to Boti, who skidded past us with their 4-Wheel-Drive SUV, even though they seemed comfortable, they missed out on an incredibly genuine and inspiring experience. Although getting stuck in a foreign land without an internet connection seems unfortunate from an outsider’s perspective, it was the highlight of our trip to West Timor. Their way of life is admirable in many ways. Even though a betel nut habit is clearly not healthy, it is inspiring to see how physically and mentally fit the tribal people seem. 

2. Exploring authentic markets and night markets

There are three major traditional markets. Niki Niki is most conveniently located along the route to visit the indigenous tribes. Women in West Timor produce exquisite and unique Ikat cloth. Here you will find quality Ikat incredibly cheap compared to other places in Indonesia. This is the closest to the source you can get.

Weekly Markets

  • Tuesday – Oinlasi
  • Wednesday – Niki Niki
  • Thursday – Ayotupas

If you are staying in Soe and want to visit the Boti tribe, you may want to plan your trip on a Wednesday so you could stop by at Niki Niki halfway. This market is as authentic as it gets and features many diverse local goods sold. From betelnut and limestone powder to electronics to traditional ikat weavings and spices. This market has all you need for a new culture shock.

Oinlasi is the biggest market.

Kupang’s Night Market

The night market next to Jalan Garuda is an authentic street food market. If you love fresh, local produce you will feel at home here, and is very much suitable for vegetarians. The market is home to around 15 different warungs. Most of them serve smoothies, fish, and typical Indonesian dishes, such as tempeh bakar, gado-gado and freshly made sambal. This is a great place to engage in conversations with locals, as you will most likely share a table with them. The food stalls are open between 4 and 10 pm.

3. Trying your hands at playing Sasando

Sasando is another cultural heritage that is unique to West Timor. A short visit from Kupang to the workshop and studio is highly encouraged. One of the siblings will greet you, who may either play the instrument, build it, or sing to it. Everyone has their designated role in this family business.

For a voluntary donation, one of the family members will connect a Sasando to the amplifier and jam out some songs. The 32-strings and the acoustic shape of the instrument will give any favorite western song a unique layer of depth to it. Based on their stories and their music, you can tell the strong passion these people have for this instrument. The Sasando players also collaborated with other artists from the Nusa Tenggara Timur region before. 

Visitors can also wear the traditional hat and try to play the instrument themselves. Their unique style of art and skill has allowed them to travel the world. They have been to Europe, Moscow, and the United States before.

It is told, that the instrument was first invented by two shepherds on Rote island, who found a piece of wood that sounded funny. They started playing with it and kept improving on the design, passing down this skill for generations. The younger generation’s family member, seen in the picture to the right, has even built a free mount, which has allowed him to play the instrument while walking around in Time’s square.

If you are curious about detailed information regarding Sasando, such as background info and used materials, we suggest heading to its wiki. 

It takes about 30 minutes from Kupang to get to this workshop. We suggest donating around 50,000 IDR. 

Continuing your adventure from West Timor

If you have checked all the aforementioned activities off your Timor bucket list and still have energy and wanderlust left in you, you should consider some of the nearby islands. The following three destinations are a lot more remote than west timor and rarely frequented by Western tourists.

Alor island

This unique island mainly attracts tourists for its water sports (diving and fishing). However, Alor also has beautiful terrain and unique tribal culture. The capital of Alor is Kalabahi. You will most likely stay there during your trip.

Most Alorites originate from Papuan ethnicities and actively use more than a dozen different languages. Three-fourths of the population are Protestants, although many inhabitants still practice their animistic beliefs as well.

Alor is also home to a unique instrument called Moko drum, which is a crucial prop to many ceremonies shaping the culture of Alor. The origin of these drums has been traced back to Vietnam; however, no one knows how they ended up on Alor.

Just like most of the NTT region, Pulau Alor also boasts beautiful, lonely white sand beaches, lukewarm waterfalls, and welcoming locals. Considering how easy it is to get there, by plane a short trip to Alor is definitely worth it. Even if you’re not into watersports, there is enough beautiful terrain, friendly islanders, and unique culture to make unique memories.

Getting to Alor Island

  • Flights: There are several direct one-hour flights from Kupang every day, by Wings Air, Transnusa Air, and NAM Air. Flight tickets for Wings Air and NAM air can be purchased online. Transnusa tickets can’t be bought online.
  • Ferry: The ferry from Kupang to Alor runs twice a week, takes around 18 hours, and leaves from Bolok, which is the same harbor as the ferry to Rote Island. Please account for potential delays, as the weather can be unreliable during the summer months.  Ferry Tickets can be purchased directly at the harbor.

East Timor

East Timor also has the official Portuguese name of “Timor-Leste.” Fun Fact: “Timor” is Indo-Malay for “East,” and “Leste” means “East” in Portuguese. This means the country is called East-East. East Timor is the only Asian country, wholly located under the equator.

90% of East Timor is Catholic, while many locals still practice animistic beliefs.  The official languages are still Tetum and Portuguese, however, Indonesian is still widely spoken throughout the country. This makes East Timor the only Portuguese-speaking country in Asia. East Timor is incredibly diverse, there are around 37 unique indigenous languages.

Similar to West Timor, East Timor boasts authentic tribal culture, unspoiled shorelines, and warm, welcoming locals.  Compared to West Timor, East Timor’s terrain is much more mountainous and also doesn’t have any volcanoes. It is also home to the Nino Konis Santana National Park. There are many unique animals to be found here, including the yellow-crested cockatoo, the Timor Shrew, the Timor green pigeon, and also pythons.

Getting to East Timor

Keep in mind, that East Timor is an independent country, and you may need to get a Visa, although some states may enter visa-free for a limited time period. Check out this guide for more information on East Timor.

  • Ferry: There are no regular ferries to East Timor. However, East Timor is a destination for some cruise ships.
  • Flights: You can fly from the capital of Dili to Bali, Singapore, or Australia. For some reason, there are no direct flights from West to East Timor. 
  • Bus: Getting from Kupang to East Timor, takes around 11 hours by bus. There are no visas on arrival available for purchase at the land border.

Savu (Sabu)

Savu (not to be confused with Savu Savu, Fiji!) is a very remote island, with rugged landscapes and friendly people. The island is encircled by beautiful coral reefs and white sand beaches. The climate in Savu is similarly dry as West Timor, due to its vicinity to Australia. Savu also boasts traditional villages, megalithic stones as well as strong historical connections to Javanese Hinduism. However, animistic beliefs are still widely practiced across the island.

A traditional greeting on Savu is performed, by pressing each other’s noses. Agriculture on Savu is very unique, their gardens are eerily similar to modern permacultural practices. 

The Savu Marine National Park is a great excuse to go there for diving, five of six turtle species, as well as endangered species such as the sperm whale,  can be easily tracked down in this area.

Getting to Savu

  • Ferry: The ferry to Savu leaves on Friday at 4 pm from Kupang and costs 76.5k IDR per person.
  • Flights: There are no flight connections to Savu.

The logistics of traveling West Timor

Here are some informative answers to important logistical questions regarding travel in West Timor

Where to stay?

Accomodation in West Timor can be limited, especially in the countryside. Quite often, the most beautiful parts of the island are also the ones with the least infrastructure. The main bases for many great trips are>

  • Kupang
  • Soe
  • Kefamenanu
  • Atambua

If you only want to stay in hotels, your options are limited to those places.

Also, if you consider camping, please do not camp at the beaches around on the west coast, as there are crocodiles.

Our recommended accommodation in Kupang is the Lavalon Seaview Hostel. The hostel itself and the owner have quite some history and character. It has a very laid-back atmosphere, a nice view and is ideal for solo travelers looking for conversation. It has a vast variety of rooms ranging from dorm beds to AC+Hot shower private rooms. There’s also a small breakfast included. If you have a hard time planning your trip to Timor, even with the aid of this website, you could just head there and ask the owner for advice. He has a wealth of knowledge about Timor and the NTT-Region. He can probably even help you organize tours to tribal villages and rent scooters.

How to get around West Timor?

Traveling around West Timor can be very joyful and is the basis of many unique experiences you will enthusiastically share at home. In some rural areas, the road is not much developed. So expect longer travel times with all methods of transportation. Fortunately, significant traffic jams in West Timor are a rare sight, so usually, the travel time should be very consistent and predictable. This allows you to plan your itinerary very accurately. 

Hitchhiking

Hitchiiking is common practice amongst the people here. As a tourist, it is not so common, but very easy to do as well. If you want to maximize your efficiency, by hitchhiking, it is suggested to learn expressions in Bahasa Indonesia. Also, you could try going to the police station and asking for a stamped letter confirming your intentions to hitchhike.

Rent a Scooter

Whereas driving a scooter might be a bit overwhelming for the less experienced biker, navigating around West Timor by motorbike is actually more manageable than most destinations in Indonesia (looking at you, Sumatra!). Finding scooter rentals can be a bit challenging, so it is suggested to organize this through your accommodation. Tell them beforehand.

In addition to hitchhiking, scooters are a great way to immerse yourself in the surrounding landscape, really. Make sure to drive slowly to enjoy the smiles of locals, and don’t hesitate to stop and start conversations or ask for directions.

Legality of renting a scooter as a foreigner

  • To o ride any kind of scooter or motorbike as a foreigner, you need to have an international driver’s license. Practically speaking, this rule is often not enforced. Many travelers don’t follow this rule. If you get busted, the officer will likely ask for a bribe. What happens in these situations is hard to generalize because it really depends on the individual police officer
  • The scooter rentals themselves usually never ask for an international driver’s license, but they will most likely make a copy or ask to take your passport during your rental period.
  • Besides helmets, make sure you are given the scooter’s permission slip.

Hopping in a Bemo (Minivan)

Bemos are comically pimped minivans that blast techno music through speakers built into the interior. A unique, spontaneous transport method enjoyed by most of the locals. Taking at least one bemo ride, while visiting West Timor, is highly encouraged.

You will mainly find bemos in the cities. However, sometimes you will see them in unexpected remote places. Tell the driver, where you want to go beforehand and hop in, the typical fare for a ride is 10,000 IDR.

Buses

There are also larger buses, whose drivers will not hesitate to approach you to offer you a ride. They are usually located on the main exit roads of any populated city. In addition to being very cheap and being able to not worry about navigation, they also allow for inspiring conversations with locals. Some of them even cross the entire country; however, it is not possible to drive across the border to East Timor.

Rental cars with drivers

Renting a car without a driver is next to impossible for tourists; however, you can rent a car with a driver to take you virtually anywhere. Depending on your destination, the driver may have the same value as a guide. If you want to visit tribal villages, renting a car in combination with a local guide is highly encouraged. To get a driver, you could ask for your accommodation or ask a taxi driver.

Taxi

Bluebird doesn’t exist in Kupang. Neither do ride-sharing apps, like Uber, Grab, or the legendary Go-Jek. Taxis can be found throughout all cities and can also be organized for you at your accommodation. There is an organized taxi counter at the airport, you ask for a price, get a price quote and then pick a number and wait for your driver to approach you. A ride to downtown Kupang should cost 70-80k IDR.

Finding a guide to visit the indigenous tribes

While a lot can be explored on your own, there are a handful of activities, where you definitely need a guide. Namely, visiting tribal villages and traditional markets. Even if you are Indonesian, you really need a guide since few people there speak Bahasa. However, you should definitely not miss out on these activities as they are valuable experiences. Below you will find contact details for some renowned guides. This list is still incomplete.

While spending most of his time as a school teacher in Soe, Jemry is also a great tour guide. He can take you to the tribal villages, traditional markets as well as remote beaches such as Kolbano and Oetune. He is a good driver, speaks fluent English, and also speaks the local indigenous language known as Dawan. He has a wealth of background knowledge about West Timor and its tribal culture and will even help you find bargains at the traditional markets.

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