In the early '70s, bands of Australian backpackers discovered an obscure stepping stone in the Indonesia archipelago, Timor-Leste. There, about 380 miles north of Darwin, they found Edenic beaches, soaring mountains, and dense forests. It was cheap, gorgeous, authentic—and very short lived. From 1975–99, a vicious civil war tore the former Portuguese colony apart. Zip ahead 14 years and East Timor (it became independent in 2002) is exploding once again, this time in a promising way. Getting around can be tough on treacherous mountain roads, but the Timorese are taking strides to attract visitors. The swanky Timor Plaza Hotel, the country’s only four-star accommodations, is slated to open this year in Dili, the capital. Dive shops take aquanauts on scuba safaris around Nino Konis Santana National Park to drift with whale sharks and dugongs over miles of Coral Triangle reefs. The fifth Tour de Timor, a five-stage mountain-bike and road race, rolls out in September. Local outfitters like Eco Discovery Timor Leste offer jungle hikes into villages rarely seen by foreigners. The country’s pristine state could change soon, due to a budding oil and gas industry. For now, though, the beaches, mountains, and reefs are pretty much exactly as they were when the Aussie hippies first landed.
THE TRIP: Starting next year, outfitter Orion Expeditions, based out of Australia, will offer cruises to East Timor aboard its 338-foot megayacht, where Zodiacs will whisk you off to lonely beaches and villages for adventures into the wild, hilly interior. Price TBD.