Commonly known as East Timor, Timor-Leste gained independence in 2002 and has since worked hard for the stability it now enjoys. Until recently, the country has been largely overlooked as a destination, but its untouched landscapes, beautiful islands and fantastic beaches are slowly beginning to draw travellers in, and Timor-Leste tourism is on the rise. It is fast gaining a reputation for spectacular and easily accessible dive sites.
P&O's Pacific Jewel made history this weekend as the first ever cruise ship to visit Timor-Leste's capital, Dili, when she called in on the way back to Australia from a dry dock refit in Singapore. This marks huge progress for the nation which is leaving its troubled past behind and looking forward to a bright future. It is fitting that an Australian cruise ship was the first to extend a visit to the port, as the country has invested in the success of Timor-Leste as an independent nation.
Carnival Australia CEO Ann Sherry commented, "after years of struggle, Timor-Leste finally won its independence only in 2002, but even five years ago few could have imagined nearly 2000 cruise tourists going ashore in Dili. Australia has strong ties to Timor-Leste on its path to nationhood and there is no doubt that Australians have been willing the Timorese people and their country to succeed."
The visit also helped to test the city's capacity as a cruise destination, and it was a success - which bodes well for the future. In a win-win situation for the country and the cruise line, Dili will benefit from cruise visitors and P&O can open up a new and beautiful cruise destination to its passengers.
The next scheduled stop at Dili by a P&O vessel is in September 2016 when the new Pacific Eden will visit Dili - so it's a slow road to becoming a regular cruise port, but the inaugural visit was a great start. The country has enjoyed positive press from publications like CNN Travel helping to build its profile, and cruise ships are the next step in opening itself up to tourists.
Dili has a lot to offer as a cruise port! Passengers tender from ship to shore where they can visit the laid-back capital which spreads along the waterfront. Sightseeing highlights include the Cristo Rei de Dili, a 27-metre tall statue at the eastern end of the city, the Santa Cruz Cemetery commemorating a massacre which took place in 1991, the Australian World War 2 Memorial and Museum, the Xanana Cultural Centre and the city's art and craft market.
P&O is already offering a range of shore tours in Dili. These visit the highlights of the city, with a couple focusing on various attractions in the region like a coffee academy and the nearby seaside village of Maubara.
To the east of the city are some lovely beaches reachable by taxi. You can taste both traditional local cuisine and great Portuguese dishes among the restaurants downtown. Don't miss out on the local Timore-Leste coffee which is famously good!
The local currency is the US Dollar, and you can use credit cards to withdraw money at ATMs. Internet cafes can be found in Dili.
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