Getting from Dili to Mount Ramelau is a trip in itself and a great way to see the Timorese countryside. If you’ve got the cash and prefer a bit of comfort you can rent a 4wd in Dili and make your own way there which will take about 4 hours depending on the weather, road conditions, other drivers, traffic, road closures…basically anything can slow you down. The trip has three parts; Dili to Maubisse, Maubisse to Hato Builico and the hike from Hato Builico to the Mount Ramelau summit. The earlier you leave the more you’ll do in a day but I’m glad I broke it up and spent a night in Maubisse and another in Hato Builico before climbing the summit at sunrise.
Travelling from Dili to Maubisse
Firstly you’ll need to take a bus or angguna (truck with al fresco seating at the back) from the Taibissi bus station in Dili heading for Maubisse. The busses leave fairly regularly so don’t worry about a timetable or booking in advance, just make sure you get in the fullest one which will be the first to leave. The bus costs $6 and takes about three to four hours, depending on road conditions. There was a landslide when we went which blocked the main route so we had to go an alternative way. This was actually better because we saw more of the countryside and there were a few waterfalls crossing the dirt highway along the way.
Where to Stay in Maubisse
Maubisse is a small village with a local market and a couple of hotels and guesthouses. We stayed in Sara Guesthouse which seemed much better value than Timor Lodge in Dili. For $35 you’ll get a hot shower and a room on a higher floor where some have a view. There’s a restaurant downstairs or you can buy some cheap food from the market and eat it in the seating area on the top floor of the guesthouse. While in Maubisse it’s worth checking out Leublora Green School which is doing some great work for social development and environmental sustainability and also has a guesthouse and restaurant. Before leaving Maubisse use the ATM if needed because there isn’t one in Hato Builico and you’ll have to pay for everything with cash until you’re back in Maubisse.
Getting from maubisse to Hato Builico
Leaving Maubisse and geting to Hato Builico is the harder part as there isn’t any public transport. The road to Hato Bulico from the highway is 10 kilometres south of Maubisse on a winding road which takes about 20 minutes to drive. Many of the local expats had told me that it’s fairly easy to hitchhike to Hato Builico either by waiting at the highway turnoff to Hato Bulico or walking to Hato Builico and waiting for someone to pick you up along the way. It’s a 16km walk from Maubisse mostly uphill so make sure you’re prepared if you choose to hike. As I was travelling with someone I’d met along the way we decided to ask around Maubisse if anyone was interested in driving us to Hato Builico for a fee, it didn’t take long and eventually we agreed on $50 (total) for someone to drive us there.
The drive to Hato Builico winds along a dirt road where you’ll pass villages and see the traditional homes of this region. Once we arrived to Hato Builico we spent the afternoon walking around which was great to see the traditional way of life in the village surrounded by lush mountains. There’s a few guesthouses in town and although we didn’t book anything in advance we didn’t have any trouble finding accommodation. If one place is full I’m sure they’ll ask around town to find you somewhere else to stay. Eventually we found a bar where we spent a few hours chatting to the locals who were playing pool.
Climbing Mount Ramelau
It’s common to do the hike up to Mt Ramelau in the morning to see the sunrise over the mountains. Most guesthouses will offer a guide to take you to the top of Ramelau which can be a bit difficult in the dark if you’re heading up for sunrise. We were happy to make our own way up there but the guesthouse insisted we accept their guide. We later found out the guide was a 10 year old boy who we’d been chatting to in the afternoon. We agreed to leave at 3am to make it to the summit for sunrise. However, at 1am he knocked on our door insisting it was time to leave, we explained that it was too early and we needed to wait a couple of hours before leaving. He was very confused and after a long broken English debate he left and we went back to sleep. Once our alarms woke us up just before 3am we waited for our guide but he didn’t return. He must’ve thought that we didn’t want to go anymore.
Hiking up by ourselves in the darkness wasn’t difficult however there were a couple of places where we weren’t sure of the correct way. If you chose to hike up for sunrise make sure you take a torch or have plenty of battery on your phone as it’ll be dark and the paths leading up to the summit are not always easy to find. I recommend using Maps.me to plot the walk the night before in case you aren’t sure where to go. From Hato Builico you need to walk up the hill on the north eastern side of town towards a campsite and from there you’ll see a walkway covered by an arch, it’s a big structure but it wasn’t clear to us that the formal pathway to the summit starts from there.
Once you reach the summit of Ramelau you’ll have
an amazing view over the entire East Timor, I have no idea because unfortunately when we went it was completely greyed out with thick fog. We gave it an hour to clear but the fog remained so we didn’t get to see any of the view. What you’ll see is something somewhere between complete grey like the photos below and a clear blue sky with views across to Atauro Island. Walking back down to Hato Builico is easy and we were welcomed at our guesthouse with breakfast, tea and coffee.
Getting from Hato Bulico to Dili
We had planned to walk back to Maubisse but the guesthouse offered to drive us as they had to go into Maubisse anyway, finally some luck for us! Once you’re back in Maubisse it’s easy to get a bus or angguna back to Dili and they can drop you anywhere along the way to Taibissi bus station where it terminates. Overall, if you’ve got at least 5 days in East Timor or if hiking is your priority then I’d definitely recommend climbing Mt Ramelau. You’ll see a lot of the countryside along the way and as long as you get clear weather you’ll also get great views at Mt Ramelau.
Where to next? Read my guide to Atauro Island or how to spend a few days in East Timor’s capital Dili.
Travel Resources for Visiting Mount Ramelau
Viator – Huge selection of activities, tours and experiences with great cancellation and price match policies.
Get Your Guide – Great selection of experiences from sea, land and air.
SkyScanner – The best place to start looking for flights. They compare prices from a huge amount of airlines.
Hostelworld – Thousands of hostels with millions of reviews. You can also contact other travelers before you arrive.
Travel Insurance – None of us plan to fall off motorbikes or break a leg snowboarding but if it happens make sure you’re covered.
Booking.com – One of the best accommodation booking pages available. This is my benchmark before searching for a better deal (which often can’t be beaten).
AirBnB – Huge range of home to rent across the globe and discounts for longer stays.
RentalCars.com – The best site for renting cars while travelling, they find the best rates and provide great insurance options.