First things first: getting to Mount Ramelau is not an easy journey.
I’m sure you could probably book a tour to do this from Dili or something, but doing it yourself is way more fun, right?
And if you are doing it independently, you’re going to have to be prepared for a not insubstantial amount of discomfort, for a long old while. Public transport in Timor-Leste generally encompasses one of more of the following characteristics: sweaty, cramped, and slow.
If that’s not enough to put you off, then by all means, read on! It’s absolutely a rewarding journey – I’ll add in some photos throughout as a teaser of what you might expect to see once you make it there.
From Dili to Maubisse
Catch Microlet 4 to Taibessi market ($0.25).
These microlets are dark blue, and you can easily catch one from the beach road – just wave them down and ask if they’re going to Taibessi market to check you’re heading the right way. The market is the last stop, so don’t worry about where you need to get off.
Loads of vehicles wait at the market before heading to Maubisse. And I mean loads – as a tourist, you will be a highly prized passenger, so expect lots of people to want you to come in their vehicle.
Get on a truck up to Maubisse ($3)
Try to pick one with comfy seats cos it’s a bumpy old ride! And a roof, else you’ll get a sunburnt head. Trucks (angguna) are better than buses because of the in-built air conditioning (open sides) – buses are likely to be more cramped and more sweaty.
Head up to the mountain village of Hatobuilico
Catch a ride up to the Hatobuilico turn off (probably free)
Once you arrive in Maubisse you basically just need to get lucky. If it’s a market day (Wednesday or Saturday), there might be people heading all the way up to the village, in which case you should be able to hop in with them. I would at least offer to pay, but they might be happy enough just to take you.
If you’re less lucky with your timing, you will still be able to hitch up some of the way at least. Start walking along the road in the direction of Hatobuilico (just ask people for the right direction) and then flag down any passing vehicle to see if they are going near the turn off at least.
Don’t miss the turning!
The turn off for the village isn’t especially obvious. It looks kind of like a construction vehicle track (and the terrain is similar), and it goes off to the right at a sharp angle, almost back the way you’ve come. We actually got a lift up past the road, walked down and missed the turning, then got another lift back up to the right road.
Hike up to the village
From the main road, it takes 4 hours (yes 4) to hike up to the village of Hatobuilico. It’s a really really nice walk, but it is pretty long – and feels longer when you constantly expect it to be just round the corner.
It’s very doable but bear in mind the time of day (it’s not that fun to arrive in the dark because you have no idea where anything is, or indeed whether you are in the right place yet).
The route is pretty much one road all the way (I think there was one fork in the road and you had to go left for Hatobuilico), and anyone along the track will be able to reassure you that at least you’re going the right way, even if it might feel like you’re never going to get there.
Consider getting a lift up
A few people along the way might offer you a lift (well, a backie on a scooter or motorbike), and this might be worth it if you’re getting a bit tired. Although the track is dodgy as so only do it if you feel comfortable and safe with your driver… you probably won’t want to go with someone who is off their face on betel nut!
When you arrive to the village there are a few accommodation options. We literally went to the first place that seemed like it had rooms because we were so relieved to have finally arrived, but if you push on a bit there are a couple more places – one of which would probably be hard to find in the dark, if you’re dumb enough to arrive then (as we were).
There is one guesthouse on the right hand side, raised up on a little hill, which looks fairly basic but does at least have a sign outside proclaiming that it is a guest house and that they can arrange walking tours. The place mentioned in the Lonely Planet is a bit further on, Pousada Alecrim Namrau – there’s a lit up sign outside, so you can’t miss it.
The Pousada (guesthouse) we stayed in was a big, light-green painted complex that looked a bit like a school, one of the first on your left as you come into the village, and was $35 per night for a room with twin beds and an ensuite. It was really clean, very comfortable and to be honest a total godsend after a long, slightly uncertain walk.
They were also able to sort out food for us (worked out as $2.50 per meal), and guides for the sunrise hike up the mountain. They quoted us $20 for a guide, but as we ended up with two guides I think maybe $10 per guide is the going rate. Obviously we didn’t ask for two guides (we didn’t really need one each, we aren’t that pathetic) so maybe you just always get two.
Hiking up for sunrise
As for the hike itself, well. I think it was one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen, and therefore worth all the pain and effort to get there.
From our pousada it took probably just over 2.5 hours to the top, including a couple of stops for water and adjusting clothing. The first hour is just from the village up to the start point proper – a big arch with a gate. Our accommodation was actually quite a way away from the start of the track, so if you stay at one of the other places it might take less time.
Then the next forty minutes or so was mainly steps – quite a pleasant surprise! After that it’s just your bog standard mountain walk: pretty steep at points (obviously) but with some flat bits, and a lot of winding around, which is what took the most time.
About twenty minutes from the top there’s a little church, with benches (or I suppose pews) in rows outside. Thats how you know you’re nearly there!
Getting back to Dili
The way back is pretty much the same but in reverse. You can walk down to the road and then hitch back to Maubisse, or (if you don’t fancy another four hours walking after your sunrise hike) you will probably be able to find someone in the village at least willing to give you a lift down if you pay them.
We ended up paying $10 each to a guy with a car, just to the main road (though he said he was going to Maubisse). Totally worth it, in my opinion.
There are lots of construction vehicles going down to the town, so finding a ride down the road shouldn’t be a problem. It took us about two minutes to find a lift.
Once you’re back in Maubisse, it’s the same deal – find a bus or a truck going back to Dili, Taibessi market. They hang around the centre of the town, about where the little Telkomsel shop is, and tend to drive round touting for passengers for a while. If you can’t find them, they will find you.
Then once again, get the number 4 microlet back to wherever you’re staying, and you’re done!
Now you can go collapse in a heap.