The town of Maubisse in cloud-wreathed Ainaro municipality is one of my favourite places to visit in Timor-Leste. It’s an easy couple of hours’ drive from Dili, a welcome break from the often-oppressive beachside heat, and a chance to see a different part of Timor-Leste without forcing yourself into a madcap epic adventure you’re not totally sure you’ll exit alive.
Just about the only people who aren’t my family who read my blog seem to be tourists or travellers who find me through this post about the town: Everything we didn’t do in Maubisse.
In that post, I wrote about a weekend trip to Maubisse I took with my boyfriend, Felix, and talked about how tourist websites try to make the gentle, beautiful mountain town seem far more glamorous and thrilling than it is — missing its value, in my opinion.
Because for me, the best thing to do in Maubisse is absolutely nothing: sit in the peace and stillness you can’t manage in your everyday hum.
But if you’re looking for something more, or just need a phone number of a place to stay, here’s a short addition: an admittedly biased tourist guide to Maubisse, Timor-Leste.
Getting to Maubisse
There are two main ways of getting to Maubisse: either drive yourself, or get a public bus. There aren’t actually many signs for Maubisse specifically on the drive there — keep a look out for Dare or Aileu if you’re driving, or Same or Suai if you want a bus or angguna.
If you’re driving yourself, the road’s so good now it should take less than three hours and you could make it in a small four-wheel drive (we have a RAV4 mini, which makes it fine) or even on a scooter. If you go through Dare to Aileu and beyond, the winding trip takes about three hours, and if you take the open-but-unfinished new road through Manleuana, up the Comoro River, you’ll pop out near the fruit market just before Aileu in two hours. It’s steep and dusty and quick and fun.
Aileu municipality, Timor-Leste
To catch public transport to Maubisse, go to the terminal at Dili’s Taibessi market and look for either an angguna or a brightly coloured bus. Anggunas are those yellow, open-tray trucks you see around, and will take you through Aileu directly to Maubisse. The Maubisse buses are the ones going to the towns Same (pronounced SAH-may) or Suai, and you can just tell the driver you’re getting off in Maubisse.
Neither the bus nor the angguna will leave until it’s full, so make sure you choose the most-full vehicle. Returning to Dili, you’ll find most leave Maubisse early in the morning.
Staying in Maubisse
My favourite place to stay in Maubisse is actually not the Green School I so loved in that Maubisse blog post — it’s Sara Guesthouse, right in the middle of town, at the roundabout. It’s a clean, simple, well-equipped and well-priced place owned by the chief of the sub-village — whose phone number I have but it never connects, so I suspect I’ve only got an old one. It has eight rooms so should be always available, though, and you can pay $22 for a double bed for a night if you’re happy to forego hot water ($35 for hot water and a top-storey view). Both prices include breakfast.
I’ve found that Maubisse seems to shut down at night — every time I’ve stayed there I’ve had to tell my guesthouse at lunchtime that we’ll be eating there later, or they won’t make food. Sara Guesthouse has a well-priced warung downstairs that stays serving until 7pm or 8pm. (It also has a beer fridge).
I do love the Green School, though, and here’s the number if that’s all you’ve come here for — 7839 8948, or 7788 2880 (every time I see two phone numbers for one place I’m like whyyy and then I remember they’re probably just two different carriers, with two SIM cards inside the same phone). I bet you a Bintang whoever answers speaks English (same if you message them on Facebook).
A final accommodation suggestion (though I suspect there are many more): the historic Maubisse Pousada has finally re-opened, it’s run by the Green School team, and while it’s pricey there are two room options and getting day-drunk on sweet red in the courtyard sun with Felix last time is one of my best trip memories. Might be worth it? Their numbers are 7731 2368 and 7839 8948.
What to do in Maubisse
Here’s why I wrote that initial blog post. I don’t want to over-sell Maubisse — it’s a gorgeous place with epic scenery and lovely people, but please don’t plan a trip there after scanning the Tourism Timor-Leste website and think you’re going to get a British backpacker-led walking tour of a historic city or have a medal-winning barista help you sample the single origin or eat world-class organic mountain fare from a hilltop starred restaurant.
At the Maubisse pousada
“There were absolutely things we could have done in the town,” I wrote in that blog post of Maubisse.
If someone asked me what to do on a weekend in Maubisse, I’d tell them to find the waterfall and swimming hole I keep seeing all over Facebook; to bring some hiking boots and a sense of adventure for a self-guided trail through the mountains; to split big money into small change to spend at the town’s giant secondhand clothing market and vibrant twice-weekly fresh vegetable market. I’d tell them to read about the town’s colonial history and visit the newly-restored pousada Maubisse, perched high in the hills above the town centre, and to listen the the church bells clanging and drink organic coffee at the Cafe Maubisse on a Sunday morning. I’d ask my friend who works with local strawberry farmers to arrange a visit, and I’d ask the Peace Corps volunteers who live in the town to suggest helpful, interesting activities that would benefit Maubisse’s residents.
Here’s that in a handy, information-less checklist, if you’d like:
- Hike in the hills
- Swim beneath a waterfall
- Visit the local markets
- Take in the view, and the wine, at the historic hilltop pousada
- Drink organic, locally grown coffee
- Listen to the church bells and watch well-dressed parishers walk to church
- Eat organic strawberries
- Reach out the the Peace Corps volunteers who live there to ask for more
And here’s what Felix and I did:
- Read books
- Ate snacks
- Drank tea
- Sat on the Green School balcony
- Visited the pousada
- Bought cabbages at the market
- Cooked lunch
- Drove back to Dili.
Day-drunk at the pousada.
It’s a serene, peaceful place. I hope you go; I hope you enjoy it.