I grew up in temperate Perth, where we have four strict seasons and a near-total lack of humidity. For that reason, Timor-Leste’s muggy humidity has repeatedly surprised and totally confused me.
As I head into my last week of living here, I’m thinking more than ever about the girl I was this time two years ago – nervously preparing to make her first-ever overseas move. If that’s you, or someone you know, and you’ve had same stupid thoughts I had about just not understanding what the weather would be like and why every packing list told you to pack the most hideous-sounding baggy garb like you’ll suddenly become a menopausal divorcee with faucets for armpits and an addiction to linen, this is for you.
What’s the weather like in Timor-Leste? Is wet season or dry season a better time to visit Dili? How hot is it really? And, my key question: can you wear polyester?
(I’m kidding, sort of, with that one). Here are some quick answers.
What’s the weather like?
As you can see from a map, Timor-Leste sits just eight degrees south of the equator, which makes its climate capital-T tropical. Sunshine, palm trees, coconuts, etc etc, everything you can imagine from a tourist brochure for any white-sand tropical island.
Dili, where I live, has one wet season and one dry season; on the south coast, they have a baby second rainy season. I cannot tell you how many “the-wet-season-runs-from-November-to-March” lines I read on really helpful websites and blogs without absorbing any of it; like, I forgot what order the months went in and whether it’d be hot or cold or is rain wet, what?
A very short, dumb answer: it’s hot all the time, it’s sunny almost all the time, for half the year it rains in the afternoons. It’s still hot before the rain and it’s a little cooler afterwards. And you’ll get used to it, mostly, and you’ll sweat every day.
Is the wet season or the dry season hotter/colder/better?
I think a lot of tropical tourist places recommend the dry season as the time to visit because daytime temperatures are slightly cooler than they are during the wet and no rain means the roads aren’t all flooded and chopped up.
But here, on this blog, where I make bold baseless assertions, I’m saying the wet season in Dili is better. It’s so pretty! I love love love the bruised angry streaky sky before the rain and the watching hours and hours of drizzle from my porch in the late afternoons. The hills are resplendant, bold beautiful shades of green, and there’s less dust and squinty harsh sunlight when it’s filtered through stormclouds and rain.
It’s also hot as fark before the rain comes; a gross sweaty steamy unending build-up, and it’s still 30 degrees during the days (in June, the coldest month, it’ll be 27 or 28 degrees). And it doesn’t rain every day – in Dili, it’s every two or three days, and when it hasn’t rained for a stretch of three or four in a row it feels like you’re living in a wasteland.
Another short, dumb summary: in the dry season (roughly Australia’s winter and spring), it’s hot and sunny during the days, but slightly less hot and slightly more sunny than at other times. (That’s my memory trick for remembering which season is the colder one – dry season matches up with our winter). And it doesn’t rain – great for the cyclists, motorbike riders and runners whose habits and hobbies I clearly don’t share. In the wet season (roughly Australia’s summer and autumn) it rains heavily every few days and feels a little hotter, except immediately after the rain finishes, when there’s open a chill breeze. Both are good. Any time is good to visit Timor. You should visit Timor.
Do you really have to wear baggy cotton everything?
Nah, wear whatever you want. A lot of Timorese people in Dili wear jeans and jumpers and tight fussy skirts with perfect makeup and sleek high heels; they’re obviously acclimatised to the heat in a way we foreigners aren’t, but that doesn’t mean that you have to wear a mumu.
In my Dili packing list I wrote that you should wear jeans and get used to them; I also wrote that I wear a lot of loose, floaty, shapeless dresses. I work full-time in an office and usually wear either a cotton or linen dress, cotton trousers or jeans with a cotton shirt, or polyeeeester; full, long, lined skirts and brightly coloured polyester tops. I’m an idiot but I love them, and I’ve found it a bit hot sometimes but also totally fine.
Will I acclimatise?
A little bit. After two years in Timor-Leste, I’m stupidly in this middle zone where I still sweat profusely every day and get really flustered in the heat, but wear jackets in December when I’m back in Perth. I’ve literally delayed my reunion with Felix in Melbourne because I can’t face going there in winter straight from tropical Timor-Leste; but I’m definitely not used to the Dili heat proper.
I love it, though! I think that’s the acclimatisation. Your body will likely become more used to the heat (and your skin will totally adapt to the sweat and dry hellishly out every time you visit home), but more importantly, you’ll grow to enjoy it. And don’t forget, life here is adapted to it just being a really hot place: afternoon rests are common and normal, it’s not embarrassing or weird to be visibly sweating or to ask for a napkin to blot blot blot; people don’t really walk and it’s common to drive short distances to avoid the searing sunlight. And if you’re working here in an office, there’s a good chance you’ll have air-conditioning, or at least a fan.
A final dumb summary and a dumb disclaimer here: who knows, you might just absolutely click with it and not have any of the stinking, sweaty, grouchy moments of adjustment and acclimatisation I’ve had over the last two years. And, equally, you might a bit more grossed out by constant sweat than I am (I’m not sweating right now, though, hooray!). And, finally, importantly, you may not be moving to Dili – Timor’s topography gives it a few different climate zones and if you’re in Maubisse you might go a year without taking your jumper off. This is what’s worked for me in the city I live in, and it’s what I would have liked to know before I arrived, with my suitcase full of stupid baggy trousers and collared linen button-ups and one small tube of 30+ sunscreen for two years of 12-hour sun. Idiot! Don’t be like that. Good luck.