On the way back to Dili from a recent trip to Baucau, Felix and I stopped for an hour or so at the Mangrove Study Centre in Hera, about 20 kilometres east of the capital.
I hadn’t heard about the centre, which doubles as a tourist site, and had low expectations — I initially thought they’d just built a short wooden pathway over the existing mangroves, and we were going to walk across it to the water’s edge and then return to our car. Nice, but maybe a bit eh?
I was so wrong.
The mangrove park is beautiful.
It’s so lovely I’d even recommend visiting there from Dili — not just stopping on your way back to the city from Baucau or Lospalos.
The Mangrove Study Centre was established by a group of young Timorese in 2016, according to state news agency Tatoli. Over six years, the Centre has replanted 15,000 mangroves, which provide food and fuel, help bind soils and prevent erosion, and manage water, by removing pollutants and absorbing flow during flooding and heavy rains. After several years of financial support from the UNDP, the Centre in mid-2021 received $40,000 in funding from USAID’s tourism project to build the infrastructure I enjoyed on my visit: wide wooden pathways, bridges over mangrove roots, steps to higher views, public toilets, and these numerous helpful wooden signs to remind you when to take photos and enjoy the fresh air.
You pay $1 to enter, and can stay as long as you like — I’d recommend going just before sunset (and slathering yourself in mosquito repellant), to enjoy the view of the sun setting over the bay from the very top of the hill.
The curving wooden path takes you on a gentle walk through the forest and to the water’s edge, and lush tropical trees and dense mangroves have their scientific names displayed on helpful little signs. It’s serene and peaceful — if slightly smelly — and I learnt something while having a lovely time.
Bins, toilets, and (lots of) places to sit make the Centre a good place for a picnic or rest stop on a longer trip east. When Felix and I visited we saw a couple taking engagement photos, with the lush jungle backdrop — and then staged our own shoot a hundred steps up the hill, with sweeping, 270-degree views over the grey-green bay. I can imagine on a clear day or at sunset it’d be even more beautiful.
I was glad Felix knew about this place and glad he made the decision to stop — if it were entirely up to me, I’d have driven right by, and missed out on one of the loveliest tourism experiences I’ve ever had in Timor-Leste. All we need now is the nearby Heineken factory to offer tours, like Guinness in Dublin, and Hera’s suddenly a must-stop tourist spot.