Jaco Island is a fabled, mystical, sacred place for the people of East Timor. It’s located in the extreme east of Timor Leste, only 700 meters from the coast and the magnificent Valu Beach.
Even though Timor Leste is a small country, getting to Jaco Island is not an easy task.
Nonetheless, I traveled there myself and I’ll share with you how to get to Jaco Island and Valu Beach based on my experience from 2023.
If you’re reading this, then you’re very likely already in Timor Leste or have a plan for how to get there.
If that’s not the case, then I suggest you read my tips on how to get to Timor Leste, including information about the bus from Kupang to Dili.
What’s special about Jaco Island?
Jaco Island is sacred to the local population. Nobody lives there and there are absolutely no buildings on it, not even temporary ones. Staying overnight on Jaco Island (i.e. camping) is forbidden. Locals don’t go there either as it’s considered taboo.
Jaco Island is famous for two things – how isolated it is and how biodiverse it is.
There are endemic bird species, many fish and lizards, also monkeys and small mammals, and even crocodiles. Due to this biodiversity and in the interest of conservation, Jaco Island was included in the first (and only) National Park in Timor Leste – Nino Konis Santana National Park.
Most of all, Jaco Island, Valu Beach, and the Jaco Strait are simply spectacular. Crystal-clear water, pink sand, mesmerizing corals, and great opportunities for snorkeling await anyone who makes the journey to visit it.
How to Get to Jaco Island
I’ll assume you’re already in Dili and want to get to Jaco Island using public transportation.
I myself traveled around Timor Leste exclusively by hitchhiking. It was an incredible way to see the country and I met a ton of locals whom I had great experiences with.
Hitchhiking in Timor Leste is easy and safe. I never had to wait for more than 3 cars to pass to get picked up. The only drawback is that on some roads there are very few cars passing. Even so, hitchhiking all around East Timor is possible and fun.
Get from Dili to Baucau
Starting in Dili, you want to make your way to the second biggest city Baucau. The road to Baucau is new and of amazing quality. Gone are the days when it took 4 hours to travel the 130 km between the two cities. Today, it only takes 2.5 hours.
There are many buses going from Dili to Baucau. Many! You will have no problem getting to Baucau even if you depart in the late afternoon.
First, get to Becora Bus Station. Microlet #1 goes there from the center of Dili. For some reason Becora Bus Station is marked as Permanently Closed on Google – disregard that. The moment you step out of the microlet, you’ll have people approach and/or follow you, asking you to pick their bus to Baucau. There’s no way to get lost there.
The bus from Dili to Baucau costs 5$ and takes about 3 hours. Ask to be dropped off in the Old Town (Kota Tua) not the New Town at the top of the hill (Kota Baru).
There’s a frequent microlet #1 going between the Old and the New towns every 15-20 minutes. Like all microlets in Timor Leste, it costs 0.25$.
IMPORTANT: There is a direct bus from Dili to Lospalos! It costs 8$ but is more infrequent than the one to Baucau. You should be able to secure a spot if you go in the morning.
However, I assume you want to explore Baucau (which you should), so a stop there is the most logical way to make the journey to Jaco Island.
Where to Sleep in Baucau
Don’t try booking online – none of the properties are listed on Booking.com. Not even the fancy Pousada de Baucau.
For a budget stay, I can recommend the two places I stayed at.
I stayed 2 nights at Melita Guesthouse. It’s run by a lovely family who will help you with anything and everything. The breakfast is included and is filling and tasty. The rooms come with a fan (15$) or AC (25$).
There are warm showers and mandi-style showers in the bathrooms. The patio has an awesome view of the sea.
I also stayed 1 night in the newly refurbished Mar-Bel Guesthouse. The rooms are better there, very, very new. The owner said that the prime minister stays in his guesthouse when he comes to visit Baucau, but I don’t believe him.
Nonetheless, it’s a very good place to stay. Breakfast is included in the 15$ per night.
How to Get from Baucau to Lospalos
There are 3-4 buses per day that go between Baucau and Lospalos. Most of these come from Dili and pass through the Old Town (Kota Tua) to pick up passengers from Baucau, before continuing to Lospalos.
Unfortunately, there isn’t really a timetable. Go in front of the Pousada de Baucau (the pinkish orange, Portuguese architectural style hotel in front of the main roundabout) and ask the locals. Then just wait.
There’s no need to go to the New Town. All buses pass through the Old Town of Baucau anyway.
The road from Baucau all the way to Lautem is brand new and of perfect quality.
From Lautem to Com the road is acceptable. Com is not on the way to Lospalos but could be a nice detour for its beautiful beaches and laidback backpacker vibe.
From Lautem to Bauro the road is adequate.
From Bauro to Lospalos (the last 10 km) the road is horrible. Massive potholes, no asphalt, huge bumps.
The journey from Baucau to Lospalos takes about 2:30 hours for 90 km and the bus costs 4$.
IMPORTANT: It’s NOT possible to get from Baucau to Jaco Island in a single day using only public transport. You must spend one night in Lospalos and get to Jaco Island the following day.
Where to sleep in Lospalos
I stayed at Centro Antigo Guesthouse which is the most budget-friendly option in Lospalos. It cost 10$ per night and you get a room with a fan plus a mandi-style bathroom. It’s a lovely house and an even lovelier host. Pisang Goreng (fried bananas) and strong black coffee for breakfast included.
How to Get from Lospalos to Tutuala
Here’s where it gets tricky. Even the locals don’t know when the microbus from Lospalos to Tutuala leaves.
But there is a bus!
I asked the locals in the center of Lospalos and they confirmed that there is a service between the two towns, but couldn’t tell me what time. Most told me to be at the main junction at 7:00 AM and wait. I quote: “Maybe it comes at 7, maybe 8, maybe 10“.
Some bloggers have reported it left at 3 PM when they were there. It’s up to the driver’s mood and nobody knows for sure.
I ended up hitchhiking from Lospalos to Bauro, then again on a food delivery truck from Bauro to Tutuala stopping to supply all the villages on the way with food, meds, and eclipse sunglasses. Somewhere around 1 PM, the microbus from Lospalos caught up to us around Mehara.
The road conditions between Bauro and Tutuala are horrible until the last 4 km. Then there’s a new road built all the way to Valu Beach. They are currently working on building a proper road between Tutuala and Lospalos.
The bus from Lospalos to Tutuala supposedly costs 3$ and takes around 3 hours to travel the 40 km between the two.
How to Get from Tutuala to Valu Beach
The distance between Tutuala and Valu Beach is 8 km on a brand-new asphalt road. I opted to walk but halfway hitched on the first (and only) car that passed by.
From Tutuala to Valu Beach, it’s only downhill, which makes for a pleasant 1:30-2 hour walk.
Your alternative is to ask for a ride from someone in Tutuala. There’s usually someone at Gracinda Homestay, just before the road turns right toward Tutuala, where you can ask for a taxi service. The going rate is 5-8$ one way on a motorcycle.
If you walk a little down toward Valu Beach, the locals will start asking you if you need a lift. With them, you should be able to negotiate a ride down for 3$.
How to get from Valu Beach to Jaco Island
When you reach the beach turn right and walk 350 meters until you see the fishermen and their boats. They will happily take you across the narrow strait, wait for as long as you ask (2 hours is usually more than enough), and then take you back, all for 10$.
The strait is only 700 meters and you might be tempted to just swim across if you’re a good swimmer.
DO NOT! The current is strong and there might be sharks and crocodiles in the water.
Is it safe to swim at Jaco Island and Valu Beach?
On the topic of animals that will happily eat you…
Locals will say one of two things:
- There are crocodiles in the water and it’s dangerous. However, they’ve never seen one.
- There are no crocodiles in the water, as the current is strong. However, they’ve seen them.
I wouldn’t trust either of them, obviously. Official data doesn’t lie though – on average 1 person per month gets attacked by a saltwater crocodile in Timor Leste (pop: 1.3 million) and half result in deaths.
That being said, swimming close to the shore at Valu Beach will probably be safe. But I wouldn’t go farther in.
Where to sleep and eat on Valu Beach
There are really only two options for accommodation on Valu Beach: Lakumorre Guesthouse and Valu Sere Bungalows.
Both offer pretty much the same level of quality, but vastly different prices. Lakumorre is slightly better, but it costs 75$ per night, whereas the community-run Valu Sere is more basic, but only 25$ per night. Yeah, both are overpriced for what they offer, but it’s them or your own tent.
Both offer dinner for 5$ and breakfast for 2$. The dinner is delicious – fresh fish, caught by the fishermen just a few hours before it hits your plate.
Here’s a hack though: A lady has set up her own food shack just around the corner, as you turn left from the main road toward the beach, exactly here. You can’t miss her.
She will prepare the exact same fish for 2$, with rice, veggies, and sauce included. She also sells big bottles of water for 1$ and different snacks for 1-3$.
How to get back from Valu Beach to Dili
The journey back to Dili follows pretty much the same formula with one big exception: getting from Valu Beach back to Lospalos.
That’s the tricky part. Again, nobody seems to know when the public bus from Tutuala departs for Lospalos and in this case, locals couldn’t even confirm to me that there is one every day!
I walked back from Valu Beach to Tutuala. A bit of a struggle, as it’s only uphill, but it’s not Everest either. You can arrange transport the previous night – 5-8$ for a motorcycle taxi back to Tutuala.
On the way, there are two prehistoric caves that you can theoretically visit. The first is Jerimalai and the second is Lene Hara. They are only 200 meters from the main road, however, the paths are overgrown with tall vegetation that I didn’t dare go in.
From Tutuala I hitchhiked back to Lospalos. Traffic is really slim. I got lucky with some Australians who were driving to Com for the eclipse. They dropped me off at Bauro. From Bauro you can go to Com, Lautem, Lospalos, or directly to Baucau and Dili.
The only advice I can give you – ask the locals and don’t be afraid to hitchhike.