Walking into the clouds: Climbing Mt Ramelau in East Timor

MT Ramelau is East Timor’s highest mountain at 2986m and a popular climb for those living in or visiting the capital Dili.

The mountain is also known as Tatamailau meaning “grandfather of all” and has cultural and religious significance. In 1997 a statue of the Virgin Mary was erected on top and there are pilgrimages to it in March and October each year.

Mt Ramelau peaking above the clouds. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Because of this the track is reasonably well formed, although the initial 3km from the town of Hatobuilico to the northeast is eroded and a bit hard to negotiate even in a car. We were certainly glad to have a car with a driver to handle the washouts and rough terrain, and to wait in the car for our return.

It’s roughly a 900m climb to the summit and takes about 2.5-3 hours. Many people start out in the early hours of the morning to summit by dawn, but the climb is possible anytime of the day – although it is good to study weather conditions in the days preceding to see when cloud cover and the chance of rain is lowest.

The quiet roads of Hatobuilico. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

We started out mid morning as one of our group had been ill overnight and needed a bit of time to recover. It was beautiful and clear and the views were stunning over the farm land and hills around us as we got higher.

When we passed a group that had summited earlier in the day they said they’d not seen the view from the top because of cloud and we were glad we’d had an enforced later start.

Walking above the clouds on Mt Ramelau. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

The initial climb was quite steep up a series of man made stairs through trees but it soon progressed into an even but dirt track. As we neared the top the terrain became greener with open meadows and plenty of sweeping views of the countryside around us.

The Virgin Mary statue on the summit. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

The final climb up to the Virgin Mary statue went past vast swathes of daisies. There was a wind blowing and while it was exhilarating we found the 2986m height quite a lot cooler than down in Hatobuilico and after the obligatory summit photos and a snack we headed down again.

Getting there

While only about 70km from the capital Dili it takes several hours to reach Hatobuilico given the nature of the roads and the terrain. The last section from Maubisse alone takes about 1.5-2 hours and requires a four wheel drive. Most people rent a car and driver in Dili to make the journey.

Friendly local children in Hatobuilico. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Where to stay

Pousada Alecrim is the largest guesthouse in Hatobuilico with 17 bedrooms and meals available on request for about $10-15 per night. It is best to ring ahead to make a reservation. The owners speak excellent English, a number of local languages and Bahasa Indonesian. Phone +670 7304366

Inside the Pousada Alecrim. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

More information about Hatobuilico is available here – http://hatobuilico.com/

Alternatively stay at the wonderful Pousada de Maubisse that overlooks the town and landscape in Maubisse, two hours before you reach Hatobuilico. Phone +670 3325023.

Other walks

The climb up Ramelau is not the only thing to do in this area. The Pousada Alecrim has a number of walks described in brochures in the dining area. A guide to other walks in the area can also be downloaded here.

Local man near Hatobuilico. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com