Kupang On Timor

During World War II, the city of Kupang, formerly known as Koepang, on the island of Timor, was the hub for refueling and landing for long-haul flights from Europe to Australia. The historical El Tari airstrip that was first landed by an American pilot, Lamij Johnson, in 1928 holds many stories, more than being a mere transit lounge and fuel depot for the few fliersback then. Today, when visitors step on to the modernising city, one can still find traces of Dutch occupation as well as a Portuguese inherited aura. For since long before Indonesia’s Independence, Timor’s western part had been colonized by the Dutch while the island’s eastern part by the Portuguese. This division orginated from the time when these two powers fought for hegemony in the lucrative spice trade.

Today, Kupang is the capital city of the province of East Nusatenggara, perched in the southwestern part of Timor Island. As one of the three largest islands in East Nusa Tenggara, (comprising SumbaFlores and Timor), Timor island is now shared by two independent countries. The island’s eastern part being the newly independent East Timor – or Timor Leste, while the island’s western part is Indonesian territory. Its favorable position in the south-eastern most part of Indonesia, has made the city of Kupang into the first port of entry in Indonesian waters from Australia, if not yet as a tourst destination in its own right.

The city of Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara
The city of Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara (Source : youtube.com)

The Nusa Tenggara is a string of islands to the east of Bali, while Timor is its easternmost island in that string. Topographically, Timor differs from the rest of the East Nusa Tenggara islands. For the line of volcanoes that runs from Sumatra, Java, and on to other Nusa Tenggara islands, skips Timor and continues north to Maluku or the Moluccas. The cause of this is that unlike other Nusa Tenggara islands, Timor is in fact geologically related to Australia, and therefore has no volcanoes. While Its geographical location and long history and tradition make it culturally Indonesian.

Being closest than any Indonesian cities to the marinas of Australian yachts in Darwin, the lighthouse at the seaport of Kupang stands as the first milepost for participating yachtsmen in the annual Sail Indonesia event. Each year, hundreds of yachts cross the open seas from Darwin, Australia sailing to Kupang, and from here to visit many known as well as remote Indonesian islands, to finally dock in Singapore. The annual Sail Indonesia has brought the name of Koepang to the fore, recalling its fame in the early twentieth century.

“Indonesians laugh a lot”, said Prooke of Marlborough, UK. It’s the land of laughs and smiles.

People in Timor are friendly. They love to laugh as do most Indonesians on the whole. Traditionally, people in Kupang and West Timor were distinguished by their social positions. The nobility here used to be called Amaf, the rulers Atupas, the commons Too, and slaves Ata. Today, ata no longer exist. Each of the social class had its own role to play in society. Yet, these classes share a mutual sentiment when it comes to tradition. The root of its heritage is so deep, making it difficult to trace. These deep rooted traditions even persisted through centuries of teachings of newer religions that were brought by traders or colonial rulers.

The South beach, Kupang
The South beach, Kupang (Source : panoramio.com)

Look at the motives and patterns of their woven cloths called tenun ikat, and one can sense its age old heritage. Tenun ikat is the local craftsmanship in producing beautifully and sometimes mysteriously formed patterns on traditionally woven fabrics. Not only are the people proud of these cloths, but all Indonesians share the pride that these cloths are one of Indonesia’s most precious tangible national heritage.


What do you expect living on an island surrounded by sea? Seafood, of course. Taste the long-lived local culinary tradition. Leave the comfort of the hotel where you stay and find the corner where you can eat the local way.

Go to the 500-meter street called Jalan Garuda night food bazaar to sample the delicious grilled fish. Part of Jalan Siliwangi is also a place with open air food bazaars. The best food ever! That is what they call it when mentioning the food bazaar at Terminal Kota at night.

If you wish to try something other than fish, try the local food called se’i, which is smoked pork or beef. Bambu Kuning Restaurant offers one of the best se’i in Kupang.

Bintang Jaya is a Javanese restaurant with clean facilities and nice ambience. Silvia Steakhouse is also a recommended place to eat fish and chips. When it comes down to chips, jagung bose, a type of food that involves corn chips, is a treat you must not miss. Find it and taste a bite of Kupang.

Pasar Inpres off Jalan Soeharto is a place where you can find many things to buy for souvenirs. Kain ikat is mostly the item they will to sell to you. One of the authentic items from Kupang is the bulky ti’i langga, a traditional conical-shaped hat.

If you happen to be in Oebobo, go to this shop to find something for your loved ones at home. Padang Sari Souvenir, Jl Jend Soeharto 57, Naikoten I, Oebobo.

Accommodation facilities here are much simpler than those in Lombok, Bali or Java, but the hospitality can equal if not better.

During the Sail Indonesia when arriving yachts from Darwin start tying up at the flag-decorated wharf, local attractions like dances and food bazaars are shown at their best. The sailors would stay a few days to rest and observe the city with all its aroma and colors.

At the newer Walikota section, some 6 kilometers to the east of town, or 300 meters out from the Oebolo Bus Terminal is the provincial Museum of Nusa Tenggara. It has excellent collections of kain ikat, pottery, old currency, ritual equipment, pre-historical drawings, traditional houses, and ethnographic items of daily life.

The Kupang harbor is best viewed when you stand on a promontory, 75 meters south of the bridge on the road leading to the harbor. There, you will see tens of old houses in the area. While the Dutch cemetery is where you can see old gravestones.

A few minutes walk from Tenau Seaport, going eastward is a monkey forest. Unlike monkeys in Ubud, Bali, here the monkeys will wait for you to feed them.

On a hot summer day, cooling off in a swimming pool is a good idea. Baumata is the government-run swimming pool with clean pools and lush surroundings. It can be nice spending the day here, before the merry social gatherings at night.

The Governor’s Office is also one for the first-timer’s must-visits. The statue of El Tari, the first governor of East Nusa Tenggara stands to accompany your pose for a momentous picture.

Unlike the posh cafes in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, Kupang’s best night attractions are the night warongs at the central Terminal Kota. On Saturday nights, the angkot would flock here to drop swarms of city’s migrants and locals. Bakso (beef ball) carts, worn out shops and flea market vendors are everywhere, providing authentic attractions.

If you wish to go further out of the city, you can visit:

Oesapa, a fishing village 10 kilometers from Kupang. The lives of fishermen are interesting scenes.

Surfing on neighbouring island Rote’s Nemberala where left-handers swells come in small and fun ones, and sometimes come triple the size with powerful straight from the Indian Ocean. This place is also called the T-Land. Stay there for a week if you will, as the Rotenese are friendly and hospitable.


Kupang has a type of local transport bearing a unique naming, called “Diskotik Berjalan”, or mobile discotheque. It is in fact another type of public minibus, elsewhere in Indonesia known as bemo, the moniker from becak motor. The minibus is heavily decorated to attract passersby and potential passengers. Not only is it visually ‘loud’, but it is also audibly deafening in a safe and entertaining way.

The town of Kupang
The town of Kupang (Source: panoramio.com)

Do not be alarmed when you find another type of local transport in smaller cities especially in rural area like those on Savu, as bemo turns out to be a truck with two long benches in it where you can sit with no roofs whatsoever. Adventure comes with travel.


Kupang is accessible by plane or ferries. Its historical airport, El Tari was formerly known as Penfui airstrip, having first served an American pilot, Lamij Johnson, in 1928. Penfui literally means ‘bush of cornfields’, since the airstrip’s surroundings were heavily covered with cornfields.

El Tari connects western Timor Island with other large cities in Indonesia, which include:

Domestic flights:

International flights:

  • Dili, East Timor
  • Darwin, Australia

Airlines serving the city of Kupang are:

  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Sriwijaya Air
  • Lion  Airlines
  • Trigana Air
  • Riau Air
  • Pelita Air

The Airport: Angkasa Pura I, El Tari Airport.

An International seaport is found only in Kupang, called the Tenau Seaport. There are several ferries from PELNI (a national commercial shipping company). They are the KM Bukit Siguntang, KM Kelimutu, KM Sirimau, and KM Awu. Please refer to the website of PT PELNI for detailed schedules.

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