Papua New Guinea feels like one of the last untouched places in the world. Guaranteed you’ll be hard pushed to find someone who’s been, let alone can tell you about travelling there, which makes it all the more attractive.
I wanted to put together this Papua New Guinea travel guide to help anyone who’s thinking of travelling to this wonderful country in the future.
I went one September for two weeks and had a truly eye opening and interesting time. I had no preconceptions and knew very little about the country before I went.
It’s slightly larger than California, if you’re looking for some kind of reference for its size.
Papua New Guinea might seem like a million miles away but if you’re in Australia, and up in Darwin, in the Northern Territory, then it’s an 11-hour direct flight to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea’s capital city. Or, even better, it’s just six hours from Singapore. Which is the flight I took, from England and stopping over there.
There are over six million people living in Papua New Guinea, speaking over 800 indigenous languages between them, with hundreds of different beliefs and ways of life. This means there’s no one way of doing things in Papua New Guinea – delve deeper and you’ll see that even just one village varies greatly from the next, never mind province.
The country is made up of 4 regions, with 20 provinces, that aren’t particularly well connected. Travel to Papua New Guinea and you’ll be travelling around by air most of the time, but where to go?
Where to go in Papua New Guinea
Don’t stay in Port Moresby is the short answer for this Papua New Guinea travel guide. To really get out and experience Papua New Guinea you need to either aim high, and get yourself up in the mountains, or go low, and head to the coast to find some of the best scuba diving in the world.
My top recommendations for where to go in Papua New Guinea would be:
– Tari or Mount Hagen, for the cultural villages.
– Hoskins, for the scuba diving
– Tufi, for diving, beaches, fishing and culture
– Sepik River, for tropical wilderness living
– Kokoda Trail, for hiking
I managed to go to the first three when I was in Papua New Guinea. For more tips on what you need to know before travelling to Papua New Guinea, click the link.
Get your visas before you go
Make sure you have all your visas sorted for travel to Papua New Guinea if you’re stopping off anywhere, and for entry into the country. Visa restrictions change all the time so you can check Byevisa for updates, and your local government travel site too.
What to do in Papua New Guinea
Research ‘Papua New Guinea’ online and you’re bound to see pictures of the village tribes adorned with colourful costumes, and happy Papua New Guineans bouncing to the sound of the drums. I saw these people, I even recognise some of them from the pics, and I know where to find them.
This isn’t all there is to do in Papua New Guinea though…
Tari and Mount Hagen
Head to Tari, or Mount Hagen, and sign yourself up for a cultural village tour in among the mountainous terrain. It’s the only way to gain the unique access to see how the villagers live, and what life in Papua New Guinea is really like.
I visited the Sili Mului Women and saw them dance, I watched the Skeleton Boys of Mount Hagen do their tribal dance and found out about the every day and funeral rights of the women in the area through roleplay in the village. Not many is the answer.
Make sure to go to a Sing Sing, where locals dress in elaborate skirts and headdresses and dance to the beat of the drum. In Tari I met the Huli Wigmen – famous for the fact that their sole purpose in life is to grow their hair and then sell it to make wigs. Everything they do is around getting their hair long and healthy enough for people to want to pay for it.
The area is genuinely fascinating and so different to anywhere else I’ve ever been in the world. I checked to see if these ‘shows’ were just a super touristy thing that they put on for tourists. Turns out it’s hammed up a bit for us, but even just a few years ago it was a way of life. Now it’s perfectly normal to see one tribesman all dressed up, next to another in standard tshirt and shorts.
In Mount Hagen you can also climb Mount Wilhelm, the highest mountain in Papua New Guinea.
Hoskins in Papua New Guinea
In Hoskins it’s all about the water. You can take a ride to the natural Hot Springs in among the palm trees, hike a volcano or go scuba diving down near the Walindi Resort. Even just the snorkelling here will be among the best you’ve ever done.
The amount of palm trees here is overwhelming – take a drive out to the plantations and see how the island keeps the palm oil business afloat. Keep an eye out for the money houses with the chutes in the roof – they catch the money dropped by helicopters to distribute in the village.
Visit Tufi in Papua New Guinea
I didn’t actually go to Tufi when I went to Papua New Guinea in September 2017, but everywhere I went people told me how it was the best place in Papua New Guinea.
Apparently it’s a microcosm of everything that makes PNG so great – the culture, the beaches, the forests, the diving. So, if you’re going to go to Papua New Guinea I’d definitely recommend it. And let me know what it’s like!
Sepik River in Papua New Guinea
Another spot I didn’t quite have time for on my two-week Papua New Guinea trip is the Sepik River. Located in the north of the country it’s Papua New Guinea’s longest river and the banks are home to thousands of species and animals, and humans too.
It’s a fascinating place to learn more about what life is like for Papua New Guinea’s locals, and to spot some of the wildlife and fauna you’d never see anywhere else. The Sepik River is basically Papua New Guinea’s Amazon. Join a boat trip to really get the most from what you can see there.
Walking the Kokoda Trail
You can’t talk about things to do in Papua New Guinea without mentioning the Kokoda Trail. It’s super popular for Australians, eager to hike in their ancestors’ footsteps in World War II. The track stretches through the Owen Stanley Mountain Range near Port Moresby and is a chance for the Ozzies to pay their respects to those who defended Australia from the Japanese.
Throughout Papua New Guinea old fighter jets lay wrecked and washed up in the rainforests, while underwater divers can investigate biologically rich reefs surrounding the Second World War ship and plane wrecks. Ask around locally to find your nearest one.
Click for more articles on Papua New Guinea
What you’ll eat in Papua New Guinea
It’s all about the local produce when you travel to PNG, which basically amounts to sweet potatoes and veggies, along with rice and some sort of fish or meat. There are local beers available to wash it down – but don’t drink in public as booze is restricted here thanks to local problems with over consumption.
Don’t be scared if you see locals with bloody red mouths, they’re following the local tradition of chewing on the betel nut. The colour from the nut turns your saliva crimson and your teeth too. Looks terrifying but the locals love it.
Make sure you’ve packed well for your trip, with this guide to packing for Papua New Guinea. You might want to include a few snacks if you like your sugary treats.
Accommodation in Papua New Guinea
Accommodation is limited in Papua New Guinea – it’s one of the least developed countries in the world.
You might have to pay a little extra than you’re used to for somewhere, seeing as they’re not really totally set up for the budget traveller yet. Others recommend staying in locals’ houses as you travel, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable unless I had at least a Trip Advisor review to go off. Hostels aren’t to be seen quite yet but what you spend on a bed in a hotel, you’ll save on transport and food.
Vlog about Papua New Guinea
Watch my video on Papua New Guinea to learn more
Why go to Papua New Guinea?
Visiting Papua New Guinea isn’t your standard, straight up, easy trip. It’s going to require a bit of determination and resilience to visit such an incredible place as yet mostly untouched by mass tourism. I spent ten days in Papua New Guinea, which was actually a two-week trip but the flights from England take up a lot of time either side.
You need to plan before you go, be prepared for long journeys on dirt tracks, accept that you might not be understood or understand, and be ready for a culture shock. Make sure you read my advice for arriving into Papua New Guinea before you leave your house – knowledge is power.
Papua New Guinea is an incredibly poor country with many people living way under the poverty line. As you’re shown around the villages of Tari and Mount Hagen you’ll see just how basic the amenities there are.
One of the things that really shocked me about Papua New Guinea was the treatment of women. They’re expected to do all the work, in grass skirts, aren’t allowed to get married following the death of a husband, have to sit in an outhouse with no contact with their children when they’re on their period and they’re also expected to keep the house in order and raise the children too.
It was difficult to understand the country, compared to the UK I’d left behind. But fascinating to see how media and Western values had failed to affect it. If you want to know more about what Papua New Guinea is like, click this link.
Travelling to Papua New Guinea
The unique tribal cultures, the lush landscape, the 700 bird species, the wonder of the active volcanoes, the hundreds of islands and the white sand beaches, all in one country though, mean it’s an absolute travel bucket list item.
You won’t find many museums and iconic buildings here – being in Papua New Guinea is all about learning from the cultures, the wildlife and the Great Outdoors.
I hope you have a wonderful time visiting Papua New Guinea. It really is one of the most fascinating and memorable places I’ve ever been.