Papua New Guinea is a strange mix of the dazzling and the difficult; the thrilling and the chilling—all served up on a jagged, mountainous landscape that exudes nonchalant awesomeness and raw beauty. From stories of cannibals that serve human flesh for dinner to some creepily weird cultural practices, Papua New Guinea is a truly fascinating travel destination. So, apart from nature in its imposing best, one will enjoy sampling interesting aspects of tribal living in Papua New Guinea.
In this article, we reveal what makes this deeply forested country so mysteriously attractive yet frustratingly difficult.
What To Know About Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is a big island country, only second in size to Greenland. At 317, 150 square miles, it’s larger than Texas by an impressive 55, 236 square miles—that Illinois would still snugly fit in together with the Sunshine State. In Europe, Papua New Guinea is roughly the size of the United Kingdom, France, and Switzerland combined. Floating around the mainland are up to 600 beautiful islands that vary in size. The country is Australia’s closest neighbor to the north, where the Coral Sea stands in between them. Across the Torres Strait, just 5 kilometers separate the two neighbors. On the eastern side, the Solomon Islands, another fine travel destination, casts a distant gaze. When Portuguese sailor Jorge de Meneses set foot in the country in the 16th century, he was fascinated by the hairy people he saw. Subsequently, he called the region “Ilhas dos Papuas,”— Portuguese for “land of fuzzy-haired people.”
Twenty years later, in those heady days of European naval contests, Spanish navigators would follow suit. The dark-skinned people struck them as similar to the Africans they had earlier seen in Guinea on the west coast of the African continent. The Spaniards would call the place “New Guinea.” Joining the two names would satisfy the two European rivals and make everyone happy. Today, Papua New Guinea technically refers to the eastern side of the mainland even if colloquially the whole island is usually meant. The western side comprises two Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.
Why Papua New Guinea Is An Interesting Travel Destination
If there was nothing else to attract visitors to Papua New Guinea, the landscape itself would be enough. Deep, twisty gorges; tall, rugged mountains, many active volcanoes; thread-narrow ridge lines; stunning, isolated beaches covered with powder-soft sand, among others—provide just the ideal, off-the-beaten-track adventure that every traveler should experience. For a traveler who’s into mountains and trekking, Mt. Wilhelm, the highest and most accessible, will just have to be on the itinerary. While the trek can be hard, the views around are to die for. And when finally at the top, the vistas down and around are quite jaw-dropping. Kokoda Trail, where the Allied Forces eventually defeated the Japanese, is another fine option— especially for trekking nerds. For Australians, it’s a rite of passage. Yet this is just the tip of the iceberg. Papua New Guinea is ferociously mountainous. At 978 mountains, Papua New Guinea is literally a land of a thousand hills.
- Where To Stay For A Hike At Mt. Wilhelm: —Stay at Betty’s Lodge, a 4-hour drive from Mt. Hagen City in the north. The best way to get to Mt. Hagen is to fly from Port Morseby, the country’s capital.
But it’s not all rugged or craggy. Papua New Guinea has an extensive coastline stretching over 5,000 kilometers in length. Along this picturesque trail are some ridiculously gorgeous beaches. The most attractive part is that these stunning, isolated beaches—are almost always uncrowded—offering travelers a unique exclusive experience. Among these, are Panasia Island in the Louisiade Archipelago, fringed by a sea of white, powder-soft sand—and Yule Island in the country’s Central Province, known for its cool, rustic ambiance. For water sports, the city of Madang’ on the north coast is a water wonderland. But Kimbe Bay in West New Britain Province is just as thrilling. For forest bathing in pin-drop silence, Papua New Guinea is almost all forest. The country is the 10th on the planet for the percentage of land surface area covered by trees some of which are more than 50 meters in height. The Sepik River, the country’s largest and wildest—and a hundred others— cuts loudly through the dense forests and verdant valleys.
While not exactly a Babel, Papua New Guinea is the most linguistically diverse country on earth. It’s home to nearly a thousand languages, most of which, like some of her wildlife, are now endangered. This diversity in language naturally comes with shades of fascinating cultures— ranging from the mysterious to the downright creepy. And no, while the Korowai tribe ate human flesh until recently, cannibalism is now very much on its deathbed.
Yet for all it’s worth, Papua New Guinea is a difficult location. The roads are rough and hard, and in many places, non-existent. The terrain hovers somewhere between risky and extremely dangerous. That’s the reason most of the travel is by air, which, to budget travelers, may be out of reach. And living or staying in Port Morseby, is like playing Russian roulette with one’s life. The country is the most crime-prone in the world after Venezuela. Electricity connection is also extremely low as only 13% are connected to the power grid. The saving grace is that the internet connection is fairly good.
For all these, the chance that one will experience a single incidence of crime while on a visit to Papua New Guinea is extremely low. Still, it’s a fine piece of advice to say clear of the capital.