Nestled between the Coral Sea and the South Pacific Ocean, Papua New Guinea is a destination that promises unparalleled adventure, captivating cultures, and landscapes so breathtaking they seem conjured from imagination. If you’re yearning to explore a land largely untouched by modern civilization, where ancient customs still hold sway, this travel guide to Papua New Guinea is your gateway to an unforgettable journey.
Regions to Explore
Covering the eastern part of the world’s second-largest island, Papua New Guinea is a land of geographical contrasts. From its coral-fringed islands and sun-kissed beaches to its rugged highlands and sprawling river systems, the country serves as a natural playground for explorers.
Climate and Best Time to Visit
Papua New Guinea’s climate varies from tropical to temperate, depending on the altitude. The best time to visit is during the dry season, from May to October, when you can explore the country’s wonders without worrying much about the rain.
Flora and Fauna
The country is a biodiversity hotspot, boasting an impressive variety of plant species and a myriad of unique animals such as tree kangaroos, cassowaries, and the elusive bird-of-paradise. From mountain rainforests to coral reefs, Papua New Guinea is a naturalist’s dream.
Culture and People
Languages and Ethnic Groups
Papua New Guinea is a linguistically diverse nation, boasting over 800 languages across various ethnic groups. The main linguistic families include Austronesian and Papuan languages. Ethnic diversity is prominent, with communities ranging from the Huli wigmen of the Highlands to the Tolai people of the Gazelle Peninsula. This rich tapestry of languages and ethnicities is a testament to the country’s incredible diversity.
Traditional Rituals and Customs
Local customs and rituals play an integral part in the life of Papua New Guineans. For instance, the Sing-sing gatherings are a celebration where tribes or villages come together to show off their distinct cultures, dances, and music. Rituals like bride price ceremonies, initiation rites, and ancestral worship are deeply rooted in many communities, offering travelers a glimpse into a world far removed from modern commercialized cultures.
Art, Music, and Dance
Papua New Guinea has a rich artistic heritage, showcased in everything from intricate carvings and elaborate masks to vibrant traditional fabrics. Music and dance are central to local culture, often serving as storytelling mediums and essential components of religious and social events. Musical instruments commonly used include Kundu drums, bamboo flutes, and shell rattles.
Festivals and Celebrations
Festivals in Papua New Guinea are a riot of color, dance, and tradition. Don’t miss the annual Goroka Show, a gathering of tribes featuring singing, dancing, and stunning costumes. Another key event is the Mask Festival in Rabaul, which celebrates the cultural significance of masks in Tolai society and other coastal communities. These festivals provide excellent opportunities for travelers to experience local culture firsthand.
Local Cuisine and Gastronomy
Food in Papua New Guinea is a blend of indigenous traditions and international influences, especially from Asia and Australia. Staple foods include sweet potatoes, rice, and sago, often accompanied by a variety of fresh fruits like bananas, papayas, and pineapples. Seafood is plentiful in coastal regions, and dishes like Mumu—food cooked with hot stones in an earth oven—are must-tries for any visitor.
Gender Roles and Society
Gender roles in Papua New Guinea can be quite traditional, especially in rural areas. Men are generally considered the heads of households, while women are primarily responsible for childcare and domestic chores. However, there is a growing emphasis on gender equality, and more women are participating in education and business. Understanding these social dynamics can enrich your travel experience and interactions with locals.
The capital city serves as the main entry point for most international travelers. Despite its urban challenges, Port Moresby has attractions that offer a glimpse into the country’s diversity. Key places to visit include the National Museum, Parliament House, and the scenic Ela Beach. The Port Moresby Nature Park is a haven for native flora and fauna and offers a peaceful respite from the city hustle.
The Sepik River
Known for its cultural richness and bio-diversity, the Sepik River is one of the world’s great river systems. The river flows through a number of provinces and offers myriad opportunities for adventure. Travelers can take a canoe journey to visit traditional villages, observe bird life, and even purchase intricate carvings directly from local artisans.
As the highest peak in Papua New Guinea, Mount Wilhelm offers a challenging yet rewarding trekking experience. At an elevation of 4,509 meters, it’s an adventurer’s paradise. Along the way, trekkers are treated to stunning vistas and have the chance to observe unique high-altitude flora and fauna.
This historical trail is a rite of passage for many Australians and offers a physically demanding yet emotionally rewarding trek. The track is rich in WWII history and provides a profound look at the hardships faced by soldiers. Along the way, trekkers pass through lush rainforests, cross fast-flowing rivers, and engage with local communities.
Often dubbed as the “prettiest town in the Pacific,” Madang is a must-visit for those who love the ocean. The area is renowned for its stunning beaches, crystal-clear waters, and remarkable coral reefs. Activities include scuba diving, snorkeling, and deep-sea fishing.
A hidden gem on the northeastern coast of Papua New Guinea, Tufi is famous for its scenic fjords, which offer excellent opportunities for diving, kayaking, and hiking. The fjords are a result of ancient volcanic activities and are one of the few places in the world where you can experience fjord diving.
Once a thriving city before being devastated by a volcanic eruption, Rabaul is now a popular destination for its natural harbor, Japanese WWII relics, and hot springs. The area is also known for its Mask Festival, where various cultural groups showcase their unique masks and perform traditional dances.
The Trobriand Islands
Known as the “Islands of Love,” the Trobriand Islands are famous for their unique matrilineal culture, yam festivals, and intricate crafts. The islands offer a glimpse into a way of life that has remained largely unchanged for centuries, making them a fascinating destination for cultural enthusiasts.
These popular destinations within Papua New Guinea each offer a unique slice of what makes this country so captivating, from its varied landscapes and outdoor adventures to its rich history and diverse cultures.
Scuba Diving in Tufi
Tufi is not just known for its scenic fjords but also for its exceptional diving experiences. The underwater world here is as rich and diverse as the culture above ground. Besides the beautiful coral formations, you also get the chance to explore sunken WWII aircraft and ships.
Trekking the Kokoda Track
For those who want a blend of history and physical endurance, trekking the Kokoda Track is a fulfilling adventure. This 60-mile trail is not for the faint-hearted but rewards you with a sense of accomplishment and a deeper understanding of WWII history.
River Rafting on the Watut River
For adrenaline junkies, the Watut River offers one of the best white-water rafting experiences in the world. Navigate through intense rapids, surrounded by lush tropical rainforests and towering limestone cliffs.
Bird Watching in Varirata National Park
If you’re an ornithology enthusiast, Varirata National Park is your paradise. The park is home to many indigenous species including the Raggiana bird-of-paradise, Papua New Guinea’s national bird. Bird watching tours are available to guide you through the best spots.
Mountaineering in the Owen Stanley Range
If conquering peaks is your form of adventure, the Owen Stanley Range offers various mountains that provide challenging ascents. Besides Mount Wilhelm, there are other peaks like Mount Victoria and Mount Giluwe which offer different levels of challenges for mountaineers.
Caving in the Nakanai Mountains
The Nakanai Mountains are home to some of the world’s most extensive cave systems. Spelunking opportunities here offer a journey into a mysterious underworld of unique rock formations and subterranean rivers.
Surfing in Vanimo
The coastline near Vanimo is increasingly becoming popular among surfers for its consistent waves and uncrowded beaches. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned surfer, Vanimo has something to offer.
Canoeing in the Sepik River
A more leisurely yet equally adventurous activity is to canoe along the Sepik River. Paddle through calm stretches of water, passing by traditional villages and enjoying the tranquility of nature.
Snorkeling in Milne Bay
The clear waters of Milne Bay are teeming with colorful marine life and stunning coral formations, making it a perfect spot for snorkeling. The bay is often considered one of the world’s top underwater realms.
Cultural Trekking in the Highlands
Experience local culture by participating in a trek that takes you through various villages in the Highlands. Learn traditional farming methods, witness age-old ceremonies, and be part of a local Sing-sing.
Adventure activities in Papua New Guinea are as diverse as the country itself, catering to a wide range of interests and skill levels. From water sports and mountain climbing to wildlife observation and cultural immersions, the possibilities for adventure are endless.
One of the first things to note is that most visitors will require a visa to enter Papua New Guinea. The type of visa you need depends on the purpose and duration of your visit, so it’s important to check the latest requirements from official sources.
Currency and Payment Methods
The official currency in Papua New Guinea is the Kina. While credit and debit cards are accepted in major cities and towns, it’s advisable to carry enough cash when venturing into rural or remote areas. ATMs are not as widespread as in other countries, so plan accordingly.
Kina current exchange rates
- 100 PGK = $26.78 or $1 = 3.73 Kina
- 100 PGK = €24.60 or €1 = 4.06 Kina
- 100 PGK = 21.09 British Pounds
- 100 PGK = 40.17 Australian Dollar
- 100 PGK = 36.15 Canadian Dollar
- 100 PGK = 279.38 Swedish Krona
- 100 PGK = 106.44 Polish Zloty
- 100 PGK = 597.33 Czech Koruna
- 100 PGK = 34,655.41 South Korean Won
- 100 PGK = 189.40 Chinese Yuan
- 100 PGK = 3,932.22 Japanese Yen
Health and Safety
It’s important to take necessary vaccinations and adhere to local health advisories, especially for diseases like malaria. Additionally, travelers are advised to exercise caution, particularly in certain areas where crime rates may be higher. Always consult local advice and remain aware of your surroundings.
Local Customs and Etiquette
Understanding the local customs can go a long way in enriching your travel experience. In many communities, it’s customary to ask for permission before taking photos. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with basic local phrases and greetings to show respect.
Public transportation options are limited, especially outside of Port Moresby. For greater flexibility, consider renting a car or using local airlines for longer distances. Boat travel is another option for reaching some of the more remote islands.
Accommodation options range from luxury resorts to budget guesthouses. It’s advisable to book in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons and around major festivals.
Weather and Clothing
Papua New Guinea has a tropical climate, so lightweight, breathable clothing is advisable. If you plan on trekking in the Highlands, however, be prepared for cooler temperatures and pack accordingly.
Tipping and Gratuities
Tipping is not a common practice in Papua New Guinea, but it is generally appreciated. In tourist-focused establishments, a service charge may be added to your bill.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit is during the dry season, which typically runs from May to October. This period offers more favorable weather conditions for outdoor activities and exploration.
Connectivity and Communication
While mobile coverage is expanding, it is not consistent throughout the country. Internet services are available but can be slow or unreliable, especially in remote areas.
- Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority – The official tourism site offering comprehensive travel guides, itineraries, and essential visitor information.
- Lonely Planet – Papua New Guinea – A trusted resource for travel tips, accommodations, and must-visit places in Papua New Guinea.
- TripAdvisor – Papua New Guinea – Offers reviews on hotels, attractions, and restaurants, helping you make better travel choices.
- CDC Travel Advice for Papua New Guinea – Provides essential health and vaccination guidelines for travelers.
- XE.com for Currency Conversion – Handy for real-time currency conversion from your currency to Papua New Guinea Kina.
- Skyscanner – A useful tool for finding the best flight deals to and within Papua New Guinea.
- Booking.com – Papua New Guinea – Offers a wide range of accommodations from luxury resorts to budget-friendly hotels.
- Rough Guides – Papua New Guinea – Provides an alternative travel guide, focusing on off-the-beaten-path experiences.
- World Nomads – Recommended for travel insurance that covers a range of adventure activities.
- WikiTravel – Papua New Guinea – A crowd-sourced travel guide providing tips on culture, destinations, and local customs.
Papua New Guinea is a destination that promises adventure, culture, and unforgettable natural beauty. From the vibrant city of Port Moresby to the serene fjords of Tufi, and from the challenging peaks of the Owen Stanley Range to the cultural richness of the Sepik River, this country offers a unique blend of experiences. Whether you’re an adventurer, a history buff, or a nature lover, Papua New Guinea has something for everyone.