Papua New Guinea, a land of mysteries and wonder. One of the last unexplored territories left in this world. If you’re seeking the off beaten track untouched by mass tourism, look no further. No other place will you find such a diversity in bird species, culture and language. To this day there exist over 800 different languages spoken across the country. Active volcanoes, dense rainforest and hiking routes like the Kokoda Trail is some of the many things that attracts visitors to Papua New Guinea. When I told friends and family where I was going, you can imagine their reaction. Yes Papua New Guinea’s reputation precedes it, and I fully understand the concern for safety. Inter-tribal rivalry do happen in some parts of the country, but tourist and visitors are not the target. Like anywhere in the world you could become the victim of bag snatching or pickpocket thiefs. If you take sensible precautions and listen to local advice, this can easily be avoided.
Papua New Guinea is still in the early stages of development, the country is rich while the citizens are poor. You should prepare yourself for a cultural shock. The majority of people live without water and electricity, so expect modest conditions when visiting remote areas. The infrastructure is basic and the closest to public transportation you will come by, is minibuses or open trucks. Comfort and style is not a priority, neither is a set time table for departure and arrival. Outside of the main towns, there is only a few, poorly maintained roads making internal flights inevitable. The flights only leave on certain days of the week, and is weather-dependent. Delays and cancellations is not uncommon, being flexible with traveling dates will come in handy. Getting around is also difficult, and near impossible without a hired driver. There isn’t GPS, so unless you know the direction it’s advised to hire someone rather than renting and driving yourself.
The way of life in Papua New Guinea is very relaxed. Time moves differently, and Papua New Guinean’s don’t bother themselves with trivial things like material items. They wake up when the sun rises, go to the local market to exchange merchandise, and sleep when the sun sets. Children and teenagers play ball game by the water, and while we were walking around taking photographs, two boys winked us over to proudly show all the fish they managed to catch with their spear while snorkeling. People are incredibly social, and interaction is an important part of the day.
Another aspect of Papua New Guinea to be aware of, is the male dominated society. Almost everyone I met before traveling there, advised me not to travel alone as a woman. Personally I felt 100% safe while walking in the streets. I did travel together with a male friend, therefore I can’t answer what it’s like for solo female visitors. But covering up legs, and dressing modest will get you a long way. Being a woman in Papua New Guinea is hard. Domestic violence is common, and 80% of all women have experienced in some way, domestic violence. This is only the statistic of the reported cases. It’s not unheard of men having up to 5 wives, the reason behind this I don’t know. Papua New Guinea’s culture is also highly influenced by superstitious beliefs. One of those believes is that a dog is a guardian, to protect their home from evil spirits. If the dog gets sick, it’s a good thing because that means the spirit took the dog, rather than them.
One of the biggest misconception about Papua New Guinea, is that the people are cannibals. That was true, back in the day when the tribes went to war, they would eat the flesh of their dead enemy to consume their power. Today, according to our guide, the only people practicing cannibalism is people living in demonic cults. Cannibalism was made illegal in the 1950s, and the tribes stopped doing it once they learned the dangers of passing on diseases, such as Mad Cow disease.
You’ll need to get organized and plan ahead of your visit. Port Moresby, your first city of embarkation there are plenty of accommodation to choose between, consisting of modern and overpriced hotels. We stayed at Holiday Express Inn, costing 200$/night for a room with two twin beds. This was one of the cheapest accommodations available. You can also stay in in-expensive church run guesthouses with christian missionaries, but must abide by the no drinking, no cursing, no smoking rules.
Papua New Guinea is one of a kind when it comes to experiencing bird watching and diving. There are diving and birdwatching lodges, who specialize in activities to experience local culture, like a sing sing. Getting in contact with the lodges can be difficult, because many of the accommodations are not listed on hotel sites such as booking and hotels.com. The main form of communication is per email, and often through a tour operator or travel agency. While there is wifi and 3G, with Digicel and Vodaphone mobile reception through most of the country, this is extremely expensive. Maybe going incognito and just enjoying your trip, without social media, is not the worst idea. I’m sure instagram and facebook will be there when you return to civilization. We did buy each a simcard, paying around 25 USD for 2.5 GB. If you absolutely can’t go without, I would recommend buying Digicel. It had better reception than Vodaphone.
One of the amazing things about Papua New Guinea, is the different cultural shows taking place during the summer months of July and August in the highlands. The shows is a flash of color and a sensory overload, in the good way. We had the pleasure of experiencing a Sing Sing in Madang. To learn what a Sing Sing is continue reading here.
Papua New Guinea is one of those places that will tug at your heart strings, and bring out your inner explorer. I encountered some of the warmest and friendliest people I have ever met. It will make it hard for you to believe all the craziness going on. You are guaranteed a trip like nothing you’ve ever experienced before, with some of the most beautiful sunrises you ever laid your eyes on.
“Expect the unexpected, in Papua New Guinea.”
Want to know my best tips for a pain free trip to Papua New Guinea? Read my 17 things to know before visiting PNG.