Papua New Guinea Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Papua New Guinea, often referred to as PNG, is a captivating and culturally rich destination that offers a truly unique travel experience. Situated in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, it is known for its pristine natural beauty, diverse landscapes, and an unparalleled diversity of indigenous cultures. From lush rainforests and towering mountains to vibrant coral reefs, this country is a haven for adventure seekers, nature enthusiasts, and those seeking an authentic cultural encounter. Whether you’re exploring the highlands, diving in the crystal-clear waters, or immersing yourself in traditional customs, Papua New Guinea promises a journey like no other.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 📅

The best time to visit Papua New Guinea as a tourist largely depends on your preferences for weather and the specific activities you wish to pursue. Papua New Guinea experiences a tropical climate with distinct wet and dry seasons. Here are the two primary seasons to consider:

  1. Dry Season (June to September): This is generally the best time to visit Papua New Guinea for most tourists. The weather is drier and more predictable, making it ideal for outdoor activities, cultural festivals, and wildlife viewing. The months of June to September offer pleasant temperatures and less rainfall, which is perfect for trekking, diving, and exploring the country.
  2. Wet Season (December to March): The wet season brings heavy rainfall and higher humidity, which can make travel more challenging, especially in more remote areas. However, this season can still be suitable for certain activities. The wet season is a great time for birdwatching, as many species are more active during this time. Plus, the landscapes are lush and green. Just be prepared for occasional downpours and potential travel disruptions.

Keep in mind that Papua New Guinea is a diverse country with varying microclimates, so the weather can differ from one region to another. If you plan to visit specific areas or attend cultural festivals, it’s a good idea to research the climate and local conditions for those locations. Additionally, note that some festivals, like the Goroka Show, take place during the dry season and offer a unique cultural experience.

Before you travel, check for any travel advisories and verify entry requirements and visa regulations, as these can change. Ultimately, the best time to visit Papua New Guinea depends on your interests and what you hope to experience during your journey.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Getting around Papua New Guinea as a tourist can be an adventure in itself due to its rugged terrain and diverse landscapes. Here are the primary ways to navigate the country:

  1. Domestic Flights: Due to the country’s challenging terrain and the vast distances between regions, domestic flights are the most efficient way to get around. Airlines like Air Niugini and PNG Air operate scheduled flights between major cities and towns. Be prepared for occasional flight delays or cancellations, especially during bad weather.
  2. Boat and Canoe: In coastal regions and along rivers, water transport is common. Canoes and small boats provide access to remote villages and islands. Additionally, there are larger ferries that operate between some islands and the mainland.
  3. Road Travel: Road infrastructure is limited, and the quality of roads can vary widely. In urban areas like Port Moresby and Lae, you’ll find paved roads, but many rural areas have unpaved or dirt roads. It’s essential to use reliable transportation services, as well as 4WD vehicles for exploring remote areas. Road travel can be challenging, so be prepared for long and bumpy journeys.
  4. Public Transportation: In cities like Port Moresby and Lae, public buses and minivans provide a budget-friendly way to get around. These are known as “PMVs” (Public Motor Vehicles). However, they can be crowded and not always the most comfortable option.
  5. Walking and Hiking: In many remote regions and villages, walking and trekking are common modes of transportation. Trekking trails, such as the famous Kokoda Track, provide opportunities to explore the country’s natural beauty.
  6. Guided Tours: For cultural and adventure experiences, guided tours can be an excellent way to explore Papua New Guinea. Local guides are knowledgeable about the terrain, culture, and traditions. Trekking and diving tours are particularly popular.
  7. Helicopter: Helicopter services are available for reaching remote areas, and they offer a convenient and scenic way to access difficult-to-reach destinations.
  8. Car Rental: In urban areas, car rental agencies operate, but it’s important to consider the condition of the roads, your driving experience, and security when opting for this mode of transportation.

When traveling within Papua New Guinea, it’s crucial to plan ahead, have flexibility in your schedule to account for potential delays, and be prepared for adventurous journeys. Always check the latest travel advisories and the condition of roads and flights before embarking on your travels. Additionally, consult with locals and tour operators for the most up-to-date information on transportation options.

What’s the Official Language?

Papua New Guinea is an incredibly linguistically diverse country, with over 800 indigenous languages spoken. However, English is the country’s official language and is widely used in government, education, and business. Here are a few English words and phrases that can be helpful for tourists:

  1. Hello – Used to greet people.
  2. Thank you – A polite way to express gratitude.
  3. Yes – Used to affirm or agree.
  4. No – Used to negate or disagree.
  5. Good morning – A common greeting in the early part of the day.
  6. Good afternoon – A polite greeting for the afternoon.
  7. Good evening – Used to greet people in the evening.
  8. Please – A polite way to make a request.
  9. Excuse me – Used to get someone’s attention or when apologizing.
  10. How much is this? – Useful for asking about prices.
  11. Where is the bathroom? – Important for locating facilities.
  12. I need help – To seek assistance.
  13. Water – Useful for requesting water in restaurants.
  14. Food – For asking about or ordering meals.
  15. I don’t understand – Helpful when you’re having trouble communicating.
  16. Help – To call for assistance in emergencies.

While English is widely understood, especially in urban areas, knowing a few local phrases in Tok Pisin, one of the country’s creole languages, can be appreciated by locals. Here are a couple of basic Tok Pisin phrases:

  1. Mi likim yu – “I like you” (a common way to say hello)
  2. Tankyu tru – “Thank you very much”
  3. Mi no save – “I don’t know”
  4. Bagarap – “Broken” or “damaged”
  5. Where? – “Where is it?”

Learning a few phrases in the local language can enhance your travel experience and make interactions with locals even more rewarding. However, don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the pronunciation perfect; Papua New Guineans are generally welcoming and appreciative of tourists who make an effort to engage with their culture.

Where to Stay? 🏨

In Papua New Guinea, you’ll find a range of accommodation options to suit various preferences and budgets, from luxury hotels to budget guesthouses. Here are some of the best places to stay in popular tourist destinations:

  1. Port Moresby (National Capital District):
    • Hilton Port Moresby: A luxury hotel with modern amenities and scenic views.
    • Gateway Hotel: Offers comfortable accommodations and is conveniently located near the airport.
    • Ela Beach Hotel: Provides a more affordable option while still offering a pleasant stay.
  2. Lae (Morobe Province):
    • Laean Coast Hotel: A well-regarded hotel with comfortable rooms.
    • Melanesian Hotel: Offers a range of accommodations, from standard rooms to suites.
  3. Madang (Madang Province):
    • Madang Resort Hotel: A top choice in this coastal town, offering a mix of rooms and bungalows.
    • Jais Aben Resort: A more budget-friendly option with lovely sea views.
  4. Goroka (Eastern Highlands Province):
    • Bird of Paradise Hotel: One of the best hotels in the highlands with comfortable rooms and beautiful surroundings.
    • Pacific Gardens Hotel: Offers a tranquil setting and quality service.
  5. Mount Hagen (Western Highlands Province):
    • Highlander Hotel: A popular choice in this region, offering a comfortable stay.
    • Rondon Ridge Lodge: A bit more remote but ideal for nature enthusiasts with excellent views.
  6. Tari (Hela Province):
    • Tari Gap Lodge: A well-regarded lodge with stunning views of the Tari Valley.
    • Ambua Lodge: An eco-friendly option offering a unique cultural experience.
  7. Kokopo/Rabaul (East New Britain Province):
    • Kokopo Beach Bungalow Resort: Offers overwater bungalows and a relaxed atmosphere.
    • Gazelle International Hotel: Located in Rabaul, providing comfortable accommodations.
  8. Kimbe (West New Britain Province):
    • Walindi Plantation Resort: Ideal for divers, this resort offers bungalows and access to pristine reefs.
  9. Alotau (Milne Bay Province):
    • Masurina Lodge: A popular choice with comfortable rooms.
    • Tawali Resort: A luxury option ideal for divers.
  10. Islands and Remote Areas:
    • On remote islands or in less-visited areas, accommodations may be limited. Many places offer guesthouses or smaller lodges, often run by locals.

Keep in mind that Papua New Guinea is a unique travel destination, and accommodations can be quite different from what you may be accustomed to in more developed countries. It’s advisable to book in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons or for well-known events like the Goroka Show. Additionally, always check the latest travel advisories and local conditions before planning your stay.

What to Eat? 🍽️

Papua New Guinea offers a unique culinary experience, with a focus on fresh and locally sourced ingredients. Here are some must-try foods in Papua New Guinea:

  1. Kaukau: This is the local word for sweet potato, and it’s a staple in the PNG diet. You’ll find it served in various forms, from roasted to mashed, and it’s often used as a side dish or in stews.
  2. Sago: Sago is a starchy substance extracted from the pith of various palm trees. It’s a fundamental food source for many indigenous communities in PNG and is typically prepared into a jelly-like consistency.
  3. Mumu: Mumu is a traditional cooking method where food, often a mix of meat, vegetables, and sweet potatoes, is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked underground in a pit with hot stones.
  4. Coconut Cream: Coconut cream is a common ingredient in PNG cuisine and is used to make creamy sauces, soups, and desserts. It’s often freshly extracted from coconuts.
  5. Taro: Taro is a root vegetable similar to yam and is often used in stews and puddings. It’s a hearty and nutritious staple.
  6. Bilum: Bilum is not a food but rather a traditional woven bag that many locals use to carry food and produce. They make for unique souvenirs and cultural items to explore.
  7. Seafood: Being surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, seafood is abundant in PNG. Try fresh fish, crabs, lobsters, and prawns, often prepared with coconut cream and spices.
  8. Saksak: Saksak is a dessert made from sago and banana, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked. It’s sweet and sticky, resembling a pudding.
  9. Bougainville Chicken: This dish involves grilling or roasting chicken with spices and is often accompanied by vegetables.
  10. Green Vegetables: Fresh greens like spinach, pak choi, and ferns are commonly used in PNG dishes and make for a healthy addition to your meals.
  11. Pawpaw (Papaya): Ripe papaya is a popular tropical fruit in PNG, often enjoyed as a snack or for breakfast.
  12. Papua New Guinean Coffee: PNG produces high-quality coffee beans, and trying a cup of local coffee is a must for coffee enthusiasts.
  13. Betel Nut: Betel nut is not a food but a cultural practice. Some locals chew betel nut with mustard fruit to produce a mild stimulant effect. You may be offered this by locals, but it’s not a must-try for tourists due to its health implications.

While trying local dishes is a rewarding part of your travel experience in Papua New Guinea, it’s important to be mindful of food safety and hygiene, especially when consuming street food or in more remote areas. Additionally, respecting local customs and traditions when sharing meals with communities is essential for a culturally sensitive experience.

What to See? 🔍

Papua New Guinea offers a wealth of natural beauty, cultural diversity, and unique attractions for tourists. Here are some must-see places in PNG:

  1. Kokoda Track: This historic trail in the Owen Stanley Range is famous for its World War II significance and is a popular trekking destination for hikers.
  2. Baining Mountains (East New Britain): The Baining Mountains are known for their stunning landscapes, traditional villages, and unique fire dance ceremonies.
  3. Mount Hagen (Western Highlands): This area offers vibrant cultural experiences, including the Mount Hagen Cultural Show, one of PNG’s largest and most famous cultural festivals.
  4. Tufi: Tufi is a paradise for divers and snorkelers with its crystal-clear waters and vibrant coral reefs.
  5. Goroka (Eastern Highlands): Home to the annual Goroka Show, this region provides a unique opportunity to witness diverse cultural traditions.
  6. Sepik River: Explore the Sepik River on a boat and visit traditional villages known for their intricate wooden carvings and artifacts.
  7. Rabaul and Kokopo (East New Britain): These towns offer beautiful beaches, water activities, and the chance to explore the ruins of Rabaul, destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1994.
  8. Alotau (Milne Bay): Discover Milne Bay’s pristine underwater world, which is perfect for diving and snorkeling, and visit the scenic Tawali Resort.
  9. Lake Kutubu (Southern Highlands): This picturesque lake is surrounded by traditional villages and offers a serene setting for exploration.
  10. Tari (Hela): Tari is the gateway to the Tari Valley, known for its stunning scenery, birdwatching opportunities, and cultural encounters with the Huli people.
  11. Madang: This coastal town boasts natural beauty, including volcanic islands, lush rainforests, and coral reefs, making it a prime destination for diving, snorkeling, and outdoor adventures.
  12. Port Moresby: As the capital city, Port Moresby is a central hub for exploring PNG. You can visit the National Museum and Art Gallery, Parliament House, and Ela Beach.
  13. Loloata Island: Located near Port Moresby, Loloata Island offers beautiful beaches, clear waters, and is a great spot for diving and relaxation.
  14. Kimbe (West New Britain): Kimbe Bay is renowned for its pristine reefs, making it a top destination for diving and snorkeling.
  15. Mount Wilhelm (Chimbu): Papua New Guinea’s highest peak offers breathtaking views and is an excellent trekking destination for adventure enthusiasts.
  16. Rondon Ridge (Western Highlands): This lodge offers a tranquil escape with panoramic views of the Wahgi Valley.
  17. Enga Province: Known for its unique tribal cultures, Enga is an excellent place to experience traditional customs and rituals.

Papua New Guinea’s diverse landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and warm hospitality make it an unforgettable destination for travelers. When exploring these must-see places, it’s essential to be respectful of local customs and traditions and follow any guidelines set by local communities.

What to Do? 📸

Papua New Guinea offers a wide range of activities and experiences for tourists. Here are some must-do things when visiting this diverse and culturally rich country:

  1. Trek the Kokoda Track: Embark on a historic journey by trekking the Kokoda Track, retracing the steps of World War II soldiers. The trail offers a challenging and immersive experience in the stunning Owen Stanley Range.
  2. Attend a Cultural Festival: Papua New Guinea is renowned for its colorful and diverse cultural festivals, such as the Goroka Show and the Mount Hagen Cultural Show. These events provide an opportunity to witness traditional dances, rituals, and vibrant costumes.
  3. Explore the Sepik River: Take a boat trip along the Sepik River to visit remote villages known for their elaborate wood carvings, unique art, and distinctive customs.
  4. Dive and Snorkel: PNG boasts some of the world’s best diving and snorkeling spots. Explore vibrant coral reefs, shipwrecks, and marine life in locations like Tufi, Kimbe Bay, and Milne Bay.
  5. Visit the National Museum and Art Gallery: In Port Moresby, explore the country’s rich cultural heritage, history, and diverse art collections. It’s a great place to learn about PNG’s many indigenous groups.
  6. Hike in the Highlands: The highlands of Papua New Guinea offer incredible hiking opportunities, from the Mount Wilhelm trek to the Tari Valley hikes. These experiences provide stunning mountain views and encounters with indigenous communities.
  7. Birdwatching: PNG is a paradise for birdwatchers, with over 700 bird species, many of which are unique to the region. Engage in birdwatching tours in places like Varirata National Park and Ambua Lodge.
  8. Witness the Baining Fire Dance: In East New Britain, experience the traditional Baining Fire Dance, a mesmerizing and mysterious cultural ritual performed by the Baining people.
  9. Stay in a Traditional Village: To gain an authentic cultural experience, consider staying in a local village, participating in daily activities, and learning about the customs and way of life of indigenous communities.
  10. Explore Madang: Enjoy outdoor adventures in Madang, including diving, snorkeling, and visiting volcanic islands. The scenic landscapes offer ample opportunities for exploration.
  11. Dine on Local Cuisine: Sample traditional PNG dishes, including kaukau (sweet potato), taro, and fresh seafood. Don’t miss trying a mumu, a traditional cooking method.
  12. Witness Ancient Traditions: Engage with indigenous communities to witness age-old customs and traditions, such as sing-sings (traditional performances), storytelling, and traditional medicine practices.
  13. Experience Island Life: Visit the islands of PNG, including the Trobriand Islands and New Ireland, to experience island culture, relaxation, and water activities.
  14. Photography: The stunning landscapes and vibrant cultural events provide excellent opportunities for photography. Always ask for permission before taking photos of people.
  15. Relax and Unwind: PNG offers plenty of tranquil spots to relax and unwind. Choose an island resort or a remote lodge for a peaceful getaway.
  16. Support Local Artisans: Purchase traditional crafts and artwork from local artisans, including bilum bags, wood carvings, and intricate masks.

While Papua New Guinea offers incredible experiences, it’s essential to be culturally sensitive, respect local customs, and ask for permission before taking photos, especially in rural areas. Engaging with locals in a respectful and meaningful way enhances your travel experience.

Culture and Safety 🦺

When traveling to Papua New Guinea (PNG) as a tourist, it’s important to be aware of the country’s diverse culture and take steps to ensure your safety. Here are some cultural and safety considerations for your trip:

Cultural Considerations:

  1. Respect Local Customs: PNG is incredibly culturally diverse, with over 800 indigenous languages and various customs and traditions. It’s essential to be respectful and open to learning about the local culture. Ask for permission before taking photos, as some communities may find it offensive.
  2. Dress Modestly: In many parts of PNG, modest clothing is appreciated. When visiting villages and communities, it’s advisable to wear clothing that covers shoulders and knees.
  3. Greeting Customs: Greetings are important in PNG. Be prepared to shake hands and exchange pleasantries when meeting locals. Learning a few basic greetings in Tok Pisin or the local language can go a long way in building rapport.
  4. Traditional Medicine: Traditional medicine is still widely practiced in PNG. While it’s not a replacement for professional medical care, some locals may use traditional remedies. Be open to learning about these practices.
  5. Paying for Services: Be prepared to offer small gifts, such as money or items like soap, to locals who may assist you during your visit. This is a common practice in many communities.
  6. Community Stays: Staying in local villages can be an incredibly enriching experience, but it’s important to respect the rules and customs of the community. Always follow the guidance of your hosts.

Safety Considerations:

  1. Travel Advisories: Before your trip, check for the latest travel advisories and updates from your government and the local authorities in PNG. This information can provide important safety guidelines.
  2. Health Precautions: Ensure you are up to date with vaccinations, including for diseases like malaria and hepatitis. Consider purchasing travel insurance that covers medical emergencies.
  3. Safety in Port Moresby: Port Moresby, the capital city, has areas with high crime rates. Be cautious when walking in the city and consider using secure transportation, especially after dark. Avoid displaying valuable items.
  4. Transportation Safety: Domestic flights are the safest way to travel between regions. Road conditions can be challenging, so choose reliable transportation options, and use 4WD vehicles in remote areas.
  5. Infectious Diseases: Be aware of the risk of infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis. Take necessary precautions to avoid exposure, including wearing masks if needed.
  6. Nature and Wildlife: Respect local wildlife and follow guidance from guides when engaging in outdoor activities. Some animals can be dangerous, and some plants may cause skin irritations.
  7. Emergency Services: Familiarize yourself with local emergency numbers and the location of the nearest hospital or medical facility.
  8. Currency and Financial Safety: Use reputable exchange services and banks when dealing with currency. Avoid exchanging money on the street. Use ATMs located in secure areas.
  9. Hygiene and Water: Practice good hygiene, especially when handling food and water. In rural areas, ensure the water is safe to drink, or use bottled water.
  10. Scams: Be cautious of scams or people offering deals that seem too good to be true. Verify information from reliable sources.

Papua New Guinea is a unique and rewarding travel destination, but safety and cultural sensitivity are paramount. It’s essential to be well-prepared, do your research, and be respectful of the local culture to have a safe and meaningful experience.

Conclusion

Visiting Papua New Guinea is an opportunity to embark on an adventure that leads to the heart of the Pacific, where nature and culture blend seamlessly. While the country offers breathtaking scenery and unique wildlife, its true treasure lies in the warmth and traditions of its diverse communities. Embrace the chance to connect with local people, participate in age-old customs, and appreciate the profound beauty of this unspoiled land. Travel here with an open heart and a sense of wonder, and you’ll leave with memories that will last a lifetime. Papua New Guinea invites you to explore, experience, and become part of its remarkable story.