Papua New Guinea

Canoe at ocean coast

At one time, Papua New Guinea was known for its head hunters. The head hunters are long gone but Papua New Guinea is still there. Now Papua New Guinea is known for other things like the Kakoda trail, virgin forests, multitudinous languages and wide variety of birds and animals.

The major cities in Papua New Guinea are Port Moresby, Lae, Arawa, Mount Hagen, Madang, Wewak, Goroka and Kokopo. Port Moresby is the capital of Papua New Guinea and also its most developed city. Most tourists arrive to Port Moresby first and then make their way to other regions in Papua New Guinea

Culture

Pacific_Papua-New-GuineaPapua New Guinea is an anthropologist’s dream come true. The country is home to hundreds of tribes. Between them, they speak upwards of 700 languages and dialects. The most popular languages in Papua New Guinea are English, Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu. English is widely spoken but the country’s lingua franca is Tok Pisin.

Most of the country’s seven million people still live in the rural areas. Just 18% of Papua New Guineans live in cities. Even then, the Papua New Guineans are very hospitable and friendly and ready to help strangers. Do dress conservatively when in Papua New Guinea because it will help you fit in with the culture better.

papua villageWhen you visit the villages, you may be invited to meet the village chief. At that time, please remember to bow to the chief. If you fail to do so, it will be considered very discourteous. Note that personal space is almost non-existent in Papua New Guinea. Public display of affections are highly discouraged as it is considered crude.

Explore

Papua New Guinea is one of the last unspoiled natural spaces in the world. The country is largely untouched by western civilization and is teeming with natural vegetation, plants and animals. Towering volcanic peaks, beautiful beaches, pristine rainforests, mountains and valleys. The world famous Kokoda trail, stretching for more than 60 km, is also located here. The trail snakes it way from the south (from Port Moresby) to Owens Corner in the North.

Mount Wilmelm is the highest mountain in Port Moresby, standing at 14,000 ft above sea level. There are two trails leading to the top and it can take you up to 3 days to reach there. If you visit Lae, don’t forget to visit the rainforest surrounding the city.

Close to the capital, Port Moresby, there is the Moitaka Wildlife Sanctuary. The park has a large collection of crocodiles. Other places to visit on Papua New Guinea are Kokopo War and Culture Museum. Located in Kokopo, this museum contains a large collection of World War 2 memorabilia such as weapons, artillery and even tanks. Don’t forget to visit Bougainvillea island which is off the eastern coast of Papua New Guinea. Mount Balbi is located on this island. Mount Balbi is actually a volcano. There is a caldera here and it holds a stunning crater lake. Do engage a guide to visit the mountain.

Cuisine

The staple diet of Papua New Guinea consists of tubers, yams and taro; basically a number of starchy vegetables. The major livestock in Papua New Guinea is the pig so pork is the most common meat. Still, meat makes a miniscule portion of the average Papua New Guinean’s diet and it is cooked only on special occasions. People living near the coast have a preference for seafood.

Papua New Guineans are have something called ‘Melanesian time’, which means things will be done in their preferred timing therefore if you go to a restaurant, expect to be served late. If local food does not agree with you, there are other western options available in the capital. Food is relatively cheap in Papua New Guinea and should you get to know some locals, they might even invite you home for a home cooked meal.

Alcohol is expensive in Papua New Guinea though if you are willing to pay, you can procure almost any type of alcohol here. The local favorite is SP lager or South Pacific Lager. Many Australian and New Zealand brands (of alcohol) are also available.

Activities

Papua New Guineans are known for their wood carvings. The carvings are usually of animals and plants because the Papua New Guineans believe that the creatures were their ancestors at one time. The country also has a very old tradition of visual arts.

Christianity is the major religion (96% of the people identify with one or the other branch of Christianity) on the islands but it is very animistic. Papua New Guineans have created their own special brand of Christianity, infused with tribal elements therfore ritual dances and local festivals are very popular.

Your best chance of catching some nightlife is in Port Moresby. Be careful however, because Port Moresby is known for violence. Women tourists should never travel alone to these places at night. There are many clubs in Port Moresby which are popular with foreign tourists such as Club 69, Aero Bar, Planet Rock and Aviat Club. If you want to shop, your best chances are in the provincial centers, especially Port Moresby where is the most westernized. Of course, you can buy local handicrafts and souvenirs almost everywhere on Papua New Guinea.

Gambling is legal in Papua New Guinea. The locals are discouraged from gambling so don’t be surprised if the casinos have hefty entry fees. There are casinos in nearly all Papua New Guinea provinces so wherever you go, you will always be close to a casino.

Transportation

Most of Papua New Guinea is mountainous terrain. There are very few private cars and the most popular way to travel around is by public motor vehicle. Traveling is very cheap but the only drawback is these vehicles are very crowded.

Finding these public vehicles are relatively simply. You just have to turn up at the spot. The vehicle will usually wait till it is full and they won’t move for you or anyone. Some places are covered only once a day especially the rural areas. So make sure that you know when the transport is arriving (or leaving). Otherwise, you will be stuck for another day.

Traveling at night is not recommended in Papua New Guinea. But if you do need to travel at night, do so with people you trust. Women should sit with other women and must get in from the front of the bus. This is the convention. Sometimes, seats are reserved for women. If there is one and if there is a man sitting on it, you can ask the conductor to help you procure that seat.

Usually, there will be two staff members on the private vehicles – the driver and the conductor. You have to pay the fare to the conductor. Sometimes, he won’t give you the change back instantly. Don’t forget to ask it from him, when the journey ends or when you have reached the stop.

Essentials

Papua New Guinea is known for being an affordable tourist destination, with tourists from Japan, Australia and South East Asia thronging its shores. Visa is a must for every foreign national who wishes to enter Papua New Guinea. Some foreign tourists are eligible for visa on arrival.

You can enter Papua New Guinea by plane, boat or by road. If you are coming by road, you will have to cross over at Papua (Irian Jaya, Indonesia). This may involve a bit of preparation. But if you are entering from here, the tourist visa is free of charge.

Try to avoid visiting Papua New Guinea between December and March as it will be very wet (rainy season) at that time and you will be put to a lot of inconvenience. Some consider Papua New Guinea a risky destination because of its history with criminal gangs, known as raskols. However, this is restricted to the cities and interior regions are quite safe.

Always drink water from trusted sources because water borne diseases are common in Papua New Guinea. It is also a good idea to carry some basic medicines because there is no guarantee where you will find a doctor even though there are government dispensaries everywhere. All in all, Papua New Guinea is an affordable tourist destination but do read up as much as you can about the place before coming here.