Papua New Guinea travel guide
About Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is a fascinating country where travellers can explore remote villages, as well as enjoying spectacular diving, stunning wildlife, scenic surfing and myriad cultures. The tribal diversity of a country with over 800 languages and 600 islands cannot easily be summarised, although in Papua New Guinea it is the tribal life that is most fascinating to the visitor.
Beyond the dizzying array of ethnic groups to get to know, there are many unique attractions, excursions and activities on offer, from discovering wrecks of World War II aircraft that lie in the jungle, to peeking inside the sacred wooden haustambarans (spirit houses) of towns and villages in the country.
One of the largest draws for those visiting Papua New Guinea is the country’s extensive wildlife and unique ecosystem. From the mountainous highlands to the Evian-blue waters, travellers can expect to discover weird and wonderful creatures, from tree-climbing kangaroos to spectacular birds of paradise; there are almost 700 bird species on the islands. Be sure to visit the National Botanic Gardens in Port Moresby, which is probably the capital’s greenest, most beautiful sport. Most of the country remains undeveloped, with the largest island of Bouganville avoiding from resort hotels and commercialisation – ideal for the independent traveller.
Above all, though, it’s the inhabitants that make Papua New Guinea truly unique. Many of the hundreds of languages spoken here are kept alive by a just a few dozen people. Each ethnic group has its own proud artistic traditions, with deft handicrafts, entrancing dance performances and bracing music. If you happen to visit during a festival – to be fair, there are many of them occurring throughout the year – prepare to be spellbound by tribal concerts and elaborate headdresses. Spend a bit of time here, and you’ll feel as if you’ve gained access to a bygone era, although it would be wrong to describe the inhabitants as stuck in the past. Anyone welcomed into their embrace will say that they are thriving.
462,840 sq km (178,704 sq miles).
7,776,115 (UN estimate 2016).
14.4 per sq km.
Queen Elizabeth II since 1952, represented locally by Governor-General Bob Dadae since February 2017.
Prime Minister Peter O'Neill since 2011.
240 volts AC, 50Hz. Australian-style plugs with three angled flat pins are used. Some hotels provide 110-volt outlets.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Serious crime is particularly high in the capital, Port Moresby, and in the cities of Lae and Mt Hagen. Settlement or squatter areas of towns and cities are particularly dangerous. ’Bush knives’ (machetes) and firearms are often used in assaults and thefts. Carjacking, assault (including sexual assaults), bag snatching and robberies are common. Banks and cash machines are attractive targets for criminals. Walking after dark is particularly dangerous in Port Moresby and other urban centres.
Known high-risk areas include the area around Parliament House in the Port Moresby suburb of Waigani, particularly outside of working hours, and along the highway between Lae and Nadzab Airport, particularly between Goroka and Kainantu. Criminals use roadblocks on roads outside towns to stop and loot vehicles and then attack the occupants. If you intend to travel in these areas, take great care and consider using a security escort.
If you have to travel at night, do so by car, with doors locked and windows up, and travel in convoy or with a security escort.
Most crime is random, but people have been abducted by organised gangs and forced to open office safes while others are held captive until the ransom has been paid.
Rape and sexual assault are problems across the country.
- don’t carry large amounts of cash or openly display expensive jewellery and electronic equipment
- be vigilant at all times and leave travel plans with friends, relatives or reliable local contacts
Damage caused by heavy rain and cyclones can make travel difficult.
Check your travel insurance before considering any travel to remote areas. The cost of rescue by boat or aircraft can be high.
Outbreaks of tribal fighting are common, especially in Port Moresby, the Highlands Provinces (particularly Southern and Western Highlands) and Enga Province. Ethnic disputes can quickly escalate and result in the widespread destruction of property, disruption of normal services and serious injury. Stay alert, monitor local media and consult local contacts, (accommodation or other service providers) before travelling to a new area. Tribal fighters and criminals are becoming increasingly well armed through the trade in drugs for guns. Although foreigners are not normally targeted, you should avoid areas where tribal fighting is taking place.
Following murders in the town of Popondetta in Oro province, law and order has deteriorated. The potential for more violence exists. Travel to Popondetta, and on the road between Popondetta and Kokoda, may be dangerous. You should be extremely vigilant when travelling in and around Popondetta.
There have been serious attacks and robberies at both ends of the Kokoda Trail including a serious assault in January 2016. Although community leaders have assured tourists of their safety and well-being while walking the Kokoda Trail, you should take care.
If you intend to walk a trail or track, including the Kokoda trail, avoid walking independently and travel with guides from reputable travel companies. You can get details from the Papua New Guinea Tourism Authority or the Kokoda track authority.
World War II unexploded ordnance still exists in Papua New Guinea, particularly along the Kokoda Trail and at Milne Bay and Rabual.
Bougainville Island has emerged from a period of separatist conflict. You must provide notice of your intention to visit the island to the Bougainville Provincial Administration (telephone: +675 973 9798), and contact the Administration again upon arrival. Take great care when travelling in Bougainville. Be particularly vigilant when travelling beyond Buka into central and southern Bougainville. The mountainous area in central Bougainville around the old Panguna mine is a ‘No Go Zone’. You should not enter the ‘No Go Zone’. Foreigners who have entered the Zone without authorisation from the PNG Government have been questioned, some for many days, by PNG authorities and had their passports withheld on departure from the Zone.
The land boundary between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea stretches for around 760km and is poorly defined. Border incursions and continuing conflict between the Indonesian government and portions of the indigenous population of West Papua started with the withdrawal of the Dutch colonial administration in 1962.
Renewed clashes between Indonesian soldiers and OPM (Free Papua Movement) close to the Papua New Guinea-Indonesian border near Wutung in Sanduan Province have reportedly left several soldiers and OPM members injured. Papua New Guinean authorities have placed restrictions on those who cross the border regularly. The fighting coincides with a global protest by pro-West Papua sympathisers on the eve of Indonesia’s national legislative elections, which were held on 9 April 2014.
The situation at Wutung on the border with Indonesia remains tense. There have been reports that the Indonesian military and the OPM have been engaging in gun battles. In response the Papua New Guinean government has strengthened its defence units at its Wutung border post. You should take extreme care and be prepared for possible sudden closure of the border crossing.
Given the challenging terrain, extreme weather conditions and the condition of some remote airfields in PNG, flying in PNG carries greater safety risks than flying in the UK. Since 2000 over 20 aircraft accidents have happened in Papua New Guinea. The most recent being on 13 October 2011 when an Airlines PNG Dash 8 aircraft crashed near Madang, killing 28 people on board.
Delays and cancellations of international and domestic flights occur regularly. Check with your airline before travel and be prepared for the possibility of a lengthy wait at the airport.
Driving is on the left. When driving, you must keep your driving licence with you at all times. You may use your UK driving licence for a period not exceeding 1 month. Roads, especially in rural areas, are in a poor state of repair and driving is often erratic. Drivers who are involved in, or witness road accidents may find themselves at personal risk. You should seek police assistance as soon as possible.
Don’t use public buses known locally as PMVs. There have been incidents of armed hold-ups of PMVs and of passengers being attacked and robbed of their personal belongings. There have also been reports of occasional rape attacks on Port Moresby PMVs. Many PMVs are not roadworthy.
Taxis are available in some major centres, but can be badly maintained. If you use a taxi, agree a fare before getting setting off, irrespective of whether or not there is a meter. Where possible arrange to be met by family, friends or a hotel courtesy bus when arriving at international or domestic airports.
Avoid large public gatherings (including political rallies) which can be unpredictable.