Papua Travel Information - FAQ

Papua: Frequently Asked Questions

Is it called Papua or Irian Jaya, actually?

The name "Irian Jaya" was in use under the autocratic Soeharto regime, and was always very unpopular with the locals. The region was officially renamed Papua when Indonesia became a democracy, and while some Indonesians may still refer to it by the old name, you should keep up with the times and call it by its current name, just like people living in Papua, whether they are native Papuans or immigrants from the rest of Indonesia, do.

Do I really need a permit to go to Papua?

No matter what embassies or outdated websites might tell you, you do NOT need a permit merely to go to Papua.
What you do need a permit for is visiting areas outside the few main urban centres, but this permit is easily obtained after you arrive in Jayapura or Biak. See my Travel Permit page for more detailed info!

How expensive is travel in Papua?

Compared to the rest of Indonesia, Papua can seem shockingly expensive! Prices for even basic food and accommodation can easily be at least two or three times higher than in Sumatra, Java or Bali. To that, you need to add the costs of getting there, and then getting around this vast, remote region, much of which is only realistically accessible by flying. Considering all this, even the most budget-conscious backpackers should plan to spend at least US $30/day, and with that they would still have to stick to the more accessible coastal areas. If you plan to visit remote areas of the interior, or take a cruise among the Raja Ampat Islands, you will end up spending a lot more.
Still, if you compare Papua with the South Pacific (including PNG) or Australia rather than with the rest of Southeast Asia, it does not look so bad at all.

Why is it so expensive?

Basically, there are three reasons:
1. It is remote, and everything must be imported from West Indonesia.
2. It is huge with poor infrastructure, so you spend a lot on getting around.
3. It is rich in resources, and with regional autonomy a good part of that wealth now stays in Papua, putting cash into remote areas. This helps prices spiral upwards.

Is it safe to travel around Papua - even for a woman?

Well, it may not be as safe as Singapore or Japan, but by international standards, or even compared to neighbouring PNG, Papua remains pretty safe. You should excercise caution in the cities at night and in certain remote parts of the interior, but the places most travellers get to, including the Central Highlands, are no less safe than the rest of Indonesia in general. Thanks to the influence of missionaries, western women actually tend to be treated with more respect than in much of Indonesia, though of course the usual common-sense precautions should apply.

Is Papua worth all the money it costs to get there and explore it?

That pretty much depends on whether you can afford it, and whether you are interested in what it has to offer.
If the costs are not prohibitive for you, and if you are genuinely interested in Papua's pristine nature and fascinating present-day culture (as opposed to dreams of "Stone Age Primitives" possibly fed by glossy photos and sensationalist articles), you should find it a priceless experience!

Can I hike in the Highlands without a guide?

You can certainly do day-hikes in the Baliem Valley on your own. If you speak passable Indonesian, you can even do multiday hikes, staying in villages. But for anything really ambitious, such as crossing the central watershed or to hike in the lowland jungles, a local guide will almost certainly be necessary.

What about "first contact encounters"?

Oh dear.
Let's get realistic: While Papua may look very remote when viewed on TV or on a map from the West, in reality it has pretty much all been surveyed by missionaries, miners and sandalwood-traders who got much further into the remotest corners of the interior than any tourist. So-called first contact encounters, these days regularly offered by certain tour-operators, are routinely staged affairs in parts of Papua. I myself have met Papuans participating in these programs, hearing hilariously funny stories of how "first contacts" are organized!

Where is the best place to buy Papuan art?

In theory, it is nice to buy straight from the carvers, making sure they get a decent price for their crafts, and you know that what you are getting is "authentic". In practice, you are unlikely to be able to visit more than a few areas where carvings are made, and even if you do so, you may find few or no pieces are available for purchase during your visit. You should still try and buy as many souvenirs as possible in the villages though.
But in practice, you may well have to buy many or most things from non-Papuan traders. The best selection for the best prices is to be found in Hamadi market in Jayapura, followed by the shops in touristy Wamena. Merauke and Agats can be good for Asmat art.

Are Papua and PNG any different? And if so, which is better to visit?

They do feel very different indeed.
The Indonesian influence in Papua has been very strong, and can be felt in the language, clothes, architecture and attitudes towards money pretty much everywhere these days.
In contrast, neighbouring PNG still has the lazy, easygoing feel of the South Pacific, but with a certain undercurrent of lawlessness that is not present in Papua.
While traditional dress and villages in the Highlands are much more easily seen in Papua, the coastal villages remain more rustic in PNG. Traditional festivals involving colourful body ornaments and dancing are also much more likely to be seen in PNG, where the locals remain very proud of their culture.
Communicating in English is much, much easier in PNG, but prices are much lower in Papua.

Can I visit the Raja Ampat Islands without spending a fortune?

The only place you can reach reliably by public transport is the district capital of Waisai on Waigeo Island.  While this town does have places to stay and even a dive operator that are cheap by Raja Ampat standards(!), it is hardly a really beautiful or interesting place. Staying here will let you be able to say "I've been to Raja Ampat  on a budget" but in reality you might well have got more for your money elsewhere. To be able to tour more interesting islands, the best of which are remote and far from Waisai, you will almost certainly have to charter a boat. This won't be cheap, partly because prices in Papua are generally high anyway, and partly because Raja Ampat covers a huge area. Costs of such charter will hurt less if divided between several persons, and if you do so and stay in villages or camp on remote islands, you should be able to do it more cheaply than staying in the dive-resorts or going on a liveaboard would cost. But still, cheap it will not be!  Actual charter costs are very hard to predict as they depend on the type and size of boat chartered, your negitioating skills, etc, but you'll be lucky to get anything for under 1 million Rp per day, and a one day trip from Waisai to Wayag for example, can easily cost 8 million or more by speedboat.  Don't fall for any quotes that don't include fuel - that will add a lot more eventually! And remember, you have to pay the 500.000 Rp Raja Ampat entrance fee, too...

Can I visit the "tree house tribes" on my own?

Basically, if you are asking this question at all, the answer is probably "No".
You should definitely forget it if you don't speak Indonesian, and even if you do, you'd better have some experience with Papuan culture and hiking in remote areas. Not only is the Korowai-Kombai area very remote, it is also rather remote from government control. People are emotional, easily upset, used to seeing very wealthy tour-groups and have little respect for personal property. Theft and even violent robbery is not uncommon. And merely getting there is not easy - if you can afford to charter a plane to fly in, you should also be able to afford a reliable guide!

Should I take malaria pills?

Almost certainly. Malaria risk in general is very high in Papua, and while it is lower in the Highlands, malaria is not unknown in the Baliem, and is common in the Jayapura area. Considering that you are likely to be far from medical help in most of Papua, risking your life by not taking preventive pills would be downright foolish.