Papua Travel Information - Northern Papua
Northern Papua: The Common Gateway to Papua

Just about everyone going to Papua will make at least a brief stop in the North. This region is home to Jayapura, Papua's original capital and busiest sea port, while the nearby town of Sentani is the hub of air transport both to and around Papua. Those heading for the popular Baliem Valley will have to pass through here, and even visit the local police to pick up the necessary travel permit. Once here, it would be a shame to rush though. The area around Jayapura and Sentani has a lot to offer, including scenic bays with good beaches, a huge freshwater lake with islands big enough to support villages, a healthy tradition of woodcarving and painted bark-cloth manufacturing, two good museums, Papua's best shopping both for handicrafts and for modern necessities, and of course the widest range of places to stay and eat anywhere in these parts. As an added attraction, you could even make a side-trip to neighbouring Papua New Guinea from here - easily the cheapest way of reaching that fascinating country. After the Jayapura area, the most common travel destination in the North is the island of Biak is Cendrawasih Bay. Biak has plenty of historical and cultural interest and is very accessible, though those hoping for a really pretty tropical island should head further afield to nearby Supiori, Numfor, Yapen, or the cluster of smaller islands in the south of the bay, just north of the town of Nabire. The latter is a dull town in its own right, but the traditional gateway to the westernmost part of the Central Highlands. Finally, real adventurers could try and explore the more remote parts of the northern lowlands, certainly one of Papua's least visited areas.

Attractions Off the Track Getting There


Main Attractions


The capital of Papua, Jayapura is a must-stop for visitors heading for the Baliem Valley, as it is the place to pick up the travel permit  required to visit the interior. Otherwise it is of little interest, though its good facilities and shopping will be a welcome change for those who have been in Papua for a while.

Yotefa Bay

The road between Jayapura and Sentani passes a viewpoint offering good views of this stunning bay, with its three stilt villages built over the water.


The lakeside town of Sentani is where Jayapura's airport is located, and is thus the major gateway to the province. Though many visitors only use Sentani as a transit point between Jayapura and the Baliem Valley, huge Lake Sentani with its islands inhabited by good woodcarvers is also worth exploring.


Papua's most accessible island is Biak, which was a major World War II base. That role blessed it with a good airport that makes it a straightforward gateway to Papua. Other than the war relics, Biak offers some cliff burial sites, unique woodcarvings, and plenty of beaches and smaller off-shore islands for diving and snorkelling.

Off the Beaten Track

Depapre & Around

The northern coastline away from Jayapura is rarely visited, but has varied ethnic groups with good woodcarving traditions - just note these canoes with traditional motifs carved on them. Transport can be a problem, but Depapre with its good beach and coral is an easy day-trip from Sentani by road.


This elongated, hilly island south of Biak is home to fine woodcarving traditions, interesting stilt villages , birds of paradise, inviting little off-shore islets and some good reefs.


Nabire is the main town at the southern part of Cendrawasih Bay. It is quite neat and tidy, but dull. Also expensive, as there is a lot of gold-mining in the area. It is most useful for travellers as an entry point to the western highlands, or to the beautiful islands of Cendrawasih Bay nearby.

The Interior Lowlands

One of the least explored parts of Papua, the vast lowlands of the North are home to numerous nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes living in the rainforests or swamps along the Mamberamo, Rouffer or Wapoga rivers, and the swamps of Waropen. They remain quite traditional, but lack the art and fame of the southern ethnic groups like the Asmat, and as usual, traditional dress is now very rare.

Getting There


By Road/Sea

For info on crossing to or from Vanimo in Papua New Guinea, see the general Getting There & Around page for Papua.


By Air

Sentani's airport is the main entry point to Papua from western and central Indonesia. Several domestic carriers fly here, especially from Jakarta in Java and Makassar in Sulawesi. The other major airport in this region is the one in Biak, which was served by Merpati flights from the same places when I last checked. Knowing Merpati, I would say these links may be less reliable and may have changed by the time you read this.

By Sea

Pelni ships from the rest of Indonesia stop at the ports of Biak, Serui, Nabire and Jayapura.


By Air

Sentani also offers the most extensive selection of flights to other destinations within Papua. Most travellers fly to Wamena, but flying is also the only really practical way to get from here to southern Papua, with regular direct flights to Merauke and Timika. Should you have the money for a charter, you will also find that most missionary and cargo airlines are also represented here. Biak is another regional hub, with connections to Serui and Nabire. From Nabire, there are flights to the western part of the Central Highlands.

By Sea

Pelni ships between Jayapura and western Indonesia can also take you to a few ports in western Papua, with all of them stopping in Manokwari and Sorong, and one or two possibly also at other ports like Fakfak and Wasior.

By River

River transport remains important in the Waropen and Mamberamo regions. Irregular Perintis and cargo boats go upriver some distance in both, but to reach more remote and interesting areas you will at some point have to charter a longboat, which will be as expensive as usual in Papua.

By Bus

Roads fan out of Jayapura to all directions. The two longest ones go along the coast westwards towards Sarmi (no direct transport) and south along the PNG border through transmigrant settlements towards the highlands. But you may not be permitted to travel the latter road, and despite what many hope, it doesn't reach the Baliem Valley anyway. So other than to the PNG border, most travellers only use the minibuses between Jayapura and Sentani, and maybe from Sentani to Depapre. Note that while there is a terminal for Damri buses in central Jayapura, minibuses may leave from various terminals in the satellite towns of Entrop, Abepura and from Sentani, depending on where you want to go. Biak also has a decent road system that also connects it to the neighbouring island of Supiori. Roads out of Nabire are limited, but there is one up to the Paniai district in the Highlands, which may or may not be passable and used by public jeeps when you get there.


Due to the limited road system, car rental is not common in in Papua, but you could easily hire a taxi or a minibus with a driver in any of the major towns like Jayapura or Biak for a tour of the surrounding area. Ojeks are common, too.