Guide on Visiting Papua New Guinea

Where is Papua New Guinea?

Have you ever been to Papua New Guinea? If you have not, well, you should. There are a couple of countries in Oceania that you can easily go to for a vacation, but one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse countries worth visiting is Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea is located in the Oceania region (sometimes referred to in lieu of the continent Australia). Oceania is the geographical region made up of thousands of islands throughout Central and South Pacific Ocean area. Among these islands are Australia, which is the smallest continent in the world in terms of land area.

Papua New Guinea map
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The official name of this country is the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, and it occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea. Papua New Guinea is the world’s third largest island country. One of its closest neighbors is mainland Australia. Papua New Guinea gained independence from Australia in 1949. The country is situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire, which greatly influences its climate and its diverse geography.

How to pronounce Papua New Guinea?

American and British English have similar ways of pronouncing Papua New Guinea. You can listen here.
What is the capital of Papua New Guinea (and other major cities)?

The capital of Papua New Guinea is Port Moresby, which is also referred to as Pom City or Moresby. Port Moresby is also the largest city in the South Pacific outside of Australia and New Zealand. Other major cities in Papua New Guinea are Lae, Arawa, and Mount Hagen.

Population of Papua New Guinea

As of 2020, the population of Papua New Guinea is around 9 million. The majority of the indigenous people of the country are called Papuans, although there are hundreds of ethnic groups in the country. The other indigenous people are Austronesians. Papua New Guinea holds the record for having the second lowest urban population percentage in the world, which is 13.2%.

Language spoken in Papua New Guinea

Being a linguistically diverse country, Papua New Guinea has over 820 indigenous languages. With 851 languages currently spoken in the country, it has more languages than any other country in the world. Among these, the most common languages spoken in Papua New Guinea are Tok Pisin (a creole language), English, Hiri Motu (also known as Police Motu or Pidgin Motu), and Papua New Guinean Sign Language (became the 4th official language in the country in May 2015). Other languages spoken in Papua New Guinea are German and Unserdeutsch.

Time Zone in Papua New Guinea

The time zone in Papua New Guinea is UTC+10 in Port Moresby and other cities, while Arawa follows UTC+11 Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST).

Currency in Papua New Guinea

The currency in Papua New Guinea is kina. Its currency code is PGK, and the currency symbol is K. 1 USD is 3.35 PGK, 1 AUD is 2.38 PGK, and 1 Euro is 3.86 PGK. Most establishments in the country accept major credit cards; however, small shops, especially in villages outside of Port Moresby, only accept PGK.

Currency in Papua New Guinea
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

You can withdraw cash from the ATM machines, but if you are carrying cash from your home country and plan on exchanging it, only USD and AUD are accepted in most money exchangers and even banks.

How to Get to Papua New Guinea /How to Travel to Papua New Guinea?

Most nationalities are only required to get a visa upon reaching Papua New Guinea, but make sure to check ahead for the specific documents required for your passport. If you are an American, Canadian, or Australian passport holder, as well as most countries in the EU, you will be issued a free visa on arrival, which allows you to stay as a tourist for 60 days in the country. This visa on arrival is also available for some Pacific Island nations as well as some Southeast Asian countries, such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.

The major international airport is Jacksons International Airport (airport code POM) located in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. The major airlines that operate in POM are Air Niugini (the national airline of Papua New Guinea), PNG Air, and Travel Air. Other airlines that have direct flights are Qantas, which flies from Brisbane; QantasLink, which flies from Cairns; and, Philippine Airlines, which flies from Manila.

If you are flying from the US, you need connecting flights, and the usual layovers are in Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Sydney, or Brisbane. The total travel time could last up to two days depending on your transfers.

How to get Around Papua New Guinea?

Transferring from one city to another often means hopping from one island to another. Most Papuans travel via air regionally or domestically. This is the most ideal way to get from one city to another. If you are touring an island or a city, it is best to get a guide who acts as a driver. The highways and roads in Papua New Guinea, especially in the remote towns, are not the best roads to drive on, especially for visiting tourists. Some cities are not even connected to each other because roads between them do not exist.

There are public motor vehicles (PMV) in the country, of course, but women are highly discouraged from taking the PMVs if they are traveling alone. Packaged tours that include transportation and pick-ups are the best way to get around Papua New Guinea.

If you fancy an adventurous island transfer, banana boats are popular here. You may have to secure your own life jacket and safety equipment. Also, these boats tend to get overloaded at times. There are overnight ferries, but pirates are known to operate in some parts of the waters surrounding the country, so it is a little risky.

Weather in Papua New Guinea

Most parts of Papua New Guinea are mountainous and covered in rainforest. The climate or weather in Papua New Guinea is tropical. It experiences northwest monsoons from December to March and southeast monsoons from May to October. In lower areas, the average temperature is 27 degrees Celsius all year round, while it is 21 degrees Celsius in higher areas. The highest altitudes in the country, however, especially Mount Wilhelm and Mount Giluwe, experience snowfall.

Best time to visit Papua New Guinea

In order for you to experience going out and about and doing outdoorsy touristy stuff, the best time to visit Papua New Guinea is during dry season, which is between the months of May to July. You will get most of the sunshine during these months, although it is still relatively warm in the country during wet season.

Papua New Guinea

The temperature variations here is not that significant unless you climb up the highest mountain peaks. If you do not mind the rain and would like to save a bit on hotel fees and airfare, the low season is April or November. You can also avoid the crowd when you visit Papua New Guinea during these months. Typhoons usually hit the country from December to March and typically cause flooding, erosion, and landslides, so you may want to skip these months.

Leave your down jackets and heat tech warmers because you will not be needing them here. Light clothing and maybe a light windbreaker would be handy for when you plan on doing nighttime adventures. In general, the weather in Papua New Guinea is an Af climate, which means hot, humid tropical climate with all months above 18 degrees Celsius.

Is Papua New Guinea Safe?

Traveling to Papua New Guinea poses few risks. There have been reports by tourists of crimes and scams. Violent crime, assault, and theft are among the risks you need to watch out for when planning your trip. Having your tour organized by an agency is advised. The accredited tour guides know where not to go and can advise you what not to do. When exploring on your own, make sure to keep your cash and other valuables hidden. Adorning yourself with flashy and expensive jewelry will only attract thieves. Also, Papua New Guinea is one of those less formal countries, so going with the basics is highly recommended for your safety and comfort.

If you insist on renting a car and driving by yourself, watch out for landslides and slippery slopes, especially during the rainy season. Always make sure to keep your windows closed and your car locked when you step out of the vehicle, even just for few minutes. It would also be best to avoid remote roads when driving by yourself.

As long as you are being cautious and keep your guard up, there is no reason why you won’t have a great time when you visit Papua New Guinea.

Why go to Papua New Guinea?

Just like most places, the pros outnumber the cons when talking about why you should go to Papua New Guinea. Some of the reasons you should go to Papua New Guinea include their culture, the nature, and the experiences you can have there that you will not experience anywhere else.

Top Things to do in Papua New Guinea

If you are an outdoorsy person and love to do a lot of nature-related activities, Papua New Guinea is your paradise waiting to be explored. Here are the top things to do in Papua New Guinea:

1. Hike the Kokoda Trail

Hiking in the Kokoda Trail (also called Kokoda Track) is one of the top things to do in Papua New Guinea. The Kokoda Trail is a single-file trail that runs 96 kilometers over land and passes through the Owen Stanley Range in Central Province to the village of Kokoda in Oro Province. Aside from being the perfect trail for a hike, this has historical significance.

Kokoda Trail, Papua New Guinea
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The track was the location of a 1942 World War battle between the Japanese and Allied forces. This hike is no easy feat, though, and is only recommended for experienced hikers. The complete hike in Kokoda Trail could last between 4 to 12 days depending on the pace, although the fastest recorded hike was 16 hours and 34 minutes. During the hike, you will have to endure hot, humid days with intensely cold nights; torrential rainfall is also a possibility. You might want to get a malaria vaccine before traveling to Papua New Guinea if you plan to hike through Kokoda Trail.

Spending a couple of days hiking and camping within the rainforests could expose you to tropical diseases such as malaria. Despite all the risks, once you complete the hike, you can definitely say you have been through the most diverse and exciting hike of your life. The local guides are experts and can provide you more information about the flora and fauna you will encounter during the hike. Completing the hike in Kokoda Trail truly is one of the best things to do in Papua New Guinea.

2. Celebrate Milamala Festival with the locals

Milamala is a celebration held in honor of a bountiful crop of yams harvested between June and August. If you travel to Papua New Guinea during these months, you might want to join in the festivities, which usually culminate in a week filled with fun activities such as cricket matches, ribald dancing, and canoe racing. It would be fun to participate in this celebration during your trip.

3. Sail along Tufi Fjords

When planning a trip to Papua New Guinea, one might not expect to be able to see a fjord. Fjords are mostly common in Scandinavian countries, but one does exist in Papua New Guinea. One of the fun things to do in Papua New Guinea is to sail along Tufi Fjord.

Tufi Fjords, Papua New Guinea
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Tufi Fjord is located in Cape Nelson, which is an hour away via plane ride from Port Moresby. The fjords were created by ancient volcanic eruptions and surrounded by about 250 miles of coral reefs. Go on a boat cruise and sail along Tufi Fjords while soaking up the warm tropical sun. It would be best to head out early in the morning. You can also go diving and snorkeling. The reefs in the area are teeming with barracudas, triggerfish, parrotfish, and colorful corals.

4. Climb to the top of Mount Garbuna Volcano

One of the top things to do in Papua New Guinea, especially for adventurous and outdoorsy travelers, is to hike up Mount Garbuna Volcano. Located just 20 km from Kimbe, Mount Garbuna (also called Gabuna) is one of the largest thermal fields in the country. In order to get there, you need to complete an 8-kilometer trek that takes about three hours or so, depending on your pace.

Get a local guide to walk with you and your travel buddies up the volcano. You will hike through a forest with rich wildlife, which can double as a birdwatching activity. You will know that you are almost at your destination when you smell the overwhelming scent of sulfur, which smells like rotten boiled eggs.

The smell may not be pleasant, but the view definitely makes up for it. There is no freshwater source throughout the trek area, so make sure to bring your own water and snacks to fuel you for the whole 16km hike (8km there and back). Upon reaching the summit of Mount Garbuna Volcano, you will be welcomed by bubbling yellow steams and pools from the sulfur pit. Depending on what season and what day you take the hike, it is very likely that you will not encounter any other tourists.

Not everyone is up for a hike up a volcano. The good part about this is you can explore the place alone and take photos with no photobombers around. If you visit Papua New Guinea, you might want to add this to your itinerary, so make sure to inform your travel agency in advance.

5. Spend a day in Varirata National Park

Even after spending a day in Varirata National Park, it would still not be enough to explore and enjoy the whole park. The park is bursting with nature and activities that will make one stay a little bit longer. The park is 1000 hectares of forest, trails, and waterfalls. What keeps visitors coming back are the birds that have built their nests here. The best way to get to Varirata National Park is to drive for about 2 hours from Port Moresby.

Varirata National Park

It is best if your local guide is a bird expert as well, so you can make the most out of the trip. You may spot kingfishers and raggiana birds of paradise here. Do not forget to bring your binoculars if you are serious about birdwatching. It is possible to set up a tent and camp overnight here, although safety and comfort is never a guarantee. Spending a day in Varirata National Park is indeed one of the top things to do in Papua New Guinea.

6. Visit the National Museum and Art Gallery

Located in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, the National Museum and Art Gallery is a great place to learn more about the country’s culture and history. Here you can find exhibits that showcase the rich Papuan indigenous culture, from musical instruments to seafaring equipment. You can also find body adornments used in the olden times, ceremonial kundu and garamut drums, masks, and even totem poles.

You may also find a rack full of skulls, yam cult masks, kina shell money (this is where the country’s currency got its name), bark cloth masks, and colorful shields from New Britain. There are also other exhibits that focus on the country’s geography, fauna, culture, language, ethnography, and history. If having a deeper understanding of one’s culture is something you spend a lot of time on when traveling, this is one of the most educational places in the country where you can do just that.

7. Watch a Goroka Show

One of the top things to do in Papua New Guinea is to watch a Goroka show. A Goroka Show is a tribal gathering and well-known cultural event in the country held every September.

Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea
Credits: Anselmo Lastra, Flickr CC BY 2.0

The town of Goroka, the capital of the Eastern Highland Province, hosts the event. It is fun to watch about 100 different tribes showcase their song and dance rituals. The Goroka Show attracts a lot of local and international tourists, so if you would like to join the celebration, book your accommodations in advance. You can try on traditional headdresses and paint your face to get into a more festive mood.

8. Enjoy a dip in Garu Hot River

One of the most enchanting and best places to see in Papua New Guinea is Garu Hot River. This river is hidden in the jungle, so you need to go on a little trek to get here, but the reward is a relaxing hot water that will soothe your tired muscles. The water is crystal clear with a temperature of about 40 degrees Celsius. The river is warmed by the thermal fields of the volcano nearby. A small waterfall nearby offers a lovely sight as you relax. If you are visiting Papua New Guinea during rainy season, swimming in Garu Hot River would be a relaxing experience you can’t miss.

9. Go scuba diving

Papua New Guinea has one of the best diving spots in the world. It would be best to book a scuba diving package tour for your safety and security. Some parts of the ocean surrounding the country are infested by pirates. One of the top things to do in Papua New Guinea is scuba diving in Madang. This spot is best for professional divers, though, because it has a challenging topography and the currents can be strong. Another popular diving spot is Kimbe Bay’s Zero wreck.

scuba diving

A lot of war planes flew in the skies over Papua New Guinea during World War II, and a few of them crashed and sunk in the ocean. In Kimbe Bay’s Zero wreck diving spot, you can explore the wreckage of a WWII Japanese fighter plane that has remained undisturbed since it crashed. Another must-see diving site is B-17F Black Jack, or simply referred as Black Jack.

This can be found near the remote village of Boga Boga. The wreck is one of the first Flying Fortress bombers built at a Boeing factory in Seattle during the second World War. Divers find great joy in exploring the wreck since the plane is still almost intact and sits on a sandy seabed that makes it easily visible. You can see it without getting too close, but if you wish to explore the plane itself, it can be quite challenging unless you are an experienced professional scuba diver.

10. Check out the Talasea Plane Wrecks

Plane wrecks in Papua New Guinea are not only found in the ocean; a lot of them are on land, too. If you would like to see one without having to dive a couple meters below the ocean’s surface, you can check out the Talasea plane wrecks in New Britain. There are other plane wrecks in different parts of the country, too, but the most impressive ones are in New Britain.

If you are staying in Walindi Plantation Resort, you can arrange a tour with your hotel to do a side-trip here. The plane wrecks are only accessible by 4-wheel drive, and one has to drive through muddy and rocky roads. The plane wreck has been untouched since the crash.

A lot of visitors come here to take drone photography because the view of the plane amidst tall coconut trees is quite an impressive sight. Exploring these wrecks is one of the fun things to do in Papua New Guinea, especially if you are traveling with kids.

11. Trek up Mount Wilhelm

This is not the easiest adventure but trekking up Mount Wilhelm is one of the best things to do in Papua New Guinea. Mount Wilhelm is not only the highest peak in the country, it is also the highest peak in all of Oceania. If you plan to complete this massive undertaking, make sure to plan ahead. Climbing up Mount Wilhelm is not something you can just wing.

Mount Wilhelm
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Mount Wilhelm is part of the Bismarck Range and the peak is the meeting point of three different provinces – Simbu, Jiwaka, and Madang. The climb could take 2-3 days and requires you to camp in the base and campsites in the mountain. While there are no technical climbs that require special mountain climbing gear, you have to go through slippery slopes, uneven terrain, muddy paths, and moderate bouldering, which could slow you down.

Even though Papua New Guinea has a tropical climate, you might see snow and may encounter snowfall at Mount Wilhelm. Standing at 4,509m above sea level, the climate here can be extremely cold, so make sure to prepare for the climb. There are professional guides that you can book to camp, trek, and guide you in summiting Mount Wilhelm. Once you have completed the climb, you will know why this is one of the top things to do in Papua New Guinea for adventurous travelers.

12. Eat Mumu – the National Dish of Papua New Guinea

A trip to Papua New Guinea would not be complete without trying their national dish, mumu. Mumu is a pork roasted in a traditional earth oven and is served with side dishes of sweet potatoes, rice, and vegetables. The traditional diet of the people in Papua New Guinea is largely vegetarian, and they rely heavily on taro roots, sweet potatoes, and tropical fruits.

Pork and chicken meat are usually enjoyed on special occasions, while those living near the sea enjoy a lot of seafood. Aside from mumu, dishes that you should sample while you are in the country are chicken pot, Kokoda fish, kaukau (baked sweet potato), and dia (sago and bananas cooked with coconut cream). For alcoholic drinks, beer from Australia and the Philippines are popular here.

13. Shop in Port Moresby’s local markets

Your trip to Papua New Guinea should include a trip or two to the local market. You will be welcomed by endless displays of local produce. Fresh tropical fruits such as mangoes, bananas, papayas, and guavas are must-tries here.

Port Moresby’s local markets
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

If you are looking for souvenirs and gifts for family and friends back home, there are a lot of unique finds in the local markets in Port Moresby: items such as woven masks decorated with shells and teeth, drums made from tree trunks and reptile skins, or even string bags made from natural fibers and bird feathers. One hot commodity in the souvenir department is the spirit board, which is believed to be the supernatural guardians of homes and villages. If that is a bit much for you, you can also choose wooden plates or beautifully woven baskets.

14. Explore Karawari River

Exploring the Karawari River on a dugout canoe is one of the most fun things to do in Papua New Guinea. The canoe is not optional since there are no roads in this remote part of the country, so water transport is the only way to get from one place to another – that and walking. The Sepik tribe lives here, and they live completely off the grid – no cell towers nor internet reception is available. Their main livelihood includes basket weaving and fishing.

Of course, your cruise down Karawari River should be guided. This is not an activity you want to do alone, especially since crocodiles do live in the river. The eco-friendly Karawari Lodge is the most decent accommodation for tourists in the area, and they can arrange activities for you. The view around the river is breathtaking. You will be overwhelmed by how still and slow time passes when being here.

15. Night life in Papua New Guinea

There are places to enjoy a lively night life in Papua New Guinea even if you are not staying in Port Moresby. You might want to check out Aero Bar or Planet Rock in Lae, Ralum Country Club in Kokopo, and The Jetty in Alotau. If you are staying in Port Moresby, you can check out Mustang Sally’s, Cosmopolitan, Royal Papua Yacht Club, and Paddy’s Bar.

Expert tips for traveling in Papua New Guinea

1. Leave your expensive items at home if possible

Theft and robbery are top crimes in the country. You do not want to attract attention to yourself by wearing flashy jewelry and showing off your expensive items.

2. Bring mosquito repellant

Papua New Guinea is basically one giant tropical rainforest. This is a beautiful thing, but this also means it is a breeding ground for mosquitos. Use mosquito repellant the same way you put on sunscreen – apply every 4 hours or so. If you plan to go on long hikes and extended camping trips, you might even want to consider getting a malaria immunization before travelling to the country.

3.Carry hand sanitizer and wet paper towels

 hand sanitizer and wet paper towels

You might find yourself in a public bathroom with no toilet paper, and this is not the position you want to find yourself in, so always carry one with you. Wet tissues are also handy. Personal hygiene in the country is not up to Western standards, so make sure to sanitize your hands properly and regularly.

4. Carry cash

Your credit card will be useless once you leave the city. Also make sure to have US or Australian dollars with you. There are money exchangers in bigger cities and towns, but they only accept American and Australian dollars. Also, make sure that your ATM can withdraw money internationally. Do not forget to call your bank to confirm before your flight.

5. Bring an umbrella and a flashlight

You can also purchase inexpensive ones in Port Moresby, but an umbrella and flashlight will come in useful. There are parts of the country that lose electricity at night, and you will not want to be moving around in the dark. Also, depending on what season you will be visiting, torrential rains could happen every now and then no matter how sunny it is or how clear the sky appears a few hours earlier. Tropical rains are not exactly as harmful, but you would not want to catch the flu while you are supposed to be trekking up a volcano for 8 hours.

6. Pack light

A carry-on is convenient, especially if you are transferring from one region to another. Keep in mind that air travel is the norm here, so you do not want to keep paying extra for your heavy suitcases. Besides, the country is generally warm throughout the year, so you need not carry your thick winter coats.

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