Papua New Guinea is a country that is located on the eastern half of New Guinea, which is an island in Oceania just to the north of Australia. The western half of the island belongs to Indonesia.
The country is also considered to be a part of Melanesia, which includes other independent countries like Fiji and the Solomon Islands. But while Papua New Guinea is off the beaten path, there is plenty to explore. The country is the third largest island country and its vivid greenery paired with clear waters and pristine beaches makes it an alluring paradise destination.
Noken Wari – Welcome to Papua New Guinea
Port Moresby is the capital of Papua New Guinea and it is located on the eastern shore of the island. But it isn’t considered to be the best place to visit in the country and many travelers will actually avoid spending much time within the city. Port Moresby showcases a drastic divide between the wealthy and poor with areas that are glitzy and rich being surrounded by derelict buildings and shantytowns. The city is hard to walk, and it can be dangerous, but the nicest areas do draw tourists. If you do spend time in Port Moresby, the best place to go are the upscale areas where you can explore the museums, have a nice meal, or walk along the marina.
Culture and Language
Historically, Papua New Guinea is significant because the early humans arrived 42,000 years ago out of Africa to the island. They developed agriculture and in 7,000 BC, Papua New Guinea became only one place alongside a few others in the world where the people were able to independently domesticate plants. The sweet potato is one of the country’s staple plants in agriculture after it was introduced in the 18th century. But, even earlier around 500 BC, Austronesian people came to Papua New Guinea and introduced pigs, pottery, and new fishing techniques.
Colonization occurred under the control of the Germans, Australia, and the British. But the country did not come to have their separate administration until two territories were combined into the Territory of Papua and New Guinea after World War II. The two territories eventually become Papua New Guinea. But the country keeps close ties with Australia and the Queen of England, even though it did gain independence in 1975.
A prime minister is head of the country, but it is considered to be a commonwealth realm with the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, being the Queen of Papua New Guinea. But a cabinet holds power over the government, and it consists of 31 MPs and a National Parliament. In 2001, the country underwent voting reforms and by 2007 the first general election was held.
The culture of Papua New Guinea is extremely unique and diverse because it is thought that there are over 7000 different cultural groups on the island. Most of these groups even have their own language, which makes it even more chaotic. However, each cultural group is known to celebrate their traditions and have an individual identity by creating their own art, dances, weapons, costumes, architecture, and music. One famous group that has called Papua New Guinea includes a settlement of Polynesians, which are also located famously in other countries like New Zealand and Fiji.
The island is also unique because it is Earth’s most linguistically diverse place with 832 languages spoken in the country. It is important to note that these are not local dialects, but independent languages spoken by the local tribes. However, there are currently four official languages recognized by the government of Papua New Guinea – Tok Pisin, English, Hiri Motu, and Papua New Guinean Sign Language.
Tok Pisin is a language based on Creole, which is often referred to as a Pidgin English. There are about 4 million people who speak Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea. Hiri Motu is the other official language which is considered to be a mix of Pidgin and Creole. Motu is an Austronesian language of which Hiri Motu is the simplified version. However, there are only about 120,000 native speakers of the language.
Since both languages do feature words that are similar to English, English is also an official language in the country. But you shouldn’t expect to come across many fluent speakers. It is estimated that only 1-2% of the country is fluent in English.
But even with the four official languages and the 832 other languages spoken, a surprisingly large number of people are illiterate. Only about 64.2% of Papua New Guinea’s population over the age of 15 are literate.
For US citizens who are interested in visiting Papua New Guinea, you do not need to obtain a tourist visa prior to your arrival to the country if you are staying for less than 60 days and are entering through the international airport in Port Moresby. Instead, a tourist visa will be given to you upon arrival to the country and grant you approval to visit for up to 60 days.
If you would like to visit for longer or are entering by the land border with Indonesia, it is suggested that you check with the Embassy of Papua New Guinea about what type of visa you need and if you need to apply and be granted approval prior to your arrival to the country. If you have traveled in Papua New Guinea and found that you would like more time, you are allowed to apply for a one-time tourist visa extension, which will grant you an additional 30 days of travel time within the country.
Other requirements include having a US passport with a 6-month validity and one blank page. There are no vaccination requirements, but it is highly suggested that you have received all common vaccinations and are up to date on all your booster vaccinations. You should also be aware that if you have stayed for an extended time in Papua New Guinea and are looking to travel onward to Australia, you may be required to have vaccinations and boosters to enter Australia. You will also need to declare any money worth more than $10,000 PKG or currently $2,933 US dollars.
The US government has also put out a Travel Advisory for Papua New Guinea due to increased dangers like crime, as well as natural disasters. Violent crime is more common in Papua New Guinea with limited police presence outside of Port Moresby, so travelers need to exercise increased caution. Travelers should reconsider visiting areas near the Panguna Mine due to the risk of violence and civil unrest, the Highlands Region due to a previous earthquake, and the vicinity of Mt. Ulawun, which is an active volcano.
While it’s easy to obtain a tourist visa for legal entry into the country, it is crucial that you take the time to determine your spending budget for the duration of your trip. Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s least developed countries, which you would think would make it more affordable to travel, like parts of Southeast Asia. But rather, it is the opposite and it is expensive to visit the country. This is because Papua New Guinea does not have a large tourist industry and there is very limited infrastructure that is designed to cater to travelers, which means that costs can add up quickly. The most important parts of your spending budget will include the airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
Papua New Guinea is far away and due to the distance, plane tickets are expensive. Most plane tickets start at $1,130 US dollars for a round trip. But the price can increase during the peak tourist season, which makes the months from May to October the most popular to visit. You can also try to save money by choosing to book your airline ticket further ahead in advance, rather than waiting, which is when it will be more expensive to buy.
Accommodation is also pricey because there aren’t many options for tourists. Hostels are not very common, and most people choose to stay in a guest house. But guest houses usually start at $35 US dollars per night. However, in some areas you may be able to find affordable guest houses that cost about $15 US dollars per night.
There are some hotels in Papua New Guinea, which are designed to cater to tourists, but they come at a higher price. A double room hotel will likely start at $90 US dollars per night and increase up to $133 US dollars per night. There are also a few resorts on the island, but they are designed to be suited for a luxury vacation, which means that the base price starts at $150 US dollars per night.
The most affordable way to stay in Papua New Guinea would be to find a host family and sleep in their home. However, this is not the most popular way to travel because it is not comfortable or suited for all travelers. Usually, backpackers will seek this type of accommodation to save on money because they are willing to stay in a place with extremely limited amenities and living conditions.
With airfare and accommodation being so expensive, you still have to consider the price of food and drink with your budget. If you choose to eat more locally, you will likely spend about $20 US dollars per day on food. Local food is often grown on the island and then a portion of it is sent to the markets to be sold. The cuisine in Papua New Guinea is extremely fresh and uses a lot of root vegetables like sweet potato, taro, and yams. Pork is the most common meat on the island, and it is often served with rice and greens. There are also plenty of tropical fruits, which can make for a delicious breakfast or snack. The freshest food will always be sold in the local market.
Chicken pot is a common dish in Papua New Guinea, which is a soup like dish that is made with various vegetables and coconut cream. Mumu is roasted pork, which is cooked in an Earth oven and served with vegetables and rice. Kokoda fish is deliciously cooked with lime, kaukau is a simple but well-baked sweet potato. Sago is the most popular form of flour, which is used for bread and pudding. But there is a dish called dia, which combines sago with coconut cream.
Overall, you can eat locally and save a lot of money or venture out to the touristy restaurants. Most tourist restaurants will have menu that are focused on foreign cuisines from Asian countries or Australia. But tourist restaurants are considered fine dining and the price will reflect that idea. Most restaurants still start at $17 US dollars per dish and increase up to $45 US dollars per dish.
Imported foods like instant coffee can be extremely expensive with prices starting at $18 US dollars per jar. Other foods like Nutella sell for $15 US dollars per jar. So, if you can live without eating comfort food, you can save more money.
Drinking is also expensive in Papua New Guinea because all the alcohol has been imported from other countries. A beer costs about $5 US dollars, while other drinks will increase in price from there. But when you’re spending $5 US dollars per beer, you need to still be mindful of your budget and try to limit getting carried away.
Overall, travelers on a tight budget should still expect to spend about $90 US dollars per day in Papua New Guinea. A more moderate budget would have you spending $175 US dollars per day, while anything over that would be considered to be a more luxurious vacation, which you can do if that is what you want.
How to Get Around
Due to the limited infrastructure, it is also very expensive to travel around Papua New Guinea and some travelers have spent up to $175 US dollars in one day on various transportation methods. The most affordable way to travel is to use PMV, which is Papua New Guinea’s transportation system. PMV stands for public motor vehicle and it can be provided in the form of a minibus, truck, or boats.
The PMV method means that a one-way trip usually costs about $5 US dollars. This is significantly cheaper than other methods, but travelers also need to keep in mind that traveling by the PMV method may not be the safest. You are at risk of more crime like having your belongings stolen by traveling locally. It is also highly recommended that solo female travelers never travel alone using the PMV system for their safety.
The absolute safest way to travel around Papua New Guinea would be to hire a travel guide, but that comes at a high price. A travel guide would provide you with a licensed guide and a reliable method of transportation around the island. But you should expect to pay about $150-$175 US dollars per day to your guide. It is also best to hire a guide with good reviews and a good reputation so that you are not trapped in a scam or unsafe situation.
Walking is safe in very small areas, but you should never walk alone. Markets are the most common areas to peruse and its safe, but you shouldn’t go shopping solo. It is also not recommended that you walk at night. If you do walk, you should always be aware of your surroundings and you should keep your belongings close by or use bags that can be secured across your body.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
Port Moresby is the most popular city to visit because it is where tourists fly into the Jackson International Airport. But the poor reputation of the capital means that many tourists are eager to leave and explore more of the country. Here, we will give a brief overview of the top city destinations in Papua New Guinea.
Located on the shores of the Gulf of Papua, Port Moresby is the capital of the country and houses the National Capital District. As a port city, the capital has plenty of natural resources and a beautiful landscape due to the waterfront location. While the city is often described as not being the “ideal capital”, there are still beautiful places to visit. The Port Moresby Nature Park, Papua New Guinea National Museum, Port Moresby War Cemetery, and Ela Beach are all tourist hotspots in the capital city.
Lae sits in the Highlands Region on the delta of the Markham River and acts as a main highway between the Highlands and the coast. The city is also called the Garden City because of its picturesque landscape. The Lae War Cemetery and Lae Botanic Gardens are two popular tourist attractions, alongside the nearby Mount Lunaman.
Madang is very popular with foreign tourists because it is considered to be the safest city for expatriates. Here, there are two NGOs from Canada and Britain that have increased the safety of Madang. The area is located on the coast and has a beautiful mangrove forest that you can explore.
Points of Interest
With plenty of different regions in Papua New Guinea, there are also a lot of different points of interest. Here, we will give a brief overview of the top tourist points of interest in Papua New Guinea.
With just one B and B run by a local family, Muschu Island is one destination that is way off of the beaten path, but you will be rewarded with exceptional beauty. A black beach located on the island is the main tourist destination, but there are also swimming holes, forests, and other beaches to explore too.
The Rabul Volcanology Observatory has been running since 1937 and today it actively monitors 14 active and 23 dormant volcanoes that are within the country. Tourists can visit the observatory to view the hot lava and you may even feel a small tremble, which the locals call gurias.
Made famous for bird watching by David Attenborough, the Tari Basin has been turned into a nature reserve that protects the islands birds. Here, you can catch a glimpse of the Bird of Paradise or the King of Saxony.
Varirata National Park
The Varirata National Park gives you a great view of the capital city, Port Moresby, and is a high vantage point where you can get an overview of the entire area. With lush greenery and exotic birds, many people are eager to stroll through the park’s trails for a peaceful day in nature.
The white sand and coral reefs are what bring tourists to the Lusancay Islands. The stunning beauty of these islands can also be viewed by air, though plenty are eager to dip their toes in the sand and get a glimpse under the waves too.
Mt. Wilhelm is the tallest mountain in all of Oceania and in Papua New Guinea with a complete height of 14,783 feet. Tourists can trek to the summit, but it is only recommended for experience and advanced hikers who are ready to take up the task of a difficult trail with the beautiful landscape as your reward.
Panaisa Island is unique because of their limestone cliffs, which reach up to the sky and down to meet the ocean. The white sand is a stark contrast to the clear water and on the island, you can take a stroll through the green tropical trees.
The Eastern Fields
The Eastern Fields are the most popular spot for snorkelers and divers who wish to catch a glimpse of the coral reef ecosystem. Here, you can view the underwater wildlife like sharks and manta rays, as well as enjoy the changing colors of the coral.
With vibrant green seaweed beneath the water, photos here are stunning. The clear water has a clean blue hue that is streaked with the lines of lime green plants. You can spend a day watching the seaweed sway and dip your toes in this pristine landscape.
Get Out and Go
While most travelers wouldn’t think to put Papua New Guinea on their travel bucket list, those who do are rewarded with discovering a hidden gem of culture and beauty. With tropical vibes flowing on this island, tourists can sit back and relax on the shores or head into the forests to spend time and reconnect with nature. With limited numbers of tourists, you’ll also feel like this country is your own personal paradise.