West Papua – The Last Frontier

A thrilling adventure to one of the world’s last wild frontiers. The island of New Guinea is one of the richest places on our planet for traditional cultures and is a treasure trove of tribal diversity. For many groups first contact with the western world was made within living memory. This unique trip explores the western half of the island, visiting two distinct cultures to understand a vanishing way of life.

Starting in the ‘capital’ Jayapura, we take a series of small flights into ever more remote territory. From Kepi we begin our journey into the lands of the Korowai people. The Korowai live in small clusters of treehouses, built high up from the forest floor to protect them from raiders. They follow a subsistence lifestyle based on hunting and gathering. Having trekked to their villages we spend a couple of days with them as they go about their daily lives in the swamps and jungles, immersing ourselves in a culture very alien to our own.

In the Baliem Valley live the Dani, a highland people who were first ‘discovered’ in the 1930s by the outside world. With a culture centred on ancestor worship and the veneration of spirits, we’ll be lucky enough to meet a 250-year-old mummified warrior. We’ll see their traditional war dances and explore simple mountain villages that have barely changed in centuries – if not millennia.

Our final stop is the tropical island of Biak off Papua’s north west coast, where we snorkel in clear blue seas and discover the heritage of Papua’s turbulent role during the Second World War.

Travelling in Papua is far from easy, with limited infrastructure and a comfort level that can sometimes be lacking. But it offers rewards that other destinations just don’t. Although the island is modernising, it is still in many ways a window to our own past, to a world that has disappeared from most of the globe. Papua is an adventure like no other.

West Papua – The Last Frontier

Highlights

  • Venture into the lands of the Korowai
  • Explore the remote Baliem Valley
  • Witness traditional Dani rituals
  • Immerse yourself in indigenous culture

Day 1 - Jayapura

Arrive in Jayapura and transfer to your hotel. Overnight Grand Alison Hotel or similar.

Jayapura

Jayapura is West Papua’s largest city, and its capital, but it’s still relatively small. Built by the Dutch in the 19th century and named Hollandia, it was occupied by the Japanese in the Second World War. It has a bit of a ‘frontier’ feel with a majority Indonesian, rather than Papuan, population, with successive waves of immigrants having arrived here after independence and a total population of around 100,000.

Days 2-3 - Merauke - Kepi

Fly first to Merauke, then continue by small plane to Kepi, over swamp and forests. On arrival we stock up on supplies for the next few days. Overnight Swiss Bellhotel and Hotel Vista or similar. (Day 2 – B, Day 3 – BD)


Days 4-6 - Korowai people

The first part of our adventure really begins now, as we venture into the lands of the Korowai people. We travel by small boat along waterways to get deep into their territory, passing small settlements along the way. We spend our nights sleeping in Korowai communities amidst their tree houses, and learning about the daily lives and customs of one of the world’s last truly traditional groups.

The exact programme will depend on tidal levels and local conditions in the swampy terrain that we travel through, but we will trek to a Korowai village to immerse ourselves in their culture. This is a unique opportunity but you should be aware that it is unlikely to be a ‘polished’ experience – conditions here are not always predictable and you should come with an open mind and plenty of patience. Overnight camping. (BLD)

Korowai people

Tucked away in the south of the island of New Guinea, the Korowai are a small ethnic group numbering around three thousand. First contact with Europeans was made in 1974, meaning that it’s well within living memory for older Korowai, and they remain very traditional. The Korowai are best known for their practice of building impressive treehouses, positioned high up in the canopy and highlighted in the BBC programme ‘Human Planet’. Treehouses were in the past built principally as a defensive measure – raiding is not uncommon in Papua and it is reported that some Korowai who have not had contact with the modern world still practice ritual cannibalism, although as with all reports of this nature this is very difficult to verify.

Witchcraft plays a major role in the complex belief system of the Korowai. While Christian missionaries have been living in the area since the late 1970s, the Korowai are known to be highly resistant to conversion and most still subscribe to traditional beliefs involving spirits and the role of ancestors.

The Korowai maintain a subsistence lifestyle, with men going off to hunt in the surrounding forest using bows and arrows. They live in small, clan based groups which usually consist of around three to five tree houses, some of which can be up to forty metres above the ground – although more typically, around ten metres.

Days 7-9 - Kepi – Merauke – Jayapura

We retrace our steps back to Merauke and Jayapura, where a touch of comfort awaits us after our days in the jungle. Overnight Hotel Vista, Swiss Bell Hotel and Grand Alison Hotel, or similar. (Day 7 – BLD, Day 8-9 – B)


Day 10 - Wamena

The next stage of our journey starts today as we fly to the highland town of Wamena, the gateway to the Baliem Valley. In the afternoon we explore the town including its markets and a coffee plantation, as well as some nearby villages. Overnight Baliem Pilamo Hotel or similar. (B)


Days 11-13 - Baliem Valley

We spend three days exploring the tribes and villages of the Baliem Valley, a treasure house of traditional culture. In the villages of Suroba and Dugun in the Naoua Hills we first meet the Dani people, and in Jiwika we ‘meet’ a 250-year old mummy – once a renowned warrior his body was mummified as a mark of respect. We see the traditional rituals and war dances of the Dani, as well as a typical pig feast, and trek through the area to see some of the more remote villages, returning each night to a comfortable hotel in Wamena. Overnight Baliem Pilamo Hotel or similar. (Days 11 and 13 – B, Day 12 – BL)

The Dani

The Dani people are an indigenous tribe that inhabit a large and deep valley called the Baliem, situated between four-thousand-metre-high mountains in West Papua (Irian Jaya). They were discovered in 1938 by pilot Richard Archbold and until this time, the area was considered to be uninhabited. The Dani build round or oval huts and enclose their villages with fences. They are farmers and their fields are distinctly bordered, which is what helped Archbold to spot them. He saw recognisable fields in the valley – similar to those he knew from Europe – when flying above, discovering The Dani by chance.

The Dani are an extremely decorative tribe. The men are characterised by boar tusks in their noses, long and thin Koketas – also known as penis sheaths or penis gourds – and headdresses made of the feathers from the birds of paradise. The women wear short skirts woven from orchid fibres, decorated with straw, and woven bags called ‘noken’ across their backs.

The tribe is also known for having followed a very odd custom. When important men died in the village or were killed by an opposing tribe, each of his female relatives would have their fingers cut off. The fingers – usually the outer two on the left hand – were tied off with string around half an hour before the cremation ceremony and cut off with an ax during the ceremony. The women were slapped hard in the upper arm with the aim of killing the sensation and the wound was then staunched with leaves. The fingers were dried for a few days, burned and then buried in a special place.

The Dani occupied one of the most fertile regions of Papua and as a result they often had to fight for their territory, with frequent wars also breaking out amongst themselves. They used to be the most feared headhunting tribe on the island, but they didn’t eat their enemies, unlike the majority of other Papuan tribes.

Day 14 - Jayapura

Return by air to Jayapura where the rest of the day is free. Overnight Grand Alison Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 15 - Biak

From Jayapura we fly to Biak, a stunning tropical island off the north coast of Papua. Overnight Asana Biak Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 16 - Biak

Spend the day exploring the island. Biak was the site of battle between the Japanese and American forces during the Second World War, and we visit a cave that was used as a hideout, learning a little of the history of the island, as well as hiking to a nearby waterfall. Overnight Asana Biak Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 17 - Padaido Archipelago

Drive to Bosnik where we board our boat to explore Owi and Rurbas Islands in the Padaido Archipelago, a land of white sand beaches and swaying palm trees. Visit the old airstrip left over from the Second World War, and snorkel amidst clear blue waters, before returning to your hotel. Overnight Asana Biak Hotel or similar. (BL)


Day 18 - Jayapura

Fly back to Jayapura for your final night in Papua. Overnight Grand Alison Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 19 - Jayapura

Transfer to the airport for your flight home. (B)


Please note: This is a pioneering trip to a remote and often difficult region, where tourism is still in its infancy. Although tourism in Papua already exists for over 20 years, there has been little development in the quality of services provided. Most people who work in the tourism industry have had limited education, have never travelled outside their village and therefore lack the understanding of the expectations from western travellers. For this reason we travel with an Indonesian guide, but it is essential that you understand the limitations that travelling in such a place presents.

West Papua – The Last Frontier

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers. Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

  • Guides

    You will be accompanied by an English-speaking guide. As the quality of local Papuan guides is generally fairly low, your guide will be from elsewhere in Indonesia.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as Travcour can assist.

  • Airport taxes

    If there are any departure taxes to pay that are not included within the cost of your ticket, you’ll need to pay these yourself.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If, however, you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves, we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

British citizens can enter Indonesia for up to 30 days without a visa. The Indonesian embassy has introduced a new e-visa system for which you can submit your application online. Your passport should have a minimum of 6 months validity after your date of return from Indonesia.

There are 169 other nationalities that can enter Indonesia for up to 30 days without a visa, including most European nationalities and citizens of the USA and Australia.

Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.

Travelling in West Papua requires a special permit, which we will obtain on your behalf.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

The currency in Indonesia is the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). ATM’S and money changers are widespread across Indonesia’s cities but they are less reliable in remote areas, if there are any at all. Make sure you have enough money before venturing into remote rural regions and if changing money, be aware that banks may not take notes unless they are in perfect condition.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Our trips to West Papua visit a remote and often difficult region, where tourism is still in its infancy. Although tourism in Papua already exists for over 20 years, there has been little development in the quality of services provided. Most people who work in the tourism industry have had limited education, have never travelled outside their village and therefore lack the understanding of the expectations from western travellers. For this reason we travel with an Indonesian guide, but it is essential that you understand the limitations that travelling in such a place presents.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing there are no warnings against travel to West Papua from the FCO – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Updated May 2019

West Papua – The Last Frontier
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
16 March 2020
Price (PP) -
£5,599
Single Supplement -
£200
Trip Status -
Guaranteed
Date -
15 March 2021
Price (PP) -
£5,749
Single Supplement -
£200
Trip Status -
Available