Best known for its beaches, Papua New Guinea is located in the eastern half of New Guinea, an island just north of Australia that partially belongs to Indonesia. Considered part of Melanesia, which includes other independent countries like Fiji and the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea is the third largest island country.
Off the beaten path, the country has plenty to explore. Boasting vivid greenery paired with clear waters and pristine beaches, this Oceania region destination is truly an alluring paradise.
Noken Wari – Welcome to Papua New Guinea!
Located on the eastern shore of the island, Port Moresby is the capital of Papua New Guinea. Showcasing a drastic divide between the wealthy and poor areas, the capital isn’t considered a top destination in the country and is actually avoided by many travelers.
With glitzy areas surrounded by derelict buildings and shantytowns, the city is hard to walk and can be dangerous. There are, however, other areas that are nicer and do draw tourists. For those hoping to 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
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Cities to Visit
- Points of Interest
Culture and Language
Historically, Papua New Guinea is significant because some of the earliest humans traveled from Africa to the island 42,000 years ago. They developed agriculture in 7,000 BC, making the country one of few in the world where people were able to independently domesticate plants.
The sweet potato, for example, has been a staple in the country since being introduced in the 18th century. Additionally, when the Austronesian people came to Papua New Guinea in 500 BC, new fishing techniques, pottery, and pigs were also brought to the island.
Colonization occurred under the control of the Germans, Australia, and the British. Lacking a separate administration, Papua New Guinea was formed after World War II from the combination of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Today, the country keeps close ties with Australia and the English monarchy, even though it did gain independence in 1975.
While a prime minister is the head of the country, it’s still considered a commonwealth realm of England. Papua New Guinea’s government is controlled by a cabinet that 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 due to having over 7000 different cultural groups on the island, most of which have their own languages. Each cultural group is known to celebrate its traditions and have an individual identity by creating its 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’s Earth’s most linguistically diverse place with 832 languages spoken in the country. It’s important to note that these are not local dialects, but independent languages spoken by the local tribes.
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 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 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’s estimated that only 1-2% of the country is fluent in English.
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 8.9 million population (as of 2020) over the age of 15 are literate.
It’s 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.
Instead, it’s the opposite and many find it quite expensive to visit the country. This is because Papua New Guinea lacks a large tourist industry and there’s limited infrastructure designed for travelers, meaning costs can add up quickly. The most important parts of your spending budget will include 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 over a thousand dollars for a round-trip flight. But the price can increase during the peak tourist season, which lasts from May to October. You can also try to save money by choosing to book your airline ticket further ahead in advance.
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.
There are some hotels in Papua New Guinea that are designed to cater to tourists, but they come at a higher price. There are also a few resorts on the island, but they are suited for a luxury vacation, which means you will need to increase your budget
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’s not comfortable or suited for all travelers. Usually, backpackers will seek this type of accommodation to save money.
Papua New Guinea Food
With airfare and accommodation being so expensive, you still have to consider the price of food and drink with your budget. Local food is often grown on the island and then a portion of it’s 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’s 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’s 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, while kaukau is a simple but well-baked sweet potato. Sago is the most popular form of flour that’s used for bread, pudding, and 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 touristy restaurants. Most tourist restaurants will have menus that focus on foreign cuisines from Asian countries or Australia. But these restaurants are considered fine dining and dishes will be expensive.
Imported foods like instant coffee and Nutella can be extremely pricey, 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. Beers are priced decently while other cocktails will be more costly.
How to Get Around
Due to the limited infrastructure, it’s also very expensive to travel around Papua New Guinea. 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 boat.
Public Motor Vehicle (PMV)
Using the PMV method will require you to purchase a
The PMV method means that a one-way trip usually costs about $5 USD. This is significantly cheaper than other methods, but travelers also need to keep in mind that traveling by PMV may not be the safest.
You’re at risk of more crime like having your belongings stolen by traveling locally. It’s 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 USD per day to your guide.
It’s also best to hire a guide with good reviews and a good reputation so that you’re not trapped in a scam or unsafe situation.
Walking is safe in very small areas during the day, but you should never walk alone or at night. Markets are the most common areas to peruse, however, solo shopping isn’t recommended. and it’s safe, but you shouldn’t go shopping solo. If you do walk, be aware of your surroundings and keep your belongings close in a secured bag.
Top Cities to Visit
Port Moresby is the most popular city to visit in Papua New Guinea because it’s where tourists fly into Jackson International Airport. But the poor reputation of the capital means that many tourists are eager to leave and explore more of the country. For those looking to see more of what Papua New Guinea has to offer, consider visiting these top city destinations.
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 the 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’s considered to be the safest city for expatriates. There are two NGOs from Canada and Britain that have increased the safety of Madang. The area’s 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 a lot of different points of interest to explore. Mostly outdoors, nature lovers will enjoy spending time at any one of these locations. From national parks to mountains, here are the top tourist destinations in Papua New Guinea.
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.
With just one B&B run by a local family, Muschu (Mushu) Island is one destination that’s 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 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 of tourists are eager to dip their toes in the sand and get a glimpse under the waves.
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’s only recommended for experienced and advanced hikers who are ready to take up the task of a difficult trail with the beautiful landscape as your reward.
The Rabaul 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 island’s birds. Here, you can catch a glimpse of the Bird of Paradise or the King of Saxony.
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. You can view underwater wildlife like sharks and manta rays, as well as enjoy the changing colors of the coral.
Panaisa Island is unique because of its 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.
With vibrant green seaweed beneath the water, the photos here are stunning. The clear water has a clean blue hue that’s 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.
“Unity in Diversity”
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.
Having limited numbers of tourists, you’ll also feel like Papua New Guinea is your own personal paradise.