Maybe you’re a couple who wants something out of the ordinary for your honeymoon. You want adventure, to go somewhere that most people have never even heard of, let alone will ever see. A place where new species of wildlife are still being discovered, where most villages can only be reached by helicopter or a 6-seater plane, a place whose mountains still defy roads to cross them. A place where the stone age meets the new millennium.
That place is West Papua, where I have spent a good 18 years of my life, and even though I have left there now, it still holds a large chunk of my heart.
Papua is situated on the western half of the island of New Guinea, and it is part of the Indonesian archipelago. It is NOT Papua New Guinea, in case you are wondering.
A honeymoon in Papua is definitely not for the faint-hearted or tender of foot, but I can assure you that if you do visit that it will be a place you will not easily forget. To get to Papua is itself an endeavour. The best way is to make your way to either Jakarta or Bali from wherever you are coming from, then fly via Garuda Indonesia to Timika (on the South coast of Papua) and then to either Jayapura or Wamena.
There are two main towns in Papua that I see as “leaping points” to the rest of Papua, or good places to explore in themselves. Sentani is right by the coast, near the capital of Papua (Jayapura), and is where most expats live. Wamena, situated in the Papuan highlands, is the world’s largest town entirely serviced by air. This is where most tourists go, to get more of a feel for Papuan highland culture.
What you will see as you come in to land at Sentani
Wamena – The Highlands
From these two towns, you can venture out to more remote areas of the region, or even catch a ride on one of the mission planes that are the sole source of outside contact for many tiny villages. Don’t be afraid of expats! They can spot tourists a mile off but try to make friends with some because with their contacts and knowledge of the area you can go far.
My family and me about to hitch a ride on a mission plane, 1996.
See, we expats aren’t so scary!
Where to stay
Sadly, the tourist industry hasn’t been so strong in Papua in the last few years and many hotels have become neglected. However, there are still a few that maintain a good standard. The Swiss-Belhotel in Jayapura is where my parents have spent their anniversaries in recent years. It is clean, has a pool and air-conditioning (essential in that coastal heat), and its restaurant serves a mix of Indonesian and Western foods. It is also right next to one of Papua’s very few coffee shops (we have also just got a KFC, Pizza Hut and escalators-amazing, right?!).
In Wamena, the Baliem Valley Resort Wamena is perfect for honeymooners, with its gorgeous mountain views and bungalows. Here you can have comfort while still feeling like you have been transported into a jungle world.
The Resort (source)
To See & Do
In Sentani, take a taxi (or a compliant expat’s car) to where you can hire a perahu (motorised outrigger canoe) to take you to a remote beach for a day. There you can enjoy snorkeling, fishing, surfing, or sitting in your hammock between a couple of coconut trees.
mmhmm…my favourite position to be in on the beach!
The coral reefs in this area are incredible, and you might see anything from clown fish to hammerhead sharks (yes!) to pods of up to fifty dolphins. You can even overnight at these beaches if you wish (we always did for all our high school trips), though you will have to dig your own longdrop (toilet) and rig up a tarpaulin for shelter.
Wamena is perfect for getting a taste for Papuan highland culture, especially that of the Danis, who make up the largest Papuan tribe. You can go to the local museum to experience this, or, of course, you can find a guide who will maybe take you to a more “untouched” area for you to experience the culture.
a traditional house in the highlands
There are many great places to hike around these towns as well, from short day trips to longer. Just be warned – these hikes are not sign posted or anything. Take a guide to be safe. In Sentani many high school kids will be happy to take you up Mt. Cyclops to bathe at various waterfalls. Otherwise, for bigger hikes, find a local and follow their lead.
Even if you don’t make a point of going out and being adventurous, you are bound to see and experience things that you haven’t before—they will make some great stories to tell your kids later!
guys with a crocodile skull
an example of a house in the lowlands
left to right: a cool stick insect, baby python, and an electric blue weird bug
Ever tried fried bat? Victoria Crown Pigeon? Sago? Sweet potato leaves cooked with pig’s blood? Well if you want to, you might just have that chance in Papua. For those of you who want Indonesian food, their are plenty of restaurants and road-side stalls for you to choose from. For more “traditional” Papuan food you will probably have to go out to a village, and there you might be lucky enough to eat some food cooked the highland way—in a pit in the ground that is lined with hot rocks and banana leaves.
Highland ladies cooking – that’s part of a pig that they are standing around
Speaking of bananas, you really haven’t eaten a banana until you have tasted a Papuan one. Papua is bursting with every kind of tropical fruit you can imagine; once you try it everything you taste from a supermarket back home will just be disappointing.
Warning: Be very, very careful when buying food from roadside stalls, unless you want a nasty stomach bug. Never buy and eat fruit that has already been cut up, and make sure meat has been cooked completely through. Never ever drink water from the faucet or use it to brush your teeth. Always drink bottled, boiled or filtered water. Or, just have a soda. 🙂
Other Things to Be Aware Of
- Culture Shock: Even the most hardened traveller can experience culture shock in a new place. Read up a bit about Papua, and symptoms of culture shock before you go so you are more prepared. And also- allow yourself to experience culture shock. It is a natural part of the process.
- It is hot on the coast. Avoid heat-exhaustion by avoiding doing much from 11AM-3PM, wearing a hat and sunscreen while outside, and drinking way more than you might usually.
- Papua is home to malaria-carrying mosquitos. Trust me, I have had it more times that I can count. Wear insect repellent always when outdoors, take a malaria prophylaxis (ask your doctor about this) and have a mosquito net over your bed if you are not sleeping in a hotel.
- Many people have been put off coming to Papua because of tensions between indigenous Papuans and the Indonesian government. Yes, the tension is there, but as a tourist you don’t have a whole lot to be concerned about. Just stay out of army-controlled areas, avoid talking about the issues (I know, I find that part difficult), and observe.
- Realise that what you are seeing might not be around for much longer. It is predicted that by the year 2020 the indigenous Papuan population will be decimated by AIDS. By being aware of this, and perhaps by gaining some knowledge of the Papuan culture(s) and their situation, maybe you can be a part of finding a way to help.
Sorry for the marathon post everyone! If you can’t tell, I am deeply passionate about my Papuan “home” and I could write an entire book about it! Every single person I have met who has gone to Papua has said that the place has changed them (for the better) in some way and opened their eyes to something they could never have imagined. And how many honeymoon spots can you say that about?
If you want to know more about Papua or are thinking of going there one day, feel free to ask me any questions. 🙂
*unless otherwise stated, all pics are personal or taken by friends and relatives
See all the posts in the Honeymoon in my Hometown Series here!