Papua New Guinea
The Independent State of Papua New Guinea (PNG, Tok Pisin: Papua Niugini, Hiri Motu: Papua Niu Gini) comprises the eastern part of the world's largest and highest tropical island, New Guinea, together with many smaller offshore islands.
The country can be divided into 9 regions:
|Southern Papua New Guinea |
This region covers the National Capital District of Port Moresby and the Central and Northern provinces. The starting point for all visits to Papua New Guinea.
|Western Papua New Guinea |
The Western and Gulf provinces. Fascinating but little visited provinces. Birdwatchers' paradise.
Madang has volcanic islands and good diving, while Morobe is beginning of the Highlands Highway and an original Gold Rush area
Consists of Enga Province, Chimbu Province and the Southern, Western and Eastern Highlands, amazing culture and the rare tribal fight
The Sandaun (West Sepik) and East Sepik provinces and the mighty Sepik river.
|Milne Bay |
The eastern region with many fascinating islands.
|New Britain |
New Britain still has many visible ruins from World War II, above and below water.
|New Ireland and Manus |
Land of the country's first human settlements. Fishing, diving, sailing and surfing, plus interesting culture.
An autonomous island region, culturally and geographically more akin to the Solomon Islands
- 1 Port Moresby — the capital city with its interesting Zoological gardens, the Parliament building, the museum, and general Melanesian atmosphere
- 2 Alotau — laid-back capital of Milne Bay province and gateway to some fascinating but remote islands
- 3 Goroka — an attractive highland town with pleasant climate and the annual Goroka Show, centre of the country's coffee industry
- 4 Lae — the country's second city, main commercial centre and gateway to the highlands
- 5 Madang — a beautiful city with breathtaking flights of bats in the evening (it is illegal to hurt them), and even more breathtaking diving
- 6 Mount Hagen — the 'wild-west' frontier town in the Highlands, which will introduce you to the cool, crisp Highlands weather and Highlands culture
- 7 Rabaul — the city at the foot of an active volcano which was evacuated and severely damaged by a major eruption in 1994
- 8 Vanimo — the border town if you want to make your way to or from the province of Papua in neighbouring Indonesia; popular surfing destination
- 9 Wewak — the gateway to the Sepik river, where you can experience Sepik culture, the river itself, and the elaborate carvings typical of the region
- 1 Kokoda Track — one of the most popular experiences in PNG, a 96 km hike along a historic trail across the Owen Stanley Range, famous for its part in World War II
- 2 Louisiade Archipelago — beautiful island group well off-the-beaten-path; world-class diving and yachting heaven
- 3 Trobriand Islands — referred to by the anthropologist, Malinowski, as the "Islands of Love"
- 4 Tufi — the Fjordland of Papua New Guinea with fascinating scenery, great diving, and tapa cloth made from mulberry bark
|Population||8.9 million (2020)|
|Electricity||240 volt / 50 hertz (AS/NZS 3112)|
|Time zone||UTC+10:00, UTC+11:00, Pacific/Port_Moresby|
|Emergencies||111 (emergency medical services), 110 (fire department), 112 (police)|
|edit on Wikidata|
There is evidence of human settlement as long ago as 35,000 years in what is now Papua New Guinea. This comes from an archaeological site at Matenkupkum, just south of Namatanai in New Ireland province. Other archaeological digs at several locations in New Ireland have discovered tools and food residue dating back 20,000 years.
In more modern times, Papua New Guinea, the eastern half of the island of New Guinea (which is the second largest island in the world), was divided between Germany ('German New Guinea') and Great Britain ('British Papua') in 1884. The Dutch had West Papua, now the Indonesian territory of Papua. The southeast part of the island, also known as Papua, was owned by the UK but administered by Australia, and thus a colony of a colony, until Australian federation in 1901, when it became an Australian territory. In 1914, the Australians did their part in the Allied war effort as a part of the British forces and took control of German New Guinea. They continued to administer it as a Trust Territory under the League of Nations on behalf of the British, and later the United Nations. However, it was not just disinterested colonialism. Gold had been discovered in several places and was rapidly exploited. Remnants of vast gold dredges can still be seen in the Bulolo and Wau area.
During the Pacific War, New Guinea was the site of fierce fighting on land (at Buin and on the Kokoda Track) and sea (at the Battle of the Coral Sea). It was the first place in the war where the Japanese advance was checked and then reversed. After the war, both New Guinea and Papua were administered from the government centre of Port Moresby on the south coast, in Papua. While it became a country in July 1949, under the name Territory of Papua and New Guinea, the country, now united as "Papua New Guinea", achieved independence from Australia in September 1975. Today Papua New Guinea continues to be the foremost country in Melanesia. The country struggles to fulfil the dreams of independence as economic stagnation, corruption, law and order problems, and a nine-year secessionist revolt on the island of Bougainville (which was supported by Australia and Indonesia) all conspire to make the country somewhat less than a tropical paradise.
The attempts by Bougainville to break away at the time of Independence led to a decision to offer the regions of the country a certain amount of political autonomy and Bougainville is expected to become independent around 2027. Decentralisation led to the establishment of nineteen provincial governments and the process of dividing up the country into unviable administrative units seems to be continuing, with a decision in 2009 to split both Southern Highlands and Western Highlands provinces into three new provinces.
In 2009, Papua New Guinea received 125,000 visitors, but only around 20% of these declared themselves as tourists. The country offers the traveller a true paradox. With little tourist infrastructure outside the main tourist areas, getting around can be tough. But Papua New Guineans themselves are wonderfully welcoming people who will go to great lengths to accommodate strangers. Tourism is well developed and growing in a handful of locations. Beyond these, the country is 120% adventure travel and not for the inexperienced or faint of heart.
For people who can make it out here, the experience is unforgettable. The incredible natural beauty is simply indescribable. Its unique flora and fauna includes enormous radiations of marsupials and birds, including the Raggiana bird-of-paradise (the national symbol) and several species of tree kangaroos. Untouched coral reefs compete with spectacular World War II wrecks for the attention of divers, and the hiking is out of this world.
The central highlands of Papua New Guinea were not mapped until the 1930s and not effectively brought under government control until the late 1960s. As a result, the people are as interesting as the geography, flora, and fauna. Papua New Guinea is a place that often markets itself as 'the Last Unknown' or a place where you can still find 'Stone Age People'. Of course, telling a Papua New Guinean that you consider them a Stone Age savage is incredibly rude. While you can, if you try hard enough, find old men who remember the first time they or anyone in their society saw metal, you'll also have trouble finding anyone who has not seen Titanic. Indeed, what makes Papua New Guinea so interesting today is not the fact that it is some sort of living museum, but its incredible dynamism. In the hundred-year shift from stone to steel to silicon, Papua New Guineans have turned the shortest learning curve in human history into one of the most colourful, and often idiosyncratic, experiments in modernity ever produced by human beings. Featuring ritual garb made of human hair and rolled up Instant Noodle wrappers, rap in Pidgin English, or tribal warriors named 'Rambo' for their valour in combat, Papua New Guinea's collision with global culture has been intense and fascinating. So don't worry about the fate of 'traditional culture': in the bar room brawl between Papua New Guinea and the global culture industry the biggest worry is keeping Papua New Guinea from pummelling global culture to a pulp.
Papua New Guinea is just to the south of the equator and has a tropical climate. In the highlands, though, temperatures are distinctly cool. The (very) wet season runs from about December to March. The best months for trekking are June to September.
The country is situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire, at the point of collision of several tectonic plates. There are a number of active volcanoes, and eruptions are frequent. Earthquakes are relatively common, sometimes accompanied by tsunamis.
The country's geography is diverse and, in places, extremely rugged. A spine of mountains, the New Guinea Highlands, runs the length of the island of New Guinea, forming a populous highlands region mostly covered with tropical rainforest. Dense rainforests can be found in the lowland and coastal areas as well as very large wetland areas surrounding the Sepik and Fly rivers. This terrain has made it difficult for the country to develop transportation infrastructure. In some areas, aircraft are the only mode of transport. The highest peak is Mount Wilhelm at 4,509 m (14,793 ft). Papua New Guinea is surrounded by coral reefs which are under close watch to preserve them.
There are many great books about Papua New Guinea, including great fiction as well as non-fiction. An excellent book for the general reader about Papua New Guinea is Sean Dorney's Papua New Guinea: People, Politics, and History Since 1975. The third edition is the best, but it is pretty hard to find outside of Australia (and is not that easy to find there).
John Laurel Ryan, a former employee of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), also wrote an excellent book, The Hot Land which was published about 1970. Among other fascinating historical information it contains accounts of various manifestations of cargo cult, John Teosin's "baby garden" on Buka Island, and eye-witness reports that have been rigidly suppressed in other media about the Indonesian takeover of the former Dutch West Papua. This excellent and at times disturbing book will also be hard to find. Much easier to find is the book Throwim Way Leg by well-known Australian scientist Tim Flannery. The book, whose title means "go on a journey" in Tok Pisin, recounts the author's adventures in the PNG highlands while on assignment to gather zoological specimens in the mid-1980s. Its depictions of the people who inhabit this region are particularly memorable.
There is also a lot of anthropological work that has been done in Papua New Guinea (leading some to term the area an "anthropologist's laboratory"), which can contribute greatly to an understanding of the different groups in the region. Some of the more accessible volumes include Malinowski's Argonauts of the Western Pacific, centred on the Trobriand Islanders, who live just north of Papua New Guinea; Reading the Skin by Michael O'Hanlon; Coaxing the spirits to dance by Welsch, Webb et al.; The Art of Kula by SF Campbell; and Inalienable Possessions by AB Weiner.
Papua New Guinea has hundreds of ethnic groups and is arguably one of the most heterogeneous countries in the world. Each group has expressive forms in art, weaponry, dancing, music and costumes.
- January 1: New Year's Day
- Easter (according to the Gregorian calendar)
- June 8: Queen's Birthday
- July 23: Remembrance Day
- August 26: National Day of Repentance
- September 16: Independence Day
- December 25: Christmas Day
- December 26: Boxing Day
Everyone needs a visa to enter Papua New Guinea, but a 60-day visa on arrival is available to all EU/EFTA citizens and to citizens of Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, Fiji, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Kiribati, Macau, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Monaco, Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, Peru, Philippines, Samoa, San Marino, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Tonga, Tuvalu, United States, Uruguay, Vanuatu and Vatican City. Citizens of other countries need to obtain advance visas from the nearest PNG diplomatic mission.
The immigration authorities will allow visa on arrival only for stays longer than 8 hours, so if you're transiting through Port Moresby, you will not be permitted to leave the airport.
- Air Niugini flies to and from Cairns, Sydney, Brisbane, Honiara, Koror, Nadi, Manila, Singapore, Hong Kong, Chuuk, Pohnpei, Tokyo and Port Vila.
- Citilink flies to and from Denpasar
- Philippine Airlines flies to and from Manila
- PNG Air flies to and from Cairns
- Qantas flies to and from Brisbane
- Solomon Airlines flies to and from Honiara
The ports include Madang, Lae, and Port Moresby on the mainland, Kieta on Bougainville, and Rabaul and Kimbe on New Britain. However, they are only internal ferries. International ferries are unavailable. However, cruise ships occasionally dock at Port Moresby.
The only land border is with Papua, Indonesia. Crossing it involves some preparation but is easier than it used to be. That said, make sure you have contingency plans, as the Papua New Guinea immigration officers are known to habitually not show up for work, especially on market days when they might be out drinking, and you will not be able to cross the border legally if that happens. In Jayapura, Indonesia, there is a consulate to apply for a tourist visa. The consulate is located in Mendi, a 10-min green PMV (public motor vehicle) ride away from Jayapura's capital. The price is 2,000 Indonesian rupiah (IDR).
Depending on your Indonesian visa there are different options to cross the border. If you have a visa on arrival, issued to you for example at Jakarta Airport, you can only cross the border using a boat or by stamping out at customs in Jayapura and then immediately travelling to the border 30 km away. Western travellers attempting the latter should expect to pay some miscellaneous fees and jump moderate bureaucratic hoops before leaving.
Boats can be rented from Hamedi. Any other type of visa you can rent a car, or an ojek and cross the land border. If you rent a vehicle for the crossing you should expect to pay approximately IDR300,000 from Jayapura town and upwards of IDR500,000 to return from the border to Jayapura.
Papua New Guinea is a strange place when it comes to travel. The tropical conditions, fierce geography, and lack of government capacity means there are very few paved roads in the country, with a very messy road system. Most highways in PNG are not connected to one another. The big exception to this is the Highlands Highway, which begins in Lae (the country's main port) and runs up into the highlands through Goroka to Mt. Hagen with a fork going back to the coast and Madang. Shortly outside Mt. Hagen the road branches, with the southern line going through the Southern Highlands to Tari while the northern line runs through Enga province and ends in Porgera. On the north coast, a tenuous highway runs from Madang to Wewak only in theory, with a large gap Gavien and Bak.
With the exception of a brief span of road connecting it to the immediate hinterland and a road that will enable you to follow the coast southeast for a few hours, there are no major roads linking Port Moresby to anywhere else.
Because it was administered by Australia until 1975, traffic in PNG drives on the left side of the road with right hand vehicles. The maximum speed limit is a very low 70 km/h.
By public motor vehicles (PMV)
The most common way to travel is by PMV/bus with the locals.
Lae, Madang, Goroka, Tari, and Mount Hagen are all connected by a good highway. As a newcomer it is probably advisable to get help from locals (e.g., hotel-staff). Most towns have several boarding points. A trip from Lae to Madang costs around K20, to Mt. Hagen K30 (kina).
Papua New Guinea has historically been one of the world centres for aviation and still features some of the most spectacular flying in the world. In the 1920s, Lae was the busiest airport in the world: it was there that aviators in the gold mining industry first proved that it was commercially feasible to ship cargo (and not just people) by air. In fact, Lae was where Amelia Earhart set off on her last journey.
Air transport is still the most common way to get around between major urban centres - indeed, pretty much every major settlement is built around an airstrip. In fact, the main drag of Mt. Hagen is the old airstrip! Travel from the coast into the Highlands is particularly spectacular (don't take your eyes off the window for a second!) and pilots from Australia, New Zealand, America and other countries work here just for the great flying experience. If you don't like light aircraft, flying to more remote locations here may not be the best option for you.
The two major domestic airlines are Air Niugini and PNG Air:
- Air Niugini connects Port Moresby and, to a lesser extent, Lae with most of the provincial capitals, but does not offer much of a service between the smaller towns. A domestic route map is available. The airline flies a mixture of Boeing and older Fokker jet aircraft, and a handful of Dash 8 propeller aircraft. The airline has a good safety record, only blemished by one crash in 2018.
- PNG Air connects a large number of smaller towns. It operates propeller aircraft seating either 36 or 72 passengers. It operates on the mainland and serves the larger islands. Historically, this airline had a poor safety record but has not had a fatal accident since 2011.
People living in the archipelagos get around locally with the ubiquitous banana boat, a 30- to 40-ft fibreglass hull with an outboard motor.
Also, two or three shipping lines also sell tickets for passengers who want to leapfrog from one city to another. These ferries run only two or three times per week and offer upper and lower class. Upper gets you a bunk to sleep on while lower gets you a hard seat.
There is a ferry twice a week between Madang and Wewak.
One small ship leaves the city of Lae once a week, stopping at Finschhafen and Umboi Island. Sleeping on the open deck of a ship as it crawls slowly through the South Pacific night is about as romantic as it sounds, but beware - it gets cold on the open ocean no matter where you are, so take some warm clothes or buy a cabin inside.
With over 800 languages, it was pretty difficult to get everyone talking to each other. Two pidgins grew up in this area; Tok Pisin (based on English) and Hiri Motu (based on the local Motu language), and when the Anglophones married the Hulis and the babies learned the only language they had in common, Tok Pisin became a creole. Tok Pisin sometimes looks like it is English written phonetically ("Yu dring; yu draiv; yu dai" means "You drink; you drive; you die"), but it is not; it has more personal pronouns than English and its own quite different syntax.
Tok Pisin is spoken in most of the country and short, inexpensive guidebooks on learning Tok Pisin can be acquired in the many bookstores. Hiri Motu is spoken in Port Moresby and other parts of Papua, though since Port Moresby is the capital, you're likely to find Tok Pisin speakers in the airport, banks, or government. When approaching locals, try to speak English first; using Tok Pisin or another language can make it look like you are assuming they don't know English.
You might sometimes have trouble hearing what the locals are saying because they speak very quietly. It is considered rude by some of the local groups to look people in the eyes and to speak loudly.
Signs are often either bi or trilingual, with English and Tok Pisin always present. Sometimes signs will only be in English, but only very rarely will an informational sign be written in Tok Pisin only.
South New Guinea
The Kokoda Trail is a 60-mile (97-kilometre) trail, beginning in the Port Moresby area and leading up into the Owen Stanley Range. This trail was first used by gold miners in the 1890s and is most known as a historical World War II site as the Japanese tried to reach Port Moresby along it. It takes between six and twelve days to hike this track, which includes plenty of ups and downs between mountain ridges and streams.
The Highland region is made of a long string of fertile valleys, each separated by mountains, that mean the Highlands are composed of many distinct tribal regions.
In the Eastern Highlands is Mount Wilhelm, Papua New Guinea's highest mountain (4535 m). Climbing Wilhelm is relatively easy; but three or four days are recommended to allow for sightseeing. There are views of both the north and south coasts of New Guinea from the peak. The Wahgi River in this area is considered one of the best whitewater rafting destinations in the world.
The Northern Coast
- Madang is good for scuba diving, and the coral reefs are home to a variety of rare species of colourful fish. There are also underwater wrecks of Japanese fighter planes, with weapons and cargo intact. There are still-active volcanoes for trekkers to hike up not far from Madang.
- Further west you come to Wewak. It is the gateway to the Sepik River region with a fascinating culture distinct from that of the Highlands. Take a long canoe ride up the river and its tributaries to visit the impressive Haus Tambaran.
- New Britain. This island offers excellent swimming and snorkelling. Trails in the area are perfect for day hikes and treks through the rainforest. There are also hot thermal springs and bubbling mud holes in this region of the island. The Baining people who inhabit the northeastern area of New Britain are famous for creating ephemeral art-forms, perhaps no better demonstrated than by their fire dance. A dramatic and beautifully made mask is constructed from bark for this ceremony and thrown away as worthless immediately afterwards.
- Bougainville. Well off-the-beaten-path in the far east of the country, with great untapped tourism potential. World-class diving, dramatic treks and World War II Japanese relics are the key attractions.
- Trobriand Islands. The so-called Islands of Love are well known for their unique culture.
Go scuba diving, using one of more than a dozen local scuba diving operators. The national Scuba Diving industry body is a good starting point. Papua New Guinea has some of the very best tropical reef diving anywhere in the world.
This is a birdwatching Mecca with over 700 species of birds including many birds of paradise. Definitely bring a pair of decent binoculars and ask in the villages for a volunteer to help you find the birds. An amazing experience! See also Australasian wildlife.
Information through the Surfing Association.
Another popular attraction here is trekking through the mountains, coastal lowlands and rolling foothills of the Kokoda and other trails. By far the most popular and set organised is The Kokoda Track, which attracts over 4,000 hikers a year. It is also possible to hike to the 4,509-m-high summit of Mount Wilhelm, the highest mountain in Oceania.
The most popular activities for tourists here are festivals such as the Sing-Sing performances at the annual Goroka and Mt. Hagen shows. During these shows, there are usually more than fifty ensembles that turn up. The festivals are competitive and the winning ensemble is rewarded by being invited to give concerts at many restaurants and hotels during the following year. The beauty and colour of New Guinea's festivals is both pleasing to watch for tourists and helps the locals financially.
Fishing is becoming increasingly popular. Species include Black Marlin, Blue Marlin, Sailfish, Yellow Fin, Skipjack and Dogtooth Tuna and the Giant Trevally. Mahi Mahi (Dolphin Fish), Mackerel and Wahoo. A particularly challenging fish is the black bass, which, pound for pound, is considered to be the toughest fighting fish in the world.
Flightseeing is a word that should have been coined here. If you can afford it, just flying around some of the remote airstrips is an adventure in itself. There are strips that seem impossibly short, strips that seem to end with a mountain, strips where if you don't take off in time you will plunge into a ravine, and airstrips surrounded on three sides by water. From Port Moresby you don't have to fly far to get the experience. There are flights to villages on the Kokoda trail and others in the Owen Stanley mountain range in Central Province and you can fly a scheduled circuit or "milk run" in one morning, although you will have to be at the airport by 5AM. Check with PNG Air for schedules. Fane, Ononge and Tapini strips are particularly scary. Remember your life insurance.
Rugby league is the national sport of Papua New Guinea.
Exchange rates for PNG Kina
As of January 2023:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The kina, denoted by the symbol "K" (ISO code: PGK) is the currency of Papua New Guinea. It is divided into 100 toea.
Polymer banknotes in Papua New Guinea come in denominations of 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 kina. Coins in Papua New Guinea come in denominations of 5, 10, 20 and 50 toea and 1 kina.
ATMs are common in the main towns (mainly Bank of the South Pacific, ANZ and Westpac - all should accept foreign cards). Some will charge high fees, some might charge fees if you're in a different bank, and some in hotels might charge no fees (but are intended for guests only). Money changers give poor rates (similar rates to money changers in Australia) due to high business costs. Credit cards are commonly accepted in larger shops, hotels and restaurants, although there are occasional reports of fraud. Market stalls prefer small change. In some tourist spots, Australian dollars are accepted, although unlike other countries in Oceania, they may not always be preferred.
Not all foreign currencies are accepted in Papua New Guinea, and foreign currencies are not taken everywhere. If you were to use a foreign currency, your best bet will be using the Australian dollar – the US dollar are taken to a lesser extent, though you will have a better chance of getting with the Australian dollar as it was the country's former currency. Keep in mind that foreign currencies are only used in tourist spots and sometimes in major cities. No foreign currencies are accepted when in rural villages or anywhere outside the big cities.
There is not so much shopping in the regular sense. In the major cities there are a few malls and supermarkets. Otherwise, most of the shopping is done in small markets that are held irregularly. A great place to visit is the craft market which is held once per month in Port Moresby opposite Ela beach in the car park of the IEA TAFE College. There it is possible to buy handicrafts from every part of the country. Although it is slightly more expensive than out in the villages, the prices are very reasonable. Haggling is not really an accepted custom; one can haggle a bit but to do it excessively may cause offence.
Don't buy bird feathers.
The food is largely devoid of spices. A typical way of cooking is a Mumu, an underground oven in which meat and vegetables, such as Kaukau (sweet potatoes), are cooked. In just about every meal, there is rice and another form of starch.
In the lodges that tourists stay in, there is usually a blend between this type of food and a more Westernised menu.
While it may come as a surprise for many, there are no American nor European chains in Papua New Guinea. The only chains you'll find are Big Rooster, a locally operated chicken chain, Eagle Pizzeria, an Australian pizza chain and Hog's Breath Cafe, another Australian steakhouse chain – so all either locally operated, or an Australian chain.
The main local brew, SP (short for South Pacific) Lager, is owned by Heineken. Binge drinking is a major social problem. Beers and wines are often served fairly warm due to a lack of refrigeration. Also, while the water quality varies from place to place (and in some cases from day to day), it is generally best to stick to bottled water, even in upmarket hotels.
Hotels are very expensive (at least US$100/night, and often much more). Guesthouses are the best budget option in the towns but even then still expensive (about US$40/night) The least expensive option is to stay in village guesthouses (about US$15/night), and that is where the fun is, anyhow.
Port Moresby has international hotels including the Crown Plaza and Airways International, mid-range hotels such as Lamana, and guesthouses. The regional areas offer international and budget hotels depending on the size of the town and some provinces have guest houses.
There is a workforce of close to two million people in various industries. There is high demand for skilled people, but it is difficult for those who are considered to be "unskilled" to find work. Many people have informal small businesses.
Do not travel to Papua New Guinea due to crime, civil unrest, health concerns, natural disasters, and kidnapping. Reconsider travel due to COVID-19-related restrictions. Some areas have increased risk. Read the entire Travel Advisory.
Reconsider travel to:
Bougainville, particularly areas near the Panguna mine, due to civil unrest. The Highlands region due to civil unrest. Areas in the vicinity of Mount Ulawun on the island of New Britain due to natural disaster.
Country Summary: Violent crime, including sexual assault, carjackings, home invasions, kidnappings, and armed robberies, is common. Tensions between communal or clan groups may result in violence at any time without warning. Police presence is limited outside of the capital Port Moresby, and police may be unable to assist due to limited resources.
Public demonstrations, especially in population centers, are common and may turn violent. Even peaceful demonstrations may present opportunities for criminal elements or other actors to exacerbate local political tensions.
The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens outside of Port Moresby due to limited transportation infrastructure.
The country has a reputation as a risky destination in some circles (primarily Australian ones), predominantly because of the activities of criminal gangs (known in Tok Pisin and commonly in English as raskols) in major cities, especially in Port Moresby and Lae.
That is generally a result of unemployment stemming from increased domestic migration from subsistence farming in the hills to the nearest urban area.
There is no history of heavy settlement in the Port Moresby and Lae areas. Hence, they are colonial cities comprised of a mix of tribal people which fosters instability. Madang, Wewak, Goroka, Mt Hagen, and Tari are much safer with longer periods of settlement and a more stable tribal homogeneity.
The villages are quite safe as the locals will "adopt" you as one of their own.
If you must, the most important thing is to stay up to date on the law-and-order situation in the locations you are planning to visit.
Most hotels in Port Moresby are secure and situated inside compounds, generally with guards patrolling the perimeter. However, actual gunfire in the capital is mercifully rare. If you plan on taking a tour of any city, make inquiries with your hotel or accommodation provider, as many will be able to either walk with you or drive you to wherever you are planning to go, or just around the local area if that is what you want to do.
Avoid going out after dark, but if you must, stay very alert.
Flying in small planes can be very risky. Hardly a year goes by without at least one fatal accident. While the planes are usually well-maintained and the pilots technically proficient the problem is the mountainous terrain. Many smaller airfields are situated in steep valleys. When there is cloud cover planes have difficulty in finding them and sometimes crash into a mountain. The national airline, Air Niugini, which flies internationally and to the major cities of the country has, however, an unblemished safety record in 32 years of operation.
Saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) are common in Papua New Guinea and are capable of growing to immense lengths of 7 m or more (although individuals over 6 m are rare). They occasionally devour humans. They are equally at home in coastal waters as they are in freshwater lakes and rivers. Avoid swimming except at higher elevations and in hotel swimming pools. Papua New Guinea, along with Northern Australia, has the highest and healthiest population of large saltwater crocodiles in the world.
Papua New Guinea is home to many active volcanoes and several of the most popular treks involve getting close or actually climbing one or more of these. Always heed local advice and a regular check of The Smithsonian Institute's Volcanic Activity Report[dead link] would be wise.
Tap water in some regions can be unsafe to drink.
Malaria can be a hazard as well, although many villages, particularly those connected to industry, are regularly treated for mosquitoes. Take the appropriate precautions against mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases. Malaria medication can be purchased at pharmacies.
As in many Melanesian cultures, greeting people with a friendly handshake is very important. Be aware, however, that it is a sign of respect not to make eye contact. The sight of hotel staff calling you by name, shaking your hand and looking at the floor may seem unusual at first.
Of course, do not take pictures of people without their consent, even if they have the most mindblowing costumes and makeups. Remember that they are real people, not tourist attractions.
Papua New Guinea has two daily newspapers that include up-to-date exchange rates and other important information:
Papua New Guinea has 2 mobile GSM operators:
the following destinations are accessible by direct flight from Port Moresby:
- Federated States of Micronesia
- Solomon Islands