Travelling in Papua New Guinea puts you in danger of sensory overload. But it’s almost guaranteed to be a place you will find hard to shake from your mind long after you have left.
PNG has more than 600 islands, 800 different languages and a population of around 5 million. This means a diverse and fascinating cultural heritage among its Melanesian peoples.
This is not always an easy place to travel, but the rewards are great. I’ve been there three times, and each time came away feeling that I had seen something wonderful. The culture is rich, the people are open and friendly, and the landscape is wild, rugged and exceptionally lush.
Your first stop will be the capital, Port Moresby, on the southern coast of the PNG mainland. With a high rate of crime, Port Moresby is not a place to linger, but it is necessary to travel in and out as you access flights to other cities (roads are bad and sometimes non-existent) and there are some interesting places to visit with a tour guide. Unspoilt rainforests, wide rivers, mountains, caves, and surf beaches have been drawing adventurers of all kinds to PNG for many years. The most famous trekking option is the Kokoda Track, which since World War II has held a special place in PNG and Australian history.
Dive sites are seldom crowded, and as well as underwater bommies, sea mounts and pinnacles, there are a number of well-preserved World War II shipwrecks. There are several dive resorts and live-aboard options to choose from.
Start with these Papua New Guinea Itineraries
PNG’s Cultural Festivals … Colour and spectacle at sing-sings around the country
There are 19 provinces in PNG, offering spectacular experiences. In East New Britain, volcanic eruptions still periodically cloak the town of Rabaul in ash; war cemetaries and battle sites abound; surfers head to Kavieng and Vanimo; bird-watching and orchid gardens add to the colour of seaside Madang. Explore the wide Sepik River by boat, or attend one of many cultural festivals around the country.
Vast tracts of its 463,000 square kilometres are undeveloped, and those that are could still be considered under-developed. The Owen Stanley Range divides the mainland, with peaks towering to more than 4000 metres. PNG is divided into four main regions: the Highlands, Momase, New Guinea Islands, and Southern PNG. It is also home to more than 700 species of birds, including the exotic cassowary, hornbill and bird of paradise. Native animals include tree kangaroos, echidnas and forest wallabies.
Despite it’s proximity to Australia, Papua New Guinea gets relatively few tourists, apart from the hardy souls who walk the Kokoda Track. In part, this is due to a perception that PNG is a risky and unpredictable place to visit. But with organisation and local guides, it can be a rewarding and fascinating experience in a place that remains untouched by mass tourism and where the people are friendly and unworldly.
Papua New Guinea has a host of colourful cultural festivals throughout the year, and timing your trip to coincide with one of them will create unforgettable memories – not to mention photographic opportunities.
The largest is the Mt Hagen Festival, held every August, when tribes from all over PNG gather for a sing-sing like no other. Smaller festivals also run in each province, so check our Festivals itinerary to plan accordingly.
In terms of weather, the best time to travel is in the Dry season, from May to October. This is also “winter”, if you can call it that, when the temperatures and humidity will be less oppressive.
Allow a day in Port Moresby, the capital, just to see a few of the sights. Your flights are likely to dictate this anyway, and you may have to return more than once in order to fly to different parts of the country, so any sightseeing can usually be fitted in around the dictates of those arrangements.
For the country as a whole, you could spend a week to 10 days and see most of what is accessible. Throw a festival into the mix, and that might extend it to two weeks. There’s certainly a lot to see, but the difficulty of getting around tends to add a few days to your arrangements.
Papua New Guinea is hot and humid, year-round.
It has a “wet” and “dry” season each year, but this varies geographically because of the country’s dramatic geography. The Dry season is from May to October, and the Wet runs from November to April.
Temperatures range from 14C in the Highlands region to 36C in northern coastal areas. In Port Moresby, the temperatures are usually between 22C and 32C. Divers and snorkellers will be happy to know that water temperatures are similar around the coastline, between 26C and 31C year-round.
National public holidays:
New Year’s Day – January 1
Easter – March/April
ANZAC Day – Apri 25
Queen’s Birthday – first Monday in June
Remembrance Day – July 21
Independence Day – September 16
Christmas Day – December 25
Boxing Day – December 26
Major events include a calendar of cultural festivals. Each town or region usually has its own annual cultural show or sing-sing, but the major ones are listed here. Check out our Festivals itinerary for more details.
Milamala Yam Festival, Milne Bay
National Mask Festival, Rabaul
Mt Hagen Cultural Show, Mt Hagen
Crocodile Festival, Ambunti
Tufi Cultural Show, Tufi
Goroka Show, Goroka
Hiri Moale Festival, Port Moresby
Morobe Show, Lae
Cano and Kundu Festival, Alotau
To check the local time in Papua New Guinea, click here.
Papua New Guinea is on West Pacific Standard Time (GMT 10.00). The whole country is on the same time zone, and does not observe Daylight Saving.
PNG’s tropical climate means dress is casual year-round, with shorts and short-sleeved shirts perfectly acceptable for all occasions. Local people will still be seen in traditional dress, including sulus, laplaps, ramis, and kolos. Women should dress modestly.
Some restaurants and bars have dress codes that include proper shoes (no thongs, flip-flops or sneakers allowed).
Malaria is a risk in PNG, so you may want to pack preventive medication. Malaria prevention options should be discussed with your doctor before you travel.
And in this tropical heat, it’s a good idea to pack light, loose clothing, and include some cover-up clothing to keep mosquitos away – as well as using strong insect repellant. Don’t forget sunglasses and a hat as well.
PNG’s electrical current is 24v, 50hz. Power outlets take 3-pin plugs, so make sure to take an adapter if you will need one.
Electricity outages sometimes occur, but most major hotels and restaurants have back up supplies.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in Kina.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $20-70 per person
$$$ => Tickets $70 per person
$ => Rooms less than $200 for a double
$$ => Rooms $201-300 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $301 for a double
$ => Up to $20 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$ => $21-35 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$$ => $36 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $21-$50 per person
$$$ => Tickets $51 per person
A 10% Goods and Services Tax (GST, similar to VAT), is added to all transactions in shops, hotels, bars and restaurants. In most cases it is included in the price.
Fly the Friendly Skies
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.
But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.
Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.
That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings.
Have Car, Will Travel
Hiring a car and driver is the best way of travelling by road in PNG. There are numerous car hire companies in the capital, Port Moresby, where you will arrive. Get your travel agent or hotel to organise it for you. Generally, travel in PNG is best done with a tour operator.
Hopefully, your trip to Papua New Guinea goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?
Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.
Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:
Trip Cancellation — About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Medical —Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000. And don’t forget, in PNG you may be travelling in remote areas which will add to those costs.
Trip Interruption — For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.
Travel Delay — Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.
Baggage — Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.
Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.
Do I need travel insurance?
Yes, you do. It would be foolhardy to travel to Papua New Guinea without at least standard medical and travel insurance. SCUBA divers should also ensure they have the appropriate insurance cover. In any case, for any destination, if your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors.
How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework — check around.
The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.
Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).
If you have pre-existing health conditions — Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.
Credit card insurance — If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.
For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.
The currency of PNG is the Kina, which is divided into 100 toea (pronounced toy-ah, and written as a t).
Bank notes are in denominations of K100, K50, K20, K10, K5 and K2 (all different colours for easy identification). Coins are K1, 50t, 20t, 10t and 5t – all silver.
Traveller’s checks and international credit cards are accepted at most major hotels and restaurants, but it is a good idea to check with your hotel before you arrive.
If you get money from an ATM, you may incur charges (often $2 or $3 per transaction). Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, banks will allow you to get cash without an extra charge. Many grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets let you get a limited amount of “cash out” when paying for your goods — this is an easy way to get cash while on the go. But remember that you may not always have access to an ATM once you are outside Port Moresby.
Major credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club are accepted at most leading hotels and restaurants in PNG, but it pays to check first. Always have some cash handy, just in case, especially if you are travelling in remote areas.
Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. If you don’t do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card — which doesn’t make sense if they are lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access.
Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that don’t offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.
Tipping is not common practice, or expected, in PNG. Monetary gifts are considered a very high honour in local culture, so tipping is not expected.
Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and chemist shops (pharmacies/drugstores) will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.
Visitors to PNG require tourist or business visa. If you are an American, New Zealand, Western European citizen, or from a Pacific country, you can obtain a free visa on arrival. However, if you are from any other country (including Australia) you will need to obtain a visa before you arrive, from the nearest PNG embassy, consulate or high commission (they will advise of the relevant visa fee).
There is a departure tax (usually included in your ticket price), and an Airport Service tax of K30, payable on departure.
The rugged terrain, mountains and dense rainforest that characterises this lush country means there is very little in the way of transport infrastructure. No rail lines and no highways. The roads that link the towns are usually little more than rough tracks, and punctures are common. Driving – apart from in the major towns – is the best idea.
For this reason, most travel within PNG is by air or ship.
But if you do take to the roads, remember that travel is on the left hand side of the road.
PNG’s only international airport is at Port Moresby. Flights arrive from Australia (Cairns and Brisbane), which lies about 160km to the south. Cruise ships also operate around the PNG coastline – also mostly from Australia – and this is a wonderful way of seeing the country.
Jacksons International Airport is the official gateway into Papua New Guinea, situated about 8km away from the centre of the capital, Port Moresby. The international and domestic terminals are adjacent – about 500 metres apart – making connections easy.
Jacksons International Airport provides duty free shopping, banks and ATMs, tourist information, car rental desks and basic transit lounges.
Air Niugini, the national airline of Papua New Guinea, provides international flights as well as domestic connections within PNG, with offices around the country. Another domestic carrier is Airlines PNG, which operates a fleet of De Havilland Dash 8 and Twin Otter aircraft.
QantasLink, a subsidiary of Qantas, operates three flights to Jacksons International Airport from Cairns, and Virgin Australia also flies to Port Moresby from Brisbane, Australia.
Getting around – both in Port Moresby and in country areas – is not without difficulty. In Port Moresby, there are taxis and Public Motor Vehicles (small buses), but visitors are not encouraged to use these because of safety concerns. A hire car and driver is a better option, and there are several companies in the city that will organise this for you (ask your hotel or travel agent).
Walking is also not encouraged because of the high rate of crime in Port Moresby. If you do decide to walk somewhere, do not take any valuables with you, or wear jewellery.
Port Moresby’s Jackson International Airport is the main arrival and departure point for visitors (unless you are coming by cruise ship).
Other airports are located at Lae, Madang, Goroka, Mt Hagen, Kimbe, Rabaul, Kavieng, Wewak and Milne Bay. In some cases, you will hop you way to several of these places before reaching your destination.
Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half of the world’s second largest island (after Greenland). The western half is West Papua.
Despite its size, much of PNG is uninhabitable dense rainforest and mountains.
Papua New Guinea is a conservative, Christian society and although the life is informal by Western standards, there are several things that visitors should keep in mind, especially when visiting villages and travelling outside Port Moresby.
Men and women should dress modestly. Women visitors should understand that it is taboo to show their thighs or to step across food or over menâs legs. Couples should be aware that public displays of affection for each other is considered unacceptable in most parts of PNG.
If you are staying in villages, always go and meet the council or head men of the village first. Take advice on local etiquette from your guide.
Hospitality is considered an honour in PNG society; however, if you are lucky enough to stay with a local family, it is appropriate to give a gift rather than a monetary tip.
If you choose to go for a walk, always take someone with you who is familiar with the area and able to provide help in
case of an emergency. Female travellers should not travel alone.
Take personal care of your belongings.
Always ask permission before taking photographs of people, or in parts of a village such as Haus Tambaran.
Port Moresby has a number of very good restaurants, and wherever you go in PNG seafood is likely to be on the menu – barrmundi, crayfish, prawns and mudcrabs, among it.
Asian cuisine is very popular in PNG, and you’ll see Chinese, Thai, Malaysian, Indian, Korean and Japanese restaurants. In Port Moresby, one of the most popular restaurants is the Chinese, Grand Palace.
One of the best restaurants in town is the Bacchus Restaurant at the popular Airways Hotel, close to the airport.
If you can swing it, take the chance to have a mean at the Royal Papua Yacht Club in Port Moresby. You must be signed in by a financial member of the club, so if you’re on business in PNG and get the chance – take it.
Despite its cultural and tribal diversity, PNG is largely a Christian country. Local beliefs and traditions still exist, but are practiced alongside Christianity.
There are almost 800 languages in PNG, a sign of the country’s cultural diversity. However, English is widely spoken and you should not have any trouble communicating with the locals.
As well as English, you will also hear Pidgin spoken often and it’s a good idea to pick up a few words if you can.
Good morning – Monin
Good afternoon – Apinun
Good night – Gut nait
Thank you – Tenkyu
No, thank you – Sori, nogat
Yes – Yes
No – Nogat
How much is that? – Em hamas?
What is that? – Em wanem?
My name is… – Nem bilong mi…
What is your name? – Wanem nem bilong yu?
Where is the toilet? – Toilet istap weh?
Food (or to eat) – Kai kai
May I take a photo? – Inap mi kisim piksa?