The Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua cover the western half of the world’s second largest island - New Guinea. The eastern half of the island is the independent nation of Papua New Guinea.
Papua’s secrets are deeply held by the tallest mountains between the Himalayas and the Andes, dense rainforests, and lack of infrastructure. Covering a vast area bigger than Spain, the interior of Papua is impenetrable to all but the most determined expedition explorers and is one of the last places on earth that remains partially unexplored. Experts believe the area contains indigenous tribes who have never made contact with the outside world and numerous species of flora and fauna that remain undiscovered.
What is already known about Papua is that it has the world’s most diverse range of indigenous cultures. The Amungme, Asmat, Bauzi, Dani, Kamoro, Kombai, Korowai, Mee, Sentani, Yali, and Yei indigenous groups are the most well known, but there are many, many more. Some of these tribes have adopted some modern ways, but many continue to live as they have since the Stone Age. These tribes are trying desperately to preserve their languages, traditions, arts, and way of life in a modern world that is growing less and less interested in cultural preservation.
Papua is one of the most biodiverse places in the world as well. It boasts around 200,000 species of insects, 20,000 plant species, 650 bird species, over 400 amphibians, and 450 known butterfly species. Much of Papua’s flora and fauna is unique and can be seen nowhere else, making it irresistible to biologists, naturalists, bird watchers, and other lovers of the natural world.
The Baliem Valley is the most accessible and popular tourist destination in the interior and affords visitors a superb opportunity to experience the culture of the local Dani tribes. There are many trekking opportunities ranging from half day self-guided treks to multi-day guided adventures. As in all of Papua, there are no roads into the interior. Flying into the city of Wamena is the only way to get there, but is quite easily arranged on Trigana Air Srrvice from Sentani.
If you are inclined toward extreme adventure, climbing the 4884 meter Puncak Jaya will get you started completing Messner’s Seven Summits list – a mountaineering challenge to climb the tallest mountain on each of the seven continents. But do it soon if you want to see the equatorial glaciers just below its summit – they are melting quickly due to global warming.
Scuba divers are heading to Raja Ampat in increasing numbers. Papua’s crown of being one of the most cultural and biodiverse areas in the world doesn’t stop on land. Raja Ampat is the world's most biodiverse marine region with more recorded fish, coral and mollusk species than anywhere else on Earth.
Pulau Biak is another popular scuba diving destination that is well known for its large number of WWII wrecks.
For those with a lot more money to spend and a desire to get off the beaten track, Wasur National Park and the Asmat region hold an opportunity to get a glimpse of a natural world few others see. There is a large variety of endemic flora and fauna to see as well as the opportunity t witness the lives of the nomadic Asmat people, who live along the rivers, or further inland the Kombai and Korowai people living in exemplary, multi-level tree houses – certainly a sight to behold! Travel in this area cannot be done independently, so must be arranged through agencies in Jayapura or Merauke.