Papua (formerly known as Irian Jaya) is a mountainous wilderness, wrapped in 400,000 sq km of almost impenetrable forest. A land of knife-blade peaks (many permanently snow-capped), 250 designated cultural subgroups, 500 languages and negligible infrastructure, Papua is one of the planet’s last truly wild places, a vast region where tribal ways survive largely intact and the modern world is confined to a scattering of coastal towns.
Papua, the Indonesian side of the island of New Guinea, was only acquired from the Dutch in 1963. Since it had no racial or historical connection with the other Indonesian islands, some interesting politics had to be conducted to get the Dutch to hand it over.
Indonesian mining and transmigration have not gone unopposed by some Papuans, and the independence movement, known as the Free Papua Organization (FPM), still engages in some rebellious activities. Concessions have now been made to the Papuans, but the situation remains precarious and visitors should keep abreast of events.
Almost all visitors head to the Baliem Valley – the only part of the interior generally accessible to tourism – via Kota Biak or Jayapura, but Papua has a lot more to offer the traveler with time to spare.
Foreigners must obtain a travel permit known as surat jalan before they can visit some places in Papua. Currently, you can visit Jayapura, Sentani, Manokwari, Pulau Biak and Sorong without one, although police may demand that you obtain one on arrival in Pulau Biak and Manokwari.
For all other areas, such as Merauke, Agats, Fak-Fak, Pulau Yapen, Timika and the Baliem Valley (including Wamena), you must have a surat jalan before you arrive.
Permits last anything from one week to one month and will usually cover all travel around Papua. If you have a normal 60-day tourist visa, you can apply for a surat jalan at a local police station (polres), but they are easiest to get in Kota Biak and Jayapura.
Two passport-sized photos, a smile and an ‘administration fee’ of 5000Rp should be all that is required and permits are usually ready in an hour. In areas where a surat jalan is required, you should report to the local police station within 24 hours of your arrival so you can have it stamped. It is worth keeping a few photocopies of the permit to hand in case they are requested by hotels etc.
Papua is reasonably well connected with the rest of Indonesia and unless you have a lot of time, flying is the only way to travel once you are there.
The transport centers for Papua are Sorong, Biak and Jayapura, so you may spend some time in these places waiting for connections.
Boats may also be chartered from Jayapura to Vanimo costs however may reach 350,000 Rp per person)
Roads are not well developed in Papua so this is an ideal spot for very adventurous travelers wanting to leave civilization behind and rough it out.