Papua New Guinea

Overview

Introduction

Papua New Guinea (PNG) was one of the last inhabited places on Earth to be explored by other nations—and it's still the land of the unexpected. Travelers to this wild and beautiful island nation are in store for plenty of surprises—both good and bad.

On the positive side, there is the unspoiled nature of the landscape: isolated beaches, volcanic mountains, primal rivers and dense jungles. PNG's indigenous cultures, too, have retained much of their original character. With an incredible 700 separate languages still spoken, the country has tribal cultures as diverse as its flora and fauna.

Unfortunately, those same qualities that make the country so unusual also contribute to the downside of travel there. Because many of its people have remained isolated in the rugged countryside, there are unresolved tribal enmities and rivalries that have only been partially muted into the annual dance and costume competitions known as "sing-sings." In a number of regions, you'll still see fierce warriors carrying bows and quivers of arrows—just in case.

Everywhere you travel in the country, you're trespassing on someone's land. The attitude of the people whose land you're traversing will range from friendly to fearsome, although those who welcome visitors far outnumber the few who don't. But of more concern than stepping on tribal boundaries is PNG's general crime problem, which has plagued urban and rural areas for years, and which appears to be increasing in the capital, Port Moresby. Some sites (such as the Baiyer River area, one of the country's most interesting nature reserves) are too dangerous to visit.

There is, however, a way to minimize PNG's downside: Visit the country on an escorted tour. We seldom issue a blanket recommendation for this option, but independent travelers will have a hard time relaxing enough to enjoy PNG. Even on a tour, expect an atmosphere tinged with some paranoia.

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