West Papua Holidays, Indonesia
If you want to get off the grid in Indonesia, West Papua is the place to go. Occupying the western half of the island of Papua, this region is one of the most sparsely populated and least accessible areas of Indonesia. Exotic tribes continue to live as they have for generations. Inevitably some forms of modern influence have also taken hold but it is still a fascinating insight into the distant past (think Stone Age!) brought so quickly into the present.
The region is as rich in natural wonders as it is in culture. The dense jungles and rainforest are home to an amazing array of endemic flora and fauna, notably the Bird-of-Paradise. Its’ offshore islands are surrounded by some of the world’s most impressive coral reefs. Limited infrastructure and minimal tourist facilities make West Papua a challenging destination to travel through, but it’s well worth the effort and you’ll receive a warm, curious, welcome
West Papua has a chequered history of ownership that is still in debate today. Colonised by the Dutch in the late 19th century, it then declared independence in the early 1960’s, however the Indonesian government wanted West Papua to come under Indonesian rule and conflict broke out between the Dutch, Indonesia and the indigenous population. In 1969 an agreement between Indonesia and the Netherlands handed control of West Papua to the United Nations who controversially transferred control onto Indonesia: an action which angered many Papuans and which is still campaigned against today.
Where to go and what to see in West Papua
The Indonesian archipelago isn’t short of alluring tropical islands and picture-postcard beaches, but the islands of Raja Ampat are arguably the most outstanding in the region. We’re talking unspoilt white-sand beaches, jungle covered interiors, undiscovered caves and lagoons surrounded by crystal clear turquoise waters. Sounds clichéd, but true! Floating off the north-west tip of West Papua, these tiny islands and cays are home to a mind-blowing diversity of marine life including pigmy seahorses, manta rays, wobbegong sharks, and turtles. The predominantly pristine coral reef comprises of more than 500 types of coral and attracts over 1000 species of coral fish. It’s no surprise that these waters are a diver’s paradise. You can visit the islands year round, but the best time for diving is between the months of October and April when underwater visibility is at its clearest.
How do I get there?
Access to the islands of Raja Ampat is via Sorong on West Papua. Flights operate between Jakarta (Java), Makassar (Sulawesi), Manado (Sulawesi), Ambon (Moluccas) and Sorong. You’ll then need to take a boat to your chosen resort. Alternatively, explore the islands aboard a traditional phinsi such as Ombak Putih, or a dedicated dive liveaboard.
Baliem Valley lay undiscovered by outsiders until American zoologist Richard Archbold chanced upon the valley on an expedition in the late 1930’s. Even now, only a handful of adventurous visitors journey to this isolated wilderness, attracted by the mountainous landscape – the valley sits at an altitude of 1600 metres above sea level - and the intriguing ancient culture of the indigenous Dani and Lani tribes.
The best way to explore the Baliem Valley is on foot: allowing you time to soak up the awe-inspiring scenery and meet the tribes as you trek through their territory. Whilst the arrival of foreign visitors has influenced some aspects of tribal life, traditions run deep and these tribes live much as they have done for centuries (although head-hunting is no longer on the agenda). In the more remote villages you will still see older tribesmen wearing only the traditional koteka (penis gourd), and some of the women in short grass skirts.
The Dani’s ancient rituals involve, amongst other things, mock battles, pig-slaughtering ceremonies and the mummification of important tribesmen. Although not essential, it may be worth timing your visit to coincide with the three day Baliem Valley Festival which is usually held in the second week of August, when tribespeople from across the highlands don traditional (non)clothing and gather together to feast, dance, take part in spear throwing competitions and mock battles.
How do I get there?
The small town of Wamena serves as the hub for the Valley and is accessible only by air from Jayapura in East Papua.
Snorkelling with whale sharks
Located off the northern coast of West Papua, Teluk Cendrawasih National Park is the largest marine national park in Indonesia. Its’ warm waters are home to an impressive array of marine biodiversity including whale sharks, and this is one of the only places in the world where it’s possible to snorkel alongside these majestic giants (they can reach up to 12 metres long!) The whale sharks are particularly drawn to the fishing platforms that float offshore in Cendrawasih Bay: the fish-filled nets that hang beneath these platforms attract plankton and krill that the whale sharks feast on. The sharks don’t stray far from the platforms and seem content to spend hours snacking, so there’s a good chance of a memorable whale shark encounter, although not 100% guaranteed of course.
How do I get there?
Access to Teluk Cendrawasih National Park is from the town of Nabire, which you can fly to from Ambon, Biak, Makassar and Jayapura.
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West Papua is quite simply a birdwatchers paradise. Over 700 species of bird have been recorded in the region: 54 of which are found nowhere else in the world. Its’ most well-known inhabitant is the Bird of Paradise, and an incredible 25 species of this beautiful bird call West Papua home.
Where can you see Birds of Paradise?
The best places to observe these colourful birds – particularly the Red Bird of Paradise and Wilson's Bird of Paradise - are the islands of Waigeo, Gam and Batanta, which are easily accessible by boat from Kri Eco Resort and Papua Paradise. Heading out in the early morning to maximise your chances of bird spotting, and accompanied by a specialist guide, you’ll trek through the jungle keeping your eyes peeled for a flash of colour amongst the trees. Keep your camera close at hand!