West Papua is one of the most extraordinary destinations we’ve ever been to, but its remoteness means it won’t be right for everyone. However, if you're keen to rekindle pioneering travels of the past, or just fancy a total culture shock and a chance to have an authentic adventure, then walk this way. Raja Ampat, just off West Papa's northwest coast, is just as hard to reach, but the rewards are equally as special. Its inaccessibility has led to this off-grid archipelago garnering a reputation as the best place for snorkelling in Indonesia, and we couldn’t agree more.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
At last, you finally touch down in Wamena, West Papua. Sitting on a small plastic seat and sipping the strongest cup of coffee imaginable, you begin to take stock. It's like you've arrived at the last frontier. Kids on motorbikes drag by as market traders sit behind piles of sweet potatoes, bananas and boxes of glowing red chillies. You're just 30 minutes’ drive from the agricultural highlands and forest covered slopes of Baliem Valley. This is the home of indigenous Dani and Lani tribal communities that live in relative isolation, way beyond the typical tourist trail. You take another sip of coffee, wait for your driver, and daydream about trekking trails and untold adventures in the jungle.
It's a short drive to the tribal village, but the world that awaits makes it feel like you've travelled much further. As you arrive in the middle of a scattering of thatch-roofed huts, you’ll spot villagers wearing dramatic feather and bone-adorned tribal dress, and sense the constant cloud of campfire smoke. It's a way of life that remains in only a few places in the world, though modern elements are now beginning to appear alongside the traditional. As you talk with the villagers, and learn about how the ancient cultural ways have persisted through the centuries, you understand what a privilege it is to be welcomed as a visitor. This is an experience that will stay in your mind long after you return to your own daily reality.
As soon as you slip into the sea around Raja Ampat, you'll be treated to one of the world's greatest underwater spectacles. Thousand-year-old corals, some the size of a house, can be found just offshore as well as thousands of tropical fish of all shapes and sizes. Island hopping by traditional phinsi, or longer excursions on live-aboard boats, provide endless hours of entertainment for anyone with a snorkel mask and flippers. You can dive here, too, but many trips are centred around the region’s extraordinary snorkelling, which can be more inclusive than diving for beginners. Stay in stilted, thatched, over-water bungalows or exclusive spa retreats, right on the water's edge. Exclusive, barefoot luxury, but not as you know it.