The Indonesian province of Papua borders Papua New Guinea and is very similar culturally and physically to Papua New Guinea . Much of area is coverd wilderness. New species and isolated tribes are still being discovered here. There are few roads and few travelers and few people. Papua is the common name that refers to the western half of the Island of New Guinea (Indonesian New Guinea). The province of West Papua covers the bird’s head of Papua, a large peninsula on Indonesian New Guinea’s far northwest corner, and the small islands that surround it. Papua used to be called Irian Jaya.

Papua is the largest and easternmost province of Indonesia, comprising most of Western New Guinea and covering 319,036.05 square kilometers (123,180.51 square miles). It is bordered by the state of Papua New Guinea to the east, the province of West Papua to the west, the Pacific Ocean to the north, and the Arafura Sea to the south. According to the 2010 census by Statistics Indonesia, Papua had a population of 2,833,381, the majority of whom are Christians. The province is divided into twenty-eight regencies and one city. Its capital and largest city is Jayapura.

The province was formerly called Irian Jaya and comprised the entire Western New Guinea until the inauguration of the province of West Papua in 2003. In 2002, Papua adopted its current name and was granted a special autonomous status by the Indonesian legislation. Puncak Jaya is the province's highest mountain as well as the highest point of Indonesia.

A central east–west mountain range dominates the geography of the island of New Guinea, over 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) in total length. The western section is around 600 kilometers (400 miles) long and 100 kilometers (60 miles) across. The province contains the highest mountains between the Himalayas and the Andes, rising up to 4,884 meters (16,024 ft) high, and ensuring a steady supply of rain from the tropical atmosphere. The tree line is around 4,000 meters (13,000 ft) elevation and the tallest peaks contain permanent equatorial glaciers, increasingly melting due to a changing climate. Various other smaller mountain ranges occur both north and west of the central ranges. Except in high elevations, most areas possess a hot humid climate throughout the year, with some seasonal variation associated with the northeast monsoon season.

The southern and northern lowlands stretch for hundreds of kilometers and include lowland rainforests, extensive wetlands, savanna grasslands, and expanses of mangrove forest. The southern lowlands are the site of Lorentz National Park, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The province's largest river is the Mamberamo located in the northern part of the province. The result is a large area of lakes and rivers known as the Lakes Plains region. The Baliem Valley, home of the Dani people, is a tableland 1,600 meters (5,200 ft) above sea level in the midst of the central mountain range. Puncak Jaya, also known by its Dutch colonial name, "Carstensz Pyramid", is a limestone mountain peak 4,884 meters (16,024 ft) above sea level. It is the highest peak of Oceania.

Climate of Papua

Much of Papua is out of range of the monsoon cycles. The wet and dry patterns are irregular, with many places getting over 200 centimeters of rain a year. The driest months tend be between May and October although heavy rains can fall in that time and often do. Along the northern coast it rainiest and often very windy from November to March. Along the southern coast it rainiest and often very windy from April to October.

The highlands are temperate and reasonably comfortable with mean temperatures averaging between 26̊C and 15̊C. The best times to visit the Baliem Valley is after March when the weather is a little drier. The lowlands are considerable hotter than the highlands. Southern Papua is located at the edge of the monsoon belt. The hottest month is December, the coolest is June. Rainfall regularly exceed 450 centimeters a year. Some places in the highlands get more than 600 centimeters a year.

Travel in Papua

Most visitors arrive in Jayapura, which is well connected by air to Jakarta and Makassar and head the Baliem Valley to check out the tribal people that live there. They would probably go to more places if there was more transport and less government red tape. Malaria is a serious problem in Papua. Many Indonesians refuse to visit the region out of fear of catching it. Visitors must arrive with malaria prevention strategy whether it be pills or avoiding mosquitos or both.

To get around inside Papua you more or less have to fly. There are not many good roads are they are often set up around a place rather than linking together places that are far apart. Small airstrips are used to travel the inland area often on Twin Otter and Cessna planes. Often the planes are operated by missionary organizations. Many pilots land using the 200 or so landing strips cleared by missionaries from the jungle. Traveling by boat along the coast and on rivers is an option but requires planning and patience.

Sea transportation: every regency capital situated at the coastal area owns a port, which can be visited by cruises: Ms. Dorolonda, sails from Surabaya, Makassar, Kupang, Ambon Fak Fak, Sorong, Monokwari, Nabire, Serui, Biak and Jayapura. Ms. Labobar sails from Batam, Jakarta Semarang, Surabaya, Makassar, Sorong, Manokwari, Biak, Serui and Jayapura.

Scuba diving and snorkeling are done in Biak, the Yapen Islands and Cenderawasih Bay Marine National Park. There are dive centers at Kota Biak, Sorong and Jayapura. The best time on the north coast is between April and September. Hiking and Trekking are done in the Balien Valley, the Arfak mountains, Wasur National Park and some other areas. These trips often require a great deal of planning and permits. Experienced guides are required and venturing into the wilderness should not treated lightly.

Tourism Office: Jl. Raya Abepura, Dinas Otonom Kotaraja, Jayapura - Papua, Tel. (62-967) 583001 Fax. (62-967) 586551; Website:

Travel Documents in Papua

Foreigners traveling in some parts of Papua are required to have a travel permit known as a surat jalan. The issuing policy and requirements are confusing. Some places you can visit without one. Some places require one but allow you obtain after you get there. Other places require you get it before you arrive. Most people fly into Jayapura, where one isn’t required. The best thing to do is inquire there what the policies are in the places you plan to visit and obtain a surat jalan there eif you need one.

Suray jalan are generally obtained at police stations or branches of the provincial police force. Biak, Soromg and Jayabura are the easiest places to obtain them because they have the most contact with foreigners. The period of time in which the surat jalan is valid varies from a week to month. Try to get one for as long a period as you can.

The process of getting one usually takes about an hour. You need two passport-size photographs and need to provide a list of all the places you plane to visit. The fee is generally not very high. Make several photocopies. When you arrive in places that require a surat jalan you generally need to report to the police station there and supply a photocopy of the surat jalan to your hotel. Most visitors have to fly to Jayapura first to obtain permits for traveling elsewhere in province. The $45 permits can usually be obtained in a few hours with the help of a travel agency or hotel.

Traveling in Birds of Paradise Country

Jennifer S. Holland wrote in National Geographic, “Much of New Guinea remains wild as ever, its fauna still not fully explored. In December 2005 scientists surveying the Foja Mountains in Indonesia's Papua Province, the western half of the island, came upon the Berlepsch's parotia, a bird of paradise with half a dozen springy feathers on its head. This legendary species was previously known only from a few partial specimens collected more than a century ago. [Source: Jennifer S. Holland, National Geographic, Tim Laman, July 2007 ]

“Farther east, in Papua New Guinea's Crater Mountain reserve, the forest grows dense to the mountain's summit, forming a canopy that blocks all but the thinnest rays of sun. Birdsong rings out in the gloom, a hoot here, a trill there, a melodious whistle, a harmonic tone as when a finger circles the rim of a glass. Drenched by nearly 300 inches (760 centimeters) of rain a year, this highland terrain is forever dripping. The forest floor, composed of layer on layer of organic material, is a wet sponge underfoot. And always, from somewhere below, comes the muted rush of a cold river spiriting away last night's rain.

“Trails are rutted and mud-slick, swallowing boots and bruising the ankles of a first-time visitor. But the local women and children, who for a few kina will carry heavy gear and even lead you by the hand, tread lightly on bare feet. Pull out pictures of what you're looking for, and the men will lead you on long, clambering hikes, their machetes swinging to clear a path to where the birds of paradise hold court.

“Even with local guides, finding the elusive birds can be daunting. Their calls, unique to each species, tantalize you. Squawks, mews, and nasal bursts reveal Carola's parotia. A ghostly aria? That's the buff-tailed sicklebill. The superb bird of paradise seems to throw its metallic voice, sending you off course. At higher elevations the King of Saxony bird crackles like radio static. And within earshot, the rat-a-tat-tat of the brown sicklebill could be machine-gun fire.

“At last a glimpse of a forest dance floor reveals a weird, obsessive performance. The magnificent bird of paradise, with its baby blue cap and filigree tail, snaps into the same crisp displays again and again, puffing up its breast to show off its glossy chest plate. The parotia spends hours cleaning its court and practicing its moves, often watched by younger males eager to learn the ropes. The buff-tailed sicklebill settles on the same perch at the same time every evening, popping open its pectoral fan for any watching female—or no audience at all.”


Biak (northern Papua) is a 1898-square-kilometer island in Papua north of the large island of New Guinea. It was the site of some ferocious World War II battles and is a well known diving area. Most of the diving is arranged through Biak Diving. Popular diving and snorkeling spots include the Padaido islands; Noriko Mayumi, where there is a good cave; and Tanjung Barari, a cape on the eastern side of the island. Flights from America used stop here to refuel and maybe still do. Biak is a good place to fly into if you want to get to Papua New Guinea at a reasonable price. There is a good beach in Borik.

Kota Bia is the main town on Biak island. It features a museum with some weapons and relics from World War II . Among the places worth visiting around Biak are the Biak Falconry Centre; the rock formations at Urgu and Samer; Gua Binsari, a World War II cave where thousands of Japanese are buried; Taman Burung and Anggrek, with a garden with 72 species of orchid; and several waterfalls.

Pulau Yapen (south of Biak) is long mountainous island known for its good diving and snorkeling sites and birds. Trips can be arranged from Senai to look for birds of paradise on the northern side of the island. In the forest there are large numbers of cockatoos and hornbills Dolphins are sometimes spotted at the snorkeling sites around Arumbai island.

Frans Kaisiepo Airport in Biak is served by regular flights from Makassar and Jayapura, as well as Surabaya. Flights are operated by Garuda Indonesia, Lion Air, and Sriwijaya Air. To get to Biak from Jakarta, a stopover in another city or island is required. By sea ou can use PT Pelni's passenger ships from Surabaya or Makassar (KM Ngapulu).


Jayapura is the capital and the largest city in Papua Situated on the north side of the island of New Guinea near Papua New Guinea, it was a small fishing port with 40,000 in 1970 but now, with arrival of Indonesian immigrants, is a small city with 250,000 people, many of them unskilled laborers from elsewhere in Indonesia who have come to Papua in search of work. In many ways Jayapura is like any other Indonesian city.

Jayapura is the home of Cenderawasih (Bird of Paradise) University. The best place to get a feel for Papua art and culture is at the Gendung Loka Budaya (Cendarwasih University museum) in the nearby town of Abepura. The museum features four large exhibition halls displaying spears, shields and Asmat sculptures donated by the John D. Rockefeller Foundation. The Museum Negeri also has displays of Papuan artifacts and cultural items. Both museums exhibit artifacts from all over Papua as well as historical items from the Dutch colonial period. These museums are open from 8 am to 1 pm Monday through Friday. Otherwise there is little of interest in Jayapura for travelers who use the city mainly as a base to ravel deeper into Papua, particularly the Baliem Valley. It is a good stock up on supplies before heading out to the wilderness.

Facing a peaceful bay, Jayapura is the gateway for traveling on Papua. It had a ‘a better harbor’ than Ternate in the Spice Islands (the Moluccas) according to the great British naturalist Sir Alfred Wallace. On a lush hill stands a red-and-white communication tower which is the best place to to view the town. Acting as the hub for travelers seeking to explore Papua, Jayapura is used to travelers and the place where Papuan adventures begin.

Accommodation, Permits and Getting Around in Jayapura

There are a number of air-conditioned hotels available in the heart of Jayapura though you will find the prices here are more expensive than other parts of the country. Several guesthouses are also available off the Sentani airport road to Jayapura. In case of medical emergency, go to Puskesmas (community health clinic) on Jalan Ahmad Yani.

Many visitors come to Jayapura to get their travel permit, the Surat Jalan, from the police station, After you submit your paperwork it takes a half-hour to n hour for the officers to process the paperwork and prepare the permit. During that time you can wait or go for a short stroll in the area.

Money can be changed in Expor-Impor Bank on Jalan Ahmad Yani. The bank will exchange your U.S. dollars, Australian dollars, Yen, Deutsche Marks, Pound Sterling, and Swiss Francs. TC is also accepted. If you are planning on traveling further inland, remember to stock up on rupiah as the banks in other places of the region may offer expensive exchange rates. Newspapers like Newsweek, Time, and other English language newspapers are only available at Ayumas Papua Shop, across the street from the movie house on Jalan Irian.

Jayapura is small in size, so you can visit many places easily on foot. However, if you intend to visit Sentani and the beaches on the outskirts of town, it might be best to take public transport. The public transport terminal is across from the post office. Angkot (public minibus) is convenient and quite economical. Chartered minibus (the taxi) is another option but requires bargaining skills. Again, be sure that to agree to a price before you depart.

Restaurants and Food in Jayapura

As this is a harbor city surrounded by beaches, sea food here is the most popular local delicacy. Night markets or pasar malam in front of Pelni Office are available daily, serving bakso (meatball) soup, Soto Madura, bubur (chicken porridge), fried bananas and flavorsome snacks. Inexpensive grilled fish is sold on Jalan Halmahera towards the harbor. Eat only well-cooked food in the highlands when you are on overnight treks.

Bagus Pandang Restaurant at Jl.. Raya Bhayangkara II is Situated on a hill this restaurant offers a beautiful view on the town of Jayapura. It serves local Papua cuisine as well as regional Maluku and Sulawesi dishes. Also serves Chinese and seafood. In the evenings, a band accompanies diners. Hawaii is a restaurant serving nasi bungkus or take-away lunch box with shrimp, chicken dishes, and cool dining room. It is located next to the movie house, off the park down town. Himalaya is located on Jalan Matahari and Jalan Ahmad Yani. Cuttlefish, pigeon, frog, shrimp, and beef is available here.

Jaya Grill is on the water and toward to main docks. Hamburger, shrimp, seafood cocktail, steaks, crab, squid, chicken, beef, frog, pork, and Chinese food are available. Matoa Restaurant sits in Matoa Hotel, serving European food and stylish drinks. Nirwana is a padang style restaurant, located on Jalan Ahmad Yani no. 40. Padang Simpang Tiga is located on Jalan Percetakan no. 92. It is spacious and clean and serves Padang food.

Porasco is located on the bay, near the church. The open-sided restaurant is open only from 6 pm to 11 pm. You can select from a variety of seafood before entering. Make sure you agree on a price with your waiter before you order. Rasa Sayang is part of the Triton Hotel, on Jalan Ahmad Yani no. 52. It serves many varieties of food, including satay. Yotefa is on Jalan Percetakan no. 64, offering European and Indonesian food.

Getting to Jayapura

As a capital city of a vast province, Jayapura is well connected to many large cities in Indonesia by air and by sea. If you are flying it is advisable to always double-check your flight details with your airline since there is a distressing tendency to overbook seats. All flights land and take off at Sentani Airport, located around 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Jayapura. Outside the airport, minibuses wait for passengers going to Jayapura. Prices vary widely so make sure you agree to a price before you get in.

Garuda flies to Biak, Makassar, Surabaya, and Jakarta daily. It also flies on selected days to Sorong, Menado, Denpasar-Bali, and Ambon. More information is available at the Garuda office on Jalan Percetakan no. 2. Phone +62 967 21220

Merpati Airlines flies daily to Wamena at 7 am. It also flies to several cities in Papua and other cities in Indonesia on selected days. Its office is located on Jalan Ahmad Yani no. 15. Call its representative at +62 967 21111. It is located next to the Hotel Matoa.

MAF (The Missionary Aviation Fellowship — Protestant) Office is located next to the Sentani air terminal. Its schedule is set based on the church’s requirements. This airline provides services primarily for missionaries whose needs take priority. If you fly MAF, the airline will take into account your body weight, including your luggage. MAF does run chartered flights into the interior of the island. To organize a chartered flight contact MAF two months before your date of departure, and then double check a couple of weeks before your arrival. The office is at harbor road, past the Bank of Indonesia. Call its representative at +62 967 21264.

AMA (The American Missionary Alliance) is the Roman Catholic version of MAF. Please call the officer at +62 967 21925. The office is located at Jalan Sam Ratulangi no. 3, P.O. Box 523, Jayapura.

Pelni Liners Office is located on Jalan Halmahera no. 1. Their telephone number is +62 967 21270. It has the Umsini, a 2,400-passanger German-built ship going to Jakarta and points between every 15 days. Five different classes are available in the ship. Please check the officer for current price list.

Near Jayapura

A half hour bus ride from Jayapura is Hamadi beach, where Allied forces led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed in April 1944. Worth a look are Museum Loka Budaya and Museum Negir which has displays of Papuan clothes, carvings and weapons. Nearby 96½-square-kilometer Lake Sentani and the pretty village of Depapre are a good places to get away. Boat trips can be arranged on the lake (See Below). Between Jayapura and Sentani there are several crocodile farms you can visit. There are crocodiles. A surprising number of places serve crocodile meat in Jayapura. In Doyo Lama you can see rock painting art.

For those who want to experience the pristine ocean and diverse marine life of this region, Tanah Merah Bay, located 60 kilometers from Jayapura is ideal for snorkeling. This is also a great location for scuba diving with World War II shipwrecks to explore at reachable depths. You’ll have to bring your own gear with you. Diving is also possible at Pasir Enam Bay, a few minutes from Jayapura by boat or an hour stroll along walkway from Angkasa II, an expatriate neighborhood. PT Kuwera Jaya organizes snorkeling and diving trips in the area.

Climb to the top of Mount Ifar and experience some breathtaking views of Danau Senantani. Here you can also visit the General McArthur Monument. It is out of Sentani, a nicely paved road twists upward for around 6 kilometers. From this height, Lake Sentani is an astonishing view. Legend has it that this was the spot where General Macarthur sat to contemplate his WW2 strategies and came up with the island-hopping tactic as he gazed over the 22 islands below.

Sentani Lake

Sentani Lake (36 kilometers west of Jayapura) is a nice place to base oneself. It is near the airport and a pleasant lake and is quieter than Jayapura. However it was also the site of Papuan separatist riots between 1998 and 2002. There are a couple hotels on the airport side of the lake and a handful of restaurants. One idea is to stay in Sentani and go into Jayapura for the day to take care of getting permits and organizing trips.

Danau Sentani or Lake Sentani is a magnificent lake with 19 islands scattered within it as well the 24 fishing villages built on its edges. It is possible to rent a canoe and paddle to different villages. The lake is especially beautiful at dawn and dusk, with the Cyclops Mountains to the north and the lush vegetation in the countryside. It is possible to do overnight tour of the lake and sleep in stilt houses over the lake with a local family.

Lake Sentani was once a training field for amphibious aircraft landings. An airfield built by the Japanese and taken over by the US Army in 1944. The lake is home to at least 33 species of fish, of which almost half of them are native. The Sawfish (Pristis microdon) was once the king of the lake but is believed to be extinct. Asei Island is famous for it wood bark cloth with beautiful paintings made by local artists. Maay have interesting motifs. For example, crocodile motif denotes the twisting rivers of Papua.

The Lake Sentani Cultural Festival in June is a major event in the region. During the festival once can see staged war dances on boats. Lake villages from all over Papua and Indonesia send representatives to participate in the show and display their skills and share cultural traditions.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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