West Papua is the most western province of Indonesia, occupying half of the entire Papua island itself (the other half is made up of Papua New Guinea). Originally a tribal island, there are still very remote and unique local communities with fascinating ways of life including highland hunting villages and agricultural ethnic groups. There are also sublime landscapes to be explored, with thick jungle, soaring peaks and coastal paths that offer something for all abilities. Flora and fauna of a dizzying array and some fantastic beaches, surfing and snorkelling complete the full circle of natural wonders on this island. There is also a fascinating history here with a fusion of the traditional ethnic tribes and their influence from European colonial missionaries and various military administrators.
No destination in Indonesia is more off the beaten track than West Papua, also known as Irian Jaya. The limited infrastructure, strict red tape, volatile socio-political situation and almost non-existent signal greatly limit communication and movement throughout the region. This is why it remains one of the most isolated and least accessible areas in Indonesia.
Travelling to West Papua feels like a journey back in time that will bring you to visit tribal villages where ancient traditions are the current way of life. It is best to visit when one of the many tribal festivals take place where tribespeople congregate to celebrate their traditional ways of life. Here you will have the opportunity to watch Papuan dances and take part in animist ceremonies at the sound of the Pikon, the unique traditional instrument. Admire stilted houses, swim in the lake and watch the making of traditional food at the Sentani Lake Festival, or visit the Asmat festival for a display of legendary wood carvings. If you visit in August, don’t miss the Baliem Valley Festival, an annual gathering of Papuan tribes meeting to stage mock wars. You can observe tribespeople dressed in their distinctive tribal attire made of feathers, animal bones and carved penis sheaths as they display a diverse array of cultural performances.
Most treks to the tribes start from Wamena and bring you through the Baliem Valley to meet the Dani tribe. Other more isolated tribes can also be visited on longer treks through the jungle. Expect to move by small planes and local boats, to sleep in very basic accommodation and prepare to protect yourself from mosquitoes and other small insects. At the same time, remember you are diving deep into another world, known for strong warrior-ancestor veneration traditions and the now abandoned headhunting practices.