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Some things you might want to know about Bird's Head Peninsula of West Papua, the Indonesian part of New Guinea (aka Irian Jaya)...
Where? Just so you know. West Papua borders the independent nation of Papua New Guinea and forms the western half of the world's second largest island. West Papua became the twenty-sixth province of Indonesia in 1969 after the "Act of Free Choice", sponsored by the UN, saw the transfer of official administration from The Netherlands, to Indonesia. The province was in 1973 re-named Irian Jaya, "Victorious Irian". Tension? For over 26 years that Indonesia has held control of West Papua, the indigenous population has endured a repressive and unjust systems of occupation and an on-going war has been fought against a popularly supported indigenous movement opposed to Jakarta's rule. Remember East Timor, this could be the sequel, but not yet as travel is currently quite possible (but remember always check before you go).
Get your bearings... show/hide map of the region
Highlights: Great snorkelling at deserted beaches, virtually no tourists (the first 4 weeks of our trip last year we didn't meet any foreigners !). Real independent travel as there is virtually no good information in any recent guidebook. We used a 15 year old Dutch guidebook for planning, more than the recent LP. Lots of boat travel on a wide variety of vessels.
Information: In Biak city there is a very good & cheap internet cafe. Here you find info about local perentis ships. Across the street there's a pelni office. Learn at least a bit Bahasa Indonesia, it's essential. Tourists attract English speaking Indonesians like cow dung flies. They are helpful anyway.
Visa strategy: Normal visa regulations for Indonesia, plus travel permit for all the places outside Biak Island & Jayapura. These travel permits can be obtained at the central police stations of Biak & Jayapura. For most of the regions in West Papua this is very easy. Ask as much as you can. Except for the Paniai region, around the Carstensz Peak. If you want to travel over there, let the police check the current security levell. Otherwise they'll just give you a permit, but access will be denied and you'll lose plenty of time & money.
Typical tourist trail: Those who can afford a guided (diving) tour usually head for the deserted Biak Beach Hotel, Padaido Islands, Manokwari & Arfak region, Yapen (birds of paradise!). Sometimes you'll meet former Dutch Marines who visit places where they served in the sixties.
Mosquitos: Loads of them. Malaria Falciparum, the most dangerous one, is everywhere. Take precautions: preventive or carry a emergency treatment (Malarone).
Costs: If you like a beer from time to time, say USD 15 to 20 per day.
Money : Cash or travellers checks. There are ATM's in Biak, but you won't get a decent amount out of them. Outside the towns only rupiah's, no banks.
Getting around: Can be very though. It's important to get the schedules of the Pelni ships for long hauls. Sometimes to fly can be very cheap. Keep in mind that delays are frequent, even with the Pelni's. A 24 hour wait for a Perintis ship to arrive is common. Local boats with Johnsons can be chartered but try to hop on one that locals take. They even take you from Biak to Yapen and costs a little less than the airfare. buses for the country leave when full. In town lots of minibuses for just 1000 Rupiah. Motorbike rent can be arranged for 8 to 10 USD per 24 h!
Accommodation: Carry a tent, always handy when you have overnight delays. More, it can help you when going to an uninhabited island ! Accommodation outside the larger towns is cheap. In town it might be a good idea to try a mid-range hotel. In Biak we first stayed at a small, basic and overpriced hostel in town, later we moved into one of the airport hotels for just USD 1 more. And they have a real bar over there.
Communications: Towns have everything you need. Ask around, in Bahasa Indonesia of course.
Food: Standard Indonesian fare. Some places you'll get a chance for real Papuan food.
Health : You're a long way from any decent hospital, so be careful. Malaria Falciparum is prevalent : hide and/or take precautions.
Hassle & annoyance: you'll learn that patience hasn't been named a virtue for nothing.
Drugs, cigarettes & alcohol: We weren't offered
anything illegal, so I can't comment the quality. If you like
kretek (clove cigarettes), take a small
stock when you're out of town. Like with cigarettes, beer is only
found in town. Head for the supermarket or store that have a fridge
and take-away. Restaurants & bars double or triple the price but usually
don't really add any value out of ignorance.
Many thanks to Marc Todts for supplying this summary. The information here is from this author and not the site author. The views and facts expressed here are well-researched and good quality, but just bear in mind they should perhaps not be compared directly to other country summaries by other authors.
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