Papua’s mystique piques the imagination of the explorer, naturalist, anthropologist, politician and traveller in you. What about Papua (formerly known as Irian Jaya) would not intrigue? The diversity in lifestyle and culture of the indigenous people, who speak more than 250 languages, is matched only by Papua’s biodiversity and geography. The terrain covering half of New Guinea, the planet’s second-largest island, ranges from the misty peak of Puncak Jaya (5050m) – which features permanent snowfields and small glaciers – to the steamy island groups of Biak and Raja Ampat, just shy of the equator. Endemic wildlife gracing this vast expanse of jungle, mountain, swamp and sea include such weird and wonderful creatures as cassowaries, dugongs, showy cenderawasih (birds of paradise), egg-laying echidnas and tree-dwelling monitor lizards.
Though much of the region is covered by impenetrable jungle, most inhabitants live in and around coastal towns. Almost all visitors head to the Baliem Valley, home to some of the most remarkable traditional cultures on earth, while others are drawn to the art of the Asmat region, or the bird life and coral reefs of the northern coast and islands.
With its limited infrastructure, administrative sloth, political strife that continually keeps hot spots off-limits to foreigners, and an equatorial clime that puts siesta time in effect between 1pm and 5pm, Papua poses a few travel challenges. To those willing to accept, the rewards flow with a generosity as life-sustaining as Papua’s brown tributaries ribboning through its thick, enigmatic jungle canopy.