Is it safe to travel to Papua New Guinea? As one of the least visited countries in the world. there is a lot of fear assciated with traveling to PNG. Eager documentary enthusiasts might have seen the beautiful costumes and traditions of the country, but people digging in information about the country often gets this message: Papua New Guinea is a violent country and very dangerous. Is it true? In this post, I will try to explain how reality is much more nuanced and complex than this stereotype.
Is it safe to travel to Papua New Guinea – Crime and punishment
Is it true that Papua New Guinea is a violent country? The answer is, sadly, yes. Papua New Guinea has a serious problem of tribal feuds which often end in murders. It is also ranking amongst the worst nations for domestic violence. There is no way to sugar coat this. However, I still argue that tourism there can be extremely safe and even positive for the country.
During our first YPT trip to Papua New Guinea, never have we felt even remotely threatened by anyone or anything. Everywhere we’ve been, we’ve been greeted extremely eagerly. Entering a village or a school will prompt all its inhabitants to stand up in line for a chance to shake hands with the visitors. People on the street would systematically wave at our bus and often people would say “Thank you for visiting Papua New Guinea! “
The truth is, as with anywhere in the world, there are some great people and I would say that the majority of the people of PNG want this image of their country to change. Tourism is, for them, a way to showcase and save their century-old traditions in the face of consumerism and globalism.
Now while crimes still happen in PNG, well-informed tourists can avoid all of this altogether. By teaming up with local experts who know where and when to go places, PNG becomes a wonderful country. Of course, similar to DPRK, free movement isn’t encouraged. Even then, we visited the surroundings of our hotels and went on a field to see teenagers practice rugby and cricket. The restaurants and hotels of PNG catering to tourists are all in secure compounds with armed guides, which mean there’s nothing to be afraid of there. While it wouldn’t be wise to visit a club or stay out past dawn, hotels have safe bars where a group can bring life to the party. Tourists should be accompanied by a driver, a guide and a security guard. Just the sight of this local team is enough to dissuade any wrongdoer from attempting anything on foreign tourists
Is Port Moresby the most dangerous city on earth?
When it comes to the perceived danger of traveling to Papua New Guinea most it stems from the actual danger that there is in the capital Port Moresby. This isolated city is only accessible by flight and as a result many people from other parts of the country flock here seeking fortune.
Sadly many of these end up in gangs, which has resulted in as much as 80 percent unemployment and as many as 70 percent of women having suffered some form of sexual abuse.
It is not advisable to walk the streets of Port Moresby alone and you should always stay in a decent hotel. Hotels here tend to have guards, restaurants and drivers to take you out. Sadly because the people of PNG are so friendly it can give a false sense of security whilst in the capital city, do not though underestimate the danger, even walks of just 5 minutes can result in muggings, often with knives. Do not walk anywhere without clearing it with your local foreign, or local guides.
With a driver this means that museums, or say the Yacht Club are accessible, but should not be walked to. This is particularly the case at night.
On our tours at least we arrange a city tour of Port Moresby, we stay in safe hotels and most importantly we listen to our local guides.
Is it safe to travel to Papua New Guinea – Mt Hagen
Same goes for the Mount Hagen festival. It is safe and secure and still offers you the possibility to mingle with hundreds of locals. I’d say the security there does a wonderful job of keeping the trouble-makers out. Village stays are also safe since violence is often between tribes rather than within one tribe.
As for domestic violence, mentioned earlier, I think tourism is a great opportunity to help solve the problem. Coming from all over the world, tourists offer a different model to the local population which can be inspired from those values of care, equality and pacifism. Also, the tourism industry provides many jobs to women in the quite traditional setting of PNG. These jobs allow women to leave the house and make their own income, thus empowering them.
While you should be careful about simple things like minding expensive belongings at all times and such, a tour to Papua New Guinea offers many opportunities to see the country and interact with its people in total safety. While I wouldn’t recommend solo traveling there, for now, I know the people of Papua New Guinea are very hopeful to get more and more groups of tourists.
The truth is had we not heard of its violent reputation beforehand, we would have never guessed PNG could be violent or dangerous. Once a good team is hired and the itinerary set, there’s nothing to worry about for a tourist to PNG. And hopefully, tourism will help positively influence domestic issues.
Is it safe to travel to Lae and Goroka
As the second biggest city in PNG Lae is also the second most dangerous. We take tours to Lae, but again only travel to safe areas and always with local guides drivers and protection. Walking around Lae alone, particularly at night is not advisable.
Goroka tends to be one of the safer towns, having more in common with Mount Hagan, but again at night correct measures should be taken.
Is it safe to travel to Bougainville?
Bougainville is probably the safest area within PNG that you can travel, with homestays not having large walls outside and walking in groups at night being largely “OK”. With that being said though the area still suffers from a disproportionate amount of sexual attacks on women, as well as petit crime. There is also the potential for ethnic tensions related to the struggle for independence.
You can read about journalist travel travel to Bougainville here
Is it safe to take a tour to Papua New Guinea?
So, while we feel we have covered the “is it safe to travel to Papua New Guinea” question, we will add some caveats to this. We also recommend checking the advice of your country with regards to the safety of travel to PNG.
You can check out the British travel advisory website here.
Most countries thus advise against all but essential travel to PNG due yo political tension and violence within the country. This means, or at least in our opinion you should not travel independently to Papua New Guinea. A group tour though is very different. With group tours to Papua New Guinea risk is firmly mitigated by having local guides, transport and staying in safe hotels. Also the difference between Port Moresby and the rest of the country is extremely stark.
Is it safe to travel to Papua New Guinea by road?
While the roads of Papua New Guinea have improved greatly over the last few years, largely due to Chinese investment you will still see crashes, or the aftermath of crashes on the roads. Might is right and people speed down mountain roads.
This is a danger that can mitigated by using trusted drivers, something we obviously do with our tours to the country.
Petty crime in Papua New Guinea
While you are unlikely to face violent crime as a tourist in Papua New Guinea, at least if you follow the rules, petty crime and corruption are very much a thing. You will often be asked for gifts, or lunch money to solve problems and there are particular issues at airports and hotels. Do not pack any cash, or expensive goods into your checked luggage, nor leave large amounts of cash in your hotel . We have seen and heard of people losing their money.
With regards to hotel rooms even small things like chargers and adaptors are known to go missing. This can usually be fixed by talking sternly to the hotel, something YPT will be able to do on your behalf should it happen.
To experience Papua New Guinea up close while still being totally safe, why not join us on our next tour to the Mount Hagen Festival?