West Papua is a criminally unexplored region. There’s so much to do and see! With repeat visits, I’m sure the numbers on this list could expand in perpetuity, but let’s just limit it to five for now, counting down towards a personal favourite. If you like the look of any of these, you should check out our West Papua tour!
5: General MacArthur Memorial
I think we can all agree that WW2 was a devastating and far-reaching war. While a lot of people are thinking of fighting in Europe or on the seas towards Japan, there was a very large part of the Pacific theater fought on land. A particularly notable case being the New Guinea Campaign between 1942 and 1945. In these four years, over a hundred thousand Japanese soldiers were killed, along with thousands of Allied troops.
At the start of 1942, the Japanese began to overrun the island, seizing large chunks before coming under attack by Allied forces. What followed was a prolonged, bloody stalemate where the bulk of deaths were caused more by disease and starvation. Blockade and siege cut off the Japanese supply lines while later direct assaults by primarily American and Australian soldiers took the island. At the head of these allied troops was General Douglas MacArthur, one of the key figures of the war and the later Korean War.
4: Lake Sentani from ‘Teletubby Hill’
Not far from the Macarthur Memorial is the picturesque lake Sentani, along with the scenic so-called Teletubby Hill. Of course this isn’t its official name. The locals tend to refer to it as ‘home of the rainbows’. It’s what western tourists have decided to call it due to apparent resemblance to the hill from the eponymous childrens show. Whether the comparison is apt, I can’t say, but there’s no denying the beauty of the location! The perfect way the trees ring around the hill, the lushness of the grass and the crystal clearness of the water itself. It’s a perfect hiking spot, ideal to go to once you’ve had your fill of history.
3: Kontilola Cave
Kontilola Cave is a little known site for tourists to West Papua. It’s is not considered particularly popular (not even sporting a Wikipedia article), but it’s definitely worth a visit! The cave isn’t fully mapped, so an in-depth visit is probably inadvisable, unless you happen to be very seasoned and well prepared. For what is visible inside, there’s some truly amazing cave paintings and a truly massive colony of bats. When visiting in the evening, watching the bats fly out en masse is truly a sight to behold. Best of all, there’s hardly any tourists there! That’s what we like to see.
2: Dani Villages
The Baliem valley in the western highlands of West Papua are home to the Dani people. The Dani people are a tribe that have preserved much of their culture while being open to the outside world. Tourism in particular! Their discovery by the outside world was pretty recent too. It was only in 1909 that they came into contact with the rest of the world. For some of the tribe, first contact didn’t happen until 1938! The Dani people have had frequent, regular contact since then and make a fair bit of money from the tourist industry. In the Dani villages, it’s typical to see traditional clothing, buildings and an old fashioned way of life. As for the big creepy mummy thing in the picture? Yeah, they’ve got that too. It’s a mummy known as ‘Kurulu’, said to be 370 years old!
One unfortunate thing for the Dani people is their conflict with the Indonesian state. Seeing themselves far more as Papuans than Indonesians, Papuan separatism is a common feeling in the villages. For those interested, we have a whole separate blog all about the Free Papua Movement.
1: Tribal War Re-Enactments
So I said that the Dani people make money off of tourism. A big part of that is their staging of tribal war parties and re-enacting conflicts for observers. These battles are led by people who may very have been in real ones themselves. The weaponry is real. The combat strategies are real! Pretty much everything is real, except… Well, people aren’t actually dying, thankfully. It’s all in good fun, while still being a fascinating experience to witness in person while staying among these traditional villages.
So that’s five of my personal favourite things to see and do in West Papua! Hopefully you’ve come away with some new travel ideas. If you want to go to West Papua yourself but don’t quite know how, I have just what you need to read. If you want to go there but you’d rather leave all the planning to someone else, I’ve got just what you need for that too! I’d love to see you there on our next tour to West Papua!.