- 18 June
- 24 September
- 16 June next year
- 22 September.
Indonesia’s most remote province, mysterious and dramatic Papua, is home to some of the most fascinating ethnic groups on our planet. Tucked away in the Baliem Valley live remote tribes of Dani, Yali and Lani people who up until recently have had very little contact with the outside world and have maintained fascinating traditions that cannot be seen anywhere else.
Often wearing little else but penis gourds or grass skirts, and headdresses made from the feathers of forest birds, these intriguing people are a tangible link with our ancient past and follow very traditional lifestyles, hunting animals and raising pigs in villages hidden in the forest, as well as mummifying their chiefs. Camping and staying in village huts, we are privileged to experience an utterly unique way of life, which the modern world has barely touched. There are few more exciting places for anyone with even a slight interest in ethnology or anthropology.
Day 1: Sanur (Bali). Arrive in Bali and transfer to your hotel in Sanur, an attractive and relaxed beach town in Bali. Overnight Puri Kelapa or similar.
Day 2: Sanur – Jayapura. Free day to explore the town or relax on the beach. Overnight flight from Bali to Jayapura. Includes: (B).
Day 3: Jayapura – Sentani. Arrive in Jayapura. Transfer to Sentani where the rest of the day is free. Overnight Hotel Ratna Manunggal or similar. Includes: (B).
Jayapura and Sentani: Jayapura is the capital of Papua, and lies on the north coast not far from the border with Papua New Guinea. It has something of a frontier feel to it, with many settlers who have moved from Java, but in other respects seems like a typical provincial Indonesian town. Surrounded by hills, flat land in Jayapura is at a premium and the main buildings like the banks and offices are near the waterfront. Many food stalls spring up at night, known as warungs, offering a range of local specialties.
36 km outside Jayapura, near the airport, Sentani is a small town overlooking a beautiful lake. Many of the hotels are based here as it is quieter than Jayapura. The suburb of Hamadi has an interesting market to explore, and a beach nearby is littered with the debris of an American landing in 1944 – decaying amphibious vehicles and holed tanks lie scattered across the sand.
Day 4: Wamena. We fly to the highland town of Wamena, situated at an altitude of 1,600 m in the heart of the Cyclops Mountains. This is where we will see our first glimpse of the tribes of the Baliem Valley. Overnight Baliem Pilamo Hotel or similar. Includes: (B).
Wamena: Wamena is a small highland town which throws the contrasting cultures into sharp relief. The shopkeepers and tradesmen are virtually all Indonesian, and the traffic has to negotiate around tribesmen clad only in penis sheaths. The Dani come into town to view the mysterious trappings of civilization, they adopt a few things that might be useful, like metal axes or knives, and then they leave again. The cultures are poles apart, but they meet in Wamena, if only briefly. The market has some interesting souvenirs such as Dani string bags, stone axes, and grass skirts. There are a couple of places to eat out in town – the freshwater crayfish is a local specialty.
Days 5-9: Baliem Valley Trek. We begin our trek through the Baliem Valley, one of the most isolated and beautiful places on earth. We trek along forest paths through highland pasture with views of jagged peaks and cross raging torrents on rope bridges. The valley teems with wildlife and there are an extraordinary variety of exotic plant species. Along the way we visit remote wilderness villages and tribes like the Dani, Lani and Yali, often wearing little but penis gourds and following a traditional way of life that provides us with a glimpse of our ancient past. At night we camp or stay in village huts. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Baliem Valley: This dramatic and remote valley is the home of several highland tribes, many of whom who were only discovered by the outside world in 1938 when an American explorer called Richard Archbold first encountered them. Although they have adopted some modern tools, most still wear traditional dress – men wear a penis gourd and not much else. Some wear pig teeth in their noses for decoration and pig fat is applied to the hair to mould it into shape; they also cover themselves in a mixture of fat and soot.
Women usually wear a grass skirt and often carry string bags hanging from their heads. The Dani are polygamous, and wives are paid for with pigs – the going rate is 5 or 6 pigs per bride, but this varies with inflation. There is a degree of equality though; the wife can change husbands as long as the pigs are returned in good condition. The Lani and Yali both have similar customs, and the Yali in particular are known for their war dances.
In many ways the people of the Baliem Valley live an existence little changed since Neolithic times. Many stone tools are still used, and some traditions have only recently been abandoned; the Dani no longer officially practice cannibalism – the last reported case was in 1988 – but it is entirely possible that in isolated areas it still occurs. Chiefs of the tribe are mummified by being smoked, the best-known being in the village of Akima. The tribes hold mock wars, largely ceremonial now but still fearsome to observe.
One custom that has also been outlawed by the Indonesian authorities is the practice of finger-cutting. When the relative of a woman dies, she will go to a section of the riverbank where there is brightly colored mud and smear herself with it, wearing the mud for up to a month. In special ceremonies sections of her fingers will be removed a segment at a time, cut off with a stone axe. Although illegal, evidence that the practice continues is seen frequently – many women are missing several fingers altogether.
Day 10: Wamena. Today we walk out of the wilderness and back into Wamena. Tonight a hot shower, good food and a clean soft bed awaits you. Overnight Baliem Pilamo Hotel or similar. Includes: (B).
Day 11: Jayapura – Biak. Fly via Jayapura to the island of Biak, renowned for its unspoiled beaches. We stay in Kota Biak, a small and attractive town positioned close to the best beaches. Overnight Hotel Aerowisata or similar. Includes: (B).
Biak: A small town on the island of the same name, Biak lies to the north of the mainland of Papua. There’s an interesting market in the town, and several good food stalls around the place. The island is known for its palm-fringed beaches, where white sands are washed by the clear, warm waters. Both Biak and nearby Supiori Island have nature reserves and are known for the extraordinary abundance of tropical birdlife.
There are some dramatic caves on the island, such as the Blue Water Pond, with impressive stalactites and rock formations, and the Japanese Cave, so-called because the Japanese used it as a base in the Second World War – Biak was the scene of fierce fighting. The island is surrounded by coral reef, which offers spectacular undersea life. Visibility is excellent, and you are likely to see eagle ray, tuna, barracuda, grey reef sharks and possibly turtles.
Days 12 – 13: Biak. Free days to relax in or near Biak, there are lots of options including boat trips to the Padaido Islands and fabulous snorkeling opportunities in the crystal clear waters. Overnight Hotel Aerowisata or similar. Includes: (B).
Day 14: Sanur. Fly back to Bali and transfer to Sanur for our final night. Overnight Puri Kelapa or similar. Includes: (B).
Day 15: Sanur: Transfer to the airport for your onward flight. Includes: (B).
Also see tour packages in:
Asia Indonesia Local Culture Cultural Journey