Preparing To Visit West Papua, Indonesia

West Papua is one of the world’s most dazzling locations for eco-tourism and birding.   The Indonesian state shares the island with the nation of Papua New Guinea and both are in the top 12 countries to see wild parrots.  There are endemic species to both countries and some which can only be found in each individual country, but the crime problem in Papua New Guinea has scared off a lot of potential tourists.  Here’s a few facts to know before you go.

  • West Papua is safe to travel in.  There may be petty pickpocketing in markets but violent crime and robberies are extremely rare.
  • Communication is difficult.  Internet speed in the cities, usually accessed from your hotel make dial-up look fast.  Most West Papuans communicate with text messages via their cell phones but many remote areas such as the Arfak Mountains don’t even have cell phone coverage.
  • Getting around can be expensive.  There are special deals from time to time like the one on Sriwijaya Airlines but you need to keep looking for them.  There are no international airports (except Jayapura to/from PNG) so you need to enter Indonesia via Bali, Jakarta, Manado or Makassar.  You can see how to do that with frequent flier miles or shop around for the best fares.   I strongly recommend adding a few days in Bali at the end of the trip for R&R and cheap massages because you WILL have sore muscles.
  • Some of the birding locations are among the most physically challenging you will ever do, especially if you are targeting parrot-rich countries.  Trails are non-existant in Arfak and the Nimbokrang swamp forest trail consists of slippery planks.  You will be walking through primary rainforest with your guides hacking away bushes as you go.  You will get filthier and muddier than you have ever been in your life!
  • Although West Papua is considered a destination for advanced birders, I would say if it’s on your bucket list just do it!  You won’t get any younger and the fitter you are for this destination, the better!  I am still amazed that I made it up to the Garden Hut at the Arfaks, took me 4 hours with me collapsing every 20 metres!   The guides and porters happily run up and down the same distance in about 30 minutes!
  • High season is roughly June-August.  There will be several large groups there at this time so you will need to have everything booked in advance.  If you go outside this time, you should still try to make contact with the guides in advance but in cases like Zeth Wonggor in Mokwam, you can’t contact him directly but if you just show up he will take care of you and assign you a guide if he happens to be busy.  If you aren’t with a group, try to avoid going at the same time they will be there as hides to see BOPs are limited.
  • There are some small home-stays and lodges, but in many other cases you will be camping in the bush with no bathroom facilities.
  • You will experience extremes of temperatures from the hot, humid lowlands to the chilly nights in Arfak.
  • Photography is very difficult.  The birds blend in well with the trees, many are small like the Pygmy Parrots and Fig Parrots so it will be difficult to focus on them.  Expect to get a lot of beautiful shots of leaves!  There will be some clearings where you can get good shots of birds flying overhead but you will need to be quick and shoot handheld with at least a 400mm lens.  Start working out so you can balance 3kgs of camera/lens and focus that little red dot on the bird flying rapidly overhead!
  • Don’t bother trying to do laundry.  Bring old clothes in muted natural or dark shades as they are going to get trashed anyways and discard them when you can’t stand them anymore.  You can always buy new clothes in Bali-cheap!  Consider giving your shoes/boots to your guide or porter at your last birding stop, many of them work in thongs and you aren’t going to want to clean them up anyway.  The more experienced guides prefer gumboots as they are best for the muddy conditions you will be trekking in so buy a cheap pair and give them away at the end.  If you wear large shoes, you won’t be able to buy them in West Papua.

These are the 5 main destinations for birders in West Papua.