The north of West Papua

Sentani, where West Papua‘s main airport is, is right next to the capital Jayapura on the north coast. From here there are some interesting places in the north of West Papua that can be accessed as well as the border crossing to Papua New Guinea and, to the south, the great Mamberamo River, perhaps the last place in West Papua still home to any “uncontacted tribes” and until recently off-limits to tourists.

Boys on a road outside Sentani, West Papua

Boys on a road outside Sentani

Sentani is probably where you will arrive in West Papua at. The only likely reasons to arrive in Merake or Timika would be if planning to visit the Asmat people in the very far south. It is from Sentani that flights go to Wamena in the Baliem Valley, from Nabire (a quick plane ride or 36-hour ferry from Sentani) that they go to the Western Highlands and from Sentani that planes fly to Dekai, the main access point to the Southern Korowai treehouse tribe.

Other than that Sentani itself and the surrounding area have stuff to offer. Freshwater Lake Sentani has some tiny islands supoorting villages.

The easiest nearby off-coast island to reach is Biak but Supiori, Numfor and Yapen are prettier. Yotefa bay between Sentani and Jayapura is also stunning and, like Yapen, has some stilt villages rising out of the sea.

The lowland Mamberamo area, along with Waropen, is one of the least explored parts of West Papua. There is a road leading to the Mamberamo’s mouth from Sentani but the last section is very old and disused. The closest town accessible by public transport from Sentani is Sarmi and from there if the road is passable you may find someone traveling that way. Otherwise it would be a long voyage by boat along the coast.

Irregular Perintis and cargo boats go some way up the Mamberamo before it becomes unnavigable. To get to more remote areas you will have to hire a motorised canoe. Fuel is so expensive in these parts that the cost is likely to run into the thousands of dollars.

Alternatively there is a village in the middle part of the Mamberamo called Kasonaweja that has occasional mission flights from Jayapura which you may be able to get a seat on.

As mentioned on the main West Papua page, despite their isolation villagers along the Mamberamo River all wear western dress, although they may strip off their clothes to go hunting. The occasional unconfirmed rumours of “naked nomadic” tribes come from loggers and gold prospectors working deep in the Mamberamo far from the main river. Remember though that if any tour operator offers “First Contact” trips to “Stone Age” tribes it is always a scam. There are plenty of West Papuans around with stories to tell of being paid to dress up (or rather down) as Stone Age Savages for First Contact tour groups.


by with no comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.