Papua, also known as Western New Guinea and formerly Irian Jaya, is the easternmost part of Indonesia. It comprises the western half of the island of New Guinea, the world's largest and highest tropical island, while the eastern half is the independent country of Papua New Guinea.
Papua retains many traditional cultures and is home to some of the richest biodiversity in the world. Lorentz National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest protected area in the Asia-Pacific region, ranges from Papua's southwest coast to its central mountains.
The Indonesian half of New Guinea has, somewhat controversially, been divided into two provinces since 2003.
West Papua (Papua Barat)
Originally a Dutch colony like the rest of Indonesia, West Papua held elections in 1959 and the elected council took office in 1961, in preparation for full independence. However, the Dutch handed the area over to a UN temporary administration, who in turned gave it over to Indonesia in 1963. The controversial plebiscite known as the Act of Free Choice , held in 1969, resulted in an improbable 100% vote in favor of joining Indonesia. The region, renamed first as Irian Barat (West Irian) and then Irian Jaya (Glorious Irian) has been under heavy Indonesian military control ever since, with the outgunned Free Papua Movement (Operasi Papua Merdeka or OPM) fighting for independence.
The name Papua was restored in 2000 in a sop to the nationalists. The province was split into two in 2003 in a highly controversial move, with the Bird's Head Peninsula and surrounding islands becoming West Papua (Papua Barat). A further split, to create a third Central Papua province, was abandoned due to fierce opposition.
Comprising the western half of the island of New Guinea, the world's largest and highest tropical island, Papua is incredibly diverse and different from the rest of Indonesia (or, for that matter, anywhere else in the world). Despite of a population of under three million, Papua is home to over 250 languages and retains many traditional cultures that were until very recently "still in the Stone Age". Cannibalism and headhunting were practiced in some areas until the 1970s or later.
Travel permits (surat jalan) are required for all travel in Papua beyond the main coastal towns. The list changes randomly, but Jayapura and Biak are generally permit-free, and Sentani, Manokwari and Sorong are usually fine. Permits are mostly easily acquired in Jayapura and Biak, where they're usually obtainable in one day, although they are usually available at the other non-permit towns as well. Two passport photos and a token administration fee (Rp. 5000 or so) are required.
The permit must list all the places you're planning to visit, no changes allowed, unless you get a new one in a main town. Whenever you arrive in a new town in Papua, you have to get your permit stamped at the police station. Make lots of copies, you'll need them for hotels and such.
Despite the claims of some embassies to the contract, no permits are required for travel to Papua. It's best not to mention Papua at all when applying for a visa.
Nearly all travellers arrive by plane. The main gateways are Biak, Manokwari and Jayapura, although there are also limited flights to Fakfak, Sorong and Timika. Only Garuda has direct flights from Jakarta to capital Jayapura; all other carriers, including Merpati, Batavia Air and Lion Air, fly circuitous routes with stops at intermediate cities like Denpasar (Bali) Makassar (Ujung Panjang).
Pelni boats also stop at Jayapura and Farfak , amoungst other destinations. This is a relaxing and interesting way to arrive if you have the time.
The only land border crossing between Papua and Papua New Guinea open to foreigners is on the north coast between Jayapura and Vanimo (PNG). There is no public transport across, so car or motorbike hire for some of the distance is required. Advance visas are required.
Papua's main cities are not connected by road, and flying is the only practical option for covering longer distances. Boat charter for river travel is surprisingly expensive, the price going from US$50/day for a simple canoe to a whopping US$500/day (incl. gas) for a motorized outboard.
Wear a koteka - the traditional Dani dress for men.
The Free Papua Movement (Operasi Papua Merdeka or OPM) continues to operate throughout Papua and all of Papua's major cities have seen violently suppressed riots. The OPM has also kidnapped Western hostages on two occasions, although their targets are mining company employees and Indonesian security personnel, not tourists. Large saltwater crocodiles can be encountered in all low-lying waterways and beaches.
Malaria is endemic to the province. Precautions are highly recommended.