The Baliem Valley is a region in Papua.
Baliem Valley, also known as the Grand Valley is located in the Central Highlands of Western New Guinea, currently part of Indonesia. Baliem Valley gains its prominence through its beautiful landscape and culturally rich inhabitants who belong to the Dani tribe. The main town in the valley is Wamena. The valley is about 80 km in length by 20 km in width and lies at an altitude of about 1,600-1,700 m. As far as the outside world was concerned, the discovery of the Baliem Valley and the unexpected presence of its large agricultural population was made by Richard Archbold’s third zoological expedition to New Guinea in 1938. On 21 June an aerial reconnaissance flight southwards from Hollandia (now Jayapura) found what the expedition called the ‘Grand Valley’. Since then the valley has gradually been opened up to a limited amount of tourism.
Wamena is the main city in the Baliem Valley of West Papua.
Wamena is the starting point for most tours and treks into the Lani, Dani and Yali tribal lands, and you can actually go to Asmat lands from here too. These tours and treks range from local half-day walks to 30-day expeditions deep into tribal lands.
The city has 10,000 or so inhabitants, consisting of a broad mix of Paupans, Dani, Yali, Lani and other local tribes.
The city has a concrete airstrip capable of serving commuter-size jets and a serviceable airport terminal (although security is marginal at best). The airport is located within the city, so everything is readily accessible.
Electric service is reasonably reliable. The city water supply is too, but the water must be boiled and filtered before drinking.
There are a number of hotels but only the Baliem Resort Hotel has a website and accepts reservations via internet. Hotels range from comfortable, with excellent service and cable TV, to "a place to sleep". Prices seem a bit high for the area, but are actually a bargain for travelers from Europe and American.
Hotels do not offer internet service, but there are several internet cafes in Wamena. Connections come and go, and the speed is typically slow e-mail is fine, but don't expect to upload lots of photos to your travel blog). But, prices are low and there is always plenty of time so.....
The Baliem Valley and surrounding areas offer a glimpse into what were recently stone-age villages. The mountains to the south provide superb scenery, but are accessbile only by air and/or walking.
Wamena is the starting point for most tours and treks into The Dani and Yali tribal lands, and you can actually go to Asmat lands from here too. These tours and treks range from local half-day walks to 30-day expeditions deep into tribal lands. For example, it is possible to hike nearly 100 km into the heart of Yali tribal country.
Some of the walks up to two days can be done without a guide, but it is highly recommended to employ a guide for anything longer than than that. Trails are marginal in places, there are NO signs, and almost no English is spoken in the villages.
Guided treks range from backpacking with a guide, to backpacking with a guide and a couple of porters, up to a full expedition with guide, cooks and enough porters so you only need to carry your camera.
Backcountry trails range from a road (well, almost a road), to a well-used footpath with some steep places, to game trails, to more or less a route that requires a guide. Landslides that take out section of trails are not unusual, especially during the wet season, so detours and/or bushwacking around the slide can be expected. Trails typically involve a lot of up and down as you cross rivers at the bottom or a valley and later in the day go over a mountain pass into the neighboring valley. Starting altitude (Wamena) is about 5200 ft and many trails go over 10,000 ft passes.
(ADD: high altitude = cold, mud, log-lined trails, tree bridges, and suspension bridges made of wood and vines, backcountry lodging, backcountry re-supply)
Mummies (Jiwika and Aikima)
The only way to get to Wamena is flying from Jayapura (about a 40 minute flight). That also means that EVERYTHING must be flown in, and local prices generally reflect this.
As of March 2013, TriganaAir (which flies the Jayapura-Wamena route) still does not have a functional on-line booking service and cannot accept credit cards. However, tickets can be purchased quite straightforwardly through nusatrip.com. (You can subsequently contact Trigana customer service to confirm your booking and retrieve electronic tickets.). However, it's strongly recommended to come directly to their reservation office in Sentani airport or their Jayapura branch offices. Make sure that you buy a return ticket from Jayapura as a ticket price in Wamena can be skyrocketing. Another airlines that serve the Jayapura-Wamena route are Walesi Air and Susi Air. Both airlines have a reservation office in Sentani Airport.
Sometimes, the Hercules plane owned by the Indonesian military flies from Timika to Wamena or Sorong to Wamena. Yet the schedule is uncertain. Normally they will announce their arrival and departure at least two days in advance. Hercules is cheaper than commercial airlines.
Wamena is bike-able and if you're strong enough, walk-able. However, if you really want to see the "real" Baliem Valley, you have to travel to neighboring districts and villages. Public transportation in Wamena consists of airport taxis, minivan taxi that run set routes, an ojek (a motorbike taxi), and bicycle rickshaws. Prices are reasonable, even the premium rates charged to tourists. An ojek and bicycle rickshaw usually costs around idr 20,000 (US$3) for one trip. Minivan taxis cost from idr 5,000 (around 60 cents) to idr 50,000 (around $6) depending on the distance and time. A night taxi costs twice of a day taxi. Private-hire vehicles (with driver) are typically a small SUV or a mid-size 4X4 pickup truck. They can be found lining up near the Wamena airport. As in August 2013, a car rent costs around idr 700,000 (around $75) without fuel. In Wamena, fuel is expensive. One liter costs around $2 to $2.5. There is a road from Wamena to the south and west, but be aware that, due to flooding and the lack of bridges, where there are rivers only the roads are not as complete as they appear on the map. Yet, you can go from Wamena to Tolikara or Tiom (in Lany Jaya) by using a Ford or Estrada car from Jibama market and it usually costs idr 100,000 (around $12). Another option would be flying. Susi Air caters passengers from Wamena to Dekai in Yahukimo and Bokondini.
Regular shops, including rather well-stocked grocery stores, are typically located along the major streets. Shops selling locally produced art, implements, masks, costumes and touristy treasures are primarily on the major streets. Street vendors provide wonderful soups, a local version of sandwichs, and even excellent ice cream imported from England! See the 400 year old mummy at Akima (about 12 miles north of town, the village is about 200 yards off the main road). Take a minibus from Passar Jibama and have them wait, or just enjoy the walk back - stay on the main road and you can't get lost! Just stroll around town, which is especially interesting near the outer "suburbs" where traditional grass huts are located amongst newer structures with metal roofs. Note that there are a couple of obviously military installations where visitors and cameras are not permitted. There are very few street signs so you should pay attention to landmarks, but you can always find a bicycle rickshaw to take you back to your hotel or to the nearest market if you do get turned around. Local children seem to love having their photos taken - just pull out your camera and the viewfinder is instantly filled with smiling faces. Most will want to see the photo on your camera's screen just as soon as the shot is taken! Paying for photos is generally not required in town. The bridge across the Baliem River (near the main market) is a great place to watch locals - washing clothes, swimming, fishing, digging out gravel - as well as seeing many Dani & Yali people from remote villages coming into town to buy or sell in the markets. Be advised that most shops do not have outdoor lights and there are NO street lights - it gets VERY dark very fast after sunset, so time your excursions to be back at your hotel before sunset.
Restaurants vary, with the upper end establishments offering a broad selection of Indonesian, local and, in some cases, international dishes. Local diners and street vendors offer mostly local dishes. Compared to other areas in West Papua, food is fairly expensive in Wamena. Padang and Lamongan restaurant are all over the city. They can cost from idr 25,000 ($3, fried chicken) to idr 40,000 ($4.5, fried fishes).
Baliem Valley has a very fertile land. Local farmers sell their organic and fresh produce in the city's markets (Jibama, Sinakma).
Alcohol is NOT available anywhere in the Baliem Valley.
There is an excellent bakery located next door to the main mosque. There is always some irresitable fresh-baked confection available!
Water upstream are cool and appear to be safe to drink.
While this is true for natural springs that dot the countryside, anyone venturing into the backcountry should bring a backpacker's water filter and/or be prepared to boil water.
Wamena city water is NOT safe to drink unless boiled and filtered. Hotels and restaurants typically provide boiled and filtered water, and offer bottled water as a reasonable price. There are a number of local purification facilities that produce bottled water, generally available in 1/2 liter to 20 liter sizes.
Note that alcohol (in any form) is illegal and simply is NOT available in the Baliem Valley.
Tourists can bring a small amount of alcohol for personal use - bags are scanned and checked when departing from Sentani airport. Technically importing alcohol to the valley is not allowed, but security will generally let you take a few cans of beer or a small bottle of liquor. Obviously this should not be consumed in public or sold/given to locals.
There are "cheap" hotels right next to the airport, starting from 250.000 rupiahs. More expensive but cleaner Hotels are Baliem Pilamo, Rainbow, Putri Dani... And there is a homestay for backpackers.