Is Papua New Guinea Safe For Backpackers? (And What’s it Like?)

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When you tell people that you’ve just booked a ticket to Papua New Guinea; it’s very rare for them to not respond with hysterics.

I started my epic three months trip last year around New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, with Johnny from OneStep4Ward in the supposed land of the cannibals. It still feels really surreal to say I was there.

SAMSUNG CSC

Considering the fact that I am writing this with all limbs attached – We weren’t used as dinner by the tribe who we stayed with in Madang. In fact, I look back on my time in PNG with fond and happy memories. But it wasn’t without dodgy moments. When I returned from a place where people half-expected me to get butchered – the question changed to one of a more relevant nature, for the ambitious traveller who wants to go to the next level of adventure; Is Papua New Guinea safe to travel? Would I recommend the place to backpackers? What’s it like?

Before I discuss the safety issue – I’ll give you the lowdown on the logistics…

How To Get There

Papua New Guinea isn’t the kind of country you can just get up and go to from most places in the world. We chose the best option – which is to fly from Australia. Papua New Guinea is rich in certain natural resources and Australians travel there to work in mining.

Transport Around Papua New Guinea 

Public transport in Port Moresby.
Public transport in Port Moresby.

The capital, Port Moresby, is not linked by road to any of the other major towns and many highland villages can only be reached by light aircraft or on foot. Getting around Port Moresby – we used PMV’s (Public Motor Vehicles) which are crowded mini vans with jungle/reggae music blasting. If you want to go off the beaten track even more – you’ll need to get a domestic flight. We flew to Medang – that’s a whole new article.

Wifi?

Hahahaha. Good one!

What’s The Food Like?

If you’re travelling to Papua New Guinea for culinary reasons – you’re going to be very, very, very disappointed. I tried to go veggie when possible (as I’ve been considering it for a while), but it was pretty much impossible. Your main choices are mock KFC fried chicken places, or yellow fin fish outside of the capital. I can’t even remember seeing a green vegetable although there was plenty of fruit at local markets. On a happier note – yams are everywhere you turn and cheap enough. On that note…

Is It Expensive?

After visiting 32 countries I can say with resounding (and sad) conviction, that I have never known an economy so abused, exploited and screwed up as Papua New Guinea’s. As mentioned earlier on – Papua New Guinea is rich in natural resources including minerals, oil, copper, gold and gas. And the locals are obviously suffering because of the mismanagement and trades with other nations.

Standard, ‘budget’ one bed dorm rooms in a hostel average at around a whopping $280 per night. Street food isn’t so bad, but restaurant prices are a joke. Transport is cheap in PMV’s – if you’re feeling brave. Flights are insanely expensive. The accommodation prices are so high that it’s impossible not to spend an extortionate amount during a visit there on accommodation alone.

Locals are generally friendly - The Raskols; not so much.
Locals are generally friendly – The Raskols; not so much.

The prices don’t match how underdeveloped the place is and I don’t know how the locals survive – apart from turning to crime. Which brings us to the elephant in the room…

Is Papua New Guinea Safe For Backpackers?

It started off as an innocent adventure. But looking back, I cringe at our naivety. It was around dusk time and we were in Port Moresby – walking around one of the most dangerous, crime-laden cities in the world, with expensive cameras dangling around our necks. In our defence – from the very first warning from worried locals; we started making our way back to our hostel.

“What are you doing out here at this time? The Raskols! The Raskols are coming!!”

‘The Raskols’ are a ruthless, violent street gang who have been known to rob, rape and kill on many occasions. TV Presenters/Actors/Tough guys Vinnie Jones and Ross Kemp have recently recorded documentaries on these people and have looked overwhelmed and out of their hard man depth. Although Ross does really well here. If this is not staged, I think he handled this very well and he’s quite possibly the most alpha male in the universe. I would’ve needed to change my pants.

While we waited for our PMV back to our hostel, and being told time and time again that we shouldn’t be there at that time – we were surrounded by a gang. They were all high as a kite and asking us questions whilst edging closer. I think we did a good job of not showing how unbelievably petrified we later admitted to be. Not Ross Kemp standards though.

Don’t get me wrong, I would’ve handed everything I had over including the clothes off my back in order to not get stabbed, but adrenaline kept me alert. The PMV turned up and some locals ushered us into the van and out of trouble. Warning us yet again, to stay away at night time and from certain areas.

Lucky escape.

Heart pounding.

Actually thought I was going to die.

A few days later (during the day) we met a guy who turned out to be a policeman who informed us that we were being tracked by Raskols. He reassured us; “Don’t worry, my job is to break Raskol’s legs and hands!”

Medang was more of the same – but Port Moresby was a different level of scary.

Conclusion – Papua New Guinea is NOT “Safe” For Backpackers

Yes, I came back unscathed and yes there was that innocuous moment with the cameras, but to use the word ‘safe’ and Papua New Guinea’ in the same sentence would be as oxymoronic as it gets. I went there fully aware of the dangers and I lived to tell the tale. The gangs in PNG are absolutely unforgiving, cold-blooded, high on drugs and out only for their gain. I’m a big believer in human intuition – I just think we’ve forgotten how to tune into it. I was constantly on edge over there and it kept me on my toes. I just think readers should know what to expect if they’re considering a visit. I did have a fantastic time though and I’m glad I went. But it’s definitely no Disney movie.

Ladies – Forget About it!

Sorry, girls. I’d be pissed off if I was a female too. And here I am – placing a limit on your potential experiences based solely upon your gender. What an utter scumbag. I hate to fear monger and I have nothing but respect for solo female travellers who dare to travel in such hardcore countries.

But I live in the real world and you have more risks than us on the road.

And look no further for ‘risky for women’ than Papua New Guinea. Domestic abuse is rife and women are second class citizens. If I had a girlfriend and she wanted to come with me to PNG – I wouldn’t even consider negotiating. If my sister wanted to go – I’d personally fly home to the UK and lock her in her room. (It’s cool, I’d still feed her and give her a window – with bars).

I’d like to tell you that horrific cases like this is an isolated event – but it’s not. It’s commonplace. Ladies – I don’t mean to sound condescending, bigoted, or demeaning. I say this out of your best interest and good intentions – Papua New Guinea is not the place for a woman.

Have you ever braved Papua New Guinea? Which country did you find the scariest on your travels?

Song for the moment – “I predict a riot,” by The Kaiser Chiefs.

Notable Lyrics:
“Watching the people get lairy,
It’s not very pretty I tell thee,
Walking through town is quite scary,
It’s not very sensible either.”



Join the Conversation

36 comments

  1. Charlotte Kerr Reply

    Wow, I always knew you were slightly mad…

    1. Anthony Middleton Reply

      Hahaaaaa. Fair assessment, Miss Kerr.

  2. Jeremy Reply

    Jesus…I’ll just stay in Thailand or Philippines haha

    1. Anthony Middleton Reply

      Bo’s Coffee, mate. The dream = being lived.

  3. Laryssa Reply

    Wow…. that is INTENSE. From the crime to the astronomical prices… so very sad. Glad you made it out unscathed.

    There are so many other off-the-beaten path places to explore – I’m fine giving PNG a miss!

    1. Anthony Middleton Reply

      Yes Laryssa, intense and sad indeed. Thank you! Yeah like I said – no place for a lady. However, most of the South Pacific Islands are lovely and I wouldn’t say the same for most of them.

  4. The Skywalker Reply

    What a great article and well written.
    I have been living as a British expatriate for almost 3 years now in Port Moresby and have to say that I will literally kiss the ground when my contract ends and I get the hell out of here for the last time in July.
    The place is AWFUL. I mean literally awful.
    Yes of course, for business there is the potential to do well here, especially for the owner, but if you are an employee, the most that normal sane human beings last here is 3 years.
    I tell you it has been the most bizarre 3 years of my life and has been a huge learning curve for me.
    Don’t get me wrong, I am not naïve or inexperienced in any sense of the word. Aged 42, I have travelled extensively throughout SE Asia for the past 8 years. I have seen live pigs strapped to the side of motorcycles down the Mekong Delta in Cambodia, I have been offered drugs for breakfast coming out of hotels in Thailand but I have never experienced such a screwed up, lawless and downright “off this planet” country as PNG.

    Sure, the past 3 years I have had ups and downs, but sad to say most of it has been downs. You could write a book on the culture of this messed up country and it would be a bestseller – seriously it would.

    In the past 3 years I have made some good money, but it has come at a price. My business premises has been held up twice by raskol gangs, brandishing automatic weapons. Some good female friends of mine have been carjacked not once, but twice!

    Finally, my latest experience was the SSD (local police) assaulting myself and another business colleague over mistaken identity where my nose was broken by aggressive, high, thugs in a uniform.

    So as for visitors coming to PNG – sorry guys forget it.
    There is a reason why there are only on average 8000 visitors a year to this god-forsaken-rock whilst there are over 8000 a day in the likes of Bali and other SP countries.

    get out, backpack and enjoy your trails in other parts of the world but definatley don’t come to PNG. I am for one will be laughing my tits off the day I finally fly out of this hell-hole for the last time in July.

    1. Anthony Middleton Reply

      Thanks for this brilliant comment, mate! I’m happy you’re getting out, mate – sounds like you say “hell!”

      Would you mind if I shared this comment on my fan page?

  5. The Skywalker Reply

    Hey man,
    Please go ahead and share away!
    People need to know to give this place a miss… seriously.
    Now counting down the days. 8 weeks 5 days and 7 hours to go to be exact.
    Keep up the great work on the blog dude. Great stories.
    Luke

  6. Anonymous Reply

    Wow this is a little sad and I would LOVE to see the country. I am glad you were alright. Did you hear of any safer ways (like group travel) to get through the country?

    1. The Skywalker Reply

      Anonymous,

      Like Anthony said, one of the real problems here for travelling expats into this hell-hole is the sheer cost of everything when you get here.
      Getting here is expensive enough as it is with the ONLY carrier brave enough to actually fly into the country in the first place being the National carrier – Air Niugini. And they are government owned anyway so you are raped at the astronomical prices of getting here in the first place. Oh – and don’t expect ANYTHING from the service either. These people couldn’t even spell “customer service” let alone adopt it.
      When you do get here your travel choices internally are:
      A. Walking . Yeh you are going to die… Anthony you are one brave dude. I have no idea how you survived that. Pretty sure you wouldn’t do it again…
      B. Taxi. You are either going to get seriously ripped off/robbed or both. They are all unlicensed pretty much with no control or standards and the vehicles are death traps
      C. PMV. Hahaha. Not on my life… Jesus Anthony still don’t understand how you survived that one either. They are total death traps, overcrowded, smelly and falling apart being driven by buai induced Highlanders with no sense of safety whatsoever. Oh yeh of course they aren’t regulated either.

      If you are flying out of POM into other areas like Anthony did into Madang you have to fly. Get ready to be ripped off again….
      Choices?
      A. Air Niugini. Will destroy your bank account in one ticket and the service is even worse than the international flight in. Top it off, you will be lucky if A,The flight isn’t cancelled or B, it is delayed. Seriously delayed.
      B. Airlines PNG. Prices are the same as Niugini and often have exactly the same issues too.

      This is about it, but believe me after 3 years of being in what can only be described as “real life Apocolypse Now” I could write a book on this totally buggered rock.
      Luke

  7. Tom @ Waegook Tom Reply

    Jesus Christ…and to think I was contemplating a visit there. I think I’d just be wading around in my own faeces the entire time. I wonder if the sort-of neighbouring Solomon Islands are any better?

  8. anonymous Reply

    I currently live in port moresby and have done so for 3 years. I have traveled extensively throughout the whole country. Many of the comments are true however its not all bad. A good life can still be had here and not all papua new guineans are out to take advantage of you (however walking around at night is a no no and during the day is risky, armed hold ups and carjackings happen on a daily basis). Just see it from their point of view, extremely high living costs (my apartment costs 3000 AUD per week and I spend about 300 AUD on food a week, internal flights are about 400 AUD return on average and eating out costs about the same as a fancy restaurant in sydney but much worse quality, electricity costs about 20 cents AUD per kWh, very low minimum wage of 1 AUD per hour, poor infrastructure and services and high crime. It’s much harder for the locals! And to top it off there are MEGA rich people living amongst them. The economy is very skewed. In saying all this I know many expats who live here and love the place including myself. It is a very unique country and I think most people either hate it or love it (and hate it sometimes) and I think it comes down to the type of person you are, the living arrangements you have, the friendship groups you make and work you do. I plan on extending my stay for at least 1 more year as the rewards and life experience have so far outweighed the negatives. lukim yu bihain!

    1. anonymous Reply

      Oh and to answer the original question… I would say it’s definately not the country for backpacking! Any sort of travel here should be done with extensive planning, quite a bit of money and most importantly security in mind (especially the ladies).

    2. Advise from a Papua New Guinean Reply

      Thank you for describing the other side of this country. Like alot of places certain areas are not safe and both locals, expatriates and tourists tend to avoid them.

      Public Transport is not great but from my experience from living overseas its certainly cheaper with K1 fares to get you just about anywhere Within Port Moresby (equivalent to 50cents).

      I would suggest if travelling to find a local guide when moving around and pick a bigger bus with more space. You’ll discover that with a local friend things aren’t as dangerous as you’d think and you’re not ripped off!

      Don’t get me wrong, there are alot of security issues, issues faced by locals and tourists alike. Simple travel hacks, lock away valuables, keep expensive items carefully hidden and NEVER pull out bundles of cash or money and for goodness sake don’t pull out your phone and laptops infront of people.(unemployment rate is high and yes petty theft is a big issue). Most of the time your body will sense when your being watched… Don’t give people a reason to watch or follow you and travel light (keep things locked in the safe provided at your hotel!) It’s always best travelling as light as possible and if catching Taxi’s to use established Taxi’s.

      All this information is of course readily available at the airport and on your carrier. However, making contact with locals beforehand is advisable and a smart travel choice.

      Is backpacking safe in PNG? NO! is visiting .. Yes. Prearranged travel is fine. Like any travel destination map out your route and attempt to make contact before arrival. You’ll find Papua New Guineans are very friendly people.. as we say its the Melanesian Way. Be mindful on how you approach locals.

      Some are eager to assist and some of course would have their doubts. Remember we are a country crippled with corruption, high jobless rates and it doesn’t help that expatriates tend to be likelier candidate for jobs… the people are always a bit hesitant sometimes.

      On a lighter note, asking a local directly like myself, We are more than happy to either show you our beautiful country or give you pointers on where to go and what to visit. You’ll find if you approach the right people we’ll go out of our way to show you an amazing experience.

      Believe it or not we do speak English so asking for help for other English speaking travellers is recommended. We are kind and helpful and just to clarify we don’t bloody practice Cannibalism! That’s just ridiculous! I’d appreciate it if the world would stop being so naive and ignorant!

      The only other recommendation I’d give is to be polite and treat people regardless of their appearance with respect. Embrace the culture and don’t be rude. You’re a guest in our country and belittling people is definitely not a good idea… We are proud people and dont like being ridiculed or disrespected.

      Lastly, a comment on our local produce/markets. We have a rich abundance of produce. We have seafood markets and fresh fruits and vegetable markets. If markets appear to not have certain vegetable or fruits the most likely reason is its either not in season or we may be facing a drought. Our markets are always filled to the brim with fresh foods and are always affordable compared to the supply in local shops.

      Travelling for tourists is expensive I agree.. simply surviving is a challenge as a local.

      If you intend to come to PNG please as I mentioned make local contact and plan out your travels… You’ll love the experience and always be security conscious.

  9. Bart van Otterdijk Reply

    Great read this post!

  10. Donna Wanderlust Reply

    Thank you for your realistic article, I am absolutely gutted to find out the above and read all of these comments, i have wanted to travel to PNG for years to research the costume of the local tribes people and now it seems completely impractical to even leave the airport. Im so shocked to hear how violent and expensive it is 🙁

    1. Anthony Middleton Reply

      Yeah I’m sorry to say every word is true 🙁

  11. Anthony Middleton Reply

    I hear it's a little safer as the tour groups will know where to and where to not go, but it's still a bit mental 😛

  12. Anthony Middleton Reply

    Thanks 😀

  13. Dominican Republic To Haiti - One Border, Two Total Different Worlds - Man vs Clock Reply

    […] surrounding travel in Haiti. It had a very similar vibe as backpacking in Papua New Guinea (you can read more about that here) and you shouldn’t be wandering around the streets of Port-Au-Prince with your rasta hair, […]

  14. Rachel Myers Reply

    Read this instead, everyone. It's an amaaaaazing story and a quick read: http://www.amazon.com/Four-Corners-Journey-Heart-Guinea/dp/0792274172

  15. Man Vs Clock Reply

    Thanks for the reply, Hana Sakata Glad to know you were safe in PNG. I guess Port Moresby is what I was really focusing on. 🙂

  16. Catrin Jones Reply

    Wow! Scary place. Any insight about the islands to the north and towns like Rabaul, Kaewieng and Buka? I'm planning a trip to PNG in October solo, naturally skipping Port Moresby and flying north straight away. Finding stories on those areas is proving tough…

  17. How I Made $250k Online in 3 Years, ‘Lost’ it & What I’m Doing About It - Man vs Clock Reply

    […] I stayed with a tribe in the jungles of Papua New Guinea – holding animals I didn’t even know existed. I schmoozed in the swankiest of hotels in Hong Kong for my 30th birthday – celebrating it by doing the world’s biggest bungee jump, Macau Tower. I got to tick Okinawa off my life-long bucket list and fell in love with Japan. I swam with whale sharks in the Philippines. I went to the World Cup in Brazil with one of my best mates from back home. I even fixed my ugly British teeth! […]

  18. Anna @AnnaEverywhere Reply

    I’m still planning on going to PNG and knowing my friends it’s probably gonna be a solo trip again. I heard as long as you head outside of Port Moresby you’re fine. Have you actually visited other places in PNG?

    1. Anthony Middleton Reply

      Hey Anna,

      I also visited Medang and stayed with a tribe with no negative consequences. Much respect to you for adventuring their solo – you’re the next level! There’s a lady in the comments who visited certain parts of PNG and had a good time 🙂

  19. Sarah Burley Reply

    Emily Burley

  20. Guilherme Reply

    I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with you.
    I traveled solo in PNG for 43 days last year, moving around in PMV’s, domestic flights, over-packed boats and even on some sort of pre-arranged hitchhike.
    I felt incredible safe everywhere I went to, even in hellholes like Port Moresby and the outskirts of Lae. East and West New Britain, Madang, Goroka and the main villages along the Sepik River are quite safe in my opinion.
    As I mentioned before, I was traveling solo but I was never alone. Interacting with locals is a great way to have companions (they’ll follow you wherever you go, making sure you’re safe all the time) and move around as they all know where to not go. But for that I was aware of what I should expect in the “land of the inexpected”. I think that coming from a place like Brazil raises my awereness level on dangerous areas.
    Btw, PNG has the most friendly people I’ve ever met! I didn’t pay a single dollar for accomodation while I stayed there.

    1. Anthony Middleton Reply

      Hi Guilherme,

      No need to be sorry, brother! I’m actually glad I was wrong in your perception and that you not only were safe, but had a fantastic time. I was raised in a rough area, but I guess England rough compared to Brazil rough is poles apart.

      As you can see from the comments, there are a few expats living there who echo my thoughts. Also, I think being a woman presents more danger than being a man. Glad you had no problems and sounds like you had a brilliant trip! 🙂

    2. Advise from a Papua New Guinean Reply

      Thank you! It always comes down to your attitude… I’m sure you were incredibly friendly and embraced the experience and people and came out with a better experience.

  21. Man Vs Clock Reply

    I went to Madang and stayed with a tribe, but didn't make it there. Man, you're hardcore!! Stay safe 🙂

  22. Stephen A Worsley Reply

    I have traveled a lot but Pt moresby looks like shit. Just want some nature and safe fun.

  23. Odyssa Abille Reply

    Thanks for this informative post. I've been checking out articles about the safety of traveling to PNG. I am a solo traveler and on the lookout for an exotic country to visit within the year. 😀

  24. True Travles Reply

    The most dangerous places are generally the most beautiful… Sadly if you walk the streets of Peckham, areas of Manila, Jakarta or any other ‘developing country at the night fall then you risk it…. along with hanging a 10k Canon necklace around your neck, well sir I say to you this is not Asia, this is not for people that are on a gap year and want Facebook & Instagram posts to show their friends what their missing it is for the true traveler, that travels for them self and no one else. For those who are a true traveler you will already have read this and laughed…

  25. Lexi Reply

    oh come one bolo