Backpacking Papua New Guinea: Is It Safe? (RAW Guide!)

Papua New Guinea Locals
Papua New Guinea Locals

Backpacking Papua New Guinea isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Whenever you tell people you’re on your way to do just that; they either respond with confusion regarding its geographical location (many think it’s in Africa) or even react with pure hysteria.

Then again, the question “is Papua New Guinea safe for backpackers,” is certainly a valid one. It’s not as if it’s the same as considering a couple of weeks in Japan, or a cute little jaunt around Europe’s smallest countries.

Then you have the added bonus that every loser down the local pub seems to suddenly become an off-the-beaten-path travel savant, decrying every single individual of the Papua New Guinea natives as bloodthirsty, heartless cannibals.

Considering that I am writing this piece with all limbs attached, we weren’t used as dinner by the tribe we stayed within Madang. In fact, I look back on my time in PNG with fond and happy memories. But it wasn’t without dodgy moments.

So let’s dissect the big inquiry 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 and lovers of all travel budgets? What’s it like?

Before I get my teeth into the issue at hand, I’ll give you the lowdown on the logistics…

2 men and a boy smiling

Where is Papua New Guinea?

Papua New Guinea is a country on the island of New Guinea, in The Pacific Islands, which is in the continent of Australia!

It’s not in Africa and it’s nowhere near Africa. Apologies if that insults your intelligence but I swear a high proportion of people do assume it is, most likely because of Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, two countries in West Africa.

To confuse matters a little more, the island of New Guinea (the second largest island on earth) is a two-nation island. Even though the people are ethnically the same, Indonesia owns the west side of the island and Papua New Guinea owns the east of the island.

I talk about this in further detail in my post about the tribes of Papua New Guinea (I also write extensively about the indigenous peoples of the whole island of New Guinea).

How To Get To Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea isn’t the kind of country you can just get up and go to from most places in the world. I chose the fastest option, which is to fly from Brisbane, Australia (BNE), to Port Moresby (POM) as Papua New Guinea is rich in certain natural resources and Australians travel there to work in mining.

I paid around $400 USD for a return ticket and flew with Aussie airline giants Qantas.

If you want to take the hardcore option of crossing overland from Indonesia (Jayapura) to Papua New Guinea (Vanimo) then you will have to obtain a PNG visa before you cross via making an application at the Papua New Guinea Consulate General.

It takes up to 10 working days to process your visa and the drive to the border is 2-3 hours with no public busses. Hats off to you if you pull that one off, you earned it!

Transport Around Papua New Guinea 

A man driving a bus
Many locals were friendly, others not so much…

The capital of Papua New Guinea, 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.

Air Niugini, PNG Air, MAF and TropicAir are the main domestic airlines, be prepared to pay a surprising premium for flying domestically in Papua New Guinea. For example, a return flight from Port Moresby to Madang via Air Niugini was just shy of $500 USD…I’ve flown London to Bangkok for cheaper than that.

Getting around Port Moresby we used PMVs (Public Motor Vehicles) which are crowded minivans with jungle/reggae music blasting. They can be pretty sketchy, but they are certainly the cheapest mode of travel.

It’s a bumpy ride on the roads as they are broken and unkept and the country is very mountainous with poor systems. Then there’s the vulnerability that the country has to natural disasters to throw into the mix! If you do hire a car you’re best off renting a van or a 4×4 car and that’s not going to come cheap.

Ferry travel in Papua New Guinea is an option, but services only run between cities 2-3 times per week. Online information is sparse on this and the timings change often, so if you’re travelling here without a tour operator you will have to do a lot of on-the-ground planning if you want to experience a Papua New Guinea ferry experience.

If you really like to take a float on the wild side, you can take banana boats to other islands. Prices vary wildly as you are at the whim of the driver as he knows you don’t have a lot of options.

What’s The Food in Papua New Guinea Like?

Your main choices in the main cities like Port Moresby are mock KFC fried chicken places. I can’t even remember seeing a green vegetable in a restaurant although there was plenty of fruit at local markets and you’re never too far away from a yam pressure sale from a street vendor.

In the coastal towns, you will hear the cry of ladies shouting “yellowfin” and they will nearly always have cassava root or sweet potato as a carb source.

Chicken hotpots in coconut cream and starchy pancakes are served all over the rural areas. You might struggle for protein options as a vegetarian, but you will have a lot of options as the traditional diet (outside of the tribespeople) is largely plant-based.

Is Papua New Guinea Expensive?

After visiting 32 countries at the time of this publication, 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, the island of 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 trade with other nations.

For example, I found out during my Puncak Jaya climb (the tallest mountain in New Guinea and a Seven Summits entry) that West Timor had the largest gold mine in the world. Their people were living on the breadline while the leader was living like a king and sharing the spoils with an American company.

Standard, ‘budget’ one-bed dorm rooms in a hostel average at around a whopping $300 USD per night. Street food isn’t so bad, but restaurant prices are a joke.

The accommodation prices are so high that it’s impossible not to spend an extortionate amount during a visit there on accommodation alone.

Transport is cheap in a PMV if you’re feeling brave, we used it a lot. What we saved in money; we made up for in cortisol.

If you decide to go backpacking in Papua New Guinea just manage your expectations and prepare to spend like you’re travelling in Switzerland… just without the fantastic systems and safe travel.

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

Tourist poses with locals in Papua New Guinea

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 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 ruthless, violent street gangs who are no strangers to robbing, raping and killing on a daily basis. British TV Presenters/Tough Guys Vinnie Jones and Ross Kemp recently recorded documentaries on these people, looking overwhelmed and far out of their hard-man depth, although Ross does really well here.

If this was not staged, I think Ross handled this very well and he’s quite possibly the most alpha male on earth. 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, who were high as a kite and asking us questions whilst edging closer. I think we did a good job of not showing how petrified we later admitted to be.

Not Ross Kemp standards though.

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

Lucky escape.

Heart pounding.

Genuinely thought I was going to die.

A few days later (during the day) we met a guy who turned out to be a policeman he 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!”

Madang was more of the same, but Port Moresby was a different level of scary and the capital city was the main concern when I was backpacking in Papua New Guinea.

One day in Port Moresby we witnessed two fruit sellers have a disagreement. Without hesitation one guy smacked the other in the face, knocking him to the ground. But he wasn’t done there, dragging his unconscious body into the busy road so that he could get finished off by a moving vehicle on the busy motorway.

The most shocking thing about this was the reaction from the locals or lack thereof. Presumably a case of “same shit, different day,” I guess. The place has a palpable feeling of threat that is impossible to ignore.

Backpacking Papua New Guinea: A Reality Check!

Yes, I came back unscathed and yes there was that innocuous, negligent moment with the cameras, but to use the word “safe” and “Papua New Guinea” in the same sentence would be pretty oxymoronic when speaking in relative terms to safety on the road.

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 was constantly on edge over there and it kept me on my toes. Readers should know what to expect if they’re considering a visit. I did have a fantastic time though (especially when I met the elusive cuscus animal) and I’m glad I went, but the potential danger there is definitely on another level, so it’s best to be honest with this topic.

3 local men smile in Papua New Guinea

Women Alone Backpacking in Papua New Guinea?

Ladies, forget about it!

Sorry, girls. I’d be pissed off too and I also don’t like being told what to do.

Yet here I am, placing a limit on your potential experiences based solely upon your gender. I hate fear-mongering and I have nothing but respect for solo female travellers who have the boldness to travel in such hardcore countries like this.

But I live in the real world and sadly there are just different kinds of evil awaiting women, so I have no time and zero patience for idealism and exceptions to rules when it comes to this subject.

Look no further for ‘risky for women’ than Papua New Guinea. Domestic and sexual abuse against women is rife over there, quite literally among the highest in the world and women are simply second-class citizens.

I’d like to tell you that horrific cases like this are isolated events, but they’re not. It’s commonplace. Ladies, I don’t mean to sound condescending or demeaning, but out of your best interests and my good intentions; Papua New Guinea is not the place for a woman.

That being said, it’s not a utopia for a man either but the sex-related crimes over there are a major red flag and too big to ignore.

I don’t deal in sensationalism, just keeping it real and I’d much rather any women (and men) who do venture out there have a slightly less good time due to being hyper-vigilant if the result is them coming back unscathed from backpacking Papua New Guinea and its wild, beautiful, untrodden path.

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4 men pose for the camera in papua new guinea
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Anthony Middleton

Former loser who took a risk. Visited over 100 countries. Trying my best to not get skinny-fat during Covid.

1,385 thoughts on “Backpacking Papua New Guinea: Is It Safe? (RAW Guide!)”

  1. 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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. The Skywalker

    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.

  4. 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


      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….
      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.

  5. 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?

  6. 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. 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

      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.

  7. 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 🙁

  8. 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…

  9. 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. 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 🙂

  10. 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. 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

      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.

    1. All I can say to the cost is OUCH. Interesting article Anth. With a mixture of other articles I read, i feel that and wonder why the world governments only seem to care about arms and oil and very little thought into the human race. To many countries in the world are at fault with a very screwed up distribution of wealth.

  11. 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. 😀

  12. 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…

  13. Try and take a visit to my island ‘Rotuma’.

    You’ll know what is safety and harmony..

    Can search on Google. Rotuma

    Cool article though.. good that you made it out from there. Been watching some horrifying
    Videos from PNG and some nights couldn’t sleep. My uncle went there for Work and came back within the same week coz he said that his life is more important then the Job.

    Cheers mahn..

  14. I was thinking of heading to Port Moresby cause I found a cheap flight from where I am now, that’s why I came across your blog. Been traveling for months at a time for the past three years mostly on my own so I wouldn’t call myself inexperienced, but I don’t think I’m ready for this place. Thanks for the heads up.

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Ultra runner walking in desert

Hi, I'm Anthony!

In November of 2010, I took on a mammoth challenge against the clock in a quest to upgrade my miserable life. I went out of my comfort zone and turned it all around. Ten years later, I’m completely location independent…

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