Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea: Safe For Backpackers?
Updated: 18/12/20 | December 18th, 2020
When you tell people that you’re on your way to Papua New Guinea, they either respond with confusion regarding its geographical location (many think it’s in Africa), or 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 trip to Bruges, and almost every loser down the local pub seems to suddenly become an off-the-beaten-path travel savant, decrying the Papua New Guinea natives as bloodthirsty cannibals.
Considering that I am writing this piece with all limbs attached, we weren’t used as dinner by the tribe 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.
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…
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 best option, which is to fly from Sydney in Australia, as Papua New Guinea is rich in certain natural resources and Australians travel there to work in mining.
Transport Around Papua New Guinea
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 Madang, but that’s a whole new article.
Hahahaha. Good one!
What’s The Food Like?
If you’re travelling to Papua New Guinea for culinary reasons then 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 out there.
Your main choices are mock KFC fried chicken places, or yellow fin fish in any costal towns or islands. I can’t even remember seeing a green vegetable 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.
Is Papua New Guinea Expensive?
After visiting 32 countries thus far 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 $300 USD per night. Street food isn’t so bad, but restaurant prices are a joke. Transport is cheap in a PMV, if you’re feeling brave. The accommodation prices are so high that it’s impossible not to spend an extortionate amount during a visit there on accommodation alone.
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 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 stranger 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 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, 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 everything I had over including the clothes 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.
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 is the main concern when travelling 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.
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.
Conclusion: Papua New Guinea is NOT “Safe” For Backpackers
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 and I’m glad I went, but the potential danger there is definitely on another level, so it’s best to be honest.
Women Travelling Alone 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.
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 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 event, but they’re not. It’s commonplace. Ladies, I don’t mean to sound condescending or demeaning, but out of your best interest and my 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.
“Watching the people get lairy,– “I predict a riot,” by The Kaiser Chiefs
It’s not very pretty I tell thee,
Walking through town is quite scary,
It’s not very sensible either.”
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