Simply put, Papua New Guinea is unreal. Or surreal. Unlike anything I have ever experienced anywhere on the planet. For a country that is wild, untamed, and locked in the Stone Age (albeit a Stone Age where the appearance of a cell phone is not unusual ), its people are unexpectedly warm, welcoming and curious. We traveled there in August 2011 for the 50th anniversary of the Mt. Hagen Sing Sing Festival, but the country is a remarkable destination at any time of year. More than a third of the country’s 5 million people live in dense, rugged rainforest in remote highland villages, and hundreds of tribes travel for days to the festival where they fiercely compete in dance, song, and costume. It’s a heady display of colors and sound proudly put on for the locals and a modest number of international tourists who–if they’re like us–felt as if they had died and gone to National Geographic heaven.
- More than 800 languages are spoken throughout the country, but it’s easy to learn a few words of the commonly spoken Pidgin (“Happy noon,” for example. means good afternoon).
- Even if you are not an avid birder, bring your binoculars: Some of the 42s pecies of the Bird of Paradise that live in PNG are found nowhere else.
- You will rarely see an outstretched hand asking for money. You may be tempted to bring practical gifts to the villages (such as the pencils and pens often welcomed elsewhere), but simply interacting and talking with the villagers is most recommended by the local tour guides. Villagers are shy but curious and love, love, love to have their photo taken (and would never dream of asking for remuneration. Something rare indeed!).