You might have noted Papua New Guinea as the next life-changing destination, and rightfully so. This country is filled with wonder, diverse culture, and varying natural beauty. Although this sounds promising, travel safety is a number one priority.
Are you seeking a tropical escape? Papua New Guinea is an island shared with Indonesia, just north of Australia. This magnificent land is geologically young and only separated from the Australian continent around 8,000 years ago.
Papua New Guinea gained independence in 1975. Before then, it was a United Nations trust territory, meaning the country was decolonized but not yet independent. Australia governed the land until it became its own nation.
The country remains untouched by mass tourism, which may seem exciting, but the critical question remains: is Papua New Guinea safe for tourists?
Why Visit Papua New Guinea
Before discouraging you with safety concerns, you’ll want to know why Papua New Guinea might be worth a flight ticket.
The most tempting attraction that eases all negatives is the sheer amount of scenic nature. You’ll find perfect beaches, thriving rainforests, countless mountains, and gorgeous volcanic landscapes here. It’s almost impossible to believe just how stunning the country is.
Papua New Guinea is the perfect place to soak in diverse, friendly cultures – each with unique customs, traditional ceremonies, art, and languages. PNG has 839 languages, including the official ones: Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu, and English. If you visit, you’ll likely find a traditional festival to attend.
Is Papua New Guinea Dangerous
Sadly, the country is unsafe, and violent crime is likely, including sexual assault and armed robberies. There is also a potential for kidnapping. Even the US travel advisory pleads with tourists to reconsider traveling to Papua New Guinea due to extreme safety issues.
To add salt to the injury, parts of the country are under civil unrest due to ethnic and tribal divisions, high poverty levels, gangs, governance issues, and land disputes. A lack of infrastructure and resources also limits police services and healthcare.
This heavy list of problems makes Papua New Guinea a high-risk zone. There are a few definite no-go areas that tourists need to avoid. If your heart is still set on traveling to this troubled yet gorgeous country, there are safer areas, too.
Dangerous Areas in Papua New Guinea
Tribal, communal, and clan tension can increase without warning due to historical and ongoing conflicts relating to land disputes, autonomy, and resources. This unrest creates a volatile environment for tourists. Bougainville is an autonomous region with its own governance.
The Bougainville Civil War lasted between 1988 and 1998 between Bougainville locals and the Papua New Guinea government. The war was devastating and resulted in many deaths and infrastructure damage. Although a peace agreement was signed in 2001, the tension remains, resulting in spontaneous outbreaks of violence in the region.
Violence can happen anywhere in the Southern and Northern regions, including squatter settlements, marketplaces, and urban centers.
The Highlands Region
This region is subject to the same violence level and civil unrest as Southern Bougainville and should not be visited. The provinces in the Highlands region that need to be avoided include Enga Province, Southern Highlands Province, Western Highlands Province, Simbu Province, and Eastern Highlands Province.
Many areas in the Highlands Region are remote and do not have access to necessary emergency services or medical facilities.
While tourist accommodations and tours are available in some parts of the Highlands, they are limited, making it difficult to find reliable information and services.
Is it Safe to Live in Papua New Guinea?
Although the country isn’t entirely safe for tourists, you may wonder about the well-being of locals. Unfortunately, Papua New Guinea is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, with a high crime index of 80.79.
The country is subject to shocking criminal activity, especially violent crimes. Kidnapping and human trafficking are also a significant cause of concern.
Besides crime, many areas in Papua New Guinea have unexploded ordnance, which are bombs and mines left over from World War II. The country is also subject to adverse weather conditions like flooding and has 14 active volcanoes.
Safe Areas in Papua New Guinea
Milne Bay Province
Milne Bay Province generally has lower crime rates than some urban areas in other provinces, including Port Moresby. While petty crimes like theft still occur, the chance of severe criminal activity is relatively lower. It is a remote area, which brings slightly safer conditions.
Milne Bay has developed its tourism industry, focusing on diving, snorkeling, and eco-tourism. They have guides and dive operators. Since tourism is a central focus, the city and its tight-knit communities are dedicated to keeping you safe.
Port Moresby is the country’s capital and is the most developed area. It is also the central region for tourist travel.
This area is safer than other parts of Papua New Guinea but is still dangerous and subject to armed robberies, car hijacking, and violent crimes. You must exercise extreme caution when traveling and remain wary of your surroundings.
The safer parts include the Downtown and Central Business District and the Airways Hotel area. Boroko is a residential and commercial area patrolled by police, making it a more shielded option for travelers.
Besides the danger, Port Moresby is decorated with natural scenery, quaint restaurants, and cultural attractions like the National Museum and Art Gallery.
East New Britain Province
Rabaul is the provincial capital and offers stunning diving and snorkeling sites, World War II history, and picturesque volcanic scenery. The province is known for its raw natural beauty and exceptionally friendly locals.
But just how safe is East New Britain? Although crime is still possible, the crime rates are lower here than in other regions. The province is more developed for tourism and emphasizes safety and security for visitors. Tour operators and accommodations prioritize the well-being of their guests.
The safest parts in East New Britain include Kokopo (a tourist favorite), Rabaul, Kabaira, and the Duke of York Islands. Rabaul still has unexploded bombs and mines from World War II, but it is avoidable.
Warnings & Dangers in Papua New Guinea
Many tourists have traveled to Papua New Guinea without any trouble and have expressed their interest in returning – so yes, this wildly beautiful country is still possible to visit!
The primary way to prevent dangerous encounters in PNG is knowledge. With these warnings and dangers made known, you can protect yourself and enjoy the road less traveled.
The main tourist crimes include petty theft and car-jacking. However, there have been cases of armed muggings, sexual assault, kidnapping, and civil unrest. Although uncommon, unexploded ordnance (UXO), volcanic activity, and other natural disasters are also possible.
Overall Travel Risk 8/10
You can avoid civil unrest if you don’t travel to the aforementioned areas and call the tourist office before visiting. If a problem does arise, you should flee the area, avoid taking photos or videos, and arrange to leave the country.
As for the other dangers like theft, violent crime, transport, UXO, and limited medical facilities, there are ways to prevent severe issues.
In general, you should always stay wary of your surroundings and travel in safe areas. Always keep your car locked and windows closed, keep your possessions close, or get an anti-theft travel bag. You should only trust hotel recommendations, never travel or hike alone, and don’t ever go out at night.
Theft & Violent Crime
Theft is the primary concern when visiting Papua New Guinea and is the most likely danger. You’ll need to keep your belongings close and hidden at all times. Leave expensive items like watches and jewelry at home as they attract attention.
Port Moresby is a tourist hotspot; therefore, you could be a target. More remote areas are less risky in that sense. You should always travel with someone and have a guide as far as possible. Do not walk anywhere, not even 5 minutes, without ensuring your safety with your hotel or guide.
Armed theft is possible; in those cases, the best you can do is comply with the attackers’ instructions to avoid injury. Carjacking may allow you some room to drive away, but if it’s impossible, you should follow the same procedure.
You should never use the local public motor vehicle (PMV) transport. These are primarily unroadworthy cars, and drivers do not follow safe driving practices. Tourists are also targets on PMVs.
You should only use trusted transport booked from your hotel. The car should be locked at all times, with the windows shut or only slightly open.
PNG has limited infrastructure, and the roads are mostly unpaved outside urban areas, so it’s best to have an experienced guide drive you. Steer clear of remote roads with little traffic or travel in a convoy to avoid armed robberies.
If you want to travel to another province, you should never drive there. Before booking domestic flights, check for travel advisories or safety recommendations from your country’s embassy. Some domestic airlines don’t meet safety standards.
UXO are armed bombs and mines left behind from World War II and have remained undiscovered. If you walk on one, it triggers a catastrophic explosion. It is of utmost importance to follow the correct safety procedures.
You should only walk/hike on marked paths in Papua New Guinea. Always listen to your tour guide, especially when you’re in these high-risk areas.
UXO sites include Bougainville, New Britain (including Rabaul), New Ireland, the Sepik River Region, and high-conflict areas. Don’t use electronic devices like phones or two-way radios near suspected UXOs, and alert authorities if you think you’ve seen one.
Medical Services & Facilities
Papua New Guinea is a third-world country, meaning it still has much to develop. This means their medical facilities and services are minimal, and severe cases of injury or sickness may require transport to a neighboring country. You absolutely need travel health insurance when visiting.
Major cities and urban centers like Port Moresby, Lae, and Mount Hagen have better-equipped medical facilities. These include public hospitals, private hospitals, clinics, and specialist services. The quality and availability of healthcare in each area can differ.
In rural and remote areas, healthcare services are often poor and may lack essential medical supplies, equipment, and trained staff.
Tips for Staying Safe in Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is a stunning destination, but this advice should help you avoid the possible dangers of the territory. Here are the top tips:
- Travel with tour guides from a reputable company: It is best to have one accompany every activity you plan to do, especially hiking and exploring the nearby attractions.
- Bring an adequate supply of over-the-counter and prescription medication: if you get sick or need a specific medicine, you’re unlikely to find what you need in PNG.
- Steer clear of informal squatter settlements: These are hazardous zones, and you should only interact with local communities if your tour guide deems it safe.
- Bring hand sanitizer: You’ll travel to remote locations without proper hygiene standards and want to avoid getting sick.
- Avoid traveling in the wet season between December and March: This brings about landslides, flooding, and infrastructure damage that makes getting around even more difficult than it is generally.
Is Papua New Guinea Safe? | Frequently Asked Questions
Is Papua New Guinea Safe for Solo Females?
Since this country is one of the most risky places for travelers, solo females should skip it. Gender-based violence in PNG is a severe concern, and it isn’t safe for female tourists at all.
However, there have been instances where solo female adventurers were brave enough to visit, and they had a positive experience. Although it isn’t advised, when you go alone, you should ensure you have a trusted guide awaiting your arrival and never do anything by yourself.
Is Papua New Guinea Cheap or Expensive?
Despite being an economically challenged country with a fair exchange rate to the dollar, prices aren’t as cheap as you think. PNG has inflated prices due to remote locations, limited infrastructure, and the costs associated with providing Western comforts in challenging environments.
You need a tour guide for almost everything you do, which adds to the cost. You also need to have travel insurance in place.
Is it Safe to Swim in Papua New Guinea?
Yes, you can swim at the beaches, but you should stay close to shore and in shallow water. Your local guide or hotel will tell you where it is safe to swim, but never do so alone.
You should note that there are crocodiles in Papua New Guinea and need to avoid their habitats. They live in rivers, coastal estuaries, deep pools, and mangrove shores.
Why is Papua New Guinea So Famous?
The country is well known for its various tribes, cultures, traditions, and languages. If you’re a cultural enthusiast willing to brave the danger that may lurk, a trip to Papua New Guinea is ultra rewarding for its beautiful, kind people (besides the criminals, of course).
The country also has many charming natural landscapes to enjoy, including volcanoes, mountains, forests, rivers, and beaches.