A visit to Baliem Valley is a trip to another world and an unforgettable experience. However, the section about Baliem Valley in Lonely Planet is rather anemic, lacks vital information and has no photos. This article will provide you with all the information you need before starting your hike. But most importantly how to find a guide and what to bring if you are on a budget for an authentic Papua experience.
How to get to Baliem Valley?
The only way to get to Baliem Valley is to fly from Jayapura, the capital of Papua which is linked to Jakarta and Makassar as well as all major cities in Papua by air. If you made your way so far to Papua you might consider saving some time for swimming with whale sharks in Nabire or visiting the wonderful Padaido islands in Biak. The airport of Jayapura lies in Sentani which is very far away from Jayapura town. An one way taxi from the airport costs 250,000 IDR and takes 1 hour.
Where to Stay in Jayapura?
Given the high cost of getting to Jayapura town from the airport (500,000 IDR return), it may be wise to avoid going there. If you need to stay overnight in Jayapura due to the flight schedule, there are cheap hotels very close to the airport. You won’t find these on Booking.com, they are only listed on Traveloka (local Indonesian app and website).
On the way to and from Baliem Valley, we stayed in the delightful “Homestay Galpera Papua”, which lies in Waena, a town halfway between Sentani airport and Jayapura. A German missionary family used to live here with their three children. Now the children are grown up and the parents have moved elsewhere and now they are renting out the bedrooms with the help of two local girls. It is cheap and all profit goes to the local girl football team. The friendly staff have a lot of information on Baliem Valley hikes and other activities around Jayapura. They also offer luggage storage if you wish to leave some luggage behind in Jayapura. We had a lovely time cooking with Susan and introducing her to Italian food.
Otherwise, the town of Jayapura is pleasant but has little to offer in itself. It is possible to do a bird of paradise bird watching tour and enjoy the Sentani lake but most tourist only see Jayapura as a transfer station for reaching Baliem Valley. In the June/July, tourists come to Jayapura for the Sentani lake festival where locals dress traditionally and have mock fights.
Finding a guide for Baliem Valley
It is important to have a good guide for Baliem Valley, especially if you are a first time visitor. Without a guide, you will soon find yourself lost and owning a copy of “lonely planet” is no help in the wilderness. If you are on a tight budget, our recommendation is to get a cheap guide (see below) and skip the porter. If you are in good shape, it is possible to carry all supplies yourself.
We were recommended the guide Okr through two friends who had just finished the hike. Okr charged 600,000 IDR per day and an additional 200,000 IDR for the porter. He spoke good English and took very good care of us during the whole stay from pick-up at the airport until bringing us back to the hotel after our hike. A bonus with Okr is that he has his own car, so he can drive you around to the mummy village etc. Here is his Facebook so you can get in touch with him before you arrive in Wamena.
However, there are even cheaper guides, for example our homestay in Jayapura had the contact information of one guide who charged 400,000 IDR per day, but we tried to call him and his English was not so good. So we decided to go with Okr.
While on our trek, we met a Hungarian couple who had hired Jonas Wenda, one of the guides listed in Lonely planet. In hiring Mr Wenda, they had to accept a package which included 3 porters and 1 cook for 700 USD (4 day hike). By comparison, we payed 2.7 million IDR (roughly 190 USD) for our guide + porter for 3.5 days.
Where to stay in Wamena?
Frankly, there are no good accommodation options in Wamena. We stayed in Pliamo Hotel which is listed in Lonely Planet. It was acceptable but not great, especially considering the price (450,000 IDR for a standard room). However, the other hotels in Wamena which we checked out were unacceptably dirty and not much cheaper.
Best tip is to avoid staying in Wamena if possible. Pre-arrange your guide and arrive with the early morning flight.
You need to obtain a permit for visiting Baliem Valley. It can be obtained in Jayapura or in Wamena. After meeting our guide Okr in Wamena, he took us to the police station where the Surat Jalan was promptly issued.
For the Surat Jalan, you need to submit 2 passport photos and a copy of your passport with the photo page and the Indonesian visa page. Galpera Homestay in Jayapura can help out with passport photos and photocopying of you passport.
What to Bring for your Baliem Valley Hike?
After meeting your guide, he will first take you to the market to buy fresh produce and then to the supermarket to get cookies etc. It is also possible to buy and bring these items from Jayapura, however, keep in mind that you only have 10kg of checked luggage per person on the flight to Wamena. As a general rule, villagers don’t have any vegetables or fruits for sale and everything needs to be bought before the start of the trek.
- Rice. The main food during the hike. It will be boiled for the evening meal and the left overs will be fried and eaten for breakfast next morning. Usually 200 grams of rice per person per day. 1.5kilo of white rice would be perfect for 1 porter, 1 guide and 2 tourists going on a 3D/2N hike.
- If you cannot eat fried rice for breakfast. You could buy oatmeal in Jayapura or toast in Wamena. Peanut butter is also available in Jayapura.
- Lunch for yourself. We bought Avocados and toast, which we pre-toasted at the hotel to make it last longer. We had Avocado Toast with salt and Italian glaze (crema di Balsamico) every day for lunch. The avocados in Wamena are so good make sure you eat some.
- Lunch for the guide and porter. Usually cookies. The guide will tell you how much to buy and which ones he prefers when you shop together in Wamena.
- For non-vegans, it is also possible to buy and bring eggs and canned meat in Wamena. The guide and porter have no problem going vegan during the trek and it is not necessary to buy animal products for their sake.
- Onions and Garlic are used for frying the vegetables in the evening and making fried rice in the morning. A handful of onions and garlic per day is needed.
- Spicy sauce/ketchup. A small bottle of “Sambal” or Ketchup could be nice to season your dinner.
- Frying oil. A small bottle for frying vegetables in the evening and rice in the morning.
- Salt. A small package is usually enough.
- Vegetables for dinner. 1 bundle of green beans, 3 carrots and 6 small tomatoes per evening was enough for the 4 of us (2 tourists, 1 porter and 1 guide).
- Fruits. The guide and porter are not so much into fruits. This is more for yourself. Bananas tend to get smashed in your backpack even if you take care and put them on top. Passion fruits and oranges are available and relatively cheap. It is more healthy and will produce no plastic waste.
- If you don’t bring a large empty backpack to Wamena, you need to buy a rice bag (5000 IDR) which will be filled with the supplies and carried by the porter.
Water in Baliem Valley
You bring water purification equipment to Wamena such as filters and tablets. These are NOT available for purchase in Wamena or Jayapura. There is plenty of water in the highlands for you to filter.
You buy bottled water in Wamena. We consumed 1.5 liters of water per person per day. The downside is that it is quite heavy for the porter to carry. Don’t worry about plastic waste. People in Baliem Valley treasure the empty 1.5 liter bottles and will reuse them to carry water from the springs to their houses. That made us feel much better as we hate buying plastic bottles (This was the first time during our trip we had to buy plastic bottles). Next time I would bring a filter system we just didn’t know before.
You buy some bottled water in Wamena and refill the bottles with boiled water in the evening. However, many of the streams look a bit muddy and it may be unappetizing for you to drink. The guide and porter have no issues drinking this water and a good compromise could be to refill their bottles with boiled water every evening. The porter and guide won’t do this automatically and you need to check that they have refilled their bottles.
Roland and our porter Maggie shortly before the hike and still clean 🙂
Other things to buy and bring:
- Cigarettes. Calculate 1 pack of cigarettes per porter per day. Usually the guides don’t smoke.
- Coffee, Tea and Sugar. The purpose of bringing these items is to provide hot drinks for your guide, porter and for your host in the village. For a three day hike with one guide and one porter, bring 1 kg of sugar and medium sized packages of tea and coffee. Papuans like to drink sweet, hence the obscene amount of sugar.
- Candy. It is nice to give candy to the kids of Baliem Valley. Often, they will shout “Gula Gula” which means “Candy” when they see you and they are so cute that you will be very happy that you brought some. The downside is the Gula Gula is wrapped in plastic which will end up somewhere in nature if you don’t collect it.
- Wear appropriate clothes for the trek. It is cool and somewhat windy in the highlands, maximum 20-25 degrees at noon and 10 degrees at night. A warm sweater is nice to have in the evening.
- Rain jacket and light water proof pants is also advisable because it rains quite a lot, especially September to April.
- We had no problem hiking in sneakers but parts of the path were wet and muddy even without rain so waterproof shoes would have been better. However, on most muddy parts, the villagers have dropped large stones in the mud and it is possible to pass the muddy parts by hopping on these stones.
- Bring one change of clothes, which you leave behind at your hotel in Wamena. After returning from the hike, it is nice to have a hot shower and change into fresh clothes.
The Hiking Route
Most of the hikes are to the South of Wamena Town where the scenery is most beautiful. The hike typically begins with a taxi ride southward from Wamena to the start of the hiking trail. Every taxi can take 12 passengers and since each passenger pays 25.000 IDR. You have to pay the driver 300.000 IDR to charter his car for you and the guide. From there you will walk up the mountain on the left site of the river. On day 2 you will walk down and cross the river to walk back on the other site of the valley. The scenery is spectacular with the most beautiful views and locals carrying goods from Wamena back to their villages. We were so impressed how much especially women were carrying.
At some point the hiking was challenging as you needed to go on very small muddy paths steep up. We visited during dry season and it was still muddy. I can’t imagine how it looks during wet season. Also from time to time there are some very dangerous looking bridges were you need to keep your balance well.
The Village Accommodation in Baliem Valley
You don’t stay with regular villagers during your trek. Some families in certain villages have made it into a business to house tourists. Usually, they have built some traditional honai houses which are reserved for tourists. The toilets are standard Indonesian squatting toilets which you need to flush manually with water from a large container.
The guide knows which villages have tourist infrastructure and will take you there. However, it is wise to bring your own sleeping bag as blankets are not always provided. You should also consider bringing a light inflatable mattress if sleeping on hard surfaces gives you back issues. The floor of the sleeping hut is typically covered in a thin layer of dried grass which provides limited cushioning.
They also let you use their “kitchen” for making fire and cooking in the evening and morning. The kitchen is a little hut with dried grass and a fire place. This is an really authentic experience. Usually the head of the village you are staying will join for dinner and breakfast and you should offer coffee with tonnes of sugar and leftover food to them in exchange for using their home. All the goods you are bringing are luxury items for the villagers, because getting them means to walk to Wamena and carry everything back. Most families live on the food they produce by themselves which is mainly sweat potato. In some villages they will offer some to you in exchange for your food. They are very delicious and you should definitely try them.
For every stay they will ask you to pay a little fee which they will use later to buy medicine, cigarettes, clothing and sugar.
Biting Insects and Diseases in Baliem Valley
Outside the town of Wamena, there are few mosquitos but plenty of dog fleas, especially inside the huts where people cook, eat and socialize. Covering up your skin is a good strategy. There was a small gap between Rolands’ socks and pants which exposed part of his ankles when he squatted on the floor and afterwards, he had around 20 very itchy flea bites on each ankle. The huts where you sleep are reserved for tourists and locked when empty. No dogs or people can enter so there are usually no dog fleas in there. Malaria and Dengue fever are fairly common in Papua and care should be taken when visiting. However, these diseases are rare in Baliem Valley due to the high altitude. There is an HIV and AIDS epidemic going on in the Papuan Highlands due to polygamy and a general unawareness of the disease. In the family, which we stayed the first night, it was very obvious that the sickly skinny second wife had manifest AIDS.
Where to Meet “Naked People” in Baliem Valley
Only a few people in the valley are wearing the traditional costume with a penis gourd nowadays. Most people you will come across wear T shirt and shorts and the few that do have a penis gourd are old men. We met 5 old men who wore penis gourd on our hike but sightings are far from guaranteed. Many hikers don’t meet any. One place you could go if you definitely want to see an old man with a penis gourd is to the mummy villages north of town. Tourists often come there to see the mummified remains of a dead chieftain and some villagers there have made posing for photos into a business, 10.000 IDR per photo per person. So be careful if a group of kids wants to take picture with you they will charge you 10.000 IDR each. I am not kidding.
We would not say that it is fake, these are real Baliem Valley natives who have chosen to retain the traditional outfit for the sake of making some extra money. If you can time your visit with the Baliem Valley Festival, then you will see plenty of original Culture but you need to book well in advance since Wamena gets very busy around this time.
Having breakfast together with Okr’s friend who still wears traditional clothes or nothing 🙂
All in all we had an epic trip and really enjoyed spending time on the routes of locals and in their villages. We learned a lot a bout the life of the people in Baliem Valley and we are quite impressed how well they handle the hard life in one of the remotest parts of the world. You can still find lots of traditional people around but we guess you need to hurry the modern development is also not stopping in Baliem Valley.