The Baliem Valley is a region in central Papua. Surrounded by mountains as high as 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) and practically isolated from much of the island, this valley hosts some of the traditional cultures of Papua.
Wamena is the main city in the Baliem Valley of West Papua that serves as the gateway to explore further into the valley. The city is the starting point for most tours and treks into the Lani, Dani and Yali tribal lands, and you can actually go to Asmat lands from here too. These tours and treks range from local half-day walks to 30-day expeditions deep into tribal lands.
It is a pretty functional town with basic facilities and amenities provided, though it may be considerably more expensive than Jayapura as everything is basically shipped by freight.
The Baliem Valley and surrounding areas offer a glimpse into what were stone-age villages. The mountains to the south provide superb scenery, but are accessible only by air and/or walking.
Some of the walks up to two days can be done without a guide, but it is highly recommended to employ a guide for anything longer than that. Trails are marginal in places, there are no signs, and almost no English is spoken in the villages.
Guided treks range from backpacking with a guide, to backpacking with a guide and a couple of porters, up to a full expedition with guide, cooks and enough porters so you only need to carry your camera.
Backcountry trails range from a road (well, almost a road), to a well-used footpath with some steep places, to game trails, to more or less a route that requires a guide. Landslides that take out section of trails are not unusual, especially during the wet season, so detours and/or bushwacking around the slide can be expected. Trails typically involve a lot of up and down as you cross rivers at the bottom or a valley and later in the day go over a mountain pass into the neighboring valley. Starting altitude (Wamena) is about 1,800 meters above sea level (5,200 ft) and many trails go over 3,000 meters (10,000 ft).
There is no road from Jayapura to Wamena.
The most reliable way to get to Baliem Valley is flying from Jayapura to 1 Wamena Airport (WMX IATA), about a 40-minute flight. Flights between Jayapura and Wamena are operated by Nam Air (subsidiary of Sriwijaya Air), Trigana Air Service and Wings Air (subsidiary of Lion Air). Trigana Air Service is also services from Timika. Susi Air operates flights to other small airfields in the highlands of Papua.
There is a road from Wamena to the south, but be aware that, due to flooding and the lack of bridges, where there are rivers only the roads are not as complete as they appear on the map. Therefore, walking and flying remain the only ways to commute outside of the proximity of Wamena.
Public transportation in Wamena consists of airport taxis, minivan taxi (called Bemos) that run set routes, and bicycle rickshaws. Prices are reasonable, even the premium rates charged to tourists. Make sure to confirm the costs with the driver before boarding.
Private-hire vehicles (with driver) are typically a small SUV or a mid-size 4X4 pickup truck.
Due to the limited information, a majority of tourists who came to the valley will most likely explore with a tour guide. These are some of the sights you are expected to see:
- Mummy of Akima. A remote village featuring a 100-year old mummy. Less touristy area because of its 'difficult' access.
- Mummy of Jiwika. A developed tourist village where its highlight is a 300-year-old mummy, preserved by smoke. Be aware that a fee may be paid per person if the mummy is photographed together with the locals.
- Contilola Cave. A pretty deep cave that needs a decent level of fitness to explore. Right at the end of the walkable portion are the waters that you can choose to dive into. Make sure to bring flashlights.
- Festival Budaya Lembah Baliem (Baliem Valley Cultural Festival). An annual event that gives visitors a general introduction of the cultures of Papua's last frontier tribes. Highlights dances and controlled simulation of the tribal warfare.
Visit any or all of the three major markets in Wamena. Walk to them or take the bicycle rickshaw. Roaming through the markets is fascinating and completely safe. These markets are not limited to fresh produce and fruits but are more like open air shopping malls - clothing, canned goods, electronics, car parts, farming implements, etc. - truly an amazing selection of products. Please ask permission before taking photos.
The bridge across the Baliem River (near the main market) is a great place to watch locals - washing clothes, swimming, fishing, digging out gravel - as well as seeing many Dani & Yali people from remote villages coming into town to buy or sell in the market.
If you feel adventurous and are used to find your way with a GPS, you can visit without a guide, provided you do your research about the area and let some one know about your trip.
Trek from Wamena to Ungurruk through Papuan villages, jungles, deep valleys, and steep mountains. There are several routes, taking from 3 to 4 days for the routes used by the locals, including the one through Mt Elit which requires doing down makeshift wooden ladders for 4 hours - highly challenging, especially in rainy and wet conditions. One of the route south of the Baliem Valley takes about 8 to 10 days through villages but also through jungle and high muddy plateaux. You need a guide to explore these parts as they are no map, sometimes no trail to follow, and definitely not many people to help.
Be aware that everything is expensive in Wamena compared to the rest of Indonesia as virtually every single thing (including gasoline) is transported by air, though the enforcement of fuel prices that are now subsidized and the same as Java, may help to lower the prices of all things somewhat.
- Ropan Market, Jl. Trikora, Wamena Kota. The only grocery store in town.
- Martabak Terang Bulan Holland, Jl. Trikora, Wamena. Choice of sweet and savory meat murtabak. From Rp70,000.
- Rumah Makan Sukajadi, Jl. SD Percobaan. The Indonesian traditional meatball soup (bakso) and soto.
- Pilamo Cafe & Bakery, Jl. Safri Darwin No. 2, Wamena Kota, ☎ . This is one of the few places in Wamena where you can have your daily fix of coffee plus a selection of pastries.
Water upstream is cool and appears to be safe to drink (but this does not constitute authoritative advice, so drink at your own risk). While this is true for natural springs that dot the countryside, anyone venturing into the backcountry should bring a backpacker's water filter and/or be prepared to boil water.
Wamena city water is not safe to drink unless boiled and filtered. Hotels and restaurants typically provide boiled and filtered water, and offer bottled water at a reasonable price. There are a number of local purification facilities that produce bottled water, generally available in 1/2-liter to 20-liter sizes.
Note that alcohol (in any form) is illegal and unavailable in the Baliem Valley.
Bear in mind that as the area has only recently begun to develop, do not expect a whole lot option of luxurious staying.
- Baliem Valley Resort, Sekan Village, Baliem Valley. A resort owned by a German that incorporates the traditional house called Honai into bungalows and the local diet into some of your meals. The owner also offers up to a one-week-tour that takes you to a first-hand look at the local tribes. Resort is 45 minutes away from town on a hillside. From $100.
- Hotel Baliem Pilamo, Jl. Trikora No.114, Wamena Kota. Perhaps the best option within the Wamena city proper. Modern hotels with standard rooms.
- Hogorasuok Guesthouse, Wamena Kota, Wamena. About 15 min walk from the airport, in a quiet street. Owned through a Dutch association and managed by an Indonesian couple. The guesthouse is clean, has about 5 rooms (2 or 3 double rooms, 2 or 3 single rooms), shared bathroom, and a shared kitchen (breakfast included: bread, jam, fruit), and free WIFI. The association is part of an orphanage and help young Papua get job training. Very friendly guesthouse. You can check availability at firstname.lastname@example.org
There is little light at night and it might feel overwhelming to walk but it felt safe overall to walk even in the dark. As for any city, stay vigilant and avoid flashing expensive items (money, camera, bag, jewelry).
- Jayapura - the largest city in Papua province.