How to cross the border overland between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Traveling to Papua New Guinea is like exploring the last frontier. It might sound cliche; it’s not. Papua New Guinea is one of the less-visited countries in the world. The road system is limited, the tourist infrastructure still developing, and the safety a primary concern. However, the country is home to rich forests and jungles, untouched beaches and marine life, and of course, to hundreds of different ethnic groups talking over 800 different languages. Each of these groups has its traditions, all featuring incredible and colorful masks, traditional headgear, and dances.

Most travelers arrive in Papua New Guinea into Jacksons International Airport (also called Port Moresby Airport), in the country’s capital. Those wanting to visit Mt. Hagen and the Highlands, or Port Moresby, should indeed fly into the capital.

Those looking to explore Northwest Papua New Guinea around the Sepik River region have the option to cross the border from Indonesia into PNG. The journey requires more preparations and a solid adventurous spirit but is an exciting way to learn about the local life.

From Jayapura, Indonesia to Vanimo, Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, with its regions of Papua and West Papua, share the island of New Guinea, which is located north of Australia in the southwestern Pacific. Jayapura is the central city in Papua, Indonesia, and the departure point from any travel to Papua New Guinea. The first city on the PNG side is Vanimo. The description of the travel planning is between these two destinations.

Papua New Guinea Visa in Jayapura

 PNG Consulate in Jayapura
PNG Consulate in Jayapura

While it may be possible for some foreign nationals under defined circumstances to receive a visa on arrival when entering Papua New Guinea at the Port Moresby’s Jacksons International Airport and Tokua (Rabaul) International Airport, this visa on arrival is not available for entering PNG overland. Any visitor planning to enter PNG overland via the Wutung border, which is one of the designated PNG international ports of entry, must have a visa before crossing the Indonesia – PNG border. As visa conditions often change rapidly, make sure to contact the nearest Papua New Guinea Embassy for the latest updates.

For those who did not secure their visa before arriving in Papua must do so in at the Papua New Guinea Consulate General in Jayapura. The visa is currently free, but the process requires about two visits to the Consulate and five to ten working days (watch for the Indonesian and PNG public holidays). Once granted, the visa usually provides for a single entry of 60 days within a six-month period.

The Papua New Guinea Consulate General is located on Jalan Raya Klp. Dua, adjacent to Le Premiere Hotel (Phone: 62-0967 531259). The Consulate is open Mondays to Thursdays from 8 am to 12 am, 1 pm to 4:20 pm, Fridays from 8 am to 12 pm, though the Visa Service runs from Mondays to Thursdays from 9 am to 12 am, 1 pm to 2 pm, Fridays from 9 am to 12 pm. The necessary documents for applying to the visa include the Papua New Guinea Visa Application Form, a high-level itinerary, and other documents as listed on the Papua New Guinea Immigration & Citizenship Service Authority.

Office Hours at the PNG Consulate
Office Hours at the PNG Consulate

Changing Money to Kinas Before Your Border Crossing

The Papua New Guinea currency is Kina. There is no ATM at the PNG border, so it is recommended to change money in Jayapura. A money changer close to the Papua New Guinea Consulate can help change Indonesian rupiah (IDR) into Kinas (PGK).

Money changers might be open at the border, depending on the mode of transportation and the time of arrival at the border, but it’s better not to rely on them. The exchange rate appeared to more favorable at the border than in Jayapura though, so it is worth checking, should the opportunity arise. It is almost impossible to change Kinas outside PNG or Jayapura, so change back whenever possible at the border or in Jayapura.

Transportation from Jayapura (Indonesia) to Vanimo (Papua New Guinea)

The drive time from Jayapura to the Skouw border takes about 2 hours. There are no public buses, but a couple of bemos (minivans) usually run on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, which are the market days at the border. By taxi or car with driver, the costs vary between 300,000 IDR (US$22) to 500,000 IDR (US$36).

Most Indonesians drivers do not speak English, so it is recommended to arrange the car through the hotels, learn a few Bahasa, or use the offline version of Google Translate

The Indonesian border hours are from 8 am to 4 pm. It is important to know that there is an hour difference between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, which needs to be taken into account when planning the border crossing.

Indonesia Border
Indonesia Border

Border Crossing Formalities

Leaving Indonesia is quick and easy, as the immigration officers merely check and stamp your passport out.

Entering Papua New Guinea is straightforward, provided the visa has been secured in advance. Once the entering form is filled, agents check the passports and the bags. The whole process is simple and relatively fast. Note that the passports will be reviewed one more time at an Army post after the journey to Vanimo has started.

Indonesia - PNG Border Crossing
Indonesia – PNG Border Crossing

Transportation from Wutung (Border) to Vanimo

The PNG side doesn’t have any public transport either, but PMVs (private motorized vehicles, usually minivans) are generally on standby from Wutung on the PNG border side. Costs to Vanimo are about 16 PNG Kinas for two persons. Like the bemos on the Indonesian side, PMVs will wait they are full before leaving. However, contrary to Indonesia, most drivers speak some English as this is one of the four official languages in PNG.

Once in Vanimo, the journey to Wewak will take another full day. First one needs to board a banana boat from Vanimo to Aitape, a three-hour ride along the coast. The boat ride costs 300 PGK (US$92) for two people. From Aitape, a truck-ride on a broken road, often potholed, often muddy dirt trails, takes between four to eight hours depending on the road conditions. This ride cost 100 PGK (US$30) for two passengers. Alternatively, a 50-minute flight can shorten the trip in less rough conditions. Wewak is the central hub from exploring the Sepik River region.

Vanimo, Papua New Guinea

PNG overall and Vanimo in particular, are not on the regular tourist path. As such, the lodging selection is limited. Moreover, Papua New Guinea as a country is more expensive than Indonesia, and so are the hotels in Vanimo for minimum standard levels.

A couple of these hotels, like the Vanimo Beach Hotel, the Sandaun Hotel, and the Vanimo Resort, are within walking distance from the town center and are priced around 400 to 500 kina (US$65 to 80). There is supposedly a Lutheran Church guesthouse or EBC Guest House in Vanimo, and the Phelendi Beach Bungalows in the outskirt of town coming from Wutung that are more budget prices, in the 100 PGK (US$30) for one double bedroom. On the higher end is the Vanimo Surf Lodge, a surf resort as the name says it, at US$190/day.

Local boat ride from Vanimo to Aitape on the way to Wewak
Local boat ride from Vanimo to Aitape on the way to Wewak

Safety in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea doesn’t have the more reassuring safety record, and many countries issued travel advisory requiring increased caution when traveling to PNG. The most common concerns are the crime and civil unrest, and tensions between clans. Criminal gangs like the infamous Raskols are present in large cities like Port Moresby and Lae and responsible for robbery, rape, and murder from machetes or guns.

Meeting local people is, however, an incredible experience, as the welcome and care toward foreign visitors are warm and deep. Family and friends links are strong, and their network will help the visitors stay safe and under their protection as much as possible. Visitors become part of the extended families and enjoy the incredible experiences while in Papua New Guinea.

Road to Vanimo, PNG
Road to Vanimo, PNG

Travel Tips For Traveling Between PNG and Indonesia

  • Indonesia Papua and Papua New Guinea have both a substantial Christian population, where most people don’t work on weekends, or at least on Sundays. For these reasons, transportation is scarce these days. Traveling on Saturdays should be fine, especially in the mornings. However, the later doing the day and on Sundays might be almost impossible. Borders are open though.
  • There are limited amenities around the border, on neither side. A few odd streets vendors are present unless it’s market days. Always carry snacks and water for the journey.
  • Traveling on market days (Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays) provides more transportation and food opportunities. There will be more bemos and PMVs going and leaving the border areas from/to Jayapura, and from/to Vanimo.
  • The last Western bathroom (or amenities with restroom) are in the Indonesian building. Otherwise, it’s the jungle until Vanimo
  • Do pay attention to your safety. Security in Papua New Guinea can be of concern – check with your Consulate for the latest status.
  • Consult with your embassies and with the Papua New Guinea consulate for the latest visa requirements as we are no travel agency or legal advisors.

While traveling to Papua New Guinea is better reserved for the adventurous spirits, the rewards meeting the people of PNG, admiring the traditions around the Sepik River, and learning about the culture are immense.

Patricia and Bruno
Patricia and Bruno

Patricia and Bruno are the French-American travel bloggers, photographers, and video producers behind Ze Wandering Frogs’ adventure travel blog.

They write about their travel experiences and outdoor adventures: diving in Papua Raja Ampat, kiteboarding in Brazil, horseback riding in Mongolia, trekking in the Himalayas, dog-sledding in the Arctic, observing gorillas in Rwanda, and watching traditional dances in Papua New Guinea.

Together, they traveled to 50+ countries, and are currently on a long-term world trip. Follow Patricia & Bruno on Ze Wandering Frogs blog, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.