Claiming fame as the bad boy of the Pacific, the Papua New Guinean capital of Port Moresby is often described as gritty and dangerous by the news media. On the surface, Port Moresby may look and feel like a mid-sized city anywhere else but a look at the barbed wires that surround every hotel and home should be a sign of warning.
There is a high level of serious crime in the city with carjacking and outbreaks of tribal fighting an ever present threat. The danger stems primarily from the ‘raskols’ (bandits) who resort to crime and violence for money. Almost every Papua New Guinean or expat I talked to have had some bad personal experience in the city. It’s no wonder Port Moresby doesn’t quite make its mark as a tourist hotspot. (I will be writing about safety in PNG shortly).
From my short time in Port Moresby, I won’t say that it’s completely safe but neither is really as scary or seedy as many make it out to be. I never felt threatened or in bad company. Although I had a driver who brought me around the city by car (and dropped me at each spot), I was on my own most times, and yet I didn’t feel any element of danger. In fact, I was greeted by quite a few smiles especially in the market. It doesn’t seem to be a city to avoid at all cost.
The trick is to use your common sense and avoid troubled areas. Walking around the downtown area and Boroko district during the day is fine but if you’d like to venture further, hire a driver or guide.
For those who are willing to give Port Moresby a chance, here’s my list of recommended places to visit in the city. These spots and their surrounding areas are safe to visit and can easily be reached by public transport or cab.
Port Moresby Nature Park
Claimed as the number one attraction in Port Moresby, the Port Moresby Nature Park plays host to a collection of native animal species from the bizarre-looking tree kangaroo (amazing creatures!) to the majestic Papuan hornbill and the national icon, bird of paradise. A 2km long boardwalk weaved through and under the jungle canopy, bringing you through the aviary and animal enclosures. The park is open seven days a week from 8am to 4pm.
This open air market is a great place to wander around, chat with vendors and get a peek at the local fruit and vegetations on offer. It’s quite small, not too overwhelming but there are enough colors and variety to keep your senses on overdrive. If you’re looking for chili and some taro to bring home then this is the place to go.
Opened in 1984 by Prince Charles, the National Parliament House is one of the most, if not the most, impressive architecture in the city. Its main building reflects the traditional design of a Sepik haus tambaran whiles its circular cafeteria building is designed using the Highland principles. The stunning mosaic on the facade is the work of established Papua New Guinean artists. The parliament house is open for visits when there are sessions.
National Museum and Art Gallery
Located on Independence Hill next to the Parliament Haus, the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery has great displays on the geography, history, culture and in particular the ethnography (which is what makes it such an interesting place in my opinion) of Papua New Guinea. It’s not a big museum but the exhibits definitely make it worth you while. There are several rooms that display relics, photographs and artefacts; my favorite room is the one that houses the tall and intricately carved totems (or house poles) from various parts of Papua New Guinea.
Where to Stay:
I stayed at Airways Hotel, just five minutes away from the Port Moresby Jacksons International Airport. It’s an upscale hotel, said to be the best in town, with first-world comforts from a rooftop restaurant that overlooks the airport to a quirky airplane bar right in the middle of the jungle/patio. Rooms are pricey though, at 750 Kinas a night (approximately US$300) including breakfast.
Fly and Sea Dive Adventures, a US based travel company, booked this trip for me and arranged for an airport pick-up/transfer even though the hotel was so close to the airport. My guide even waited for me at the baggage area and led me to the van. This special service definitely puts travelers at ease, especially those who are slightly worried about safety in PNG.