A typical highland airstrip in West Papua, Indonesia

Getting Around West Papua

 Travel Permit

The most important thing to know is that all foreigners must have a travel permit, known as a Surat Keterangan Jalan (SKJ), to gain access to the interior of Papua. A permit is not required for Jayapura-Sentani, Sorong (Raja Ampat) and Biak, but if you intend travelling further into Papua from any of these entry points, you should obtain your permit there before travelling on.

If you’re catching a connecting flight to one of the other major centres in Papua such as Manokwari or Wamena with only a brief airport stopover in say Jayapura, you can get a permit in those places. But be aware that you may only be issued with a regional permit, rather than one for all the regions you plan to visit so you may have to go through the process again at your next stopover.

Permits are quite easy to obtain by presenting yourself to the local police station as soon as practical after your arrival in the region, say straight after you’ve checked into your accommodation. You’ll need to produce your passport and have a copy of your passport pages showing your personal details, Indonesian visa and entry stamp, two recent passport size photos and a list of the places you intend to visit. In that regard, it’s not practical to list every single village you intend to visit but at the very least you should list the major centres and the regencies.

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Once you have your permit endorsed, make plenty of photocopies of it as well as more copies of your passport pages because whenever you travel to a new region, you need to present yourself to the local police station to report your arrival and have your permit endorsed for the smaller places within that area, or for your next destination if you didn’t get a Papua-wide permit in the first instance.

In theory, permits are supposed to be free but some local governments have imposed a “fee” which can vary from 100.000-500.000Rp and other places may request a small tip. Whilst most places in Papua are open, political tensions and occasional hostilities between the authorities and the OPM can see some areas closed off, in which case you won’t be able to obtain a permit for travel to those areas.

It all sounds rather formal but in practice, the police are usually friendly and helpful and in regional centres may even recommend additional places to visit. If you’re joining a tour group, it’s highly likely they’ll organise the permit for you but make sure this is the case because ultimately, it’s your responsibility to have one.

Be sure to keep your permit with you at all times. In remote regions of Papua you will often be requested to produce your SKJ on arrival and by law, hotels must keep a record of your SKJ and report your arrival to the police with 24 hours. When trekking, you’ll often pass police and military posts at remote villages and may be asked to produce your SKJ. More often than not you may be required to pay a small “fee” to proceed. Keep in mind these guys get paid next to nothing so the “fees” they collect go a long way to supporting their families. It may not be legal but suck it up and don’t argue the point. Be friendly and you’ll get friendly back, give them attitude and you may well get a hard time.

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The road system in West Papua is quite limited. There are virtually no major road links between regions and towns. However, most towns themselves have a local road network fanning out to the surrounding villages with public bus services. Buses are usually small, have seen better days and are crowded as very few locals own transport so there’s a heavy reliance on the public bus system. Still, they will get you from A to B and it’s definitely a good way to meet some locals. Ask your hotel or guesthouse where you can catch a bus or head to the local marketplace. Bus destinations are usually displayed on the front windscreen but someone will help you find the right bus if you’re not sure.

Around the major towns, private cars with a driver can be readily hired but they will set you back around US$75 per day plus an additional charge for fuel on longer trips. Scooters aren’t so widely used as in other parts of Indonesia but you can still find ojeks. In major centres, scooter hire can be arranged for around US$8-10 per day. In more remote places, you can try entering into a private hire arrangement with a scooter owner.


Flying is one of the most important means of getting around Papua, particularly in the interior regions. Whilst most towns have an airstrip of some sort, only major centres have scheduled passenger services. The remainder rely on semi-regular or on-demand perintis flights, which carry people and cargo using small aircraft like Twin Otters and Cessna’s.

Flight frequency varies with some more populous town receiving daily flights, others weekly or even less. With small planes and limited services, it’s definitely a good idea to book your flights in advance using one of the travel agencies in any of the main towns in Papua. Remote settlements tend to rely on missionary flights which rarely accept tourists, even if they have a spare seat.

Departing from a village of the south coast of West Papua

If you can’t find a flight to suit, the only other option may be to charter a plane. It’s expensive of course, but becomes much more affordable if you can get a group together and split the costs. Susi Air is one of the main operators in Papua. You can check flight routes, make online bookings for scheduled flights or contact them about special charters through their website.


The coastal and lowland regions on Papua rely heavily on sea and river transport. Local cargo boats and a limited number of longboats link coastal ports and major rivers but the services are unscheduled, running whenever they have a full load. By asking around at the local wharf, it is certainly possible to obtain passage but you may need to wait around up to several days for departure.

Longboats are far more commonly used for river transport with regular passenger services operating along some of the more populous rivers. For coastal and river runs you can generally charter a longboat but it will be expensive.