Western Papua: Splendid Islands & Unspoilt Mountains

wp.jpgThe western part of Papua, made up by the Bird’s Head and Bomberai peninsulas as well as the sprawling Raja Ampat archipelago, actually forms a separate province from the rest of the region. It also tends to attract a separate set of visitors, ones more interested in marine wonders or maybe in unique birdlife than in looking for grass-skirted natives or tribal art. Due to its position closest to the Malay world, and in fact part of the Sultanate of Tidore from North Maluku before the Europeans arrived, this part of Papua has indeed been more heavily influenced by trade and contact with the rest of Indonesia than most. This is the only area where a few Muslim enclaves have developed, notably around Fakfak, Sorong and in the Raja Ampat Islands. Handwoven ikat cloth from Timor and Portuguese cannons via Maluku have found their way here, and have become parts of the traditional bride-price. Well, unique as this culture might be for Papua, it won’t entice many tourists to visit. Instead, most come to cruise or dive the Raja Ampat Islands, quite possibly the most beautiful and unspoilt islands of their size in the whole country, and also home to the richest marine life on Earth. Biodiversity isn’t all underwater here however, and both the islands themselves, and the Bird’s Head Peninsula as well, are home to a large number of endemic species of birds and reptiles, many of them only recently discovered to science and just as beautiful as unique. A good part of these can be seen in the Arfak Mountains, which also offer a great chance to do some tough hiking to alpine lakes through traditional villages consisting of "thousand-legged houses" which are also unique to this region. While you can’t hope to see traditionally dressed Papuans here any more, you will find them very friendly and less tourist-wise than those in the Central Highlands. The main gateway to the Arfaks is Manokwari, the capital of West Papua Province. This is my favourite city in Papua, with mountains, beaches and islands all within easy reach. Sorong and Fakfak, the other main cities, are less attractive in their own right, but the first is the gateway to the aforementioned Raja Ampat Islands, the other to some intriguing rock art, caves and World War II relics.
Add up all that, and you should find this part of Papua every bit as interesting as any of the others!

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