Even if you haven't heard of Papua (which was previously known as Irian Jaya), you may know the area already: It's actually the western half of Papua New Guinea, the huge island just off the northern tip of Queensland, Australia. And while Papua New Guinea takes better advantage of tourist dollars, Papua offers a more unspoiled look at tribal culture.
"It's very authentic, and you can still go to places where tourists haven't been yet," says Remote Lands' Tindall. "It's incredibly different, with people still living Stone Age customs. It's a very basic traveling experience but very fulfilling."
Because the island doesn't have a constant stream of visitors, it's probably best to go as part of a package set up in partnership with local operators rather than to just show up at the airport in the capital, Jayapura. And you will need a special permit in addition to your general Indonesian visa, Fauzie points out. That can be secured at police stations in jumping-off points like Jakarta and Denpasar as well as in Jayapura itself.
The Baliem area is your likely destination, home to rugged mountains and local tribes whose tools still include stone axes and bows and arrows. But Tindall also suggests places like Raja Ampat, off the island's northwest coast, which is a diving area so pristine that they're still discovering new species of fish there. Raves Tindall, "It's among the best diving in the entire world - and no one knows about it."
If You Go
If you're going to major Indonesian hubs like Jakarta and Denpasar, everything is laid out for visitors. Americans don't need a prearranged visa; they can get one right on the spot. But when you're traveling to the more remote areas, it's never a bad idea to have a helping hand to guide you along the path. Here, with help from Fodor's, is a roundup of tour operators who dabble in the many Indonesian islands.
Absolute Travel, www.absolutetravel.com. A high-end outfit that runs tours to Sulawesi, Kalimantan, Flores, Komodo, and Lombok, in addition to Bali.
Asian Pacific Adventures, www.asianpacificadventures.com. Somewhat more affordable than Absolute Travel, this company specializes in cultural trips for small groups. They currently offer trips to Flores, Samba, and Papua (formerly known as Irian Jaya).
Geographic Expeditions, www.geoex.com. These trips are designed for the more adventurous traveler, whether he or she wants to sail on a yacht through the Nusa Tenggara islands or camp in the gorges of Papua.
For other options and specialized practitioners, you can scour the American Society of Travel Agents website, www.travelsense.org, for an ASTA-affiliated agent with expertise in your desired destination. For general travel info on Indonesia, check out the nation’s official tourism site at www.my-indonesia.info.