PNG has a reputation as a risky destination in some circles primarily Australian ones, predominantly because of the activities of criminal gangs known in Tok Pisin as raskols in major cities, especially in Port Moresby and Lae. That is generally a result of unemployment stemming from increased domestic migration from subsistence farming in the hills to the nearest urban area.Armed gangs can also be active on some spots of Highlands highway. Travellers are easy prey for these bandits. They can take everything and even rape women. Find out a current safety situation before taking a tour.
There is no history of heavy settlement in the Port Moresby and Lae areas. Hence, they are colonial cities comprised of a mix of tribal people which fosters instability. Madang, Wewak, Goroka, Mt. Hagen, and Tari are much safer with longer periods of settlement and a more stable tribal homogeneity.
The villages are quite safe as the locals will "adopt" you as one of their own. In many places, if you are alone, someone will want to escort you to where you want to go even if they have to go out of their way and you haven't asked for it. Most people are extremely friendly, curious and helpful and it is easy to tell the bad guys from everyone else.
Avoid conflicts at all costs and stay calm whatever the situation. Many people are very temperamental and local conflicts that will normally have nothing to do with you might quickly get out of proportion. Superstition is very widespread. If you get mugged, stay calm and hand over your cash. Fortunately few people have guns but most people carry bush knives they need them for their everyday business, which includes self defence. Most crime is related to alcohol or marijuana.
In case you get involved in any type of traffic accident, continue driving and find the nearest police station. If anyone gets hurt a person, pig or chicken, no matter whose fault it is, there's a risk that someone might decide to take immediate reciprocal measures without much discussion.
If you are planning a trip to Papua New Guinea, avoid spending time in the cities as they are boring and devoid of the culture to be found in the villages.
If you must, the most important thing is to stay up to date on the law and order situation in the locations you are planning to visit.
At least in Highlands region tribal warfare can happen occasionally. Especially national elections can spark hostilities among tribes. The warring groups are primarily targeting each others but an atmosphere of violence is present. Unfortunately there is a large number of illegal high-powered weapons in Highlands that can be used in tribal warfare. It is wise to stay away from war zones and places with recent history of war.
Most hotels in Port Moresby are secure and situated inside compounds, generally with guards patrolling the perimeter. However, actual gunfire in the capital is mercifully rare. If you plan on taking a tour of any city, make inquiries with your hotel or accommodation provider, as many will be able to either walk with you or drive you to wherever you are planning to go, or just around the local area if that is what you want to do.
Avoid going out after dark, but if you must, stay very alert.
Flying in small planes can be very risky. Hardly a year goes by without at least one fatal accident the most recent in August 2009 when 12 people were killed. While the planes are usually well-maintained and the pilots technically proficient the problem is the mountainous terrain. Many smaller airfields are situated in steep valleys. When there is cloud cover planes have difficulty in finding them and sometimes crash into a mountain. The national airline, Air Niugini, which flies internationally and to the major cities of the country has, however, an unblemished safety record in 32 years of operation.
Saltwater Crocodiles Crocodylus porosus are common in Papua New Guinea and are capable of growing to immense lengths of 7 m or more although individuals over 6 m are rare. They occasionally devour humans and should be shown respect at all times. They are equally at home in coastal waters as they are in freshwater lakes and rivers. Swimming is generally not advised except at higher elevations and in hotel swimming pools. Papua New Guinea, along with Australia, has the highest and healthiest population of large Saltwater Crocodiles in the world.
Great oceans accommodate also a large number of sharks species. Some of them are dangerous to humans. You may have seen beautiful, but partially misleading videos about divers who are feeding friendly sharks and everybody is happy. This image can not be applied worldwide. Villagers are not usually swimming in open waters in some parts of PNG. There is a reason for that.
Papua New Guinea is home to many active volcanoes and several of the most popular treks involve getting close or actually climbing one or more of these. Always heed local advice and a regular check of The Smithsonian Institute's Volcanic Activity Report (http://www.volcano.si.edu...) would be wise.
Tap water in most regions is unsafe to drink.
Malaria can be a hazard as well, although many villages, particularly those connected to industry, are regularly treated for mosquitoes. Take the appropriate precautions against mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases.
Malaria medication can be purchased at the pharmacies and, in addition to warding of malaria, will keep your stomach happy as well.
Some people consider long term malaria prophylaxis especially doxycycline not a good option. In all cases, ample mosquito repellent applied even before dusk + a good mosquito net bring your own, best if it's treated are absolutely essential. Local pharmacies also sell a home malaria test very much like a pregnancy test or a quick blood sugar test for around 20 kina that you can use by yourself to quickly tell if you have malaria, should you get the symptoms. It is a very good idea to have one of those, especially if you are planning to visit any even slightly remote areas. Malaria treatment medication is of course available and cheaper than in developed countries. Bring some and be sure to know how to use it in case you get malaria far from a health care provider. In case your home test shows you have malaria or you suspect it otherwise, it is absolutely essential to seek medical assistance as soon as possible. Some types of malaria can be very nasty and even cause sudden death if not treated immediately.
Dengue fever borne by mosquitoes that are active during the day can have symptoms similar to those of malaria and other common diseases. It is a virus infection that can cause internal haemorrhage. Therefore it is a bad idea to treat such symptoms headache, fever, joint pains with aspirin since it can cause bleeding in case you have Dengue fever. Use paracetamol or ibuprofen instead.
All wounds and ulcers shall be treated with antibiotic cream as they might get seriously infected as in all tropical areas.
PNG, especially the Sepik river area, is one of the places in the world with a specific ringworm infection fungus locally known as grille. It is spread by direct contact and is treatable.
Some places in PNG have had cholera outbreaks recently. It is a very good idea to bring iodine drops and purify all drinking water, even if it is collected rain water. There are areas with leprosy and tuberculosis.
HIV and AIDS is a serious issue in PNG and many consider the prevalence much higher than the official figures.
Digicel is by far the better telecom provider. A new prepaid sim card is easy to purchase and can be used in any unlocked phone. Calls cost from 0.60-1.00 kina and SMS from 0.25 kina. Topup is available anywhere where there is network and also online credit card or PayPal. Mobile Internet costs 0.35 kina per MB but it's possible to buy hourly 30 MB for 1 kina, daily 60 MB for 2.5 kina, weekly 150 MB for 10 kina or monthly 900 MB for 65 kina packages. There are also promotions and packages for calls and sms.
With over 800 languages, it was pretty difficult to get everyone talking to each other. Two pidgins grew up in this area; Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu, and when the Anglophones married the Hulis and the babies learned the only language they had in common, Tok Pisin became a creole. Tok Pisin sometimes looks like it is English written phonetically "Yu dring; yu draiv; yu dai" means "You drink; you drive; you die", but it is not; it has more personal pronouns than English and its own quite different syntax.
Tok Pisin is spoken in most of the country and short, inexpensive guidebooks on learning Tok Pisin can be acquired in the many bookstores.
Hiri Motu is spoken in Port Moresby and other parts of Papua, though since Port Moresby is the capital, you're likely to find Tok Pisin speakers in the airport, banks, or government. When approaching locals, try to speak English first; using Tok Pisin or another language can make it look like you are assuming they don't know English.
You might sometimes have trouble hearing what the locals are saying because they speak very quietly. It is considered rude by some of the local groups to look people in the eyes and to speak loudly.
There are some rogue travel operators in Papua New Guinea who have taken people's money and then failed to provide the itinerary agreed or even in some cases have not bought the flights that were paid for, leaving travellers stranded or having to buy new tickets themselves. It is wise to use a search engine and travel forums to investigate the operator you are considering before paying any deposits. Be aware that these operators will often change their names from time to time.
Although PNG is definitely not a place where bargaining is expected or tolerated many things might have a "second price" though, especially souvenirs and art, there are some dishonest people who might try to make a buck from the white man. Inform yourself beforehand or ask other passengers about bus fares. Shop around before chartering boats or canoes. Since there are some very rich tourists in PNG who pay ridiculous amounts of money for certain services, it is easy to understand why someone might think that Caucasian visitors have bottomless pockets. When chartering boats always make sure if the fuel is included.
Instead of bargaining beforehand, many guides, boat skippers etc. might try to extract extra money at the end of your journey, no matter what you agreed on beforehand. This is sometimes due to an honestly bad calculation on their side, but most often it is simply a way to make some extra money. If possible, be prepared to show that the previously agreed amount is all the money you have on your person. Otherwise, just stay firm but friendly!