by Rob D'Eon
July 2018
to CONTACT me: rdeon@alumni.ubc.ca

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: Preamble


In June 2018, my wife and I went to Papua for a 6-day trek in the Baliem Valley. What shocked me prior to going, was the absolute vacuum of detailed information – especially critically important things like maps! – on trekking in the Baliem Valley. I, perhaps like many, got the idea of hiking in the Baliem Valley from reading the Lonely Planet guide, but sadly, the guide does not provide the detail required to actually plan an independent (i.e., unguided) trip. That said, I, probably like everyone, turned to the internet. Again, shockingly little out there, with the exception of a few sources (see “credits” section below).

Long story short: after having done our trip, and having had an amazing experience, and GPSing our route, I feel obliged to share what we learned. So that’s what this is about. This is a detailed account of exactly what we did, with maps and GPS coordinates, along with tips and advice someone planning an unguided trip might find useful.

That said, this is not intended as the complete guide to trekking in the Baliem Valley (that would be somewhat presumptuous), but rather, is intended to be very helpful to a person planning an independent, unguided hiking trip to the Baliem Valley. Specifically, you should be able to repeat our route very easily given the information below (and it’s a good route J).

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: So what's it all about?


So what exactly does “Trekking in the Baliem Valley” mean, and what does it look like? Just a snap shot here, to put an image in your mind of what this is, which is the context for everything that follows:

Trekking in the Baliem Valley, as used here, means multi-day, village-to-village hiking along traditional footpaths established and used by local people in the Baliem Valley. There is no electricity, no phones, no commercial development, and no combustion engines (i.e., no vehicles of any kind). Similar to a wilderness backpacking trip, you carry everything you need, including the majority of your food. Accommodation in villages is basic, and can be described as a “homestay” where you are staying with local families in their dwellings. The general area is sparsely populated, with small villages distributed hours apart, with little to no human development in between. The terrain is steep and mountainous, with most days involving climbs, descents, and river crossings.

Word to the wise: I would describe unguided Trekking in the Baliem Valley as “adventurous”, and requiring good gear, reasonable fitness, and experience to enjoy as an unguided trip. If you are an experienced wilderness backpacker, you'll have fun. If this is your first time carrying a pack, might want to rethink it, or at least make sure you are with someone who has done this kind of stuff before.

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: About us


The following description about us is not provided to satisfy some narcissistic craving, but rather to provide you, the reader, with a profile of what we are about and where this information is coming from. So when I say, “this is a long day”, it might mean something. If you are like us, great!, it all applies. If not, well, gauge for yourself if you would hike more or less each day J

We are a Canadian couple. Me (Rob): male, 53 yrs. My wife (Amy): female, 41 yrs. Until 2 years ago, we both spent most of our lives in Canada, and many years living and playing in the mountains of British Columbia. Two years ago we moved to Bogor (just outside Jakarta), Indonesia to live and work. We are relatively fit and active, and have spent a lot of time in Canada, and now in Indonesia, climbing up and down mountains. We have travelled extensively in developing countries, and are not afraid of a little adventure and unknown. We have good gear, take recreational pursuits seriously, and like physically demanding trips (like, for example, hiking in the Baliem Valley J).

Importantly, we have a deep-seated hatred for guided, organized trips, especially the kind that occurs in Indonesia – hence the references to planning and doing an “unguided trip”. This is all about sharing info so we can do it ourselves.


Trekking in the Baliem Valley: Trip summary


A very detailed route/trip description is provided in the “What we did” section. This is just a quick encapsulation of what our trip was about, so that you can gauge whether or not you are interested in reading the rest of this.

We did a 6-day/5-night , unguided, village-to-village, backpacking trip within the Baliem Valley, south of Wamena, along the Baliem and Mugi Rivers. We hiked along established (although unsigned/unmarked) local trails for about 6 hours a day, and overnighted in local dwellings in villages along the way. We were virtually self-sufficient for food and gear, and carried everything in our backpacks – although we did not have a tent or stove. Hot water and some food (sweet potatoes) were provided by the people we stayed with (more on that in the “food section”).

We flew in/out of the town of Wamena, and used a homestay in Wamena as a base to store luggage during our trek (which is detailed in the “Wamena” section). From Wamena, we easily arranged a drive to the start of the trek (and then back again, upon returning to the pavement).

OK, that’s pretty much what we did. If that interests you, then read on.

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: Getting in/out


Ground zero for hiking in the Baliem Valley is the town of Wamena. You just have to get there to start your trek. Fortunately, Wamena has a brand new airport (as of 2016), which is very civilized, and flying in/out of Wamena is easy. While some blogs and other sources talk about the horrors of trying to get flights, and being delayed for days, etc, that is all bullshit.

From our experience (June 2018), flying in/out of Wamena is just like flying in/out of any airport anywhere. Everything is on-line, everything is booked/paid for in advance, electronic tickets are emailed to you, you show up when you are supposed to, check-in, go through security, and board the plane. Just like anywhere.

We flew from Jakarta on an overnight flight to Jayapura (capital of Papua) via Batik Airlines, arriving at 8 am. I’m pretty sure you must fly to Jayapura first, to get flights to Wamena (but don’t quote me…pretty sure though). We then flew via Trigana Air, at 10:20 am, arriving in Wamena about 11 ish (30 mins flight). Perfect. Everything was seamless and went according to plan.

As far as I can tell, at least three airlines fly Jayapura-Wamena: Trigana Air, Wings Air, and NAM Air. All of them have websites and you can book tickets on-line. We flew Trigana, in a Boeing 737 (OK, it was a bit old, but fine), and it was seamless. And return, on the way out. No issues whatsoever either way.

Hot tips:

·       No need spend any time in Jayapura (unless you want to for some strange reason). Book a connecting flight to Wamena right after your flight to Jayapura.

·       If you have more than a 1-hour stopover in Jayapura airport, go to the Garuda lounge on the second floor. For 80,000 Rp. (5 USD), you have a decent all-you-can-eat buffet, drinks (no alcohol), comfortable chairs, air conditioning, and you can charge your phone. Great deal!

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: Wamena


Move along folks, nothing to see here J.  Seriously, while not offensive or overly terrible, you didn’t come to see the sights of Wamena – there are none (with the exception of the gigantic cross…you’ll see what I mean). Fortunately, Wamena does provide a good base to launch your Baliem Valley mission. There are places to stay, places to eat, and stores to buy things. All basic, nothing worth writing about, but nonetheless adequate for what you need as a base to launch from. If you want to spend a couple/few days in Wamena, you could. Either way.

First, there’s an airport (new as of 2016), and thus conveniently providing an easy flight into the heart of the Baliem Valley – which is critical, obviously. The town is relatively small, about 30,000 people, which in Indonesia is pretty much a village. The best thing about Wamena is that it is entirely walkable. In fact, we walked from the airport to our accommodation in 10 mins, with our roller bags!

Places to stay: From all accounts on the internet, most places to stay in Wamena are overpriced, and low quality/value. I can’t say, because where we stayed was awesome! (see tips below). And obviously, I have no firsthand knowledge of any other place. So ya, I won’t go on, because I am simply going to strongly recommend you stay where we stayed. I cannot imagine a better place to stay in Wamena for launching your trip.

Places to eat: not much going on in terms of the restaurant scene, but again, if you are hungry and looking for a basic Indonesian meal, just poke around until you find something. Again, pretty basic, but you won’t starve.

Grocery stores: if you must do your grocery shopping in Wamena, you could, and survive (but see “food” section). There are basic little Indonesian shops here and there, and one “bigger” grocery store called “Ropan Market” (google maps knows it), which is as close to a grocery store as you are going to get.

Banks/ATMs: there are a few ATMs in town, so if you are out of cash, you should be able to get it. That said, I brought all my cash with me and never used one. So, your call. I would play it safe and just bring all cash with you. But don’t panic if you need to do it in Wamena. There are definitely ATMs.

Alcohol: it is very important to realize, that alcohol is banned in Papua. So, you cannot buy alcohol (booze) of any kind anywhere in Wamena (and certainly not in the villages). If you want a little wine with your meal, or little drinkie-poo before bedtime, bring it from wherever you are coming from. I am not telling you to do this, given the illegality of it, I’m just sayin’ J.

Hot Tips:

Hogorasuok Guesthouse
·       Stay at the Hogorasuok Guesthouse (http://hogorasuok.blogspot.com; email: puskomwamena@gmail.com). It’s a basic, yet homey, hostel-style place, with a nice interior courtyard, full kitchen, hot water/shower, 24-7 coffee/tea, decent beds, laundry, luggage storage, and includes breakfast. We paid 375,000 Rp/night (about 26 USD). Google maps knows it. Address is: at the end of Jalan Diponegoro. The place is run by a young Christian woman name Rut. She’s very friendly, speaks basic English, runs a tight ship, and the place is spotless. Her mobile# is: +62.852.5431.2442. If you use Whatsapp (the only thing that matters in Indonesia), contact her via WA, and she will be very responsive. It was perfect for what we needed. The obvious scenario: from the airport walk or taxi there, spend the night, leave for your Trek the next day, store any additional luggage, then return for a night or two before you fly out, and get your laundry done before heading off. Seamless!

·       If you stay at Hogorasuok, the full kitchen means you can buy (or bring) a few groceries and make your own food, which will almost certainly beat the food available on the street J.

·       The street market on the main drag downtown (Pasar Wamena) is a fantastic source of fresh veggies. The ladies are friendly, and you can get everything you need to make a fresh meal.

·       If you can avoid being there on a Sunday, that’s preferable because it’s old school, and everything is closed on Sunday (very Christian part of the world). We started and ended on a Sunday, which sucked. Try not to do that J.

·       If you want to drink (i.e., alcohol), bring it with you from wherever you are coming from. Although, be aware that it is technically banned in Papua, and therefore illegal. Be discrete.

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: Surat Jalan


OK, there is a ton of jabber on the internet, blogs, and other sources about this “Surat Jalan” (AKA: travel permit), and that you must have one for trekking in the Baliem Valley – and the myriad suggestions for how you should go about getting one. That is not entirely accurate.

Long story short: We did not have one, and no one ever asked for it, and we came and went without a mention of it.

Now, I am not saying you don’t legally need one. What I am saying, is that in our case there was no physical mention of it in writing (i.e., no posted signs or things like that), or verbally (e.g., no announcements upon arrival), and no one stopped us along the trails to ask for it. The only place we every saw or heard about it, was on the internet!

Now, I have been informed by a fellow traveler (thanks Gabi!), that in July/August, 2018, he was approached in the airport upon landing, and asked to show his Surat Jalan, which he did. He was there for the infamous Baliem Valley Festival, which I suspect has something do to with it. i.e., perhaps security was ramped up for the festival. 

From all accounts though, the Surat Jalan can be obtained in Wamena without issue. So, perhaps the optimal plan of attack is to get it in Wamena, if in fact, there is a need, i.e., someone wearing a uniform asks for it.

Your call.

Hot tip:

·       If you are asking my opinion: don’t waste your time/effort getting a Surat Jalan. If I went back, I would do the same thing (i.e., not worry about it) – at least for the route we took. If I got stopped in the airport, or elsewhere, I would smile and gladly go to the police station in Wamena and get one. The exception might be if you are specifically going to the Baliem Valley Festival, which our friend Gabi has informed us, might be a case of heightened security.

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: Accomodation



Once you leave Wamena, there is nothing resembling a hotel or guesthouse or formalized accommodation (at least along our route). You will stay in peoples’ houses. Now, when I say “house”, there are two options: (1) a thing called a “honai”, and (2) a small wooden house.

Honai - traditional house
A honai is the traditional dwelling that is basically a large grass hut with a dirt floor and a fire in the middle of it. They make up the majority of what you will see in most villages. DO NOT STAY/SLEEP IN A HONAI. More on that to follow.

The second thing you will notice, is that some people have a rectangular wooden house with windows, door, and a roof, i.e., a somewhat normal western house. STAY IN ONE OF THESE. The usual situation we found, was that people with a wooden house always also had a honai immediately beside their wooden house. The honai is used for cooking, socializing, and is clearly the center of family life. The wooden house is basically a few rooms with little to no furniture, that is used almost exclusively for sleeping. i.e., it’s their bedrooms. But: no hot water, showers, plumbing, electricity. It’s a wooden box with windows and a door.

So that’s key. A honai is basically a smoke house. There is no ventilation. Really, no chimney, no hole in the roof, no windows, nothing. Recall the “fire in the middle thing” that is used for cooking. We were invited in, as you will be, and we lasted less than 10 mins and had to get out. The smoke was tearing our eyes, and breathing was difficult. It’s incredible that they traditionally (and still do) sleep in them. Hence the advice not to sleep in one of them. However, obviously you should experience the inside of a honai and eat sweet potatoes and chat with your host family. It’s all part of the fun J.

Wooden house - your choice
For sleeping however, the best basic strategy was, upon arriving at your destination village, look for the nicest wooden house in the village. Find the owner and ask for a room (kamar tidor). They will simply clear out their clothes and personal effects, and give you the room they, or one of their family members, usually sleeps in. You will get a room with little to no furniture, a wooden floor, and maybe a sketchy thin mattress with used bedding. All good, except for the smelly mattress and used bedding J We brought sleeping mats and sleeping bags, and used them every time (i.e., we just pushed aside whatever was there).

Price: we paid 100,000 Rp (7 USD) per person every night except one, where the lady in charge refused to go lower than 150,000 Rp (10 USD). No idea why, but perhaps she has been to Harvard Business School and knew damn well we had no choice (it was the only wooden house in the village; next village hours away). All good though. The sweet potatoes were exceptionally tasty J.

Oh, key point here. There is no electricity in the villages. Therefore, nothing that runs on electricity other than the odd tiny solar light in some houses. Speaking of light, after dark, (i.e., after 6 pm), it’s well, dark. No lights anywhere. They literally have no lights. It’s like camping. So bring yer headlamps, and extra batteries.

Hot tips:

·       As mentioned above, go to the nicest wooden house in the village, and ask for a room (kamar tidor). Be sure to ensure that they will provide hot water. Just for fun, ask them to provide “ubi” (sweet potatoes). Really, if you don’t eat one a day, you really haven’t been there. J

·       Bring your own sleeping bag (rated to 0oC is fine), unless you like dingy used blankets

·       Bring a sleeping pad, unless you are OK with dingy used mattresses

·       Bring a headlamp and extra batteries to last you. You will use it from 6 pm till you go to sleep every night.

A word on camping: we didn’t carry a tent, so didn’t camp. But, if you’re a purist, and prefer tenting/camping, and don’t mind the extra weight in your pack, you could. In my opinion, it would be entirely possible to tent/camp – either on your own out in the wilds, or beside someone’s house in a village. In between villages is basically no-man’s land/wilderness, so I really can’t imagine anyone caring, or even knowing about you pitching a tent. Safety would not be an issue in my opinion (really, what’s a guy in a penis gourd going to do to you? J). In the villages, there is lots of green space to throw up a tent – you could negotiate a small fee, which would probably include hot water. If that’s yer thing, go for it!

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: Weather


This is not a description of the “climate”, since that would mean I actually know what the climate is. However, I do know exactly what weather we experienced, which is what I will describe. Recall, we were there in June, so gauge your season. But given that Papua is a few degrees south of the equator, there really isn’t a lot of seasonal variation, particularly in temperature. The main driving factor here is the elevation, which is between 1500 and 2500 m – meaning you are at mid to high elevations.

Interestingly, we never saw a temperature gauge/thermometer, so I am guessing at the temperatures. That said, I am fairly confident that the weather we experienced can be described as warm days, say mid 20s (22-27 oC), and cool nights, say mid, or even low, teens (10-16 oC). Humidity is not a factor, which will be a very pleasant change for those of you travelling through SE Asia. In a nutshell, I would say the weather was perfect for hiking in the mountains, and then sleeping at night.

In terms of rain, we had one day of rain (i.e., we hiked in the rain for the afternoon), and a few evenings of light rain. So ya, be prepared for rain. But, for the majority of the time, the weather was nice and sunny, and/or mixed cloud and pleasant. All in all, no complaints about the weather J.

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: Gear


In a few words, the gear you want/need is the same as that for a wilderness spring/summer/fall backpacking trip (I’m from Canada, so interpret that for your own situation). While the villages offer hot water (i.e., boiled), and shelter from rain, that is pretty much all villages offer. You are on your own for everything else.

Standard room in wood house
So, the usual stuff applies: good footwear, good backpack, we use poles (which have become indispensable to us), and good hiking/camping clothes and gear. We hiked in quick-dry shorts and t-shirts every day, which I would recommend. Nights cool off, so having a change of warmer clothes for evening is good. Amy brought, and used, a light down jacket in the evenings. I didn’t, but put on a long-sleeve layer once in a while. No gloves or toques (Canadian for “winter hat”) required. Be prepared for rain. We got rained on one day, and several evenings. Bring a good rain jacket.

Hot tips:

A few things I would say you should bring, that may not be obvious:

§  Good hiking footwear in good condition (your feet are almost always wet, and footwear in bad shape will disintegrate)

§  Sleeping bag (rated to 0oC)

§  Sleeping mat

§  Rain jacket

§  Head lamp with lots of batteries

§  Small thermos (see “food” section)

§  Hiking poles (if you are like us)

§  First Aid kit, and any meds you might want (there is nothing in the villages)

§  2 litres worth of water bottles

§  Your own personal mug/eating dishes (dishes are generally available, but can be sketchy)

§  Toilet paper + personal hygiene items

A note on communication: there was no cell coverage on our route, and no land lines of any kind. i.e., no telephone communication while out in the villages. So, cell phones are useless as a phone. If you are one of those satellite phone people, bring it.

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: Food


In three words: bring your own.

Ubi - breakfast (and lunch and dinner) of champions
As you will quickly find out, the villagers have virtually nothing in the way of food, other than sweet potatoes (AKA “ubi”) and the associated greens from said potatoes. We were quite shocked at the complete absence of anything other than sweet potatoes, despite what seems to be good growing conditions for whatever you wanted to grow (although, I am not an agricultural specialist, so I could be wrong).  We brought a ton of food, and very very glad we did.

In theory yes, if you are staying with a family, they will/should feed you. As mentioned though, we quickly found out that “food” means sweet potatoes. And, when I say sweet potatoes, I mean they will literally hand you a boiled sweet potato, and you simply eat it like an apple. Needless to say, by the second or third day, it was all we could do to each choke down half a potato each and then graciously decline any more. By the last days, we simply didn’t even ask for food (it was like eating chalk towards the end, even with the sweet Thai chili sauce we brought).

Virtually nothing is for sale in terms of food, anywhere. You may pass the odd woman selling a few bananas (which happened once), or some such thing, but really, assume you will not be able to buy any food along the way (other than the sweet potatoes your host family will give you). There is nothing resembling a store out in the villages.

The saving grace, is that they will provide you with boiled water, meaning you can do tea/coffee/soup/instant meals, etc. So, do yourself a favour, and bring tons of your own food. Pretend it is a backpacking trip in the wilderness (bring yer nuts, fruit bars, granola, all of that stuff). You will be very thankful to have real food.

Hot tips:

·       If you are coming from home, obviously, bring all of your food from your home country

Instant noodles - do it!
·       If you are travelling (i.e., SE Asia/Indonesia), bring all of your food from where you are coming from (e.g., Jakarta, Bali)

·       If you must, and have no other option, you could survive by buying your food in Wamena. There are shops, and 1 “bigger” grocery store (see “Wamena” section above) – but don’t think yer going to be eating anything fresh, or dried fruit, or resembling good camping food.

·       Instant noodles: OK, we never eat these at home, but wow, did we crave these. We brought one package each per day. When we got to our destination, the first thing we did was ask for boiled water, and had instant noodle soup. Delicious! (and highly recommended J).

·       Bring a thermos. When you ask for hot water, you will invariably be provided with a large kettle full of hot water. Fantastic, except that it just cools off in the next 30 mins. Having a thermos would allow you fill up your thermos and keep the water hot for the next rounds and into the evening. We didn’t have one, but wished we did. 

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: Water


There is no bottled/treated water along the trails or in villages (recall the “no stores” thing). Like it or not, unless you are going to carry 6 days worth of water in your pack, you are going to drink the water in the creeks. Fortunately, for the most part, the water in the creeks (i.e., the small streams that fall almost vertically down the mountain slopes; some might call them springs) is clean and drinkable. We are from the mountains of Canada, so drinking water from creeks comes natural to us, and just made sense. No problem.

Now, that said, you definitely want to have a water strategy.  I would never advise “just drink the water as-is”, because someone out there is going to get sick and I’ll get hate mail. So, the following options apply (pick one):

·       Bring water purification tablets – usually 1 tablet = 1 litre of water. A very easy, light-weight, effective system. The truth is, we brought 50 tablets, and only used 2 of them. i.e., we just drank the water (and obviously survived fine).

·       Bring one of those fancy water filter things (a bit heavy and gear-intensive, but effective)

·       Bring one of those even fancier UV wands (I would be tempted to get one of these)

·       Drink only water that has been boiled (which in theory you could do, but is obviously painfully impractical)

Hot tips:

Look for this kind of set-up
·       Every village we went to, has a source of “drinking water”, i.e., the place where people in the village fill up their water jugs. Ask where that is, and then obviously fill up there. Some of the villages have relatively sophisticated drinking water systems where the water was coming from a natural spring high up on the mountain (see photo). These are primo obviously.

·       Bring two 1-litre water bottles. Fill them up in the morning, and carry them through the day. We found that lots to get us through the day (but opportunities to fill up through the day are almost always available). 

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: Language



From what we gathered, the first language of the locals in the Baliem Valley is “Bahasa Wamena”, which translates to “Wamena language” (i.e., that’s what they told us). Given there are hundreds if not thousands of languages in Indonesia, and places like Papua where different villages speak different languages, that is entirely possible.

However, the obvious and most useful language for us foreigners in the Baliem Valley is “Bahasa Indonesia”, which translates to, you guessed it, “Indonesia Language”, AKA Indonesian. Virtually everyone speaks Indonesian, except for, in our experience, the very young and they very old (you guessed it again: neither has been to school, where Indonesian is taught).  All kids of school age and middle-aged adults we met spoke fluent Indonesian. English (or any other language for that matter) will get you nowhere and are basically useless. It’s Bahasa Wamena or Bahasa Indonesia.  Your choice J


Because we have been in Indonesia for a couple of years, we speak basic Indonesian. That was invaluable. If you speak Indonesian, even a bit, you will use every word you know, and be way ahead of the game. So I guess that’s the advice: learn as much Indonesian as you can, and/or bring an Indonesian phrase book/dictionary. You will definitely use it.
OK, question for you non-Indonesian-speakers wanting to do a self-guided trip: Can we do an unguided trip without speaking Indonesian? In my opinion, sure, why not. We have been to plenty of countries where we didn’t speak a word of the language, and managed just fine. It’s a combination of facial expression and charades, then pointing to the thing you want (we’ve all been there, you know what I mean). So, don’t let the language thing keep you from doing an unguided trip. The people are wonderful, and will definitely help you, whatever language you speak.

Hot tips:

·       If you don’t speak Indonesian, definitely bring a phrase book and/or dictionary. You’ll use it!

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: Money


Outside of Wamena, there is no source of money (i.e., no ATMs/banks). So, bring all the cash (Indonesian Rupiah, obviously) you will need for the entire trip. However, because there is almost nothing to spend money on, you don’t need much. You will have to pay for accommodation (100,000 per person per night), and then hey, maybe you’ll buy a necklace off a guy with a penis gourd or something like that. Literally, that’s it. So, if you have 200,000 Rp per person per day plus emergency money, you would be fine. I always bring tons, just in case (money doesn’t go bad).

Hot tip:

·       Bring all of your cash (Indonesian Rupiah) with you from whatever large Indonesian city you are coming from. That way you don’t have to worry about it.

·       Try to have small bills/change, so you can pay with exact change. The guy with the penis gourd, he has no change on him J.

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: Guides and Porters


As mentioned repeatedly, our hatred for guided tours meant we did not have a guide, or porters. That said, almost all adult men you meet will offer to guide you (for a fee obviously). Truth be told, we used one guy for about an hour once, to take us to the next village when the trail we were on disappeared because of a series of huge landslides. We gave him a few rupiah and a snickers bar, which he seemed quite happy with.

So, if you do find yourself stuck, or lost, or confused, or unsure, fear not. It is quite feasible and easy, to find a random person (typically adult men, but also kids could do it; women are too busy working J) who will show you the way, or simply guide you for as long as you require the services. I am quite sure, that would be far cheaper, and much more efficient, than arranging a guide in Wamena for the entire trip (which is also easy to do, if you really really want/need a guide).

As well, while we did not hire any porters, I am also quite sure it would be very easy to hire random people to carry your pack(s), again for a fee obviously. We were regularly asked if we needed guiding/porter services. It would not be a problem to arrange any/all of this on the fly out in the villages.

In terms of guide/porter costs, I have no first-hand knowledge. But, a Dutch couple we spoke to in Wamena, paid 400,000 Rp. (28 USD) per day for a guide, that was pre-arranged in Wamena. However, they also had to pay for groceries (to feed themselves and him), and cigarettes for him (really, that was part of the deal). They said the trip turned out OK, but the food was a disaster (they ran out), and the guy smoked all the cigarettes in the first two days. Again, just sayin’ J

Hot tips:

·       If you really feel you need a guide/porter(s), you can arrange it in Wamena, no problem. Rut, at Hogorasuak Guesthouse (see “Wamena” section) can arrange it for you, for example.

·       A do-it-yourself option if you are unsure, is to arrange guides on the fly. As you will find out, most of the trails to most of the villages in the main valleys are obvious and easy navigated. If you get into a situation that makes you nervous, find a random guy, and almost for sure this person will be happy to show you the way to your destination village for a few rupiah.

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: Garbage and Hygiene


It’s funny being a Canadian in a place like Indonesia. If you are like me, you find yourself walking the streets with a plastic wrapper in your hand for an hour or two, because there just isn’t anywhere to put it, other than on the ground. Well, that is exactly the situation in the Baliem Valley. There are no garbage (i.e., rubbish (UK)/trash (USA)) bins anywhere, even in villages. Anything you leave behind, whether it is in a house, or on a table, will almost certainly end up on the ground somewhere, as someone is forced to simply toss it out the door.

So, yet again, your call: leave it behind to get tossed into the forest, or just hold onto it for your trek. In Canada, we call it “pack it in, pack it out”. Because I just can’t get myself to throw a piece of plastic on the ground in the forest, we packed it all out. But really, how much does a wrapper weigh? Anyway, not telling you how to live, just sayin’, anything left behind will end up on the ground. So bring a garbage bag or something like that if you opt for the “pack it out” option.

In terms of hygiene, the obvious applies: bring all personal hygiene products you desire – for example, toilet paper and related matters.  There is no resupply out in the villages J

Hot tips:

·       Bring a plastic bag for garbage and pack it out (if you go that route)

·       Bring toilet paper and related hygiene products – there are none in the villages

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: Malaria and things like that


OK, this is another one of these “your call” things. If you do your research, which I am sure you will, you will see that Papua is one of those places where you are supposed to take precautions against malaria, among a bunch of other things.

Long story short: we didn’t, and yet again, survived.

So, like the water thing, I’m not saying “don’t”. I’m just saying we didn’t, and to my knowledge neither of us has malaria or any other disease/virus. A key point here is that Wamena is at an elevation of 1660 m, and you will be hiking at elevations between 1500 and 2500 m (if you go to the area we went). The area can therefore be described as “the highlands”, and therefore not a high-risk malaria zone.

In terms of mosquitoes, we were not bothered by them, other than one evening in Wamena when there were some mosquitoes around. I’m not saying there are zero mosquitoes, just very few to the point that I don’t remember any during our trek. Put it this way: we brought mosquito repellent, and didn’t use it once.

Hot tips:

·       Bring mosquito repellent. It’s the least you can do. It weighs nothing, and will give some piece of mind. If you don’t use it (we didn’t), who cares.

·       If you are nervous about the malaria thing, then hey, take the pills, and sleep soundly.

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: Gifts


Our biggest regret was not bringing enough stuff to give away. It gets a bit awkward while 6 people are watching you make coffee, and then you sit and drink your coffee (we often had to go inside to get away). If you have enough to offer, they will only be too happy to accept, and it obviously makes for a nice interaction. So that’s my advice: bring things, especially food/drink items, to give them, while you are making yourself something. I gave away all of my coffee packages, and wish I had brought more to give away. A huge hit, that I would highly recommend, is bringing Mentos. Widely available in Indonesia, they have the advantage of not being individually wrapped (so no garbage on the ground afterwards). We brought 1 roll each per day (yes, we had 12 rolls of Mentos), and we easily gave them all away to kids in the villages. Could have given away 5 times as many.

A note on cigarettes: there are 2 things you will specifically be asked for. Kids ask for “gula”, which means sugar in Indonesia (i.e., candy; see Mentos discussion above, no problem). Adults, with few exceptions, ask for cigarettes. Sad but true. The one thing they really want from the modern world, will kill them. We didn’t have any, so it was an easy answer. But that now leaves you with an ethical choice. If you really want to be a rock star to them, bring lots of cigarettes and give them out. You will be Santa Claus. But it’s that “it will kill you” thing, that makes it interesting. Again, your call.

Hot Tips:

·       Definitely bring lots of stuff to give away. They have very few commercially available products, and will appreciate anything you offer.

·       In our experience, Mentos (for kids) and sugary coffee packages (those 3 in 1 things) were a big hit.

·       Bring photos of your family/home to show them. They are very interested in all of that, and loved looking at photos we had on our phones.

·       At the last place we stayed, we gave the lady in charge all of our left-over food, which again, was a huge hit.

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: The Map


If you are like me, you are looking desperately for a nice glossy map entitled “Trekking Routes in the Baliem Valley”. Surely there’s a map of the trails and villages, right? Nope. Not that I know of. There are various things on the internet ranging from hand-drawn to inaccurate, and, apparently something sketchy available at an internet café in Wamena (it was closed when we went) – but nothing in terms of an accurate, to-scale, map. Shocking, but true.

So, in the interest of sharing, here is a useable, to-scale map of our route. The red line is our route, and what we encountered.  Obviously, there are more trails and villages than what is shown on this map. So don’t send me hate mail telling me I missed a village or trail or something like that J Long story short: if you want to do the route we did, or part of it, this map will get you there and back.

Note: if you are a GPS-savvy person, and want the track file (gpx/kml) shoot me an email, I’ll send it to you. If you want a higher resolution image, also feel free to contact me.

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: What we did (very specifically)



A cautionary tale: Before we start with the detailed route description, one caveat (admission actually). On Day 4, we found ourselves alone on the trail, with no one to ask directions, and trail decisions to make (recall the “no signage” thing). With no real map, we had been relying on locals to point the way. We hadn’t seen a human in hours. As if scripted by Hollywood, the clouds rolled in, it started to rain, and fog made seeing more than our feet below us, impossible. Cutting to the chase, several hours later we found ourselves, well, not entirely sure, but pretty sure, not on the right trail. It was late in the afternoon, pouring rain, zero visibility, and somewhere on the side of a mountain in Papua.

By what can only be called luck, we happened upon a small grass lean-to, presumably set up as a temporary day shelter for someone out in the mountains, tending to sweet potatoes. It was a gift, and we took it. We spent the night in our little grass lean-to (after all, we had everything we needed and were quite comfy). The morning was, as the saying goes, “another day”. We arose to good weather, waited for the fog to lift, found the main trail, and returned to our original schedule. While “all is well that ends well”, it was a stressful 24 hours, and a reminder that things do not always go as planned, and you need to be ready for an emergency overnight.

Now, the reason I am describing all of that, is because the route description I will be recommending below, does not include our little diversion to the grass lean-to. The route description, GPS route, and map below IS the main route that you want to follow (I edited out our little diversion).

The Route

Alrighty then, the Coles notes version of the route is (see map in previous section):

Day
Summary
1
From Wamena accom, drive to Sogokmo Trailhead, hike to Hitugi, overnight in Hitugi
2
From Hitugi, hike to Yogosen, overnight in Yogosen
3
From Yogosen, hike to Syokosimo, overnight in Syokosimo
4
From Syokosimo, hike to Wesagalep, overnight in Wesagalep
5
From Weagalep, hike to Tangma, overnight in Tangma.
6
From Tangma, hike to Kurima or Sugokmo Trailhead, back to Wamena via vehicle



Day 1: this is a nice, straight-forward, gradual ascending hike along mostly good, open, obvious trails. From the trailhead, go down the trail to the bridge, cross the bridge, turn right on the other side, then follow the trail to Hitugi. It is a good intro to the trip and gets you up and into the heart of the Baliem. Just ask people for “Hitugi” and they will point you in the right direction. Can’t go wrong.

Day 2: From Hitugi, the trail descends down to the Mugi River and the village of Yuarima. Go through Yuarima, about 10 minutes after Yuarima, there is a footbridge across the Mugi (can’t miss it). Cross the bridge, then go straight up the steep trail/hill, on the other side, to a small village (Village X on the map; I didn’t get the name – if you do, email it to me J). From the village, there is a good, obvious trail going up the valley to Yogosen. Again, just ask people for “Yogosen”. It’s a big climb to Yogosen, but the trail is obvious and the scenery is stunning. There is a good water system in the small village, just before starting the trail to Yogosen. Fill up on water there.

Day 3: Coming back down from Yogosen takes a fraction of the time it took going up. At the village (X), look for a trail going off/up to the left. It’s not obvious, and is rough in spots. Ask someone for “Seikama”, and they will point you in the right direction. The trail goes up steeply, then contours along the side of the valley for a while (a bit rough of a trail), eventually coming back down to the river and the village of Syokosimo, which is right on a beautiful stretch of the river. Very nice. Just before Syokosimo, you will pass a “traditional” foot bridge (i.e., made from vines and other natural materials – but looked doable) that crosses the Mugi. That provides an alternative crossing point to go back to the north side of the Mugi.

Day 4: OK, this is crux day. After Syokosimo, things get a tad more challenging in terms of route finding until Wesagalep – mostly because it’s more remote and there are no people around (it’s the boonies). When we did it, the trail to Huerema was washed out, and we gave a local guy a snickers bar to show us the way to Huerema, which he did. We then made our own way to Wuserem on a good trail, no problem. Beyond Wuserem, we literally saw no people until Wesagalep, and took a wrong turn at one point – hence our emergency overnight (see cautionary tale above). Therefore, I would strongly recommend for Wuserem (or even Syokosimo) to Wesagalep: (1) find/pay a guy to guide you to Wesagalep (which would be very easy to arrange on the fly), or (2) have the GPS track on your GPS unit and know how to follow it (email me if you want the track file). The trails are generally decent, but it is a long, hilly, tiring trek between these 2 villages, and there are several critical trail intersections, which are not signed or obvious, and therefore give you little/no indication of which trail to take. The area though, is beautiful and worth the effort. Go for it!

Day 5: From Wesagalep, the trail is insanely steep down to the Baliem River to the footbridge (can’t miss it, it’s huge – also a bit “sketchy” in that the wooden planks look dodgy – use caution when crossing). Cross the bridge, turn right, then head back up a decent trail to Wamerek, a nice little village with beautiful views. Wamerek to Tangma is a ‘walk in the park”, or so it feels. Big, obvious, gentle trail. Beautiful area.

Day 6: Tangma to Upper Ibiroma is a steep, rough climb, but more/less obvious. Once you top out and see your first honai in Upper Ibiroma (nice views!), it’s easy sailing from there on big, wide, open trails with stunning views all the way down to Kurima. Can’t go wrong.

The Stats

The following table is a detailed breakdown of each day of our route from point to point. i.e., if you want to do the route we did, this is the schedule I would recommend, more or less.

For “Trail Difficulty” as in the table below, the following apply:

1 = good/decent, obvious trail; generally flat or gentle up/down

2 = varied conditions with challenging sections

3 = steep and/or rough trail; generally physically challenging

This is a listing of day by day hiking stats for key locations along the route. Important footnotes are below:

Day1
From
To
Length
(km)
Time2
(hrs:mins)
Trail Difficulty
Comments
1
Sogokmo Trailhead3
Bridge over Baliem4
0.9
0:15
1
Easy down
1
Bridge
Seima
4.7
1:45
1
Mostly flat, some mud
1
Seima
Ikinim
3.4
1:15
1
Gradual climb, good obvious trail
1
Ikinim
Ugem
 0.9
0:30
1
Gradual climb, good obvious trail
1
Ugem
Hitugi
4.5
1:45
1
Gradual climb, good obvious trail
Totals
14.4
5:30


2
Hitugi
Yuarima
3.8
1:15
1
Easy, mostly down
2
Yuarima
Yogosem
6.5
4:00
2
BIG climb, but trail is decent and obvious
Totals
10.3
5:15


3
Yogosem
Village X
5.7
1:45
2
BIG descent, but trail is decent and obvious
3
Village X
Seikama
3.4
2:00
2/3
Mostly a high contour, but rough trail with initial climb
3
Seikama
Syokosimo
3.3
2:00
1
Down, nice trail
Totals
12.4
5:45


4
Syokosimo
Wuserum5
3.6
1:45
2
Washouts; difficult route finding
4
Wuserum
Wesagalep6
8.7
4:00
2/3
Good trail for most of it, but has demanding climbs and descents, and river crossings; also has critical, unmarked turn-offs6
Totals
12.3
5:45


5
Wesagalep
Wamerek6
4.3
3:30
3
Very steep descent to sketchy bridge over Baliem River, then steep ascent on rough trail
5
Wamerek
Tangma
3.1
1:30
1
Easy, gentle climb
Totals
7.4
5:00


6
Tangma
Ibiroma
3.9
2:30
3
Big climb on rough trail
6
Ibiroma
Kilise
1.9
0:30
1
Nice open trail
6
Kilise
Kurima7
2.4
1:00
1
Nice open trail
Totals
8.2
4:00



1The day indications are a guideline based on our trek.

2Times are actual hiking times, i.e., does not include break times during the day. We were generally on the trails for 6 hours a day +/-. Basic schedule was leaving around 9 am, arriving at destination village around 3 pm, with little breaks here and there.

3The “Sogokmo Trailhead” is a non-descript, side-of-the-road situation. There is nothing there. It is literally a trail going off from a pull-out in the road. If you ask someone if it goes to Seima and/or Hitugi, and they say yes, that’s it! For some reason, people call this location “Sogokmo”, but there is no town/buildings where the trail starts.

4This is a good walking bridge over the Baliem River. Not to be confused with the bridge over the Baliem that is located at Kurima (see footnote 6).

5As of June 2018, the trail between Syokosimo and Huerema disappears due to massive washouts along the river, requiring non-obvious walk-arounds. We ended up having a guy show us the way to the next village.

6As mentioned in the “cautionary tale” above, this is where we took a wrong turn, and ended up in the jungle between Wuserem and Wesagalep for the night. Getting to Wesagalep for the night is therefore the recommendation.

7We ended our trek where the pavement starts/ends in Kurima. Because we didn’t realize that the road to Sogokmo/Wamena is washed out, we erroneously ended our hike here, and had to take multiple motorcycle taxis, combined with walking across a very sketchy log bridge, to get back to Sogokmo, to finally arrange a ride back to Wamena. If we had known that, we would have continued hiking by crossing the foot bridge in Kurima, and then hiking back to Sogokmo via Seima on the east side of the Baliem River – this would be a good option to avoid the road washout issues between Kurima and Sogokmo (unless they actually fix the road on day). In other words: start and finish your trek at the Sogokmo Trailhead, where there are usually vehicles waiting to transport people back and forth to Wamena.


GPS Locations

The following is a listing of GPS locations and elevations of villages and other major features along our route. Be sure to read the footnotes below.

Location1
GPS coordinate  in decimal degrees (datum = WGS 84)
Elevation
(m)
Latitude
Longitude
Sugokmo Trailhead
S4.18939
E139.00439
1728
Bridge over Baliem-12
S4.18838
E139.01117
1623
Seima
S4.21245
E139.03810
1640
Ikinim
S4.22757
E139.06171
1881
Hitugi
S4.22300
E139.09948
2021
Yuarima
S4.22202
E139.13020
1857
Bridge over Mugi-13
S4.22074
E139.13432
1828
Yogosen
S4.24678
E139.16904
2464
Seikama
S4.22937
E139.11080
2071
Seseg
S4.23321
E139.10245
1879
Bridge over Mugi-24
S4.23646
E139.09611
1653
Syokosimo
S4.23934
E139.08858
1630
Huerema
S4.24583
E139.07398
1687
Wuserem
S4.25464
E139.07290
1743
River crossing5
S4.28808
E139.08798
2000
Wesagalep
S4.29847
E139.07003
1963
Bridge over Baliem-26
S4.28675
E139.06385
1270
Wamerek
S4.27973
E139.06046
1512
Lower Tangma
S4.26738
E139.05228
1677
Tangma
S4.26015
E139.04706
1771
Upper Ibiroma
S4.26202
E139.05817
2019
Ibiroma
S4.24732
E139.05682
1940
Kilise
S4.23515
E139.04850
1854
Kurima
S4.21885
E139.03771
1576

1locations listed in order as you would encounter then, if you are doing the route as we did.

2Nice big footbridge, no worries.

3Nice big footbridge, no worries.

4We didn’t use this bridge, we passed by it on the trail. It is a traditional footbridge made out of local materials, but looks useable if you wanted to cross the Mugi at this location.

5A tributary to the Baliem, no bridge, but feasible to cross, if you are willing to get your feet wet.

6This is a big bridge, across a substantial stretch of the Baliem. Interestingly, the wooden planks in the bridge are somewhat sketchy. Caution advised – but doable.


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