Papua New Guinea has a bit of a public-relations problem, but that shouldn't stop you from visiting. Just be smart about where you go. The State Department currently advises caution when traveling to Bougainville Island, because of civil unrest, or to Rabaul, near two active volcanoes, but these are not essential stops on the tourist route. The cities — in particular the capital, Port Moresby, as well as Lae and Mount Hagen — are hardly vacation spots, either. Port Moresby is the seat of the country's disaffected gangs, and robbery is a problem. Since most international flights land there, travelers are wise to be careful. Check into one of the two clean, modern hotels near the airport — Airways Hotel (Jacksons Parade, Mile 7; 011-675/324-5200, fax 011-675/325-0759; doubles $63) or Gateway Hotel (21 Douglas St., Jacksons Parade, Mile 7; 011-675/325-3855, fax 011-675/325-4585; doubles $80) — and visit the city's few cultural sites during the day.
Road travel at night in Papua New Guinea is generally to be avoided. This caveat rarely affects vacation plans, since most travel within this mountainous country is by air or water. Join an organized tour, or commission one for yourself (see The Facts, ). If you stick with the itinerary, you'll have the right kind of thrills.
For comfortable, safe travel within Papua New Guinea, consider having one of these companies plan your trip, or join one of their tours.
Melanesian Tourist Services Coastwatchers Ave., Madang; 011-675/852-2766 (or, for brochures only, 310/785-0370), fax 011-675/852-3543, www.meltours.com; 10-day Madang-Trobriand Islands cruise $2,970 per person, double, not including air transfers. This outfit runs the Trobriands cruise we took, as well as cruises along the Sepik and to other destinations. The company owns the comfortable Madang Resort Hotel, in the pretty coastal town of Madang, and manages the Malagan Beach Resort in Kavieng, on New Ireland.
Trans Nuigini Tours 850 Colorado Blvd., Los Angeles, Calif.; 800/521-7242 or 323/256-1991, fax 323/256-0647; $1,936 per person for nine-day itinerary; air transfers $500. Trans Nuigini arranges flights and ground transport to its impressive roster of properties: the Karawari Lodge in the Sepik region, the excellent Ambua Lodge in Tari, and, near Madang, the Malolo Plantation Lodge, recommended for diving.