By Ann Shields
October 31, 2011
An aerial view of Hanuabada, a stilt village in Port Moresby.
| Credit: David Kirkland/

I was one of the lucky New Yorkers who caught a brief, colorful glimpse of Papua New Guinea recently. At an event sponsored by luxury tour operator Absolute Travel and the Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority, two tribesmen—a Wigman from the Huli tribe and a Mudman from the Asaro tribe—performed and mingled with the crowd to promote travel to PNG. The promotion worked. I want to go.

Eight hundred distinct languages are spoken in the country—fully a third of all the indigenous languages in the world! Less than 20% of the population lives in cities, and the remaining 80% live in small villages with very distinct rituals and traditional costumes. The Wigman (pictured here in Times Square) wore an elaborate human-hair wig made in a tribal ritual briefly seen in the mesmerizing PNG video below (at 2:51). The ancestors of the Asaro Mudmen were chased into the river and then emerged covered in pale mud, frightening their superstitious enemies who mistook them for spirits. The Mudmen now wear a ghostly coating of mud, a crazy-faced helmet mask, and long, clacking finger extensions for ceremonies.

Absolute Travel has several mind-blowing ways to tour Papua New Guinea that include both hands-on visits to tribal villages as well as accommodations in bespoke properties. The Papua New Guinea Tourism Board offers trips, too, tailored for travelers with all sorts of interests, from bird-watching to surfing. Maybe I'll see you there? I'll be the one (or at least one of the ones) in the fabulous wig and nail extensions.

Ann Shields is a senior digital editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo and video courtesy of the Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority