High up in the mountains of central Papua at an altitude of 1,600 meters above sea level, hemmed in by steep green mountain walls, lies the stunningly beautiful Baliem valley, home of the Dani tribe.
Baliem valley is 72 km. long, and 15 km to 31 km wide in places. It is cut by the Baliem river, which has its source in the northern Trikora mountain, cascading into the Grand Valley, to meander down and further rushing south dropping 1,500 meters to become a large muddy river that slowly empties into the Arafura Sea.
The first outsider to discover the valley was American Richard Archbold, who, on 23 June 1938 from his seaplane, suddenly sighted this awesome valley dotted with neat terraced green fields of sweet potatoes, set among craggy mountain peaks. This is Indonesia’s own Shangri-La.
Only recently emerged from the Stone Age, the Dani are known as the “gentle warriors”. With their simple tools of stone and bone, they nonetheless, managed to sculpt green fields that hug the hills, where they grow root crops, and raise pigs. They have also built outposts and lookout towers to defend their valley from hostile tribes.
Because of the fertile soil and their agricultural skills, the Dani together with the sub-tribes of the Yali and the Lani, are, therefore, the most populous in Papua, living scattered in small communities near their gardens among the steep mountain slopes. Today, they also cultivate bananas, taro and yams, ginger, tobacco and cucumbers.
The men’s and women’s huts (locally called the honai) have thick thatched roofs, which keep the huts cool during the day and warm during the cold nights.
Souvenirs can be easily found in the valley as you can buy the crafts directly from the Dani people.
These include: Stone blades, which are a major favorite among visitors; Sekan: rattan bracelets; Noken: made from tree bark fibers; Necklaces and arm bands; Jogal: grass skirts, and other head decorations.
For those who are adventurous and are cultural observers at heart, it is possible to stay and mingle among the Baliem Valley people, just make sure your tour operator booked this before your visit. Go show? Affordable. If the first alternative seems too extreme, you can stay at hotels in the town of Wamena.
In this lush Baliem valley is a vast open ground where the Baliem Festival is held each year. More than a thousand people flock to see the mock war held by the Dani and the surrounding tribes.
The captivating Baliem Festival is held on August around 10 – 17 August every year. At the Festival, traditional dances, pig races, staged tribal wars and races are held. Today, the Baliem Festival is one of the main reasons tourists visit Papua. It’s a magical fiesta, say most who have experienced it.
By trekking, you can witness traditional ceremonies, traditional markets and the way of life of the Dani. There are a very limited number of restaurants inside the Baliem Valley. Your tour guide can bargain with the Dani people to provide you with simple meals. It’s strongly advised that visitors bring their own meals and snacks during trekking through and around Baliem Valley. Meals and snacks can be bought at grocery stores in Wamena.
To make your trip easier and to get the most value, it is advisable to find a packaged tour offered by several operators.
The only access to the Baliem Valley is by flying to the town of Wamena. There are a number of carriers from Jayapura to Wamena. Trigana Air Services provide daily flights into and out of Wamena. Spot the Trigana Air Service Offices at Sentani Airport terminal and Wamena Airport terminal.
Others are MAF, AMA, Yajasi, Manunggal Air; while the Indonesian Army (TNI) has Hercules aircrafts.
From Wamena into the interior of the Baliem valley you can rent a car or travel by public bus.
Foreigners must obtain a travel permit, known as Surat Keterangan Jalan to get access into the interior of Papua. You can obtain the Surat Keterangan Jalan at major police stations, such as at Jayapura, Merauke, Timika, Biak, Nabire, Manokwari and other major cities.
The permit will depend on your request, lasting from 1 week to 1 month or longer. Prepare copies of your passport, recent photograph and list of places you wish to visit. It is easy to obtain the Surat Keterangan Jalan, because the officers are friendly and helpful.
You can ask your travel agent to arrange the Surat Keterangan Jalan.
– A Guide is needed to explore the valley
– Don’t forget to bring a copy of your Surat Keterangan Jalan
– The best time to visit is between March and August
– If you travel during the rainy season, prepare yourself with cold weather gear
– Ask your guide about Do’s and Don’ts in the Baliem Valley