It's hard to believe it’s already December! With the holiday season fully underway, we’re featuring some of our favorite places to unwind in front of a fireplace this winter—hopefully with some of your favorite people. Speaking of winter, we’re highlighting a recent trip to the Scandinavian Arctic, complete with a viewing of the Northern Lights. Beaches more your speed? We’ve got the lowdown on some of the best hotels in Anguilla. From all of us at First in Service, we wish you and your families a wonderful holiday season and a very happy New Year. Cheers to 2019!
Erika Reategui and Fernando Gonzalez
In her ongoing quest to inspire adventure travel, F1S president Erika Reategui makes a compelling case for Papua New Guinea, the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, just north of Australia. It’s one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, but also one of the most remote, where many rare species of plants and animals are thought to exist.
WHY DID YOU WANT TO VISIT?
I’m always looking for undiscovered places to explore and report on. PNG has a certain remote mystique. When I read about the mystery surrounding Michael Rockefeller’s disappearance on the island in the 60s, it piqued my interest even more. It’s true that PNG is one of the last places on earth where cannibalism is still practiced in very remote regions.
HOW CHALLENGING IS A VISIT TO PNG GIVEN THE TOURISM INFRASTRUCTURE REALLY DOESN’T EXIST?
Tourism is certainly underdeveloped on PNG. But that’s what makes every experience feel authentic. This is the type of place I send clients to using only trusted experts on the ground.
WHAT ARE YOUR TOP RECOMMENDATIONS TO DO?
1. Marvel at the Mud Men and Skeleton dances in Mount Hagen.
2. Take a riverboat ride along the jungle fringed waterways of the Karawari River making visits along the way to traditional villages, while taking in some of the most breathtaking bird life anywhere.
3. While in Tari, the most remote part of the Highlands, don’t miss a visit to a wig school run by the famous traditional clan know as the Huli wigmen.
4. Attend one of the annual festivals know as Sing-Sings, celebrating the pageantry of hundreds of diverse ethnic groups.
WHAT ARE THE BEST PLACES TO STAY?
The Ambua Lodge in Tari has cottages known as round houses high on the mountains with incredible panoramic views of the lush valley. The Rondon Ridge Lodge in Mt. Hagen offers spacious contemporary accommodations in the highlands. And the Karawari Lodge in the Sepik Valley was my favorite. Designed after a spirit house, it is adorned with walls full of exquisite hand carved masks which can be purchased. The food at each lodge is of international standards.
WHAT KIND OF ITINERARY DO YOU RECOMMEND?
For your first visit, the three areas to see are the Highlands for an insight into village life, the Sepik Province to explore life along the Karawari River, and the Western Province, for amazing wildlife and great fishing.
HOW DO YOU RECOMMEND GETTING AROUND THE ISLAND?
Domestic flights and private shuttle flights through a reputable tour operator. The ground transportation infrastructure on the island is highly underdeveloped.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE CUISINE?
The local diet is mostly vegetarian. Common ingredients include taro, yam and sago, a starch which comes from the sago palm tree. Pork and chicken are reserved for special occasions. River fish is plentiful and delicious.
TELL US ABOUT THE SING-SINGS
Sing-Sings are major festivals in PNG. The two biggest festivals occur in Mt. Hagen in August and Goroka every September. They’re full of pageantry as hundreds of ethnic groups gather to compete and show off their dance, music and unique style of fashion.
WHAT ARE SOME THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO?
A good pair of hiking boots is mandatory. So are binoculars and a great camera. Villagers are typically happy to pose for photos and enjoy seeing the images of themselves.
ANY INTERESTING LOCAL OR CULTURAL FACTS YOU LEARNED?
Pigs are a status symbol. The more that an individual can give away, the more power they have in the community. They are often used to pay a bride’s dowry.
BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT?
For fewer crowds May or October are best, or during the major festival months of August and September.