Papua New Guinea is one of the most exciting spots you could pick for a vacation. Headlines and movies often portray the island as a den of crime and cannibalism, but smart travelers know to look beyond the stereotypes and rumors that reach the West. In truth, this gorgeous Pacific island is home to incredible scuba sites, vast and varied landscapes, and interesting history. There is no better time than the present to beat the crowds and experience Papua New Guinea before it develops into the tourist haven it is bound to become.

01Port Moresby Nature Park

A tree kangaroo at the Adventure Park outside Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

If you’re a fan of cute animals and breathtaking flowers, you should take the time to visit the Port Moresby Nature Park. Within this oasis, over a mile of walkways carve through jungle canopies and beautiful gardens. You can find local and exotic plants, though the orchids are particularly amazing. Fruit bats, tree kangaroos, cassowaries, and hornbills bring the trees around you to life and a large aviary lets you see many more birds.

02Tufi Tropical Fjords

natural green jungle with mangrove trees background, Melanesia, Papua New Guinea, Tufi

When thinking of reasons to visit Papua New Guinea, the coastal city of Tufi is at the top of the list. This is because Tufi is home to one of the only four tropical fjords in existence. Consider taking a boat out on the water to see wahoo and yellowfin tuna before stopping at Komoa Beach for seafood barbecue. There are also hundreds of miles of uncharted coral reefs for you to dive in and explore.

03Talasea Airstrip

A World War II Airplane in Papua New Guinea

It’s rare to experience the scars of World War II outside of a museum. However, deep within Papua New Guinea, the jungle has laid claim to wartime treasures. The Talasea Airstrip was once a tiny land strip that changed hands between American and Japanese forces, but it's now a standing monument of WWII and its aftermath, where you can see an abandoned B-25 bomber, Lockheed Ventura, and many other artifacts.

04Tunnels of Rabaul

Solomon Islands Papua New Guinea 101 Stefan Krasowski / Flickr

Along with the many artifacts left behind after World War II, there are also dozens of tunnels that stretch underneath the town of Rabaul. Calling them tunnels is a bit inaccurate though, as the system is more like an underground labyrinth with some chambers reaching four stories tall. You can take a tour and find historic hospitals, storehouses, and barracks underground. In its entirety, it's one of the longest and most impressive structures in the world.

05Crocodile Festival

Folk art souvenir mask adorned with seashells and crocodile teeth

Most people think of countries like Brazil or Spain when thinking about massive festivals, but Papua New Guinea has its own impressive celebration. Their Crocodile Festival lasts three days and highlights the spiritual bonds between the men of Papua New Guinea and the ferocious crocodile. If you attend, you’ll be able to see intricate body enhancements on the local Sepik men who revere the crocodile. This is one of the most unique and breathtaking festivals available.

06Mt. Hagen and more

The Baiyer Marching Group in Mt Hagen, Papua New Guinea

Throughout the year, locals host several shows that have become cultural, agricultural, and horticultural displays. For example, the Goroka Show in September features a convergence of hundreds of clans that celebrate in large ghost-like masks and gray mud body paints. Perhaps the largest and most visitor-friendly show is Mount Hagen. Originally, the show was a way to end tribal infighting, but it has grown to become a massive and colorful dance competition with many music performances and craft markets.

07Haus Tambaran

Photo of simple houses made of straw and wood in Avatip, Sepik river in Papua New Guinea.

Every culture has had unique architecture styles and no buildings exemplified these styles better than religious temples and worship sites. Papua New Guinea is no exception to this, and the intricate and forward-leaning Haus Tambaran is a perfect example. These traditional buildings were meeting-houses and ritual sites and they are still home to many different celebrations. You can take a tour of a variety of both traditional and modern buildings that use the Haus Tambaran style.

08Submarine Base

Japanese plane wreck

If you’re looking for an adventure, you should absolutely visit the submarine base at Tavui Point. During WWII, Japanese forces kept submarines and other equipment here, but it is now a beautiful and vaguely haunting reef. Some of the best ways to spend your time here are to enjoy a picnic or go snorkeling. The coral bed in this area is mostly flat until it reaches a 250-foot cliff, making it a great location for intrepid snorkelers.

09Tari Basin Birding

Raggiana Bird-of-paradise (Paradisaea raggiana) in Varirata National Park, Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea’s Tari Basin and Tari Gap are known to be incredible birding spots. The altitude in these areas ranges from 5500 to over 9000 feet, allowing for many diverse habitats and a variety of bird species. Gorgeous birds of paradise, such as the King of Saxony, make this area their home. This region is so incredible that Sir David Attenborough has visited the area in one of his documentaries, in which he spoke about the majestic birds.

10Hagen Market

Meri blouse vendor in Mt Hagen Market, PNG. Ian @ ThePaperboy.com / Flickr

One of the best ways to ensure that you’ll remember an incredible journey is to take home a piece of your trip. Thankfully, markets are also one of the best ways to experience a new culture. Hagen Market is one of Papua New Guinea’s largest and most diverse markets, with a vast range of products for you to search through. You can find everything from fresh produce to highland hats and hand-made bilums, which are traditional string bags.

11Hombrum Bluff

Aerial photo of the coast of New Guinea with jungles and deforestation

Papua New Guinea truly is a beautiful country, though the jungle tends to hide some of that beauty. If you really want to get a look at just how incredible Papua New Guinea can be, take a tour up Hombrum Bluff and visit the lookout. Over 4,000 feet above the ground, Hombrum Bluff Lookout gives you a way to see Papua New Guinea in a whole new way. You’ll even be able to go bushwalking in the nearby grasslands to personally experience the landscape.

12Ohu Butterfly Habitat

Butterfly in Papua New Guinea

There are many species that are unique to Papua New Guinea, though some of the most striking are the varieties of birdwing butterflies that call the region home. If you visit the Ohu Butterfly Habitat, you’ll be able to see these gentle creatures in their natural environment. If you’re lucky, you might even see some butterflies suckling on the nectar of Aristolochia flowers.