Are you ready for THE BEST cultural and human experience of your life? I hope you said “YES!” because the Goroka Show in Papua New Guinea is it.
We attended the show in 2016 and before our arrival we had a hell of a time finding useable information to plan our trip. If you choose to travel with a tour group, you will avoid some of the headaches we did, but don’t expect zero issues. We met group travelers who, although satisfied with their tour operators, had flight, car and confusion delays during their stay.
If you are planning the trip on your own, we have compiled a list of information and recommendations to help you get started and have the most enjoyable time possible.
Tips Before Arriving
Book accommodations early! Goroka is a growing city, and the show gets more popular every year. The accommodation choices are limited and some very difficult to find online. Also, email replies can be quite slow or non-existent. If you are able to call a location, do so. We found prices increased the closer we got to the show date, so make sure to book early to ensure you have a place to stay at a reasonable price.
Book your airfare early! There are limited small flights daily from Port Moresby.PNG Air, Air Niugini and SouthWest Air are the current airlines flying in/out of Goroka. The flights fill up fast. We recommend arriving a day or so early because fog can be a factor in delayed or canceled flights. Goroka is in the process of building a new airport, which may increase the number of flights available for future shows.
Buses and hired cars are available for transport between Port Moresby and Goroka. We don’t have a lot of information on transportation between the two areas because we were advised several times by different locals driving between the two is not recommended. Poor road conditions and late driving times were mentioned the most.
Papua New Guinea is on the expensive side. Expect to pay US or European type prices for some accommodations, airfare, and food. Expect basic lodging and spotty wifi. We did purchase a sim card & data at the airport and only had issue with service when it was raining.
Invest in the VIP passes (general/public admission is your other option) for all three days of the show. No need to buy your tickets before arrival. In fact, we recommend waiting to buy your tickets in person to avoid any confusion. We bought our tickets at the Birds of Paradise hotel reception desk. Tickets can be purchased at the gate windows at the show grounds, but the lines can be long. Some other accommodations may sell tickets, but the easiest purchase location is at Birds of Paradise. It’s walking distance from the airport and in the main part of town.
The show is three days long. Friday highlights local agriculture and children’s tribal dress. The day is low-key and easy to navigate. It’s a great introduction to the entire festival. Saturday and Sunday are all about the tribes. Over one hundred tribes will sing and dance for hours. The majority of the tribes participate in both days. There are a few tribes who may only participate in one day. Each year participation varies.
Food is available on the general/public (non-VIP) side of the festival and outside the showground gates. Prices ranged from reasonable to expensive. Food varied from traditional bamboo cooking to muffins to BBQ skewers. We found the food to be quite tasty, but we recommend asking for freshly cooked meat options.
Always keep in mind – The Goroka Show participants are real people. They are not at the show for you to disrespect, treat poorly or push around. Each will gladly pose for photos and videos and interact with you. Treat each member and their belongings with respect and kindness.
What to Bring
- Layerable clothing. We attended the 2016 show, and it was the first time it had rained during the festival. The first day was cloudy, cool and rainy. The last two days were sunny and hot. Also, if rain is in the forecast, expect extremely muddy and slippery conditions.
- Camera with extra batteries
- Backup Camera with extra batteries
- Extra SD cards
- Small zippable carry bag
*Pickpocketing can be an issue at the show, so bring as few valuables as possible.
Tips for Day of the Show
- Bring water to the show with you. Food and drink are not sold within the VIP area but is sold in the public area.
- Drink your water. It’s easy to get caught up in the festival and forget to eat or drink.
- Arrive early and walk the streets around the show grounds. The tribes arrive as early as 5:00 am. We don’t necessarily recommend going that early, but at least an hour or two before daily opening times. It allows for more time to interact with locals and some fun candid moments are sure to occur.
- Hangout with some locals before the show starts. The streets are less busy, and the vibe is more relaxed. All the streets around the show grounds are lined with vendors selling food, drinks, playing games, face painting and lingering until the show opens.
- The show grounds are divided into sections: VIP area, two Public areas, and Vendor area.
- The VIP area is the main show area. VIP ticket holders are allowed until about 2:00pm on Friday and Saturday and about noon on Sunday. After those times the VIP area is open to all the public.
- The two Public areas surround the VIP area on two sides. The public areas contain vendor booths selling food and drink and provide education on matters such as physical abuse, conservation, jobs, etc.. Games, contests and alternate talent shows; such as gymnastics, riding horses, and greasy pole climbing can be found in the public areas.
- The Vendor area has a plethora of locals selling handmade crafts for every taste.
- We recommend browsing the public area and vendor areas on Friday and early mornings on Saturday or Sunday.
Tips for Inside the Show
- The tribes will enter parade style through the main gate. It’s quite fun to line up and watch as the tribes come in, but it takes hours for all the tribes to enter. Don’t stand at the gate the whole day. WALK AROUND!
- The best photos opportunities are on the street outside the showground before the show starts or in the showgrounds as the tribes are dancing in their chosen location away from the entrance gate.
- Take breaks to assess your surroundings. It’s easy to get caught up with taking photos, but if you spend your whole time obsessed with that perfect shot you miss the entire true gift of this festival. Stop and listen to the words of the songs, stop and watch the dance steps, stop and watch the tribes interact with each other. There are so many small wonderful moments to be found throughout each day.
- Put your camera down and interact with the tribe members. Say Hello, ask questions, get to know a few members. The majority speak some English or at least have someone in their tribe that speaks English. Our favorite memories are connecting with the a few different small groups of individuals.
- There is no need to pay money to any participant to take their photo. Part of the VIP package benefit is free photos within the showgrounds.
- Share your photos or videos with entrants. The videos are especially fun to share!
Most Importantly, Be Kind!
- Ask for up close photos. Don’t just shove a camera in someone’s face, take a photo and walk away.
- Say thank you, Smile and acknowledge each tribe member as a human being.
- Don’t poke at, pull, push or yell at the participants or other tourists. Understand and accept the location is crowded and your missed photo opportunity is not the end of the world.
- DO NOT TOUCH any headdress without permission from the owner. These pieces are family heirlooms and are priceless.
Places to Stay
These are the names and contact information for the guest houses we saw around town. We didn’t go inside most of these locations but made note of each for the list only. This list does not include all of the accommodations available, but it’s quite a few. It’s common for a lodge to refer you to a different location if they are full. Some of these locations are owned by extended family members and friends and they all know and assist each other when needed. If you choose a location with religious affiliations, check for any special check in/out times and restaurant hours.
- Bendam Lodge – This is the place we stayed. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: +675 532 1862
- Birds of Paradise Hotel – Website, Email: email@example.com
- Emmanuel Lodge – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: +675 7040 8185
- GK Lodge – Email: email@example.com, Phone: +675 532 3819
- Good Samaritan Lodge – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: +675 532 1651
- Kanda Resthouse – Email: email@example.com, Phone: +675 532 2944
- Lutheran Guesthouse – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: +675 532 1171
- National Sports Institute Hostel – This place is located across the street from the show grounds. Email: email@example.com, Phone: +675 532 2391
- Nimba Lodge – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: +675 532 1882
- Pacific Gardens Hotel – Website, Email: email@example.com
- Red River Lodge – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: +675 525 1842
Where to Eat
Currently, there are four main restaurants intended for visitors. All are located in the main part of town within walking distance from the airport. Goroka is growing quickly, so expect to see more restaurants coming soon.
- Bird of Paradise Hotel Restaurant
- The Mandarin Restaurant
- The Steak House
- The Café
- Most guest houses or lodges have restaurants for their guests. Typical menu options are meat, vegetable, starch type dishes and priced per plate.
- Food booths are available Friday – Sunday in the general/public section of the festival and prices range from reasonable to expensive.
- Street food is available along the roads leading to the showgrounds Friday – Sunday.
What Else to Do in Goroka
- J.K. McCarthy Museum – To get the full impact of this museum take the guided tour. Walking in we were a bit apprehensive and didn’t have high expectations, but our tour guide, John Waters, was fantastic. The museum is next to the showgrounds. Give yourself at least 45 minutes to explore the museum.
- Local Outdoor Market – The market runs daily from early morning to about dusk. The market is packed and chaotic. Be sure to walk under the open roof to see the vendors dedicated to selling PNG traditional foods.
- Local Village Tour – There are a few local village tours to choose from. The Asaro Mud Men are the most popular. We took a tour of Mondo and loved it.
We were told over and over to watch our belongings while anywhere in town or in the show. Carry as little as possible with you and carry it in a zipped small cross body bag. We had no issues with anyone trying to steal our stuff or approaching us in a negative manner.
We were warned several times not to walk around town alone after dark. There really isn’t much to do in town after dark other than eat and see the firework show on Friday and Sunday night. We didn’t have any issue, but we didn’t stay out late.
We did notice a very different vibe in town from the Tuesday before the show started to show time. As the influx of people increased the smiles and greetings we received were a lot less than earlier in the week. A female friend and I especially noticed more men stared at us and grumbled at us in ways that made us feel uncomfortable. We didn’t have any direct issues with anyone on the streets, but if you are a female make an extra note to your surroundings.
The number of rude tourists at the festival were more than we anticipated. We saw quite a few foreigners treat participants, locals and other travelers so poorly it aggravated us and several locals. The times we saw and heard, tourists yelling at each other for stepping into each other’s photos was too many to count. One man even hit me instead of just asking me to stop walking. The participants are not able to call you out for being an asshole, but in no way does that mean your negative behavior is acceptable. Be aware of your behavior and treat everyone nicely.
The Goroka Events website seems to be updated yearly. There are contact emails listed on the site. We tried to email a few times before the show and never heard back from anyone. In talking with other festival goers, they had experienced the same lack of response when requesting information.
Visas – Check with your local government for details. For US citizens, a 30-day free visa can be obtained at the Port Moresby Airport. The process took less than 5 minutes for the both of us, but I am sure it varies depending on the day.
Transportation – Transportation to Goroka can be frustrating and expensive. We flew from Port Moresby to Goroka via PNG Air. We could not find any reliable public transit options from Port Moresby, as there are no roads that directly connect the two towns. Several tour operators can arrange transportation for you, but we were not looking to join a group tour.
Weather – In the past the weather has always been hot and sunny the weekend of the festival. 2016 was the first year of rain. Check weather details before your departure to PNG. There are a few shade options inside the festival, but they get crowded, so a hat or umbrella are advisable for relief from the sun.
Language – Over 800 dialects are spoken in PNG. Goroka alone has three main languages. Most PNGers speak at least a bit of English, but where ever you are there is someone willing to help translate if needed.
Money – Prices throughout PNG were expensive. Basic hotel rooms and plates of food were some of the most expensive we have encountered on our round the world trip. Be careful not to withdraw too much Kina (PNG’s local currency) as when you are set to leave they will gouge you on the exchange rate. Two ATMs are available in town – 1 at the bank and 1 at Birds of Paradise Hotel.
5 out of 5 Travelationship High Fives. Type of traveler rating – Culture, adventure, romance, relaxation, partier, historical, bucket lister